The Public Service Association of NSW met with Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) and Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) representatives on 27 May 2022 to be briefed on the proposed reform within NRAR. The reform is subject to a Change Management Plan (CMP) that had yet to be formally signed off by the DPE Water Secretary so the discussion remained at a relatively high level. Now that the CMP has been released, there is significantly more information that will allow for meaningful consultation to commence.
The proposed change
The rational for change (apart from the fact that NSW is now awash with water) was that NRAR is seeking to be a more balanced regulator with a redirection of resources from the current enforcement focussed model to that of providing better levels of industry engagement and advice on water allocation policy.
What does this entail?
NRAR has proposed the creation or enhancement of separate branches designed to provide industry stakeholder advice and support. To provide the necessary means to resource these new branches and roles, NRAR has proposed a reduction in other branches, primarily in Regional Water Regulatory Operations and Regulatory Innovation. Many of these affected roles are located in regional NSW.
Accordingly, in the proposed Change Management Plan provided to the PSA on Thursday 2 June 2022, there are 16 current roles that are proposed to be deleted and 32 vacant roles that will be filled.
Is this a good thing?
One might ask themselves why NRAR was created in the first instance and what has subsequently changed in the last four years? The circumstances that required the creation of NRAR in 2018 was that subsequent governments had turned a blind eye to water allocation policies and industry extraction of the resource to the point where corruption and mismanagement were demonstrated in a rather glaring and unforgiving manner.
The initial factors required to be considered:
- Is the stakeholder influence, advice and policy assistance best placed in NRAR?
- Does the immediate reduction in enforcement resources and personnel place issues on the abilities of NRAR to properly police water allocation policy?
- Is there a demonstrated reduction in the enforcement requirements to inform Government on the validity of the proposed reform? Currently lower order suspected offences mostly do not have any resources provided for investigation.
- Is this a process where this NSW Government reverts back to the ‘soft touch’ type now that dams are full and the spectre of regionals towns running out of water have diminished? After all, Australia is the sunburnt country and drought can and will come around again.
- Should the NSW Government consider putting more resources into the NRAR to accommodate this policy shift reform instead of having to cannibalise current investigative structures?
- Why affect current roles when there are so many vacant positions that NRAR can use to pursue reform?
- Has there been appropriate assessment between ‘like roles’ in order to minimise the number of affected staff?
As part of our consultation response, the PSA is seeking input from our membership on the proposed reform.
As NRAR staff are located all around NSW, the PSA has also placed an invite for online discussions with PSA staff set down for 1:00pm Tuesday 13 June 2022. Members are encouraged to provide commentary and submissions to the proposed reform.
Click here to join the Microsoft Teams meeting.