Time for major change

By Geoff Adams

The recent leadership changes at Goulburn-Murray Water have raised some deeper issues about governance at the water authority and whether a complete restructure would make the organisation more governable.

Some commentators have suggested the authority should be split so that one part would solely be responsible for irrigation water delivery, leaving other functions like dam management, recreational grounds, environmental management, hydro-electricity and construction work for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

VFF Water Council chair Richard Anderson is one who favours this type of restructure.

He suspects there are cross-subsidies occurring across all these businesses and believes farmers would like to see an organisation that is focused on water delivery.

In any case, the disruptive changes in governance are shaking farmer confidence in the organisation.

Former G-MW director and retired farmer Peter Fitzgerald agreed there was too frequent turnover in leadership at the authority.

He said the irrigation community needed to have confidence in the board to deliver for the long-term sustainability of the region.

‘‘You can’t have a board which is changing its chair or managing director on a biennial basis.’’

Mr Fitzgerald said it was not going to engender confidence that the board had got its head around the bigger picture for strategic direction.

He said each new managing director had their own approach to management and would implement changes that sometimes impacted on the next level of management, whereas the staff needed to have the space to just get on the with job.

He said the fortunes of the chair and managing director were often closely linked and he was not surprised to hear whenever a chair or managing director left an organisation around the same time, as was the case with G-MW recently.

Mr Fitzgerald said the chair would be getting instructions on strategic direction from the water minister and the managing director would have the task of implementing those strategies.

The assessment of the minister on whether that was being successful may influence whether the managing director stays or goes.

Mr Fitzgerald supported the idea of splitting G-MW into two parts, with one solely responsible for irrigation water delivery.

He said this would address the widespread perception among farmers that G-MW was a huge monolith that was cross-subsidising other operations.

A second part of the organisation could be established to operate the major assets on behalf of the government and also to manage the recreational areas and environmental issues.

Victorian Water Shadow Minister Steph Ryan sheeted home responsibility for the many governance changes to the water minister, saying Lisa Neville must accept ultimate responsibility for the disruptive turnover.

When Ms Neville introduced new G-MW chair Diane James recently, there was a lot said about restoring confidence in the organisation, focusing on transforming the business and delivering water as efficiently as possible.

Not much was said about major structural change to G-MW, although her introduction was coloured by the sudden departure of the managing director following an ombudsman’s report.

We may have to wait for the management to settle down before we can expect truly transformational change at G-MW; or would the appointment of a new managing director be the opportunity to start more radical change?