Claire Miller
The Murrumbidgee

The Murrumbidgee

Fast Five with Claire Miller – Chief Executive Officer of the NSW Irrigators’ Council

Claire Miller, Chief Executive Officer of the NSW Irrigators’ Council, explains how politics and water go hand-in-hand.

 Where do you work and what is your role?

I am the Chief Executive Officer of the NSW Irrigators’ Council.

What made you decide to work in this field?

My first career was as a journalist for more than 20 years with The Age newspaper, including stints as rural and regional affairs reporter and later environment reporter. I have always been interested in natural resource management, and agriculture and regional communities.

When I decided to pursue a new career in the mid-2000s, I knew I wanted to work in a field that intersected my interests. The entry opportunity was senior policy adviser to Victoria’s Water Minister in 2007, and I have stayed in the field in various industry and community roles.

What do you love most about the work you do?

I like grappling with wicked problems, and few problems are as wicked as water – particularly as climate change tightens its grip.

While the political and media narrative focuses on conflict and division, in my experience, most people across diverse stakeholder interests have much in common and want to find fair, workable solutions.

I like that no day is the same, and that I need to have my head across the politics, policies, science and operational technicalities, economics, and community values. It is a complex matrix of moving parts.

I really love working with farmers and regional communities, and spending as much time as I can out of the city and in the regions. And every now and then, positive outcomes can be achieved which makes it all worthwhile.

Is there something people are particularly surprised to hear about your job? (or interested in)

The surprise is how often politics stands in the way of evidence-based and sensible solutions.

What do you see as the major challenge in the world of water?

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is an ambitious reform. Its scale and complexity inevitably means unintended and perverse socioeconomic, water market, and environmental impacts are emerging. It is supposed to be an adaptive management plan that can respond as new science and knowledge become available, but in practice the Basin Plan is too rigid to address problems that are widely recognised.

Any amendments to make the Plan more flexible can be disallowed in the Senate in Canberra, and so far, partisan politics has made that outcome inevitable. The challenge is shifting the political mindset.

Climate change is the other major challenge in water. More frequent, prolonged droughts interspersed with fewer but more intense rainfall events are already causing tension. The rivers of the future will not look like the rivers of the past; inflows have already halved across the Murray Darling Basin.

It is a difficult conversation Australia needs to have about its priorities, and not one that will be served well by unrealistic expectations on all sides of the ledger.

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