NSW ombudsman investigating WaterNSW over misleading data
The New South Wales ombudsman is investigating whether WaterNSW – the body responsible for compliance with the state’s water laws – has misled it when it provided data last year on the number of prosecutions and enforcement actions it had taken in the 15 months prior.
Special reports are a last resort when the ombudsman deems that a report to the minister is insufficient.
The new report will say that statistics provided to it by WaterNSW on prosecutions and compliance activities since July 2016 were seriously overstated by the agency.
They were then used in the ombudsman’s earlier special report to the state parliament in November last year, which outlined the ombudsman’s frustrations in getting adequate action on complaints over the past decade.
The November 2017 report outlined the handling of several specific examples of breaches of the water laws highlighted by the ombudsman since 2007.
In July 2017 Four Corners aired an explosive report on the management of the Barwon-Darling system that featured NSW water compliance officers saying that despite reporting wrongdoing, they received little support from their superiors to take action.
This prompted the ombudsman to go public with the special report in November.
As well as detailing its findings in the three earlier reports, the ombudsman zeroed in on systemic failures.
There were no prosecutions in 2016-17.
However, the ombudsman noted WaterNSW had assured its office that it had taken “significant steps” to resource and perform the compliance function since 1 July.