The Victorian Government has announced an overhaul of the Northern Victoria Irrigation Renewal Project (NVIRP) connections program with the aim of giving landholders greater control over the modernisation of their irrigation systems.


Water Minister Peter Walsh said the revised connections program aimed to fix many of the issues highlighted in an Ombudsman's report released last month. He said the Ombudsman's report into the food bowl modernisation tabled in late November revealed a serious lack of transparency and accountability within NVIRP.


"From now on, landholders are going to have a greater say in how the connections program is rolled out. It means all landholders in each connections project will have the same information and will have a greater say on the works that happen on their properties.


"A landholder-elected steering committee will oversee each project and be responsible for selecting their own irrigation design consultant to develop modernisation options."


The revised program also includes a new independent review panel, to deliver a fairer and more equitable result for landholders involved with NVIRP modernisation works.


The panel will be chaired by Goulburn-Broken Catchment Management Authority chair Peter Ryan and includes former Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW) water services committee member Bruce Jones; Irrigation Australia Ltd life member John Mapson; Shepparton lawyer Simon Furphy; Shepparton consultant and former Department of Sustainability and Environment regional director Chris Halpin; and Shepparton lawyer and former president of the Law Institute of Victoria Danny Barlow.


"If a landholder is dissatisfied with an NVIRP decision, they are entitled to have their case independently reviewed by the panel," Mr Walsh said.


"The applicant may request a review if they believe the NVIRP decision was unreasonable, involved bias, was made in error or did not consider relevant information.


"The panel will take into account a number of factors, including the applicant's situation, any relevant guidelines, reports from NVIRP and in some cases deliberations of independent irrigation design experts."


Mr Walsh said all members of the panel were independent of both Goulburn Murray Water and NVIRP.


"This new independent review panel will ensure the program is delivered with more transparency and accountability, so landowners can be sure they're getting a fair deal," Mr Walsh said.


He said the panel would then either determine the original NVIRP decision was correct or recommend that it should be withdrawn and re-submitted.


"At the end of that process, if one person is holding out to the detriment of the majority, I will consider using the mandatory reconfiguration powers I have under the Water Act," Mr Walsh said.


George Warne, formerly general manager of Murray Irrigation and CEO of NSW's State Water, has been appointed  as the new interim chief executive officer of the NVIRP to undertake transitional work with the NVIRP board and Goulburn-Murray Water (G-MW) managing director Gavin Hanlon.


Taking up the role on 9 January, Mr Warne has been appointed until G-MW takes over the delivery of the irrigation modernisation.