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A national independent water and catchment policy centre

The big issue: Water

Photo: A fence splits the land and waters in this aerial photo taken near the Macquarie Marshes in NSW, showing the impact of different land management practices on vegetation, soil runoff and water quality. Image credit: Peter Solness.

The following article has been provided by The Ian Potter Foundation and The Myer Foundation.

Water is life. In Australia – the driest inhabited continent on Earth — it is a scarce and precious resource.

Climate change is already reducing rainfall and runoff, particularly in the southern half of the continent, where most Australians live and where we grow most of our food. Projections of future climate change suggest that Australia will become hotter and drier over the coming decades, continuing the existing, strong drying trend in the southeast and southwest. Over that same timeframe, Australia’s population is forecast to increase to at least 40 million people.

Australia’s future prosperity depends on the sustainable management of our waters and catchments. Sustainably managing the often-competing needs of cities, agriculture, regional communities, rivers, wetlands and catchments is a long-term, ‘wicked’ problem that cannot be addressed within the short timeframes of parliamentary cycles or via media sound bites. It involves political choices that alter the allocation of resources, reshape existing entitlements, and challenge established economic interests. Such decisions are made particularly difficult where there are diverse but strongly held values and where advocates for partisan positions speak past each other.

In such tough public policy spaces, we know the difference that a visionary, well-resourced, expert, trusted and independent adviser can make. ClimateWorks, established by The Myer Foundation in partnership with Monash University ten years ago, is now playing a key role in influencing climate change mitigation policy and is helping drive Australia’s transition to a net-zero emissions future.

We know that we can have the same impact in water.

The pathway

In 2017, The Myer Foundation and The Ian Potter Foundation started to think deeply about the security and sustainability of Australia’s water and catchments. Together, we invested $600,000 to fund detailed research that sought to answer two key questions.

Firstly: is there a role for philanthropy to play in catalysing transformative change in the management of Australia’s freshwater resource for the benefit of all Australians?

The answer to that question was “yes”. The research identified 27 issues that philanthropy could seek to influence. Of these issues, 26 required major policy reform.

Secondly: what form should philanthropic intervention take to address critical policy matters in the management of Australia’s freshwater resources?

The answer was to create a new, independent and expert entity to catalyse transformative change in the management of Australia’s freshwater systems and catchments.

The Myer Foundation and The Ian Potter Foundation have jointly committed $10 million over 10 years to establish a national, independent Water and Catchment Policy Centre (the Centre). The Centre will focus on the difficult decisions that must be made to set Australia on a sustainable and secure path.

What is the Water and Catchment Policy Centre?

The Centre has been designed to bridge the gaps between knowledge and power in making decisions. Too often those with knowledge – scientific, Indigenous, or local – have little power in decision-making and those with power do not have the knowledge required to make good, integrated and enduring policy decisions. 

Effective water and catchment policy reform requires deep expertise, enduring community and stakeholder engagement, and approaches to decision-making capable of working effectively on politically charged policy issues. The Centre’s unique contribution will be its independence and its deliberative approach to decision-making designed to engage all stakeholders, including those who have often been under-represented in policymaking.

Substantial international experience shows deliberative methods of policy co-design work because they break down partisan divides and refocus stakeholders on finding shared solutions to policy problems, often with considerable spill overs to broader political debates.

The Centre will operate across Australia and will have a focus on linking water and catchment management to broader issues such as regional development, agricultural transition, community resilience and climate adaptation. 

Importantly, the Centre is to be incubated at The Australian Academy of Science for at least its first five years. 

What can AEGN members do?

Our $10 million investment reflects the lasting impact that philanthropy can have on the way water is managed for the long-term benefit of all Australians. Sustainable water policy has never been more critical, and the Centre must be resourced at a level that will achieve the impact required to catalyse major reform.

We are seeking likeminded people who understand the fundamental importance of water to our lives. Small, medium or large – each of you can play a part.  

Funding for the Centre is projected at $3.5 million a year. Our goal is to raise an additional $25 million this year to secure the its independent operation for at least ten years. The future of the Centre will be determined by progress towards the funding goal.

How can I get involved?

Exclusive webinar

Join the exclusive webinar for members and friends of the AEGN to hear a briefing on the Water and Catchment Policy Centre.

Where: Via Zoom — you will be sent a link
When: Thursday 30 April
Time: 1.00pm 

Register by Friday 24 April to

Get in touch

Jane Thomas, Program Manager, The Myer Foundation

“The water institute report makes a powerful case for transformative policy. Governments are either sitting on the problem or bickering rather than tackling the challenges head on. The description of the role of the water institute being to bridge the gap between knowledge and power is excellent. It is a no-nonsense proposal. I have no suggestions or questions. Well done.”

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel