Sophie McGuinness, WSAA Young Utility Member and Operations Controller at Watercare in Auckland, joined us at our November Members Meeting. Here are her thoughts.
I had the immense pleasure of attending the WSAA Members Meeting in Auckland on the 11th of November. It was hosted by Watercare at Eden Park, the home of all things rugby in our city, which is also the home to the Central Interceptor project, a 14 kilometre, five meter diameter tunnel which will reduce 80% of overflows in Central Auckland. We kicked off in style with former All Black Keven Mealamu speaking with us about participating in a team while breaking through stigmas around mental health in the ‘workplace.’ This was a poignant note leading from the last Members Meeting where we learned about the Water Industry Mental Health Framework which is being championed by WSAA. We may have been a bit sore from our loss in the Rugby World Cup, but Keven had the ear of every person in the room, whether they were rugby fans or not.
We started the Members Meeting bright and early with a traditional pōwhiri, a Maori welcome ceremony hosted by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, the representative tribe on whose land we were meeting. The process of pōwhiri begins with a beckoning call to the visitors who have made their way over from Australia, who joined the host group, exchanged speeches and songs, and opened the meeting together. This display is commonplace in New Zealand, and was a refreshing way to begin the proceedings as we dug into our topics of community engagement, city resilience, and health for all.
Climate change and sustainability were top-of-mind, and Steve Webster, Watercare’s Chief Infrastructure Officer, spoke to the ways in which Watercare is moving towards massive changes to meet these substantial goals. He noted that sustainability is a unique weapon to attract the best people, as social responsibility is a foundation of our work as utility providers, and because it’s the right thing to do. Powerful words and ideas have sprung from the climate action frameworks being set into action across the globe, and utility providers are moving forward to meet this goal.
City resilience naturally followed from this, with Colin Crampton of Wellington Water speaking to the possibilities of risk mitigation in countries such as ours which are so affected by the elements. Wellington Lifelines Group is a collaboration of utilities in the earthquake-prone city in preparation for such destructive natural disasters. Colin’s point resonated, that utilities need to push resilience through with leadership, as the motivation to invest can wane if there is no apparent economic return.
Richie Waiwai of Watercare, Louise Dudley of Queensland Urban Utilities, and Pat McCafferty of Yarra Valley Water spoke about their respective endeavours in engagement with indigenous communities in New Zealand and Australia. Richie had lead in the morning pōwhiri with a powerful korero (or speech), and spoke to the challenges of conflict and partnership with Waikato-Tainui. Louise Dudley presented the Reconciliation Action Plans which meaningfully engage with the workforce and leadership within organisations to drive cultural change. Pat McCafferty spoke of reconciliation with communities and recognition of ‘cultural flows’, in particular the importance of relationships with waterways of cultural significance to the Wurundjeri. The key phrase that stuck out to me was meaningful engagement, where parties can come together openly in acknowledgement of the importance of water to all of us.
WSAA’s Auckland Member’s Meeting was an excellent example of leadership coming together to meaningfully engage with our own communities and each other across Australia and New Zealand. I’d also like to acknowledge the anniversary of the passing of Ross Young, previous WSAA Executive Director, who passed a year ago and whose legacy is what put me in the room with such brilliant leadership in the first place. I am confident in the movement of our respective utilities into a bright and sustainable future, even despite our differences on the rugby field.