Implementing Water Reform in the Murray-Darling Basin

Review of  the National Partnership Agreement on Implementing Water  Reform in the Murray-Darling BasinPolicy Partners was engaged by ARTD Consultants to provide expert assistance in reviewing the National Partnership Agreement on Implementing Water Reform in the Murray-Darling Basin. The expert services we provided were in the areas of:

  • water reforms in the Murray-Darling Basin
  • review of National Partnership Agreements

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Key findings from the review

Effectiveness

While most of the NPA reporting milestones were met over the period of the agreement, in recent years there has been a trend away from full completion of milestones towards partial completion. In part, this is due to States’ actual progress against the milestones becoming evident. The Department consistently drew on advice from CEWO and MDBA in assessing progress toward the NPA milestones.

The NPA’s effectiveness has been limited by its milestones being broadly defined and not allowing partial payments; however, this design was intentional and a product of the NPA’s context. The milestones were broadly defined to enable States to sign the agreement due to lack of clarity around the detailed implementation of Basin Plan measures during the NPA’s design phase. At the time the Commonwealth did not support the inclusion of partial payments to avoid the risk of States not fully implementing key aspects of water reform.

Efficiency

In hindsight, the NPA’s milestones and payment structure have been problematic. States reported the milestones made it difficult to plan action against them and for the Commonwealth to make clear assessments of progress, while the ‘all or nothing’ payments have put significant pressure on the Commonwealth to pay States even when they have only made partial progress against milestones.

Enhancements

There are several opportunities for enhancing a future NPA. These include:

  1. Aligning a future NPA more closely with the strategic objectives of its associated policy
  2. Clearly defining all milestones and KPIs to prescribe outputs and outcomes
  3. Clearly specifying the roles of all parties in the agreement’s documentation
  4. Structuring similar future NPAs as a head agreement with schedules which have clearly defined implementation schedules and milestones
  5. With the aim of maximising the independence and credibility of a future NPA, consider which entity is best placed to undertake assessment arrangements
  6. Designing ambitious, graduated milestones that alleviate the pressure of judging partial completion and define early milestones as prerequisites for the achievement of, and payment for, later milestones
  7. Providing specialised training for agency staff who are working within complex environments similar to those facilitating Murray-Darling Basin water reforms
  8. Ensuring that a future NPA is consistent with the Intergovernmental Agreement on Federal Financial Relations’ principles for best practice in National Agreements