New water governance crisis

In the last few days the entire board including the Chairman of Goulburn-Murray Water, the largest rural water authority in the state of Victoria (south-eastern Australia), has resigned. Their resignation follows a strong ‘please explain’ notice last week from the new Victorian Water Minister Peter Walsh.

According to media reports, Walsh had asked the directors of GMW to “…explain issues around it’s financial governance”.

A fortnight earlier, the Managing Director Mr David Stewart resigned after 15 years with the company.

At recent elections, Victorians voted for a new conservative government that includes a significant number of rural and farming representatives (National Party), Peter Walsh being one of these.

This appears to be a major upset in this influential water management business, which is the largest rural water corporation in Australia. Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW), has more than 30,000 customers in the northern part of Victoria, over 700 staff and responsibility for managing more than 70% of the state’s water. Goulburn-Murray Water manages all water works, including several large water-supply dams, in the north of Victoria within the Murray-Darling Basin.

The company and its board will have been more than just interested in the Guide to the Draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan, released in spring 2010, which led to such an uproar in rural irrigation areas that it generated a special inquiry, currently in progress. More about that inquiry in a later blog.

The north of Victoria has been in severe drought for the last 10 years, and now this year it is dealing with record flooding in many of its rivers, affecting hundreds of square kilometres of land and much infrastructure.

GMW has been deeply involved in the $1 billion Northern Victoria Irrigation Renewal Project (NVIRP. A project with many local supporters and, seemingly, just as many detractors.

Is this just a local issue with local politics, a new party and a new minister flexing their muscles? Or is it one more indication, after the recent Murray-Darling Basin planning controversy, of Australia’s (until now) stella water reform journey starting to go off the rails?

Watch this space!

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