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Goal 4 Improve transparency and confidence in the Basin Plan

Role of the MDBA

The MDBA improves transparency and confidence in the Basin Plan, River Murray operations and the MDBA through:

  • making information accessible, timely, relevant and evidence-based
  • being proactive and responsive to the interests and needs of stakeholders
  • improving partnerships and relationships with Basin governments, industry, interest groups and communities.

Desired outcomes

  • Improved stakeholder awareness and understanding of the Basin Plan and River Murray operations
  • Improved stakeholder awareness and understanding of the MDBA’s role
  • Improved accessibility of information on the Basin Plan, River Murray operations and the MDBA

2019–20 key activities

  • Develop, implement and manage stakeholder engagement, communications, education and media support for key MDBA tasks and activities
  • Maintain and expand regional presence and engagement by significantly progressing the regionalisation of a further 76 positions
  • Support the Basin Community Committee

Source: MDBA Corporate Plan 2019-20 link

The overarching aim of MDBA communications and engagement work is to secure ongoing water reform to deliver a healthy, working Basin for future generations. Improved transparency and confidence in the Basin Plan, River Murray operations and the MDBA is critical to achieving this.

The MDBA has identified over a thousand stakeholder groups, covering a broad range of people, communities, agencies and industries. More information about the stakeholders and the MDBA principles of engagement can be found on the MDBA website (link).

During the year, the MDBA continued to review, enhance and expand engagement with stakeholders and communities. The MDBA refined the range, accessibility and transparency of information across all operations. The understanding of river management and awareness of the Basin Plan and MDBA’s role were also scrutinised as part of some major reviews. These provided for welcome feedback to be incorporated into ongoing improvement. The MDBA also extended its regional footprint through the Regionalisation and Regional Engagement Officer programs.

KPI 6 Improve stakeholder awareness and understanding

KPI: Stakeholder awareness and understanding of the Basin Plan, River Murray operations and MDBA’s role

KPI result: N/A

There were no targets set for the two measures in 2019–20 as these relate to the results from an MDBA stakeholder survey, which is conducted every three years and was not conducted during this year. Work was progressed with the aim of achieving the target of 5% improvement (from the baseline) in the survey to be conducted in 2020–21.

Measure 1—Awareness and understanding of the Basin Plan and River Murray operations is improved

Awareness and understanding of the Basin Plan and River Murray operations based on MDBA stakeholder survey (every three years)

Target: No target for 2019–20

Result: N/A

The level of stakeholder awareness and knowledge of the Basin Plan and River Murray operations is assessed every three years through the MDBA stakeholder survey. The baseline measures were set with the first survey conducted in 2018. The baseline survey reported that 60% of survey participants were fully aware of the Basin Plan. The target for the 2020–21 survey is 63% of survey participants being fully aware—an improvement of 5% over the baseline result.

Key activities undertaken during 2019–20 to improve stakeholder awareness and understanding of the Basin Plan and River Murray operations included continuing to:

  • extend and enhance the Water management 101 suite of materials, including explainer animations
  • release a bimonthly e-newsletter (River Reach) to communicate water management news to interested and affected stakeholders
  • communicate the facts about water management through two mini digital campaigns called ‘The facts’
  • engage in the public and media debate around water management
  • increase the range and clarity of information made available on the MDBA website
  • release regular report cards on Basin Plan implementation (December 2019 and June 2020), which outline progress to date on six key elements of the Plan
  • publish all water resource plans and supporting documents, including factsheets outlining what each plan includes
  • undertake ongoing engagement with Basin communities through workshops, meetings, local forums and events
  • publish and distribute media releases (55), media statements/complaints (8) and opinion pieces (7) on key milestones, achievements and responses to Basin Plan and River Murray operations
  • prepare and deliver background briefings to, and respond to, specific media enquiries (392) from Australian and international journalists to assist them in understanding the complexities of the Basin Plan and river operations to support balanced and accurate reporting
  • post clear and engaging content to MDBA social media channels including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, with links to further information on the website and regular transparency products, such as the weekly river operations reports and fortnightly drought updates
  • respond to comments on our social media posts to answer questions
  • deliver training to teachers and students so they better understand the Basin and water management
  • work with program partners Petaurus Education Group to deliver 65 hours of face-to-face Murray–Darling Basin programs to 1,863 students and teachers.

Measure 2—Awareness and understanding of the MDBA’s role is improved

Awareness and understanding of the MDBA’s role based on the MDBA stakeholder survey (every three years)

Target: No target for 2019–20

Result: N/A

This measure focuses on the level of awareness and understanding stakeholders have of the role of the MDBA. This is also assessed every three years through the MDBA stakeholder survey. The 2018 baseline survey reported that 66% of survey participants were fully aware of the role of the MDBA. The target for the 2020–21 survey is 69.3%—an improvement of 5% over the baseline result.

Key activities undertaken during 2019–20 to improve stakeholder awareness and understanding of the MDBA’s role included continuing to:

  • increase the range and coverage of products available on the website, and including in these clarification of the roles of the MDBA and Basin governments
  • prepare and deliver background briefings to journalists so they better understand the role of the MDBA and the complexity of water management in the Basin
  • respond to specific enquiries from Australian and international journalists to assist them in understanding the MDBA’s role to support balanced and accurate reporting
  • respond to comments and questions on our social media posts to answer questions and, in the process, clarify the MDBA’s role
  • use more infographics as well as animations to explain the key activities and operating context as well as clarify roles and responsibilities.

KPI 7 Stakeholders are engaged and information is accessible

KPI: Stakeholders are engaged and information on the Basin Plan, River Murray operations and the MDBA is accessible

KPI result: Met—all four measures were met

The website showed a net increase in traffic for the year. The Basin Community Committee exceeded the targeted number of meetings. The Regionalisation program met its target for expansion and the Regional Engagement Officer program met its implementation targets.

Engaging stakeholders and providing them with information improves transparency, leading to improved stakeholder confidence in the Basin Plan.

Sustaining the momentum of the stakeholder engagement program was a challenge during 2019–20, with community and stakeholder resources diverted due to the Australian bushfires and then the social distancing requirements and travel restrictions due to COVID-19. The MDBA enacted its Business Continuity Plan, as did the Basin state governments, and the engagement and accessibility program was successfully maintained.

The expansion and implementation of the regional programs allows the MDBA to tailor information to local needs as well as providing opportunities for local stakeholders, which complements and supplements the Basin-wide engagement strategy.

Achievements during the year included:

  • expansion of the Regionalisation program, with three new offices established in Griffith, Mildura and Murray Bridge
  • continued implementation of the Regional Engagement Officer program with part-time officers working alongside communities in eight locations—lower Balonne, Namoi–Gwydir, Barwon–Darling, lower Darling, Lachlan–Macquarie, mid Murray, Goulburn Murray Irrigation District and lower Murray in South Australia
  • continued operation of the Basin Community Committee, with new members and a new Chair appointed, bringing the total membership to 13
  • use of webinars to support stakeholders during the COVID-19 pandemic, including presenting the CSIRO-led Lower Lakes Science review findings to a wide audience across the Basin, including a specific media briefing
  • increase in social media followers over the year of 22% for Facebook (to 9042), 9% for Twitter (to 5682) and 37% for LinkedIn (to 2646)
  • revision of website materials to ensure a clear, engaging and accessible style—technical reports that are of key interest to stakeholders were accompanied by a snapshot summary
  • progressive increase in the published information, which now includes communiques from the Authority and from independent advisory committees including the Basin Community Committee and Advisory Committee on Social, Economic and Environmental Sciences
  • extension of the Water management 101 series
  • publication of weekly river operations reports and fortnightly drought updates, providing transparency through up-to-date information of interest and use
  • delivery of training to teachers and students so they better understand the Basin and water management
  • support to parents who were home schooling with an increase in the range of educational materials and resources during the shutdown of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic—20,004 parents were reached through a campaign to promote these materials
  • distribution of 22,261 printed learning materials from the MDBA warehouse.

During the year, the MDBA also contributed to, or provided submissions to, a number of significant reviews. This provided further opportunity to increase stakeholder awareness of the Basin Plan and the role of the MDBA and Basin state governments. Some of these reviews provided welcome feedback and recommendations. The report from the Interim Inspector-General for Murray–Darling Basin Water Resources into the Impact of lower inflows on state shares under the Murray–Darling Basin Agreement (link) provided comment on the need for greater water literacy and recognised the importance of this as a foundation for ongoing collaboration and implementation of the Plan.

Other reviews undertaken by independent parties to examine aspects of the Basin Plan and broader water reforms that the MDBA provided input to include the Panel for Independent Assessment of Social and Economic Conditions in the Murray–Darling Basin (link), a CSIRO-led review of the management of the Lower Lakes and Coorong (link), and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiry into water markets.

Website traffic unique page views. Previous period 843,036, 3 year rolling average 2016-17 t0 2018-19. Current period 998,975, 3 year rolling average 2017-18 to 2019-20. +15.61%, change against previous period.

Measure 1—MDBA website traffic change from three-year rolling average

Website traffic percentage change from three-year rolling average

Target: Not reduced more than 10%

Result: Met—with a net increase in website traffic over the three-year rolling average

Website traffic is an indicator that stakeholders are engaged with the MDBA and that information is accessible. The target recognises that website traffic is highly responsive to key milestones and deliverables in the Basin Plan as well as to external factors, such as drought or flood. Google Analytics is used to measure the total number of website hits and to calculate the percentage change between years. Google Analytics provides a holistic view of website traffic, allowing for specific dates to be identified and a three-year rolling average to be calculated and compared.

The MDBA works to incrementally improve its website and the range and clarity of the information published. During 2019–20, traffic to the website increased, with notable drawcards being the regular drought update pages (with more than 70,000 views) and ‘The facts’ campaigns, run in September–October 2019 and March–April 2020. These campaigns were supported by social media tools. The Water management 101 series continued to be popular.

The education webpages received 56,061 unique visits and 13,484 downloads of digital learning resources.

Measure 2—Basin Community Committee is in operation

The Basin Community Committee (BCC) is in operation

Target: BCC meets four times annually

Result: Met—the BCC met five times in 2019–20

The Basin Community Committee provides a community perspective on a wide range of water resource, environmental, cultural and socioeconomic matters. BCC members are selected based on their expertise or interest in water use, water management, and Indigenous and local government matters. The operation of the BCC allows for a two-way flow of information, as the MDBA provides members with regular updates, developments and announcements while members respond with input and community insights that contribute to sound decision-making.

More information on the BCC, including the current membership, can be found on the MDBA website (link).

Scheduled meetings provide realistic and regular opportunities to keep the BCC updated and well connected. Every third month is also timely for the BCC to provide advice and insight into key decision-making times for the MDBA.

During 2019–20, the BCC met five times. Face-to-face meetings were held in July and September 2019 and February 2020, with teleconference meetings held in November 2019 and April 2020. During the year, three new members were recruited and the tenure of the BCC Chair passed to Phil Duncan in February 2020.

Copies of the communiques from BCC meetings can be found on the MDBA website (Basin Community Committee communiques | Murray-Darling Basin Authority (mdba.gov.au)

Measure 3—Percentage of MDBA staff located regionally

Percentage of MDBA staff located regionally

Target: 15% staff located in regions

Result: Met—with 18% of staff located in regions at 30 June 2020

The target for 2019–20 is 15% of staff in regions with the target for 2020–21 set at one-third of the MDBA, or about 100 staff.

Engaging with stakeholders across the Basin is an essential component of implementing the Basin Plan. The MDBA’s regional presence allows staff to engage with local communities and stakeholders on matters of local importance and to tailor information for local needs as well as receive local views to take into account in forming decisions and plans. The regional footprint complements and supplements the Basin-wide approach.

The MDBA established a Regionalisation Taskforce and a Regionalisation Program Board to manage the program of increasing the number of staff in the regions and to develop an MDBA Future Operating Model.

During the year, the MDBA:

  • established new offices in Mildura, Murray Bridge and Griffith and appointed regional managers to these offices
  • completed a regional recruitment round with others in progress
  • developed the Future Operating Model.

At 30 June 2020:

  • The number of regional staff employed is 51 (18% of the MDBA employee workforce).
  • The number of staff engaged to commence employment is 14.
  • An additional five workers are based in the regional offices.

 established new offices in Griffith, Mildura and Murray Bridge, including the appointment of dedicated regional managers and corporate support officers made significant progress towards the staffing targets, with 51 staff and 5 Regional Engagement Officers people already on the ground in regional offices—a promising start toward the target of 103 regional staff by mid-2021—despite the impacts of COVID-19 on our ability to recruit and relocate staff completed an initial recruitment round to fill key regional office roles and bulk recruitment rounds targeting APS5–EL2 classifications placed a graduate recruit in a regional office, with further graduate placements opened up for 2021 developed the foundations for a capability-based operating model with a new organisational structure and enterprise Portfolio Management Office to go live from 1 July 2020. Regionalised workforce and capability-based operating model positions the MDBA to work on the things that matter most—at both the local and Basin-wide level.

Measure 4—Regional Engagement Officer program is in operation

The Regional Engagement Officer (REO) program is in operation

Target: Qualitatively assessed

Result: Met—with six of eight positions filled, further recruitment underway and a positive mid term review

The REO program has been in operation for several years. It engages with stakeholders through a locally customised approach. As at 30 June 2020, there were eight part-time REO positions based in locations where there is not an MDBA regional office. Six positions were filled, with further recruitment underway. REOs are appointed for a three-year term. The locations are:

  • Goulburn–Murray Irrigation District, Victoria
  • Lower Balonne, Qld
  • Namoi–Gwydir, NSW
  • Barwon–Darling, NSW
  • Lower Darling, NSW
  • Lower Murray, SA
  • Lachlan–Macquarie, NSW
  • Mid Murray, NSW.

REO stakeholder engagement is prioritised based on a stocktake of interest and the impact that engagement activities will have in each community. The REOs also engage with their MDBA Executive Champion, who uses information from the communities via the REOs in decision-making. The two-way flow of information enhances stakeholder understanding of the MDBA and contributes to the robustness of information supporting MDBA work and decisions.

A mid-term review of the REO program was completed during 2019–20, which concluded that the program was operating effectively. A further review will be undertaken in 2020–21.

More details about the REO program can be found on the MDBA website (Regional engagement | Murray-Darling Basin Authority (mdba.gov.au)