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The best of Ozwater’23

Water professionals from across Australia and around the world gathered in Sydney last week for Ozwater’23 to share innovative ideas, connect with water community colleagues and inspire positive change. 

The theme of Ozwater’23 was United by Water, encouraging water professionals and leaders to work together to build our sustainable water future.

Featuring a lineup of inspirational keynote speakers, engaging forums and panels, interactive workshops and technical presentations, the Ozwater’23 program challenged delegates to think outside the box and reflect deeply on where the water sector is headed. 110 delegates from partner nations including Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Tonga, the Solomon Islands, Samoa and Fiji also attended.

While Ozwater’23 has now officially ended, key learnings and ideas are still fresh on everyone’s mind. Take a look below at some of the thought leadership and key highlights for this year’s edition of the Australian Water Association’s premium water event. 

Plenary speakers 

Ozwater’23 kicked off with a call to climate action from plenary speakers Mick Liubinskas, CEO of climate technology company network Climate Salad, and Olivia Tyler, Industry Innovation Lead for Sustainability and Circular Economy at Western Sydney University.

Liubinskas urged delegates to believe in Australia’s capacity to help solve the climate challenges facing the world – and to believe in their own ability to confront them. 

“Despite the fact that we put 200 years of growth on the environmental credit card, we can pay that debt down by our innovation, collaboration and ingenuity that we've invested in,” he said. 

Tyler encouraged Ozwater’23 attendees to think differently about what they can bring to the table – individually and collectively – in pursuit of climate action. 

“[For] us to truly galvanise and unite under a banner of climate action in its fullest form and at the individual level, we have to do things differently. We have to follow our nose and the road less travelled to challenge the status quo,” she said. 

Day Two of Ozwater’23 featured a keynote address from lawyer, entrepreneurial leader and Yawuru/Bunuba woman Cara Peek, who challenged delegates to leave their ego at the door when it comes to First Nations engagement. 

“If you truly believe we are united by water – that despite our egos’ best efforts, clean water is not a privilege for the few but in fact a fundamental human right for all – then you may need to check your bias and remove yourself from the centre of the conversation,” she said.

On Day Three, Ozwater’23 delegates were guided by Social Living Solutions Founder Patricia Falcetta and MindStrength Founder Dr Jodie Lowinger to consider why supporting  neurodivergence can work in everyone’s favour, and how to lean into anxiety for resilience

“Neurodivergent people tend to come at problems from a different angle, have great attention to detail and possess out-of-the-box thinking,” Falcetta said. 

“Is it actually the individual that's disabled? Or is it the environment that is disabling them? Do we need to create awareness and education around this so that we provide environments that are enabling for all?”

Likewise, Lowinger said understanding commonly experienced feelings of anxiety could be the basis for empowered action.

“Worry typically is about focusing on all the things that are out of our control. Problem-solving is empowering: identifying your action plan, implementing your plan, reviewing and revising,” she said. 

Workshops, forums and panels 

A new addition to this year’s Ozwater’23 program was the Day Two yarning circles, giving participating delegates the opportunity to share knowledge and personal perspectives, and to speak and listen from the heart.

With Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collaboration a key theme within the Ozwater’23 program, a vital workshop session on Day One explored how the water community can move beyond engagement to collaborative and meaningful actions with First Nations people.

University of Canberra Associate Professor of Indigenous Water Science Bradley Moggridge asked delegates to acknowledge the diversity of perspectives that First Nations people can bring to the table. 

“Water is part of our law. It's in our Dreaming, it's in our songs and dances. [But] our diversity is crucial to understand. Working with Aboriginal [and Torres Strait Islander] people, you have to understand our diversity,” he said.

Another key highlight in the panel schedule included the Water Leaders Forum, which gathered senior leaders in water to contemplate strategies for immediate action on the most pressing water-related issues.

With the need to accomplish more with less a big challenge facing all water companies, Don Holland, Canadian Market Leader – Water at GHD, said the solution lies in collaboration.

“Collaboration, both internally and externally – that's our way out,” he explained. “[It’s] what we’re doing today: learning together, learning how to collaborate across boundaries, whether that be within your own organisation, state, [or province],” he said. 

The Ozwater’23 Directors Forum also dished up some cutting-edge thought leadership, particularly around what the water sector can do to contribute to the decarbonisation agenda.

“[Meeting] the 2050 [net zero] target is not a problem of execution; 2050 is a problem of imagination,” Chair of Sydney Water Grant King told attendees. 

“We do not yet have what we need to hit net zero by 2050, and therefore we have to invent a lot more – we have to think much more creatively, we have to imagine worlds that, today, would seem inconceivable.”

Australian Water Awards 

It wouldn’t be Ozwater without the announcement of the Australian Water Awards, with this year’s winners showcasing a dazzling spectrum of excellence, innovation and leadership

The highlight of the Ozwater’23 Gala Dinner, the ANZ-sponsored awards recognised winners in 11 categories, and culminated with the announcement of Ian Law as Water Professional of the Year and Chelsea Hayward as Young Water Professional of the Year. 

The Australian Water Association congratulates all winners and finalists for their outstanding contribution to the water sector. 

Interested in taking a look at all the action? The Ozwater’23 photo galleries for Day One, Day Two and Day Three are now available to peruse.