Report calls for reform to G-MW

February 21, 2018

An independent panel has found that Goulburn-Murray Water is an organisation badly in need of change, and major reform is needed to ensure that it will be sustainable into the future.

The panel’s report, released last week by Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville, is calling for urgent ‘‘transformational change’’.

Ms Neville, who commissioned the report, also outlined a plan to implement changes through a new panel of people reporting to her and to the board.

At the heart of the drive for change is the need to keep costs down so irrigators are not faced with excessive prices.

Declining water delivery due to climate change, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and industry exits, means the corporation is generating less income, but still must support big assets.

The 25-page report, from the Strategic Advisory Panel chaired by Mike Walsh, made sweeping criticisms of G-MW’s governance, asset management, corporate structure, capital project delivery and engagement with customers.

The report noted the organisation had five managing directors and two interim managing directors over 10 years.

‘‘It has essentially lost an entire layer of senior executives with substantial skills and experience and many changes to the board membership.

‘‘While staff are fatigued by change, employee numbers have not reduced significantly during the period.’’

Ms Neville briefed the G-MW board, including managing director Pat Lenon, about the report on Wednesday and then spoke to Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed and the VFF on Thursday.

VFF Water Council president Richard Anderson welcomed the review and said the difficult part would be to implement change.

‘‘It’s not yet clear how the changes proposed will drive costs down. That’s what we will be interested in.’’

The Victorian Government has committed to reducing operating and capital costs at G-MW, and the report suggests the organisation needs to find an extra 10 per cent of efficiencies above those already identified by G-MW.

Community and Public Sector Union representative Julian Kennelly said references to efficiencies and cost cutting was usually code for job cuts, as so many of G-MW’s costs were fixed. He said the union and staff were given no advance notice of the results of the review and he had been contacted by staff worried about their future.

He said the organisation had been through major change in recent years and staff were now bracing for further disruption.

He noted there didn’t seem to be any attempt to look at possible amalgamation of the four rural water authorities, which could save on management costs.

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