Torry Plains Homestead on Pollen Creek, Gayini (Nimmie-Caira), NSW (Photo by Annette Ruzicka/TNC) Torry Plains Homestead on Pollen Creek, Gayini (Nimmie-Caira), NSW (Photo by Annette Ruzicka/TNC) Torry Plains Homestead on Pollen Creek, Gayini (Nimmie-Caira), NSW (Photo by Annette Ruzicka/TNC) Torry Plains Homestead on Pollen Creek, Gayini (Nimmie-Caira), NSW (Photo by Annette Ruzicka/TNC) Torry Plains Homestead on Pollen Creek, Gayini (Nimmie-Caira), NSW (Photo by Annette Ruzicka/TNC)
Annette Ruzicka/TNC
Our mission is to improve how water and catchment policy decisions are made in Australia.
Watertrust Australia
Why Watertrust Australia

Australia is the driest inhabited continent with highly variable rainfall and run-off. Long-term and sustainable management of our waters and catchments is essential.


Yet just when climate change, population growth and the ongoing degradation of our nation’s natural capital assets require policy change, debates over the use and management of Australia’s waters and catchments are becoming increasingly difficult.

Brewarrina Weir Overflows As Murray-Darling River System Runs Again Following Rain Across NSW (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images) Brewarrina Weir Overflows As Murray-Darling River System Runs Again Following Rain Across NSW (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images) Brewarrina Weir Overflows As Murray-Darling River System Runs Again Following Rain Across NSW (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images) Brewarrina Weir Overflows As Murray-Darling River System Runs Again Following Rain Across NSW (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images) Brewarrina Weir Overflows As Murray-Darling River System Runs Again Following Rain Across NSW (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

Jenny Evans/Getty Image

Watertrust Australia understands that it is critical to rebuild trust and find common ground on water and catchment policy. This can be done using proven approaches such as deliberative decision-making and participatory co-design. We are supported by a coalition of 16 of Australia's leading philanthropic funders and are independent of governments or any specific interests. Our independence allows us to approach current and future water and catchment policy challenges as an honest broker. We seek better decisions, not specific answers.


Watertrust Australia will work with communities, First Peoples, farmers, land owners, agricultural and environmental organisations, industry, researchers and experts, land and water managers, and federal, state and local politicians, governments and elected representatives.


We recognise that science and other forms of expertise must inform policy, but Australians also need better ways of making good, enduring and shared decisions about water and catchments across all the domains in which it matters.


Watertrust Australia commenced operations on 1 July 2021 and our inaugural CEO, Nick Austin, took up his role in late September 2021. We expect that Watertrust Australia’s first projects will launch in early- to mid-2022.


> Meet our team
Why we focus on improving decision making

Water and catchment policy debates often focus on who gets what, when and how. They are about who gets to define what the policy problems are, what evidence will be accepted, and what solutions are implemented.


As time passes, there’s likely to be much less water, particularly in the southern half of Australia, and more conflicting claims on water. With climate change, Australia will become even more a land of droughts and flooding rains.


When it comes to water and catchment policy, Australians don't always share a consistent definition of their aspirations or challenges, or a vision of how to best meet these. This has often led to conflict, short-term decision-making and duelling certitudes — many individual advocates and interest groups are certain about their answers, but they are rarely answering the same questions.


Australia needs ways of making water and catchment policy decisions that shift from conflict to respectful cooperation and meaningful compromise, in an environment of trust and mutual understanding. Catalysing such change is Watertrust Australia's mission.

To protect marine life along the coast line and the Great Barrier Reef, farmer Gary Spotswood, has installed pumps to collect the runoff water on his 430 acres, which he then filters through aquatic plants that grow in the adjacent wetlands. (Photo by Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images) To protect marine life along the coast line and the Great Barrier Reef, farmer Gary Spotswood, has installed pumps to collect the runoff water on his 430 acres, which he then filters through aquatic plants that grow in the adjacent wetlands. (Photo by Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images) To protect marine life along the coast line and the Great Barrier Reef, farmer Gary Spotswood, has installed pumps to collect the runoff water on his 430 acres, which he then filters through aquatic plants that grow in the adjacent wetlands. (Photo by Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images) To protect marine life along the coast line and the Great Barrier Reef, farmer Gary Spotswood, has installed pumps to collect the runoff water on his 430 acres, which he then filters through aquatic plants that grow in the adjacent wetlands. (Photo by Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images) To protect marine life along the coast line and the Great Barrier Reef, farmer Gary Spotswood, has installed pumps to collect the runoff water on his 430 acres, which he then filters through aquatic plants that grow in the adjacent wetlands. (Photo by Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Jonas Gratzer/Getty Images

How we work

Watertrust Australia seeks to improve how decisions are made about the management of Australia's waters and catchments through meaningful and well-designed deliberation. We cannot make policy – that remains a role for governments. Our work will complement and contribute to policymaking, paving the way for impactful consultation, collaboration and co-design that influences policy.

Farmer fixing a water trough in drought NSW Australia Farmer fixing a water trough in drought NSW Australia Farmer fixing a water trough in drought NSW Australia Farmer fixing a water trough in drought NSW Australia Farmer fixing a water trough in drought NSW Australia

Our work will build on approaches tested all over the world for decades. The OECD describes deliberative approaches as “well-suited to address values-driven dilemmas, complex problems that require trade-offs, long-term issues that go beyond the short-term incentives of electoral cycles, and issues around which there is political deadlock.''

Derwent Estuary Program scientists Dr Bernadette Proemse (left) and Inger Visby (right) measuring water quality in the Derwent Estuary, Tasmania. (Photo from Derwent Estuary Program) Derwent Estuary Program scientists Dr Bernadette Proemse (left) and Inger Visby (right) measuring water quality in the Derwent Estuary, Tasmania. (Photo from Derwent Estuary Program) Derwent Estuary Program scientists Dr Bernadette Proemse (left) and Inger Visby (right) measuring water quality in the Derwent Estuary, Tasmania. (Photo from Derwent Estuary Program) Derwent Estuary Program scientists Dr Bernadette Proemse (left) and Inger Visby (right) measuring water quality in the Derwent Estuary, Tasmania. (Photo from Derwent Estuary Program) Derwent Estuary Program scientists Dr Bernadette Proemse (left) and Inger Visby (right) measuring water quality in the Derwent Estuary, Tasmania. (Photo from Derwent Estuary Program)

Derwent Estuary Program

Our projects

We will create a portfolio of projects across Australia on a wide range of water and catchment management issues, exploring water and catchment policy's links with climate change adaptation, regional development, agricultural transitions and urban planning. Our first projects will be determined in our first 12 months of operation by our executive team and board in consultation with our advisory committees and water issue experts.


We will work with stakeholders to help identify, define and reframe policy issues, develop options to improve existing policies and resolve challenges arising in the implementation of existing policy.


Watertrust Australia will always be independent, but to ensure we are faithful to regional and local issues we cannot work alone. We will partner with a range of organisations.

Dry Irrigation Pond, Strzelecki Track, Outback, South Australia, Australia (Adobe Images) Dry Irrigation Pond, Strzelecki Track, Outback, South Australia, Australia (Adobe Images) Dry Irrigation Pond, Strzelecki Track, Outback, South Australia, Australia (Adobe Images) Dry Irrigation Pond, Strzelecki Track, Outback, South Australia, Australia (Adobe Images) Dry Irrigation Pond, Strzelecki Track, Outback, South Australia, Australia (Adobe Images)
Our team

Watertrust Australia's Board of Directors has been selected to provide the independence, authority and knowledge required to govern the organisation and work with all our stakeholders


The Board is supported by an Influence Advisory Committee of well-connected and influential thought leaders and an Expert Advisory Panel of eminent water, catchment and linked policy area experts.


Watertrust Australia will be incubated at the Australian Academy of Science for at least our first five years of operation to help us engage with deep expertise from a wide range of disciplines. We will work with all of Australia's learned academies.


Our inaugural Chair, Board and CEO have been appointed and more information about them is linked below.

Craig Connelly

Director

Craig Connelly is CEO of The Ian Potter Foundation. Craig is an accomplished financier and businessman, now dedicated to contributing to the community sector. He spent 25 years working in a variety of roles in the Australian financial services sector. A Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants and a Fellow of the Financial Services Institute of Australasia, Craig is an experienced business analyst and successful manager whose professional strengths lie in his research innovation, industry analysis, technical expertise and strong communication skills.


Craig has also been an effective mentor to many young professionals throughout his business career. He is a member of the Natural Capital Expert Advisory Group and has been an external member of the Advisory Committee for the Sustainable Farms Initiative at ANU. He is a Founding Trustee of the National Parks Conservation Trust and is currently on the board of Sane Australia Limited.

Craig Connelly

Director

Craig Connelly is CEO of The Ian Potter Foundation. Craig is an accomplished financier and businessman, now dedicated to contributing to the community sector. He spent 25 years working in a variety of roles in the Australian financial services sector. A Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants and a Fellow of the Financial Services Institute of Australasia, Craig is an experienced business analyst and successful manager whose professional strengths lie in his research innovation, industry analysis, technical expertise and strong communication skills.


Craig has also been an effective mentor to many young professionals throughout his business career. He is a member of the Natural Capital Expert Advisory Group and has been an external member of the Advisory Committee for the Sustainable Farms Initiative at ANU. He is a Founding Trustee of the National Parks Conservation Trust and is currently on the board of Sane Australia Limited.

Kathryn Fagg AO

Chair

Kathryn Fagg AO is a respected and experienced director and chair, with extensive senior commercial and operational leadership experience across a range of industries. Currently, Kathryn is Deputy Board Chair of CSIRO and a Non-Executive Director of both National Australia Bank and Djerriwarrh Investments Limited. In the for-purpose sector, Kathryn is Chair of the Breast Cancer Network Australia, as well as a Director of The Myer Foundation, the Grattan Institute and the Champions of Change Coalition. She is a former President of Chief Executive Women, a former Chair of Parks Victoria and the Melbourne Recital Centre, and a former Board member of the Australian Centre for Innovation. Kathryn is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering.


In addition to her engineering degree, Kathryn holds an MCom in Organisational Behaviour with Honours from the University of NSW, which has also awarded her an honorary Doctor of Business and the Ada Lovelace Medal in 2017, which recognises an outstanding woman engineer. She was a recipient of the University of Queensland's Inaugural Vice-Chancellor's Alumni Excellence Award in 2013 and the University also awarded her an honorary Doctor of Chemical Engineering. Kathryn was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in June 2019 for distinguished service to business and finance, to the central banking, logistics and manufacturing sectors, and to women.

Martyn Myer AO

Director

Martyn Myer AO is a prominent Melbourne businessman and philanthropist with over 25 years of experience in executive and non-executive board and chair roles in private and public companies, not-for-profit organisations and philanthropic foundations.


Martyn was President of The Myer Foundation from 2009 to 2020 and stepped down as Chairman of Myer Family Investments Pty Ltd in October 2016. From 2004 until 2007, Martyn was President of the Howard Florey Institute of Experimental Physiology and Medicine after serving as Vice-President from 2000 to 2004 and Treasurer from 1992 to 2000. He was a Director of the Florey Neuroscience Institutes from 2007 to 2009.


Martyn was Deputy Chancellor of the University of Melbourne and served on the university’s Council from 2009 to 2019. In June 2008, Martyn was appointed an Officer in the Order of Australia for service to business and the community, particularly through contributions to medical research and the establishment of the Florey Neuroscience Institute and through executive and philanthropic roles with a range of organisations.


Nick Austin

CEO

Nick Austin joined Watertrust Australia Ltd from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle where he was Director, Agricultural Development in the Global Development division from 2017–2021. Before Nick joined the Gates Foundation, he was Interim Executive Director, CGIAR, based in Montpellier, France.


Nick has held senior executive roles for over a decade, including seven years as CEO of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and Executive Director roles in the NSW Department of Primary Industries. A hydrologist by training, Nick has undertaken or managed research programs in most major irrigated commodities in Australia. He holds a PhD in irrigation and water quality from the University of Melbourne, a Masters in Sustainable Management from the University of Sydney, and a Bachelor of Engineering in agriculture with honours from the University of Melbourne.


He is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and has held many directorships including being a Director of Land & Water Australia, the Value-Added Wheat Cooperative Research Centre and the Australian Sheep Industry Cooperative Research Centre. Nick will maintain his role on the board of Gates Agricultural Innovations.


Robbie Sefton

Director

Robbie Sefton is Managing Director of Sefton & Associates, a national strategic communications consultancy, and a partner of Nangandie Pastoral Company. Her current board roles include membership of the boards of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, headspace, the CRC for High Performance Soils and the CRC for Smarter Regions.


Robbie also sits on the National Farmers’ Federation Advisory Group and is a former Deputy Chair of the Australia Day Council and the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation. Robbie brings extensive experience with rural, regional and remote issues and wide-ranging connections with decision-makers and national leaders. She recently chaired the Panel for the Independent Assessment of Social and Economic Conditions in The Murray-Darling Basin. Robbie will chair Watertrust Australia’s Influence Advisory Committee.

Prof Rob Vertessy

Director

Rob Vertessy is an Honorary Enterprise Professor (Water Resources) in the School of Engineering, University of Melbourne. He chairs the Great Barrier Reef Restoration Program, the Water and Environment Research Program for the Murray–Darling Basin, and the Committee on Social Economic and Environmental Sciences for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. In 2019, Rob chaired the Independent Assessment into the Fish Deaths on the Lower Darling River. Rob was previously CEO and Director of Meteorology at the Bureau of Meteorology, Chief, Land and Water, CSIRO, and Director (CEO) of the CRC for Catchment Hydrology.


In addition to his extensive scientific and management experience, Rob has been involved in the research and development of what is now Watertrust Australia since 2018. He was a member of the expert advisory panel for the research team that scoped the broader issues and a member of the team that recommended the design for Watertrust Australia. Rob is an elected Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE). He is the immediate past Chair of ATSE’s Water Forum. Rob will chair Watertrust Australia’s Expert Advisory Panel.


Prof Peter Yu AM

Director

Peter Yu is a Yawuru man from Broome in the Kimberley region in North West Australia with over 40 years’ experience in Indigenous development in the Kimberley and at the state, national and international level. Peter was a key negotiator on behalf of the Yawuru Native Title Holders with the Western Australian State Government over the 2010 Yawuru Native Title Agreement. He was recently Chief Executive Officer of the Yawuru Corporate Group and is the current and inaugural Vice-President First Nations at the Australian National University.


He has been an advocate for the social, cultural and economic advancement and well-being of the Aboriginal community throughout his entire career. He has been instrumental in the development of many community-based organisations and initiatives which have had an enduring influence on the Kimberley region. He was Executive Director of the Kimberley Land Council during the 1990s and a member of the national leadership team negotiating the Federal Government’s response to the 1992 Mabo High Court judgement on Native Title.


Peter is currently the Chair for the Indigenous Reference Group (IRG) to the Northern Ministerial Forum and Deputy Chair of the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance Ltd (NAILSMA). Peter was awarded an Order of Australia Medal (AM) in 2021 for his services to the Indigenous community.


Leith Boully

Director

Leith Boully is the Independent Chair for the Review of the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan Land Management Targets, Interim Chair of the Water Security CRC bid, and a member of the Australian Water Partnerships Advisory Committee.


Leith’s previous board roles include being a National Water Commissioner, Chairman of the Community Advisory Committee to the Murray Darling Basin Ministerial Council, Chairman SunWater, Chairman Australian Water Recycling Centre of Excellence, board member, SeqWater, Murrumbidgee Irrigation, CRC Water Sensitive Cities, and a Commissioner, Australian Heritage Commission.


Alongside her extensive board experience and water and catchment management knowledge, Leith brings a wealth of stakeholder engagement knowledge, particularly in complex, ambiguous, culturally diverse and politicised contexts. Leith also managed a family pastoral company for 30 years.


Dr Deborah Nias

Director

Deb Nias is CEO of the Murray Darling Wetlands Working Group, a former Director of the International River Foundation and Wetland Care Australia. Deb brings 25 years’ experience in natural resource and landscape management in Australia, much of this work has had a substantial focus on engagement with a wide range of stakeholders.


Deb has a PhD in wetland ecology and has led genuine cross-stakeholder engagement with hundreds of landholders, Traditional Owners and Indigenous Corporations, businesses, irrigators, government agencies and other community organisations.

Tim Gordon

Director

Tim Gordon is a partner in the Corporate Advisory team at Gilbert + Tobin where he advises listed companies and private equity fund managers in relation to mergers and acquisitions, capital raisings, joint ventures, restructurings and regulatory investigations. Tim has extensive experience advising on transactions around critical infrastructure assets including natural resources and agriculture.


Tim is a member of the Law Committee of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, the Securities Law Committee of the International Bar Association and is a regular commentator in the media on corporate governance. He has previously been a board member of RACS (Sydney’s refugee legal centre) and member of the UNSW Law Advisory Council. Tim has been involved with assisting with the establishment of what is now Watertrust Australia since 2017.

Our story
The genesis of Watertrust Australia was a 2017 project of The Myer Foundation and The Ian Potter Foundation, two of Australia's leading philanthropic foundations. They share a vision that an important role for philanthropy is to provide risk capital for social innovation.

The Myer Foundation and The Ian Potter Foundation funded a major study to help them better understand the issues and how Australia might improve the sustainable management of its inland waters and catchments. The study identified a role for philanthropy in supporting an independent organisation that could act as an honest broker to work with stakeholders to improve water and catchment policy outcomes. It found that well-designed deliberation was able to rebuild trust in the democratic institutions needed to make decisions for the common good.


Colonial Foundation, the Margaret Reid ‘Kingston’ Bequest, the Besen Family Foundation, the Miller Foundation and the Wright Burt Foundation agreed to join The Myer Foundation and The Ian Potter Foundation as major funders. Nine other funders have also joined the coalition to provide the financial support Watertrust Australia needs to operate at scale for at least 10 years (the full list of funders can be found below). Colonial Foundation also joined The Myer Foundation and The Ian Potter Foundation to oversee Watertrust Australia’s establishment, incorporation, and charity registration.


The major funders and two representatives from the remaining funders have all been engaged in the appointment of Chair, CEO and board members. The coalition of funders continues to actively support ongoing fundraising efforts towards their mission of supporting Australians to create enduring water and catchment policy change for the common good.


Watertrust Australia Ltd was incorporated and registered as a charity in 2021.

 
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Image Credits

In order of appearance:


Image 1:
Torry Plains Homestead on Pollen Creek, Gayini (Nimmie-Caira), NSW (Photo by Annette Ruzicka/TNC)


Image 2:
Brewarrina Weir Overflows As Murray-Darling River System Runs Again Following Rain Across NSW (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)


Image 3:
Mark Brettschneider, Nari Nari Tribal Council, Gayini (Nimmie-Caira), NSW (Photo by Annette Ruzicka/TNC)


Image 4:
To protect marine life along the coast line and the Great Barrier Reef, farmer Gary Spotswood, has installed pumps to collect the runoff water on his 430 acres, which he then filters through aquatic plants that grow in the adjacent wetlands. (Photo by Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images)


Image 5:
Farmer fixing a water trough in drought NSW Australia


Image 6:
Derwent Estuary Program scientists Dr Bernadette Proemse (left) and Inger Visby (right) measuring water quality in the Derwent Estuary, Tasmania. (Photo from Derwent Estuary Program)


Image 7:
Dry Irrigation Pond, Strzelecki Track, Outback, South Australia, Australia (Adobe Images)


Image 8:
East Alligator River Floodplain, Northern Territory (Photo by Michael Douglas)


Image 9:
Sunrise of Perth City view at Kings Park and Botanic Garden on Mount Eliza, Perth (Photo from Getty Images)


Image 10:
Wedge-tailed eagle plucking Barramundi from water. Corroboree Billabong, Northern Territory. (Photo by Auscape/Universal Images Group from Getty Images)