WaterNSW – Rural Water Pricing

The way water is delivered in NSW is complex. It features an apparently ‘simple’ product that requires evolving technology, a balancing of intricate third-party impacts for all decisions, has overlapping layers of legacy decisions, the Murray Darling Basin Plan, intermittent state-wide drought,s and other water agencies’ roles in rule setting, compliance, and license trading. Despite all this, the apparent simplicity can encourage a rush to judgment where everyone believes they are an expert.

Planning for the future, decisions must be made on levels of service, projects (both current and future), and asset management for water delivery across the entirety of rural NSW. As experience has shown, the critical importance of water and the challenging nature of the investment allocation problem leaves all decisions open to criticism.

In the face of this complexity, the current engagement approach leaves gaps. There is no organisational memory of past discussions. There are no public answers to questions. The long timespan for WaterNSW projects runs up against specific issue engagement that has a narrower focus.

This all necessitates a new, conversational approach to the way WaterNSW involves its customers in long-term decisions. These conversations are a back and forth. They include all the important context for why and why not. They develop organisation memory and consequence over a longer time horizon.

This planning for the future process must be an ongoing conversation between customers, stakeholders and WaterNSW. It will involve openly sharing problems, clearly explaining complex trade-offs and provide a clear methodology for finding common ground.

We’ve outlined a rolling engagement plan that develops one customer conversation in an ongoing journey. This plan links smaller pieces of engagement on immediate pricing determinations with larger projects for future water determinations to embed deliberative engagement practice within WaterNSW’s approach to its customer engagement.

Deliberative processes that include everyday people in making difficult trade-off decisions for their communities empower decision-makers to resolve problems, make longer-term decisions and ultimately build trust. They directly involve customers and stakeholders in tackling long-term issues by openly sharing the problem and working through solutions publicly.

Where measuring opinion might result (for example) in people keenly wanting a new dam while being less willing to bear the costs, with a deliberative process they will understand the economics and costs required to support that decision and then be able to make an informed choice by doing so in light of positive and negative aspects and the costs to be borne – this results in paying customers standing alongside WaterNSW with recommendations and rationale for future decisions. With this feedback being given by people clearly across all parts of the system, not solely those with a direct interest, the wider community has a greater likelihood of trusting what emerges.

We are delivering this in three parts –

  1. A Kitchen Table Discussion Kit:

    Discussion kits will be sent to thousands of rural customers and community members who have indicated an interest in being part of a Government conversation. We seek considered responses to the questions posed in the kit.

  2. Paired Conversations:

    The feedback received will allow us to facilitate groups of people online to discuss perspectives on topics where their views might differ. The feedback received from the Discussion kit will allow us to target insights to test ideas and options from WaterNSW.

  3. A Community View:

    Turning the community feedback into coherent themes. This next step takes three groups of 40 people, in three 3.5-hour online sessions to synthesise the feedback, test themes and identify “what are the real questions you want to be answered?”. The output from this process will be a report referencing the first two steps with prioritised themes and questions that are fundamental to answering “How can we best meet your need for water? And, what is the fair way to pay for it?”

    It is important to understand the issues surrounding water supply and management,
    which is why we have provided background information on the issues and ask you to read it so you can help guide an informed Kitchen Table Discussion. For further information please read the information sheets on the website: www.newdemocracy.com.au/water 

Further reading:

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