TRANSCRIPT: Andrew Johnson – WIA Industry Leader Award Acceptance Speech

WIA Smart Water Awards
Friday 7th July, 2017

Hi from the Kimberley where it is dry and warm (30 C today) unlike Adelaide. I am disappointed I could not be with you today on a major occasion for the water industry. However, the opportunity to chase Rock Art in the Victoria River District and the Drysdale River escarpment (we we’re based, about 50km east of Kalumburru) with nationally-recognised art experts who were also supporting research teams from Melbourne University, University of Western Australia and a group from France, was too hard to ignore. There is lots of water up here but like the rest of the world it is under pressure and certainly disappears quickly. They had record rainfall this year and there was a fear that our trip would be cancelled but I can assure you the country is hot and dusty once again.

I am certainly honoured to have been selected as the recipient of the Industry Leadership Award.  To be considered in the same light as previous winners such as Tim, Richard and Karlene (to name a few) that have played an exemplary role in industry development is rather overwhelming.

The expertise and capability of the water industry in South Australia is certainly a real opportunity for the state. Having represented SA and its expertise over the last 18 months in countries such as Nepal, India and China it is pleasing to note that we are held in high regard. Our expertise is world-leading and we need to develop a process or mechanism that will enable us to capture this interest and turn it into real economic development and jobs for the state.

I was recently able to support the Nepal Government in the development of its draft national water policy (complementary to the National Water Initiative but more extensive), its draft national water act and organisational reform process as it moves constitutionally from a national government to national, provincial and local governments where each level of government has some responsibility for water. With CSIRO, I have also been invited to present to the Water Ministries of many Indian states as well as being involved in the Sister State arrangement with Rajasthan. On every occasion people are amazed at what Australia and South Australia has achieved in water reform and management and want our support.

Interestingly, it is the mistakes we have made and our conceptual framework that are as important to developing countries as what we have achieved. Our system in detail is invariably not suitable for these countries, but they do want to know is what to avoid as they move forward on their journey of reform and management. The other message is that they know that they need responsive water management and supply systems and they have the funding to achieve it.

My challenge for the you, the South Australian water industry, is how do we establish and grow a facility to capture even a very small percentage of what is being spent and will be spent in the future in these countries (China, India, Nepal and South-East Asia) literally tens of billions of dollars. We have the expertise and knowledge but our ability to bid for these projects is limited as we have so few people that we can utilise at any point in time and we lack the facility to provide international credibility to any bid.

Finally, while I am being acknowledged I would like to recognise a few people that that have supported me and given me the opportunity and privilege to work in the SA water industry. People such as [PIRSA Chief Executive] Scott Ashby who took a risk and let me push various initiatives, the ever enthusiastic Paul Dalby who has encouraged me to take on the challenges and then provided the support to make them happen, Richard Hopkins for his encouragement to not disappear in retirement but to use my expertise in the international arena and obviously Darryl [Day] and Ian [Reid] from ICEWaRM which has been my host organisation in recent time. There are obviously many more people to numerous to mention and to them can I say a thank you as well my award belongs to all of you.

Can I also thank the selection panel and obviously the sponsors of this great event and the Water Industry Alliance for organising the awards. Looking forward to discussing my exploits (both in the Kimberley and internationally) with you when I return.


Andrew Johnson