New Goulburn Broken CMA boss has rural background

By Geoff Adams

Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority's new chief executive officer Chris Cumming has a history of working with farmers to achieve better environmental outcomes.

Some might be surprised that the new leader of a government-funded land management body is a former farmer.

Ms Cumming's working life has seen the transformation of a girl from the Melbourne suburbs to a farmer and executive officer working in rural communities.

She has taken over from Goulburn Broken CMA's former CEO, Chris Norman, who left the Shepparton-based organisation earlier this year after 11 years.

The University of Melbourne science graduate grew up in Melbourne, but her first job was with the former Department of Sustainability and Environment in remote East Gippsland, working in land management.

She spent two years with Community Services Victoria at Bairnsdale before becoming CEO of the Holbrook Landcare Network, during which time she also served on the NSW state executive of Landcare.

During her six years with the Holbrook Landcare Network, she built it from a low base to one employing 10 staff and developing 30 projects.

Ms Cumming moved into the NSW Government's Local Land Services in 2014 and eventually became a general manager, managing a diverse workforce in natural resource management across the Central Tablelands.

“I've lived my whole life embedded in farm communities and been very connected to small communities and the challenges they face.”

Ms Cumming said there was a strong sense of stewardship of the land in Holbrook.

“I became interested in how you support good decision making and advocate for local communities, and how do you bring in investment to support the testing of information and resourcing of initiatives.

“That was something I became quite passionate about.”

She believes her experience as a program manager with Murray Valley Local Land Services region, on the NSW side, has given her an insight into some of the issues the Goulburn Broken region faces.

“I really like the Victorian system around the resilience approach and commitment to planning and strategy.

“There is a strong commitment to engaging with rural communities and value adding. That was really important to me.

“As a CEO of NRM regions, you meet the other CEOs and I knew Chris Norman.

“We worked together on a tri-state alliance and I knew how the region operated and its strength and resilience.

“I quoted from the GBCMA often in things I was trying to push in NSW.”

Ms Cumming acknowledged the long commitment of the previous CEO, but said she was not going to try to replicate her predecessor.

“I think some of the things I value about the CMA is the maturity and stability of the workforce, benefits of having someone there so long, make the organisation more attractive.

“He has helped the organisation reach a place of high regard.”

Ms Cumming is aware of the tensions between agriculture and environment.

“Farmers are not there to take from the asset and move on — they are in it for the long haul.

“So for that management to be successful they have to farm sustainably.

“There is a competition for water issue, but in terms of care for the environment and productive use of the land, the two are inextricably linked.

“Stewardship of the land and care for the natural asset rests in the hands of private land managers and farmers.

“Without their contribution, how would that land surface be managed?

“I see our role as helping with good decision making in that way.

“In Holbrook I didn't meet a farmer who didn't feel they were a steward of the land; it was part of their approach.”