Victoria’s water industry is among the best in the world, according to Peter Morison. As CEO of VicWater, he concedes he might be a little biased, although he adds that he is actually originally from New South Wales. “People from overseas look at us all the time and wonder why they can’t do what we can do,” he says. “Just today, I was talking to an industry leader from Israel; we were comparing notes, and he agreed that our industry here really is world leading.”
An environmental and social scientist with more than 25 years of experience working in water services, natural resource management and local governance, Peter joined VicWater as CEO in May last year. “When I learned about the opportunity to lead the Victorian industry’s peak body, I was very excited,” he reflects.
“I love working with the leaders of Victoria’s liveability engine room. These are the managing directors, board directors and executive staff, who all have a huge amount of talent and passion. This is an incredibly gifted sector and I can’t think of anywhere else I’d want to be.”
“This is an incredibly gifted sector and I can’t think of anywhere else I’d want to be.”
VicWater is the peak industry association for water corporations in Victoria. The not-for-profit association is focused on supporting Victorian water corporations and the broader industry in their objective to provide efficient and sustainable water and wastewater services in the state. Since becoming CEO, Peter says the biggest challenge for him has been identifying what’s most important for VicWater to support right now.
“Sometimes it feels a bit like a triage in a hospital, with so many problems to sort out at once,” he explains. “But we have great people across our sector. We work with 19 water corporations who have incredibly capable and passionate people to help us work through these challenges.”
Peter says another challenge is helping the industry to collaborate, particularly with rapidly growing physical water networks. “There’s no such thing as local water anymore,” he points out.
“In the past, if you lived in a place like Geelong, you would expect that you’d get your water from Geelong, but that’s no longer the case. You’re potentially getting water from the desalination plant on the east side of Melbourne. So the footprint of our grid has grown immensely, which means the people at Barwon Water in Geelong are communicating with their peers over at Gippsland Water in Traralgon. That didn’t happen 15 or 20 years ago.”
Given the association’s tagline is ‘Better together’, Peter is passionate about ensuring that VicWater helps its members collaborate for the benefit of Victoria’s water industry.
“Quite simply, we are better together. It’s a clear expression of the old adage that the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. Time after time, our sector has succeeded through collaboration, and that’s why we exist. We were set up by a small bunch of regional water authorities who could see the benefit at the time, and it just grew right across the state. Our success over the years has largely been in reducing regulatory red tape, negotiating better purchasing deals and helping our communities receive consistent and clear messages about water,” Peter says.
“Time after time, our sector has succeeded through collaboration, and that’s why we exist.”
“In the future, I hope we can continue to provide a firm foundation for our water corporations across Victoria. Together, they form the world’s best water industry. By providing that firm foundation, we can help them to remain adaptive or adaptable in every circumstance. They’re facing a lot of challenges, so if VicWater can provide that foundation in a unit of collaboration for them and make it as easy as possible for that to occur, then we are certainly better together.”
While many people are understandably concerned about the impact of climate change on our water supply in the future, Peter explains that the industry is prepared for it now.
“One of the most encouraging things is that our sector has been preparing for climate change for many years now. When it was a time of intense naysaying and squabbling over whether climate change existed, the quiet achievers in our water industry were just getting on with it and saying, ‘Well, we can’t ignore this, we’ve really got to plan for it,’” he says.
“So we work closely with the state government and a number of research partners to obtain the best available information that we can to support our sector as it plans for population growth and this greater uncertainty that climate change produces.”
The team at VicWater is small but extremely dedicated and hardworking. Aside from Peter, there are just six employees. “This is the smallest team I’ve managed in my career. While it’s beautiful because you get to know people very well, it’s also challenging because everyone must work hard, perform well and work in unison. So it’s very much a team focus that we have here at VicWater,” Peter says.
“It’s so important for me to understand each person’s values and motivation so that I can find alignment and thereby build a strong collaborative culture. I’m really passionate about the industry and its critical role for community liveability. Other members in my team share aspects of that passion, and when you find the common ground, it’s really powerful.”
Peter believes clear and regular communication is important to ensure his team understands the association’s goals and vision. He is also a big fan of recognising and celebrating the achievements of both the individuals and his team as a whole.
“People want to be recognised and remembered. For some, it’s a formal arrangement, while for others it’s just a quiet acknowledgement of their work. I’ve found that the simple effort of creating informal gatherings like a drink after work and random gestures of appreciation and encouragement can make the most difference. Few of my leaders have done this, which is strange because it’s so simple and compelling.”
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