Annual Conference wrap up

The VicWater Annual Conference was held at the Langham on 8-9 June. Program highlights included:

Keynote speaker Dr Norman Swan shared his reflections on Australia’s COVID experience, where we’ve been, where we are now and where we are likely to go. He also talked about the importance of maintaining public trust through open and honest communication, with his key message being that if you lose the public’s trust, it’s very hard to earn it back. This resonated strongly with conference delegates who understood the direct application in the water sector.

Conference dinner guest speaker Liv Garfield, CEO of Severn Trent Water (co-presented by VicWater and the Water Services Association of Australia) was an audience favourite, with a highly engaging and informative presentation on challenges and opportunities in the UK water sector.

The Great Water Debate pitted Ron Ben-David and Gerard Brody against each other in an argument centred around minimising price versus maximising value. Although the maximising value side won the day, delegates came away from the session with a balanced understanding of what we need to do to ensure the financial sustainability of the water sector while maintaining quality customer services and greater insight into how water corporations are striving to do both.

The Circular Economy Panel, facilitated by Rob Gell and featuring Cheryl Batagol, Sarah Thomson and Helen Millicer, explored the potential for the water sector to not just participate in the circular economy, but to be at the very centre of it by demonstrating leadership and bringing together all the other key sectors such as energy, waste and transport in an integrated circular economy framework for Victoria.

The Digital Water Business session gave delegates insights into how digital technologies can be used to not only drive efficiency, productivity and customer satisfaction, but unlock entirely new value propositions for communities, industry and the environment. Industry speakers Damian Wells, Steve Capewell and Tony Wulff talked about how their organisations are tackling major digital transformations and the lessons they’ve learned about the need to maintain focus on your purpose and be deliberative about change management with your people.

The Are We Ready? Panel brought industry speakers Pat McCafferty, Sarah Cumming and Damian Wells together with Victorian Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp and Infrastructure Victoria CEO Jonathan Spear to discuss how the water sector can service changing communities, how we can prepare for disasters and how we can recover from them. Pat and Damian reflected on their experience during Victoria’s severe storm event in June 2021, which saw their teams out on the ground at the earliest opportunity to assess and repair damage to water assets and support local communities by handing out bottled water and providing information and advice. The session shone a light on the critical role that our sector plays in times of crisis and the recovery period beyond.

The Returning to Traditions Panel, facilitated by Patricia Karvelas, gave delegates a thought-provoking and, at times, confronting insight into the significance and meaning of water sovereignty and water justice for Traditional Owners. Speakers Erin O’Donnell, Paul Paton and Brendan Kennedy clearly articulated the demands and expectations of Traditional Owners to have a strong, recognised and respected role in land and waterway management in Victoria, and to see significant volumes of water returned to Traditional Owners for whatever use they see fit.

The conference wrapped up on the second day with an interactive workshop where delegates were asked to think about the barriers to the Victorian water industry being more resilient and ready and what VicWater and our members might do to overcome those barriers. We hope that delegates came away from the conference with a deeper understanding of the key issues our sector faces, a view of how the future should look, and a set of actions we can take to plan for the resilience and readiness of our industry.

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