Members of the board of South Gippsland Water whose positions will be reviewed under a state-wide sweep of all water boards include, from left, Jim Fawcett, David Schultz, Chris Badger, Joan Liley (chair), Steve Rieniets, Anna Kilborn and absent Irene Irvine. Also pictured is managing director Philippe du Plessis.
THERE’S a popular political adage that says “you never ask a question unless you already know the answer”.
But it seems established wisdom has been dispensed with by the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water, Lisa Neville, in her announcement last week that the board positions at all of the state’s water authorities are under “review”.
The reality is that the positions of all board members, including those at the local water authorities, South Gippsland and Westernport Water, have been declared vacant and those that wish to be reappointed will have to re-apply in a competitive process with anyone else who might be interested.
Notwithstanding the loss of an $18,000 allowance, South Gippsland Water board member, Jim Fawcett, isn’t worried.
His term was due to expire at the end of September this year anyway.
“We shouldn’t be scared of change, and the terms of three or four of our members were up this year anyway. I think the government just wants to review policies and appointments at one of its key providers of community infrastructure,” Mr Fawcett said.
“The people on our board will just have to consider whether they want to reapply or not.”
Mr Fawcett said he represented the board’s chair, Joan Liley, at the Minister’s announcement last week and made the observation that there were only four women among the 35 to 40 board representatives in attendance.
“There were a lot of middle-age men in the room, God love us, but it may be they are looking for more women to apply as part of a better balanced representation of skills and interests. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Mr Fawcett said there remained a number of key challenges ahead of South Gippsland Water, not the least of which was seeking funding for connection of the “northern towns”, including Korumburra, Loch, Poowong and Nyora, to the Lance Creek and Melbourne Water systems (desalination plant).
“Should that money not be forthcoming we will have to rethink how we provide for the main industries in the area (including Burra Foods and the Poowong Abattoir, not to mention the township of Korumburra).”
South Gippsland has also been forced to provide reticulated sewerage services, based on an uneconomic model, to Meeniyan, Loch, Poowong and Nyora; something that may impact its ability to develop other projects in the region.
The seven member board at Westernport Water is similarly affected, although if it’s political appointments that the Water Minister is targeting, she may have the likes of former Minister for Natural Resources in the Kennett Government, Geoff Coleman, in her sights.
Other Westernport Water Board Members whose appointments are being “reviewed” include chairman Trevor Nink, a highly credentialed business executive, deputy chair Roland Lindell, a former political adviser, banking executive Barbara Wagstaff, teacher and former councillor John Duscher, risk management expert Carol Pagnon and civil engineer Guy Wilson-Browne.
It is understood that Mr Nink was due to step down as chair in September and that the terms of Carol Pagnon, Guy Wilson-Browne and John Duscher were also set to expire then as well.
Westernport Water will also be looking for a new managing director with Murray Jackson also stepping down.
New ideas welcome
Labor Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Harriet Shing, has welcomed Minister Neville’s announcement that the Andrews Government will review all board positions across the 19 water corporations, (excluding managing directors) “to ensure Victorians have the best people with the right skills to deal with the environmental and economic challenges of the future”.
She said “the Government has moved decisively to preserve Victoria’s water supplies and help the water sector meet the challenges posed by climate change, changing rainfall patterns and rapid population growth”.
“The Government has already started work to ensure Victoria has a positive new approach to water policy by;
• Abolishing the Office of Living Victoria and transitioning to a collaborative approach
• Requiring water authorities to ensure they face the challenges of climate change including rainfall patterns
• Considering all sources of water including the desalination plant, which can provide 150 gigalitres of water
• Listening and engaging with local communities about their water needs and priorities.”
Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water, Lisa Neville, thanked the boards for their important contributions to date.
All current board members have been encouraged to participate in an expressions of interest process.
Advertisements for the expressions of interest process will occur in April 2015.
New boards will be in place by October 1, 2015.
Shadow Minister for Water, Peter Walsh, said sacking the boards will create a dangerous vacuum of corporate knowledge and will bring the business of the water authorities to a grinding halt.
“Daniel Andrews has committed to using the expensive desalination plant as a water source as part of his government’s ‘positive new approach to water policy’. Even when a zero water order is placed, Labor’s desalination plant costs Melbourne water customers $1.8 million a day as a service charge,” Mr Walsh said.
“If the desalination plant was used to supply 150 GL of water in 2015-16, Melbourne water customers would be slugged an additional $117 million on top of this $1.8 million a day service charge.
“Daniel Andrews is clearing the way to give jobs to his Labor mates by sacking Victoria’s 135 skilled, professional and experienced water board members.
“This is a blatant politicisation of the state’s water boards.
“Water bills doubled the last time Labor was in government. The fear is that today’s announcement will lead to more Labor white elephants like the north-south pipeline and desalination plant, and higher household water bills.”