Call to action at Deakin Oration

Professor Tony WongProfessor Tony Wong has made a call to action on water and sustainability when delivering the 2017 Deakin Oration at Parliament House.

The Chief Executive Officer of the Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities told a diverse audience of water company executives, academics, public servants, students and members of the general public that a political climate of cooperation and collaboration is needed if we are to tackle contemporary challenges in water management for our cities.

“The case for transformation is compelling; the consequence of doing nothing, disturbing,” Professor Wong said.

“If we can transform our cities into water sensitive cities, we will be able to withstand the future threats of climate and water scarcity. And even more: we will be well placed to maintain our growth, prosperity, and quality of life,” he said.

“But realising those ambitions requires us to change our approach in infrastructure planning, city design, and community engagement and empowerment. A whole-of-government approach will be critical.”

Professor Wong said water resources within a city’s limits need to be harnessed to supplement traditional sources of water.

Professor Tony Wong

“In the case of Melbourne, those ‘internal’ water sources include rainwater, stormwater, and wastewater. It is a fact that the combined volumes of stormwater runoff and treated wastewater discharge far exceeds the total water used in the city. Why shouldn’t we harness these water resources, especially for use that does not require a drinking-water standard?”

As households are substantial consumers of water, Professor Wong said citizens are “an incredible resource for shaping their own, more sustainable futures”.

“While not a widely published fact, the efforts of Melbourne’s citizens in water conservation behaviour during the Millennium Drought prevented Melbourne from completely running out of water by June 2009, some 12 months before the drought was to break.

“Thus, improving water literacy, and a genuine and meaningful engagement of local citizens in co‑developing and implementing water management strategies, is the approach we need to adopt in building resilience.”

Professor Wong said Victoria was well-placed to enact successful, transformational change in water management due to the governance structures that have been put in place and the collaboration on planning that already occurs.

In his presentation, Professor Wong reflected on the leadership style of Australia’s second Prime Minister Alfred Deakin, to whom the annual oration is dedicated.

“He was unwaveringly courteous and refused to engage in petty arguments, thus keeping the path open for cooperation and progress; for resolving disagreement and enabling good policy,” Professor Wong said of Deakin.

He suggested there were lessons to be learned from Deakin’s approach to the development of policy and legislation.

The Deakin Oration 2017

“In the vein of forward-looking governance and structure that Deakin envisioned, our political leaders need to maintain bipartisan support of integrated water management and water sensitive cities, and the governance to enable the shifts we need. That bipartisan leadership will provide industry, and individual practitioners within, with the certainty they need to invest, innovate and transform for a new paradigm,” Professor Wong said.

This year’s Deakin Oration included a panel discussion during which Professor Wong was joined by the Director of Monash Water for Liveability, Professor Rob Skinner as well as Jenny Scovell, whose long involvement in water issues included working on the team that drafted the landmark Water Act of 1989. The discussion was facilitated by award-winning environmental campaigner, author and journalist Tanya Ha.

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Click here to read Professor Tony Wong’s Deakin Oration 2017



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