Bridging issue #55

One of the benefits of working for the Peter Cullen Trust is the regular excuse it gives to spend time immersed in Peter’s writings. Fifteen years on from his passing, I remain struck by the relevance of this work – full of vision, questions, challenges, provocations, and insights that remain as powerful and needed today as when he first spoke or wrote them.

1. From the Acting Chief Executive Officer

By Dr Bek Christensen

Fuelled by the topicality of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, I was drawn to a paper of Peter’s, circa 2007, who’s central messages echo loudly across the years to hit with impact in our current context.

In this edition of Bridging, we’ve published that important paper and encourage you to reflect on the courage, grit and persistence that we need as leaders to see major, systemic change through to implementation.  As Peter says in the paper, ‘There is much to be done’. That sentiment is well coupled with the wisdom of recent Perth Lunch with a Leader speaker Collene Castle, detailed in this edition, who asks as a courageous leader ‘if not me – then who?’ 


2. In This Issue: Regional Water

Beyond Water Allocation Planning in Northern Australia

By Dr Allan Dale, Professor of Tropical Regional Development, James Cook University

Since federation, the prospect of developing northern Australia’s significant water resources has been regularly revisited, primarily through mega-dam construction proposals. Under Australia’s more recent Whitepaper on Developing Northern Australia, this trend has continued, resulting in several major proposals based on yields exceeding National Water Initiative compliant water allocation plans. This paper explores the importance of continuing water allocation planning across the north, but suggests that we need to start building new catchment scale approaches to planning for the effective development of allocated water. 

Photo:  Dr Allan Dale


Murrumbidgee River ACT 2023, Jackie Luethi

Murray-Darling Basin Plan to be extended under a new agreement, without Victoria – but an uphill battle lies ahead

From Dr Jamie Pittock, Friend of the Trust, as published in The Conversation, 22 August 2023

Federal Minister for Water Tanya Plibersek has announced a new agreement to restore Australia’s largest and most important river basin. It comes just months before the original Murray-Darling Basin Plan was to be completed.

This was a plan to benefit people and nature, to protect river communities, industries and the environment against future droughts. It was forged in response to the gruelling Millennium Drought, when the Murray River stopped flowing to the sea.

It was clear too much water was being taken out of the system and everyone would suffer if Basin states could not find a better way to share. But it has been much harder to strike the right balance than first hoped.

When it became clear in July it was no longer possible to deliver the plan in full and on time, the federal government started hatching a new plan.

Now Plibersek is offering “more time, more money, more options, and more accountability”, acutely aware that “the next drought is just around the corner”. But she faces an uphill battle, with Victoria still holding out. Further, the legislation is yet to go before parliament and needs to be passed before Christmas.


Wannabe Basin Plan

By Phillip Jordan (2016)

Original photo: Christophe Gstalder

This provocation from Fellow Phillip Jordan welcomes your feedback.  If you’d like to discuss, you can contact Phillip HERE .

Facing up to the Water Crisis in the Murray Darling Basin

By Professor Peter Cullen, 13 March 2007

The following is an extract from a paper delivered at the Brisbane Institute by Peter Cullen in March 2007, providing an opportunity to wind back and consider the origins of the Basin Plan. As Peter noted in this paper “It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to develop a sustainable and healthy Murray Darling Basin.  There is much to be done.”  What would he make of our progress in the past 16 years?  Have we brought science to policy?  Have we spoken truth to power?

Much of Australia seems to be drying and we are now facing real water scarcity for many of our cities and for rural areas.  The Murray-Darling Basin extends across one-seventh of the continent and contains 20 major rivers.  It is the economic powerhouse of rural Australia, producing about 40% of the agricultural income and contains about three-quarters of the irrigated land in the country. It is home to around two million people and directly supports another million including those in Adelaide and much of South Australia.  The long-term inflow to the Murray River is around 10,500 GL, but the average over the last six years has been around 40% of this at 4300 GL.  We appear to have returned to a drier period following an unusually wet period between 1950 and 1990. Many other rivers in South Eastern Australia have shown a similar drop over the last 10-15 years.  The major storages of the Basin are now almost empty, irrigation allocations have been slashed and emergency planning is underway to ensure water supplies for the city of Adelaide.  Urban and rural Australians dependent on the waters of the Murray now face an unwelcome adjustment. 

The history of water development in the Murray-Darling Basin is a history of articulate interest groups seeking to have the waters used for their particular advantage. There has always been a tension between the upstream States and the downstream State who have had differing views. This has not changed over the century since the Corowa Conference of 1902 where the challenge was to develop a workable mechanism to manage the shared resources of the Basin.  

The partnership of six Governments attempting to manage the Basin, developed over a century of conflict about water, worked adequately in a time of expansion and growth, but over the last decade has shown itself unable to come to terms with over allocation and cope with a drying Basin.

The Prime Minister has recognized this failure of governance of the MDB and has addressed it with his proposal that powers be transferred to the Commonwealth to manage the MDB as a single system and providing $10 billion to address water security issues in Australia.  Most commentators have welcomed the Prime Ministers plan, and there is widespread agreement that something had to be done.  Even Victoria, so far refusing to sign the agreement, acknowledges that action is needed; they just differ on the means.  While welcoming the initiative, many are concerned about the detail as to what has to happen and are concerned they will suffer.


Restoring Our Rivers Bill 2023 – Public Webinar

DCCEEW will be hosting an online public information session about the Water Amendment Bill 2023 on the 11th of October at 11:30am (AEDT). 

The webinar will run for 90 minutes and be moderated by the Chair of the Basin Community Committee (BCC), Ms Rachel Kelly. The panel will include representatives from DCCEEW, MDBA, CEWH, BoM, ACCC and IGWC.

Registration for the webinar, more details about the legislation and a report from DCCEEW’s recent consultation on ideas to deliver the Basin Plan can be found HERE

Symposium on the Risks to Shared Water Resources in the Murray-Darling Basin – 29 November

The ANU Institute for Water Futures invites you to a symposium on a recently published scientific review of water resources.

The large-scale review – led by the Australian National University (ANU) and involving 24 experts from 10 organisations – found that most previously identified risks to water resources in the Murray-Darling Basin remain, with new risks emerging. Water managers must plan for a significant decrease in water availability and governments need to actively manage these risks under conditions of increasing uncertainty.

These reviews bring an updated understanding of risk assessment and management that can contribute to the upcoming reviews of the Water Act and Basin Plan in 2024–26.

This public event will include presentations by authors on the 6 key risks to water resources in the Basin, a presentation on the synthesis paper, and audience Q&A sessions.

Date: Wednesday 29 November, 09:30am-12:30pm AEDT

Location: ANU, Canberra online (details will be available via the Registration Link shortly)

Register:  Click HERE

3. On Leadership


By Dr Bek Christensen, PCT Programs Director

2023 PCT Leadership Program (Women) is off and running

The 2023 PCT Leadership Program (Women) started with Session 1 held in south-east Queensland from 4-8 September. There are 17 outstanding leaders on this Program, from almost all States and Territories – including 5 from Western Australia! This was the first time we’ve held Session 1 in Queensland, and I’m pleased to say things ran smoothly. I extend a big thanks to our colleagues at Outback Initiatives for the excellent planning and preparation work they put in to adapt the program to a new location, and ensure we had a safe and successful week.

The group is now working feverishly on their project, and we are all looking forward to seeing the culmination of their work at their Graduation in November (you can find more details on that elsewhere in this edition).

 The 2023 PCT Leadership Program (Women) group at the end of Session 1 

WSAA Young Utility Leaders 2023-24 Program

Congratulations to Anthea Fernando (Redland City Council), Natalia Quinn (Yarra Valley Water), Emily Hill (Hunter Water), and Rex Ho (South East Water) for being selected by WSAA for this year’s Young Utility Leaders Program. I had the pleasure of meeting the new group of Young Utility Leaders (YULs) before their first workshop in Brisbane in September. As we’ve come to expect from the YULs, this group are ready to make the most of this opportunity and I look forward to seeing their growth throughout the year ahead.

Last Chance – Applications for 2024 PCT Leadership Program close 15 October

Applications for the 2024 PCT Leadership Program are now open, and closing on 15 October! We invite applications from people who are actively involved in water and environmental science, systems, advocacy, policy or management.

This transformative Program is designed to have lasting impact and significantly change the courage, clarity, confidence, shared vision and strategic capability of each participant. Graduates will enter the PCT Fellows Network, now over 260-strong, a growing, empowered cohort of leaders in the water and environment sector.

Trentham Falls, 2018, Paul Feikema

We invite our readers to reach out to individuals who you identify as having the capacity and the potential to benefit from a PCT Leadership Program. 

Information for Applicants and Information for Sponsors is available on the Trust’s website.

Applications close: Sunday 15 October

Contact with any questions.

2022 Women in Water RRR (Reconnect Reflect Refresh) – 16 November – Brisbane

Fellows from the 2022 Women in Water Leadership Program are invited to join us for their post-program RRR.  These post-program workshops are unique to the PCT and allow Fellows to reconnect with each other (always fun), reflect on their learnings post-program (always insightful) and refresh their leadership knowledge (always invaluable).

Contact with any questions and to confirm your attendance.

Coleambally Irrigation Reserve Wetland, 2021, Keith Thompson


Fellows and Friends of the PCT are widely acknowledged for their individual achievements and contributions on many fronts, including:

AWA Queensland – Young Water Person of the Year

A shout out to Chantal Keane (Urban Utilities) who is a finalist for Young Water Person of the Year in the AWA Queensland Awards, with winners to be announced at a gala dinner on 5 October.  Chantal was a participant in the WSAA Young Utility Leaders program, delivered by the Trust in 2021/22.  Good luck Chantal!

AWA Victoria – Young Water Professional of the Year

Our WSAA Young Utility Leaders continue to impress, with both Marzieh Lotfollahi (SE Water, 2021/22 YUL) and Brendan Moore (YVW, 2029/20 YUL) featuring as finalists in the AWA Victoria Water Awards, which will be announced at the AWA Vic Gala Awards dinner on 26 October.  Good luck to both.

4. Network News and Views


The Fellows Committee meets monthly to deliver support and opportunities to the Fellows Network, informed by its strategic plan.  Through August and September, the Committee has been progressing these items:

  • The Ripple Award, recognising the contribution of Fellows to the Peter Cullen Trust and the broader sector, is administered by the Fellows Committee.  Nominations from Fellows closed on 27 September and will be considered by the Committee at its October meeting, with the Awards being presented at the November 16 Graduation Event.
  • Fellows Professional Development Days are organised by a small team of volunteer Fellows, under the auspices of the Fellows Committee.  The next PD Day will be delivered on 16 November in Brisbane.  Full details and how to register can be found HERE.
  • The Fellows Only LinkedIn platform went live on 6 July, and currently has over 140 subscribers.  All Fellows are encouraged to join.  If you are not yet engaged in this space, reach out to who will send you an invitation.


This year’s Peter Cullen Lecture is hosted by the Australian Rivers Institute at Griffith University, and will be held on the evening of Wednesday 15 November at Griffith’s South Bank campus. Negotiations are currently underway with the speaker, so watch your inbox for the announcement soon!


PCT Fellows Only

It seems you can’t turn on the TV these days without seeing images portraying the decline of Australia’s ecosystems. 

While the media reports on impacts such as climate change, fire, floods and drought, our collective failure to appropriately target and scale investment is a key factor. We need to do something differently and urgently. 

Environmental markets are being heralded as a new opportunity to finance ecological restoration efforts at scale but are markets the panacea and what skills do our collective cohort need not only to accelerate this investment but to make sure that these are delivering outcomes that respect land ownership and history, and are not simply greenwashing?

With the rich landscape of environmental markets as our context, we’ll look at the leadership capabilities we need to build capacity, partnerships and collaborations and deal with complexity.  Our discussions will be enriched by outstanding industry provocateurs, and our connections strengthened through interactive sessions focused on these capabilities.

Our November PD Day in Brisbane – designed by Fellows for Fellows – is a timely opportunity to re-engage with an exceptional network of people who seek to speak truth to power. 

PD Day is offered as a free professional development event for all PCT Fellows, but numbers will be limited. Lunch is provided.  

For full details and to register, click HERE.

2023 Leadership Program (Women) Graduation – 16 November

PCT Fellows and Friends Only

The Graduation of the 2023 Peter Cullen Trust Leadership Program (Women) will be held on Thursday 16 November at the Sky Room and Terrace, at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. 

Come and see our current cohort deliver their group presentation, pepper them with questions and gather afterwards on the Terrace for drinks and canapes.

For those that cannot attend in person, this event will also be LIVESTREAMED.

When:  Thursday 16 November – 5.30 for 5.45 – 9.00pm

Where:  Sky Room and Terrace, Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, South Bank (Brisbane)

Keynote Speaker:  Hon. John Thwaites AM

Register HERE.


PCT Fellows Only

Fellows are warmly invited to the always-popular Fellows Networking Breakfast, where the newly graduated cohort is welcomed into the fold.  A hearty (some would say, recovery) breakfast is provided free of charge to the first 40 registrations.

This event does book out, so act quickly to secure your seat.

For full details and to register, click HERE.

National Webinar SERIES

Law and Lore

Wednesday 18 October, 12.30-2.00pm AEDT

The next PCT National Webinar for Fellows and Friends will be held on Wednesday 18 October, 12.30-2.00pm AEDT. Our panellists will unpack some of the challenges that we face in water law, justice, policy and collective wisdom in the face of a changing climate.

Three presentations, each of approximately 10 minutes, will be recorded and the balance of time allocated to Q&A under Chatham House Rule (not recorded).

Our Panellists are:

Professor Jennifer McKay AM, Professor of Business Law – Justice and Society, University of South Australia; Friend of the Trust

Dr Madeleine Hartley, Fellow (2017), Churchill Fellow (2019), Manager, Policy and Regulatory Strategy, Water NSW 

 Dr Anne Poelina, Fellow (2011), Professor Indigenous Knowledges, Nulungu Research Institute, University of Notre Dame

For further details, background reading and to register, click HERE

Please note:  this event is for Fellows and Friends of the Trust only.

Strategic Influencing in Water and Climate Change Inter-Dependencies

By Dr Lisa Ehrenfried (2014)

The recent PCT National Webinar on “Strategic Influencing in Water and Climate Change Inter-Dependencies” was attended by around 45 PCT Fellows and Friends from across Australia.

The panellists Tony Slatyer, Professor Damien Batstone and Sarah Ransom, led by the CEO of the Trust, Darryl Day, discussed the role of water in climate change mitigation in the context of the ongoing preparations for COP28. 



Perth Lunch with a Leader – Collene Castle, Wonnil Partners, Board of Water Research Australia

By Stacey Hamilton (2018)

On a nice sunny day, WA Fellows (and a future Fellow) and Friends came together with a yarn from Collene Castle, a proud and strong Menang Ngudju Noongar yok (woman) currently Business Partner of Wonnil Partners and the inaugural First Nations person appointed to the Board of Water Research Australia.

Collene spoke to us all about being the daughter of a white man and Noongar yok living in a small country town in the Southwest of Western Australia and her lived experience of racism in her childhood. Collene’s dad worked as a fencing contractor on parts of the Rabbit Proof Fence and recalled memories of the impact the 1905 Act still had on her family in the early sixties. It’s not hard to see how intergenerational trauma is still evident in Indigenous communities to this day due to decisions made by previous governments and the general population allowing it to happen.



Fellows move about a good deal; here are some career updates:

Dr Christobel Ferguson (2014)

Christobel recently commenced a new role as Technical Resilience Lead for Resilient Sydney (hosted by the City of Sydney.

The Resilient Sydney Office (hosted by the City of Sydney) is developing the second Resilient Sydney strategy. This successful collaboration program brings together all 33 local governments of Greater Sydney to build the capacity and capability of local government and other organisations in Sydney, so the city is better placed to survive, adapt and thrive in the face of acute shock events and chronic stresses.  

The second strategy will build on the success of the Resilient Sydney Strategy 2018 and build on the risk assessment methodology developed by the 100 Resilient Cities program. To develop the strategy Resilient Sydney will be conducting resilience risk assessment workshops and undertaking extensive and targeted community engagement to inform the new strategy and derive programs and actions. Resilient Sydney 2025 – 2030 will be developed over the next 12 months with the intention to launch the final strategy in late 2024. 

If you’d like to connect with Christobel, please reach out to her: OR 0456 762 503

Where are you now?

Help us to stay connected.  Have you had a career change recently?

This is an invitation for all Fellows to update us on your current roles, titles, preferred emails, contact details etc.  Please share your details with Lesley Ryall, Fellows Network Coordinator, at 

5. Diary Dates


  • 18 October – Law and Lore: unpacking the challenges we face in water law, policy and collective wisdom in the face of a changing climate.  Fellows and Friends Event – click HERE for details.
  • 15-17 November – Graduation Week – Brisbane.  Fellows, Friends and Invited Guests – click HERE for details.
    • 15 November – Peter Cullen Lecture – Public Event.  
    • 16 November – 2022 Women in Water RRR; Fellows Professional Development Day; 2023 Leadership Program (Women) Graduation 
    • 17 November – Fellows Networking Breakfast


  • 15 October – 2024 Leadership Program – Applications CLOSE.  Click HERE for details.
  • 2 November – 2023-24 WSAA Young Utility Leaders – Workshop 2, South Australia
  • 12-17 November – 2023 Leadership Program (Women) – Session 2, Queensland


  • 24 October – PCT Business Development and Philanthropy Committee Meeting
  • 1 November – PCT Audit, Finance and Risk Committee Meeting
  • 17 November – PCT Board Meeting


  • 11 October – Public Webinar – Restoring Our Rivers Bill 2023.  Click HERE for details and to register.
  • 16 – 22 October 2023 – National Water Week – United by Water
  • 28 Feb – 1 March 2024 – Connected by Water, Perth


Connected by Water 2024 – 28 February-1 March

The inaugural Connected by Water conference will be held in Perth in early 2024, bringing together a national and international audience to discuss sustainable water management in the West.  The bi-annual Young Water Professionals conference is combined with Connected by Water, offering a unique opportunity for the sector’s YWPs to reach a broader audience.


Australia New Zealand Geomorphology Group Conference, 2024 – 12-16 February 2024

The ANZGG Conference for 2024 will be held February 12th-16th in Gisborne, New Zealand. The conference theme is Geomorphic Disturbance and Recovery.  Abstract submissions are open, and close on November 1st 2023. Early-bird registration closes on November 15th 2023.

There are THREE conference field-trips planned, one during the conference included in the registration fee, and two two-day trips on each side of the conference (temporally and spatially) which are at an additional cost. 

Please click HERE for full conference details.

6. Across the Sector

Professional Opportunities

Chief Executive Officer, Peter Cullen Trust

Our CEO, Darryl Day, has chosen to complete his time at the helm of the Peter Cullen Trust in January 2024, at the end of his contract.  

As a result, the Trust is undertaking a nation-wide search for a highly motivated, collaborative, and entrepreneurial executive to lead the organisation through its next stage of development.

Enquiries and applications are welcome until Friday 13 October 2023.

For further information click HERE.

Department for Environment and Water, SA

The Surface Water team within the Water and River Murray Division of the Department for Environment and Water (DEW) undertakes a wide variety of hydrological work spanning operations, policy and planning, and more. The team undertakes hydrological investigations, assessments and modelling across South Australia and the Murray-Darling Basin to provide advice on management of the State’s surface water resources and the State’s position in the Murray-Darling Basin. We are a small, friendly team offering a range of opportunities to develop and exposure to a wide variety of interesting projects. Please get in touch if you’d like to find out more.

PO2 Hydrologist job ad:

Closing date: 13 October 2023

Contact for further information:

Claire Sims, Principal Hydrologist, DEW ( or David Way, Surface Water team manager (

Great Artesian Basin Stakeholder Advisory Committee

The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water is seeking applications from First Nations individuals who have a strong connection with, or a good understanding of, groundwater matters in the Great Artesian Basin (GAB) to join the Great Artesian Basin Stakeholder Advisory Committee.  

Expressions of Interest close 15 October 2023.

Please click HERE for further information.

Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Water Interests

The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water is seeking Expressions of Interest for members, and subject matter experts, for the Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Water Interests. As part of the EOI process, a pool of suitable applicants will be established to fill future vacancies (the merit list will be active for 12 months).   

Applications Close: 22 October 2023

For further information, click HERE.

7. Interesting Stuff

Articles, Publications and Presentations

Are Murray-Darling Basin rivers getting the water they need to stay healthy?

From Dr Jamie Pittock, Friend of the Trust

The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists has released a new assessment. Under the Water Act 2007, governments are now required by law to ensure water extraction in the Murray-Darling Basin does not compromise ecosystems that depend on freshwater flows. The Wentworth Group has assessed the extent to which the Murray-Darling Basin’s rivers have received the flows they need to stay healthy.

The Group’s findings showed that while some improvements have been observed in the decade since the Basin Plan was enacted, most flow requirements we assessed were not achieved, with implications for the health of the Basin’s rivers, ecosystems, and communities. The Wentworth Group makes recommendations to enhance water management for the health of the Murray-Darling Basin in a changing climate.

The study on which these recommendations are based is currently in review at the journal, Marine & Freshwater Research. A pre-print of the manuscript is available at ResearchGate.

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