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Louise Dudley reflects on six years serving AWA’s Board

After sitting on the Australian Water Association’s Board since 2018, including a stint as AWA President, Louise Dudley is stepping down from her role as Director from May 2024.

Following a busy week of learning, sharing and connecting at Ozwater’24 in Melbourne, Dudley took the opportunity to reflect on her time spent on the Board, and on how far the Association has come since it was founded in 1962.

“A couple of years ago it was the AWA’s 60th anniversary – it was a special moment, an opportunity to reflect on why the Association was founded in the first place, which was to provide a focus on the water sector, and a platform for people to share, leverage and amplify their work so that we could all do better,” she said.

“Those reasons were just as relevant when we marked the 60th anniversary in 2022 as they were when the Association was founded. The Association continues to go from strength to strength. During my time on the board, we've focused on leveraging that strong foundation to make sure that it can stand for another 60 years.”

Dudley said she’s incredibly proud of how the Association has worked through the challenges of the past six years, including the COVID-19 pandemic, and expanded its offering to members to bolster continued sharing and collaboration.

“The pandemic was a very stressful time for a lot of organisations. For the Association, we weren’t able to deliver events like Ozwater in the same way, and we needed to find new ways of supporting our members,” she said.

“But the Association has a wonderfully collegiate nature, including the Board, management, right through to Corinne’s leadership. Everyone worked together to make some big decisions.

“We took the opportunity to do a lot more in terms of digital transformation, so that we can continue to meet our members' needs. It’s been a significant focus of the Association and it was accelerated out of that challenge.

“And Ozwater continues to grow and expand. It's a high energy event, it creates connections and impacts by bringing people together. The event gets better every year. And now the Association also offers Connected by Water and Voices from the Bush, as part of our increasing focus on regional and remote communities.

“This outreach is very important. I really feel very proud of the work the Association has done and how they continue to be relevant for the sector today.”

Accelerating Action

Despite how far the Association has come in the past six to 60 years, Dudley said the theme of this year’s Ozwater was a very appropriate way of describing where the water community is at right now.

“We’ve been grappling with the challenges, working on understanding them, and we now need to start actually setting things in motion. We need action on decarbonisation, climate change and there are plenty more changes ahead in terms of infrastructure and how we deal with capacity and capability to deliver,” she said.

“These changes include shifting the dial on how we think about our problems, towards thinking through our challenges from a much broader, planetary boundaries perspective. These shifts need to occur internally with organisations, but externally as well.

“Water organisations need to make decisions about how they can impact those boundaries in a positive way. But we also need to look at what we can do to influence external industries.”

Dudley said the water community has a role to play in terms of helping businesses and governments understand the embedded water in their plans and activities, and to look at how water resources are being used.

“Internally, we've got to take action, but there's a big role that we can play in influencing other businesses to make sure that they're actually working on their impact on water and the environment, and what they're actually doing in terms of managing water well,” she said.

Ozwater’24 highlights

While the Ozwater’24 program was packed with examples of innovation, collaboration and opportunity, Dudley said some of the most memorable moments made at this years’ conference were all about the people.

“Seeing Professor Phil Duncan receive the Australian Water Professional of the Year award was an amazing moment filled to the brim with joy,” she said.

“I had the opportunity to go on Country with Phil as part of AWA’s cultural immersion last year and I admire his generosity and leadership. To hear the cheering and see everyone support his work was really special.”

Dudley said another stand out was the keynote presentation from Alone Australia winner Gina Chick.

“I’ve never seen a keynote speaker present barefoot before. It was great to see Gina in person – having watched her on Alone Australia. To me her success was all on account of her not fighting nature. Gina didn’t see the environment as a harsh place, she embraced it by sitting and learning,” she said.

“I also loved the point Gina made about how we need to see things for what they are, which is always a process in flux. Trees are treeing, humans are humaning.

“I walked away from her presentation convinced that we as a sector need to do a lot more humaning. I truly believe that disconnection with nature is at the heart of many of our challenges, and Gina’s thinking was a great reminder of the opportunity we have at every moment to reconnect.”

Next steps

Dudley said it was wonderful to catch up with water colleagues from across Australia at Ozwater’24 and, despite stepping down from her position on the AWA Board, she looks forward to continuing to work with everyone in future as the sector continues to accelerate action towards a sustainable water future.

“I hope to continue to be involved in the water sector in a number of ways. I really enjoy thinking about the challenges ahead and what action we can take. And I'm quite optimistic about the future. The challenges we face are also opportunities,” she said.

“I definitely intend to stay connected to the water sector, but I am also looking forward to bringing my water background to the work I do with other sectors, too.

“While there's a big focus on the energy transition at the moment, I believe this will be a fairly quick shift as sectors realise how much more there is at hand to deal with. We’re going to start to see more focus on water, biodiversity and waste management.

“That’s why this decade matters, for me – this decade is our opportunity to share all our amazing knowledge from the water sector to help other industries take action, too.”

For the past six years, Dudley has been supporting the AWA Board with her extensive experience and strategic expertise. Dudley served as the Chief Financial Officer of Queensland’s Urban Utilities, and also as Chief Executive Officer of the utility from 2012 to 2022. More recently, Dudley joined Aurecon as Strategic Advisor for Water.