WA Policy Seminar: Doing More with Less
20 September 2016, Perth
Written by Ursula Kretzer, WA Branch Committee Member
The ChemCentre in Bentley was the host venue for an Australian Water Association policy forum, “Doing More with Less” on 20 September. The forum, organised by the Australian Water Association WA Information and Advocacy Sub-Committee and sponsored by ANZ, addressed a key question for WA water resource allocation, funding and regulation – how will we meet our needs, now and into the future? The wide-ranging and critical topics and expert speakers attracted over 65 attendees from the private sector, local and State Government, land developers and water utilities, for a highly engaging event.
The first session of the forum addressed the environmental challenges facing water resource managers in the south west of WA – a severe decline in streamflows into dams and groundwater levels, growing demand for water due to urban growth, and the need to maintain liveable communities and protect the environment. Don Cummins, Regional Manager, Swan Avon Region at the Department of Water, spoke about solutions developed in partnership with local government and water users in the North West Corridor, to meet community needs for high quality public open space with limited groundwater resources. Daniel Nelson, Co-ordinator of Project Delivery at the Shire of Kalamunda, demonstrated how managed aquifer recharge is being used by the Shire in an innovative approach to maintaining high quality recreational space at Hartfield Park.
The focus of the second session was on the funding of water sector projects. Weak economic conditions make it difficult to raise funds and resources for capital projects and the industry needs to explore creative approaches to the funding of water infrastructure. Rob Breden, Director of Strategy and Business Development at Water West, a new water utility based in WA, spoke about the emerging opportunities for private sector water utilities in WA under the current legislative framework, as well as the challenges and considerations for new entrants. Michelle Sichlau, Head of Power and Utilities Australia, Project and Export Finance at ANZ, noted that the water sector could see over $40 billion of capital expenditure over the next decade. She outlined the wide range of models used by banks and investors to fund projects, allocate risks and capture the value of infrastructure investments.
The final two speakers addressed the need for regulation of the water sector to strike a balance between fostering innovation to solve problems, while limiting risks to customers and government. Martin van Beuren, Director, Synergies Economic Consulting outlined the innovative approach to regulation proposed by the Victorian water regulator, including incentivising businesses to focus on outcomes directly informed by customer preferences. The model could give water utilities greater autonomy to innovate, while rewarding them for that ambition. Nicola Cusworth, who was appointed as the Chair of the Economic Regulation Authority in July 2016, said that the ERA would watch the Victorian regulatory model with interest. She noted that in Western Australia the regulatory model is one in which economic regulators advise Government, but where Government may make decisions contrary to that advice, based on a wider set of objectives.
As always for Australian Water Association events, the forum was a good opportunity for attendees to network and engage with others from across the water sector.