The Water Industry's Young Leaders in an Hour of Optimism

An Hour of Optimism with Young Water Leaders for a Better Future was an event held in October 2021 hosted by The Centre for Optimism, the Australian Water Association and VicWater. The Honourable Harriet Shing MLC, the Victorian Government's Parliamentary Secretary for Water joined us to share her infectious optimism and her optimism for the water sector. The case for optimism was led by the water sector's young leaders including Georgina Catto-Smith, Process Engineer (Water) at Jacobs and AWA Vic YWP Chair; Chris Lee, Senior Policy Advisor, Policy Partnerships for Water and Catchments Group, Department of Environment, Land, Water and PlanningBrendan Moore, Manager Recycled Water Planning at Yarra Valley Water; and, Donald Hughan, Chair of Water Able and Business Support Officer at Goulburn-Murray Water.  We asked them what makes them optimistic and what they have done to keep their teams and colleagues optimistic through COVID.


These excellent Australian young leaders were asked, "What makes you optimistic?" 

Brendan Moore,  Manager Recycled Water Planning and Compliance at Yarra Valley Water and Co-Founder of Pride in Water.

"My optimism is fuelled by the potential, the wonder, and the possibilities that I encounter in people and situations every day. For me, optimism is synonymous with hope and excitement."

“Optimism is the excitement for what tomorrow will bring, it’s the happiness we get from the relationships we build and it is the light that guides us through our darkest times.”

Georgina Catto-Smith, Water Engineer with Jacobs and the Australian Water Association's Victorian Young Water Professionals Chair 2021/22

"Optimism for me is not letting the things we're missing get in the way of the opportunities we have."

Christopher Lee, Strategic Policy Facilitator, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning

"Optimism is essential as we must have faith that we will prevail in the end, and as uncertain as life is, there will always be moments when opportunities pass by your door.

"However, as with the Stockdale Paradox, we must also confront whatever brutal reality may face us.

"Surely, as COVID-19 will eventually pass, we must remain optimistic.

"And really, would spring be so sweet if there was no winter?

Let's be optimists and make the most of what life throws at us and enjoy the simple things and successes as they come!"

Donald Hughan, Chair of WaterAble and Business Support Officer at Goulburn-Murray Water

"Optimism gives me great excitement and pride within my daily life. Life presents us all with opportunities and choices each and every day, and knowing that through those opportunities and choices I make, can have an everlasting impact on those people I engage with daily and in society generally."

Amanda Hazell, President of the Victorian Branch Committee of the Australian Water Association and Melbourne Water's Portfolio Reporting and Analytics Manager.

"What makes me optimistic? Knowing that there are people who get up every morning and think, 'Today, I have a chance to positively impact my friends, family, community, the world', and they do. And they do it on repeat, every day, no matter how big or small that positive impact is."

Christopher Lee , Strategic Policy Facilitator, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning

"One thing thing that makes me optimistic is Victoria is embarking on the process of treaty; a very difficult path, but we're starting it regardless, and the progress that's been made by the First Nations Assembly in making those first steps in recognising aqua nullius and also the steps the Victorian government's taking in embedding cultural values in water legislation."

Georgina Catto-Smith, Water Engineer with Jacobs and the Australian Water Association's Victorian Young Water Professionals Chair

"Expressing gratitude. That's something I've been making an effort to do personally, but also something we do at work. We have a weekly team meeting with a team of 80 people, and the first couple of minutes are always exchanging moments of gratitude with each other. That's fantastic. I think it's always nice to receive them, nice to give them, and nice to hear about other people exchanging gratitudes. It's also something we do in AWA meetings. And a great way to remember the positive things that we do have despite all the challenges we face."

Donald Hughan, Chair of WaterAble and Business Support Officer at Goulburn-Murray Water

What makes me optimistic? Optimism is very exciting for me. It's something I take great pride in. It's something that I'm very passionate about and excited about. And it is the opportunities that present us all each and every day and the choices we make. The choices we make also create opportunities. It may create opportunities for other people; it may create further opportunities for ourselves. Those opportunities and choices may not have the expected outcomes that you may always wish for. But also, if they don't have those suspected outcomes that you would hope for, they're going to have outcomes that will allow you to be optimistic and learn from that experience and improve on or adapt, change or anything like that.

As Victor said, and Brendon has alluded to earlier, I'm a business support officer at Goulburn-Murray Water, and I'm also the chair of Water Able. Water Able is a group of representatives across all water corporations in Victoria. We are a network to embrace disability inclusion. I'm myself a total wheelchair-bound person. It gives me great pleasure to lead a network of people and watch each and every water corporation embrace disability inclusion in learning what that involves and also embedding it within their organisations. One key element for me, and just this week, I had a conversation with a water corporation. And then, through that conversation, they said they wanted to learn more about disability inclusion. They have the framework in place, but they potentially don't have the structure or want to learn how to structure it more effectively for their organisation and what outcomes they wish to achieve.

So that gave me the opportunity to pair them with Goulburn-Murray Water. And to watch both organisations already within the last few days come together and collaborate for disability inclusion is very, very successful, very heart-warming for me. Disability inclusion is something that I'm very passionate about. The reason I'm so passionate about disability inclusion is that I want to watch people thrive. I don't want to see people look at things and say, "I can't do that." The thing is, yes, you can. Yes, you may need to do it differently, but there are supports out there. So let's embrace that, and let's build on disability inclusion. Let's also embrace and build on the entire Victorian water sector and contribute to our country and contribute to our customers, and let's just make this world a better place.

Dean Troth, Circular Economy Strategist, IQ Energy Australia

“What keeps me really optimistic is the level of innovation in the water sector. Obviously, water is a very, very basic human right, but it's not staid, it's not boring. Yes, there's been dams and infrastructure around for a hundred and something years, but things are growing, and there are always new projects. And so that's what keeps me excited and optimistic about the future of the water sector. Our group talked about the whole idea of the circular economy and turning what was a waste stream, biosolids and other things into a resource that can be valuable to lots of people. So that's what keeps me energised, Victor."

Opening Comments by The Honourable Harriet Shing MLC, the Victorian Government's Parliamentary Secretary for Water

"Thank you so much, Victor. It is a real joy to be part of this event and actually to see so many other human beings, let's be honest. Our limitations on connection have never been, I think, more pronounced than they are now. So, it is really a delight to be here. And I was very enthusiastic, puppy-like indeed, in accepting this invitation to be part of a conversation on optimism in water.

"I want to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land upon which we variously meet today. For me, that's the Wurundjeri and Bunurong people of the Kulin nation. I want to pay my respects to their elders, past and present, and acknowledge any and all Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander leaders or emerging leaders who have joined us today. This is of particular importance given the strong and important connection that we have with traditional owners in the area of water as far as the access to and entitlement, the enabling features that water brings, the recognition as part of reconciliation and self-determination that water plays in this particular field. And also, the really important work that we as a state are doing in the area of treaty and of the Yoo-rrook Truth and Justice Commission as well. Which, for those who aren't aware and who are listening from afar, is part of recognizing a long and very tragic, in many instances, history of our refusal or inability to acknowledge the ongoing connection that the oldest continuous culture on earth has with the land and the water and the air.

"My role in the Victorian Parliament begins in the upper house, the Legislative Council. In fact, I was elected in 2014, the first woman to represent the Eastern Victoria region. It's been a significant change to diversity not just in leadership but also in a way that reflects what's happening more broadly. I want to touch on that in a moment with the Women and Water work that has been happening and the commitment demonstrated by leaders across the water sector in Victoria to bring us not just to a 50% representation of women in paid boards to sail past that. And now to bring that focus to middle and upper management to make sure that we are harnessing the perspectives of women, of people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, people who would not ordinarily sit on boards, people whose perspectives are so important as we move forward to create and maintain a sustainable resource, to connect better with our communities and to make sure that the agencies, the authorities, land care, the CMAs, catchment management authorities, and others are working as seamlessly as possible. Again, with that environmental lens and with that lens of really good, effective, consultative governance and risk management.

"I have been the Parliamentary Secretary for Water for about nine months now. Before that, I was the Parliamentary Secretary for Mental Health. I've also worked in emergency services. I have the gig in equality and creative industries as well. And so, it's a pretty full dance card for me.

"On the other hand, it's one of the areas that I absolutely love being part of. It's not only a technical and intricate space to be in as far as the engineering expertise and prowess but also the planning, the engagement, stakeholder inclusion, and the capacity you to have really good, robust, respectful conversations across the board around how we identify challenges and problems. But how we meet those challenges and problems with really wonderful solutions, which are often lateral but always enhanced by more diversity.

"So, it is a joy to be here. I'm very happy to talk about what the challenges are within Victoria and also, I think, as importantly, what those solutions look like. But for me, optimism involves inclusion. It involves diversity. It involves a preparedness to listen respectfully and to engage with differing points of view and perspectives. It also involves an ability to be resilient, understand that setbacks provide opportunities, and facilitate really good pathways for people to be involved at every decision-making level. And to understand that water, unlike in many other government areas, doesn't respect state and federal boundaries. It, therefore, requires a level of cooperation and consultation to get good outcomes and decisions that I think is pretty unique to this particular portfolio and I believe reflected as much as anything else by the parallels in climate change and what we do to rise to those challenges. So, forcing, I think, a level of cooperation and of innovation, which puts us in a really good position to engage the best and brightest minds from a range of different fields to come up with solutions and also to role model for others to become part of this sector and this industry.

"I can't wait for the panel discussion. I can't wait to hear from young leaders, and I can't wait to be part of the song around you've got a friend because we all need optimism right now. It has been an exceptionally trying... well, many years, in fact, in water, from drought through to floods, from changes and challenges around sustainability, the pressures brought about by population growth, and with that, the emerging opportunities around technology, around expertise, which can improve efficiency, which can drive access to other sources for water to meet potable water demands, and a collaboration between stakeholders, all-important, including traditional owners, including irrigators, including environmental water holders. And overlaid on that, the work that governments can do to facilitate that with really good faith and best practice approach in mind.

"So, Victor, that's me.

"On a personal note, optimism and the things that have kept me optimistic in circumstances where I think it's very easy to succumb to being very crestfallen about where we're at at the moment: The things that matter to me are seeing the seasons change and seeing green environments return around us, being able to be surrounded in a working-from-home arrangement with animals, finding the thing that I love and that encourages me to be mindful, along with having opportunities like this to meet so many new people but also to catch up with people from around this sector in particular who are my role models, my mentors, the people who I respect and have enormous regard for.

So, this is an absolute delight for me, Victor. Thank you so much for inviting me to be part of today's discussion. I can't wait to see how things unfold."



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