A braided network of reviews and investigations into the Murray-Darling river basin

A braided network of reviews and investigations into the Murray-Darling river basin


On 31 July, the Prime Minister requested the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) to consider conducting a nation-wide compliance review (https://www.mdba.gov.au/media/mr/basin-wide-compliance-review). This is a response to allegations of illegal diversion of water in New South Wales (NSW) and official impropriety.

At the same time, there are at least five other reviews or possible investigations that have begun or are being considered which relate to management of the basin including the involvement of the Commonwealth Auditor-General and the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

murray darling basin authority

By Dr Drew Donnelly, Compliance Quarter

In today’s article, we untangle these different reviews and potential investigations, describing their objectives and how they relate to each other.

Background: The Basin Plan and the latest allegations

The Murray-Darling basin is an agricultural area spanning NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), capturing a massive river system, the most significant rivers in that system being the Murray and the Darling.

According to the Australian Constitution the management of water is a matter for states and territories. In order to manage this resource in an environmentally sustainable way, a ‘Basin Plan’ was agreed to by the states and ACT in 2012. Compliance with that plan is managed by the MDBA.

On 24 July, on ABC’s Four Corners, serious allegations were raised regarding compliance with the plan, including that changes to river rules by the NSW Government, resulted in water purchased by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) being pumped into private water channels.

The CEWH manages water on behalf of the federal government, acquired through national water reforms, including the Basin Plan.

The five (so far) likely reviews and investigations

(1) The MDBA Basin-wide Compliance Review

This proposed national review would be wide-ranging and would consider the legislative, policy and practical implementation of compliance and enforcement across the basin.

The review would look at the effectiveness of existing rules and laws, measurement and monitoring, and governance.

The MDBA would work with independent experts in conducting the review.

Note, that the scope of the review will need to be agreed to by state and territory ministers.

(2) ANAO Audit of National Partnership Agreements

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) is already carrying out an audit of the monitoring and payment arrangements under National Partnership Agreements . This is due in Autumn 2018.

(3) ANAO Extension on Audit

The Auditor-General has now extended the scope of the audit outlined above to include how the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is monitoring the performance of NSW under the National Partnership Agreement on Implementing Water Reform.

The Auditory-General is considering releasing a report on the outcome of this audit later this year.

(4) The independent NSW Government- commissioned review

The NSW Government has commissioned an independent review led by Mr Ken Matthews AO, former foundation chair and chief executive of the National Water Commission. The review will cover “all allegations raised in the broadcast that involve the responsibilities of the Department of Primary Industries-Water and any of its employees”.

This review will also be able to make any additional recommendations that may arise from the investigation, including deficiencies relating to compliance and enforcement of water laws.

An interim report is due by the 31 August 2017.

(5) A possible ICAC investigation

The allegations have been referred to ICAC which investigates corrupt behaviour of public officials. After an initial assessment, it will be up to ICAC to launch an investigation if it wishes.

If it uncovers behaviour that it considers to be illegal or criminal, ICAC will pass on that information for possible legal action or prosecution.


Upcoming changes to dispute resolution: the new Australian Financial Complaints Authority

Upcoming changes to dispute resolution: the new Australian Financial Complaints Authority

Financial Services

The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) is the proposed new dispute resolution body for the financial sector. Last week, the Government announced the latest step in the establishment of this new body with the appointment of a transition team for its establishment.

australian financial complaints authority

By Dr Drew Donnelly, Compliance Quarter

In today’s article, we summarise the proposals to date for overhauling external dispute resolution in financial firms.

Note, that it is proposed that ‘financial firms’ be defined broadly so that the new framework will affect and apply to a vast range of businesses including:

  • All Australian Financial Services (AFS) licensees
  • credit providers
  • regulated superannuation funds
  • approved deposit funds
  • retirement savings account providers
  • and life policy funds and insurers.

The transitional arrangements

The focus for the newly appointed team is to ensure a smooth transition between the existing dispute resolution schemes, including the three existing dispute resolution bodies, the Financial Ombudsman Service, the Credit and Investments Ombudsman and the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal, into a new framework, including the establishment of Australian Financial Complaints Authority. This will be done in consultation with consumers, industry and the existing dispute resolution bodies.

When it comes into force on 1 July 2018, it is intended that the resulting framework will apply to all disputes between consumers and financial firms.

Matters that the transition team will advise the Government on include:

  • AFCA’s terms of reference
  • Governance and funding arrangements for AFCA
  • Recommendations on the authorisation process for AFCA
  • Transitional arrangements to settle ongoing disputes in the three existing schemes.

Why the new framework?

The Government commissioned an independent review of the existing system for external dispute resolution in financial services in response to complaints. The final report of the Review of the financial system external dispute resolution and complaints framework  identified several problems including:

  • Multiple external dispute resolution schemes meaning inconsistent outcomes for consumers with similar complaints
  • Multiple schemes meaning duplicated costs for industry and government
  • The monetary limits being too low to allow adequate redress for small businesses
  • Substantial delays in resolving superannuation complaints which might be helped by overhauling existing governance and accountability arrangements.

The exposure draft

In May, an exposure draft of the Bill that would establish this framework was released for public comment. Consultation is now closed and a finalised bill is yet to be introduced into Parliament.

The Bill does not establish the dispute resolution scheme itself, but a broad legislative framework that that would enable the Government to establish such a scheme.

Key features of the framework proposed in the exposure draft include:

  • A power of the responsible Minister to authorise a disputes resolution scheme with specified functions
  • Enhanced supervision powers for the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC), in relation to the scheme
  • new statutory powers in relation to the superannuation jurisdiction of the scheme including the power to join parties to a complaint and to obtain information.

For further information see the exposure draft and accompanying documentation.