Reflections from our CEO

21 December 2021

December has always brought a flurry of activity for our staff at the Port Phillip & Westernport CMA.  In our working hours, project activities would be completed, a last round of community events squeezed in and financial reports tidied up, while on the personal front, family holidays were being arranged and Christmas shopping would be frantically undertaken at lunchtimes or after work. I suspect this is not too different to most other workplaces.

But this current December, our flurry at the PPWCMA is different than past years and is tinged with some sadness. This particular December we are tidying up the PPWCMA for the last time and preparing for it to be integrated into Melbourne Water when the calendar clicks over to January. On New Year’s Day 2022, after around 25 years of operation, the PPWCMA will no longer exist as a standalone entity. 

In the past few months, as we kept our existing programs and projects moving ahead and prepared for the integration, we have also discovered that closing down an organisation involves an enormous amount of behind-the-scenes work. There are files to be transferred or archived, emails and photos to be sorted through and equipment to be re-homed or recycled. It feels a little like we are moving from a family home after living a long and happy life there – with memories in every nook and cranny, accounts of important events, cupboards full of treasured artefacts and heirlooms, and cabinets with family records and knowledge to be passed on to the next generations.

While all of us at the PPWCMA are finding many things to smile about as we go through this final clean-up, we also regularly find cause to reflect on what has gone before, what has been achieved, what we have enjoyed, and inevitably, what we are going to miss about this workplace that has fuelled our professional passions and been our Monday to Friday home away from home.

Staff of the CALP Board circa 1999 – Martin Hartigan, Donna Dvoracek, Anne Dennis, Jane Bateson, David Buntine

My memories stretch back to when the Catchment and Land Protection Act was established in 1994 and the first Catchment and Land Protection (CALP) Boards were set up soon after. The Port Phillip & Westernport CALP Board’s first Chair was former Victorian Minister for Conservation Vasey Houghton and the first Executive Officer was Bill Thomas. 

Together with the inaugural Board of another 14 members, they laid the foundation for a new era of integrated catchment management in and around Melbourne. I started as a Project Officer to help develop the first Regional Catchment Strategy in 1997. When Bill retired a few years later, I had the opportunity to succeed him and have been privileged to stay in that role since then. 

A government review led to the CALP Board becoming the Port Phillip & Westernport Catchment Management Authority for which there was a series of a further six Chairs – Marshall Baillieu, Mick Lumb, Andrew Grant, Peter Akers, Neville Goodwin and, currently, Tania Foster. They led a total of another 56 Board members over the years, who I am sure look back fondly on their time at the PPWCMA.

The PPWCMA Board in 2007 – Mike Ransom, Marcos Anastassiou, Victoria Mack, Drew Jessop, Phil Westwood, Arron Wood, Peter Watkinson, Kay Spierings, Bronwyn South, Duncan McDonnell, Andrew Grant

Our Board members have always been connected to local communities and environmental and agricultural industries. Across the Victorian CMAs, this approach has ensured Board members understand what is happening locally and that they can bring community views to Board discussions. This enables local issues and opportunities to be canvassed in a forum that takes a region-wide view and that can advocate for them with Government.

In the formative years of the PPWCMA, when our staff workforce was very small, the contribution of Board members was especially important. The Board had a focus on governance and strategic matters, while Board members also acted as an extension of our workforce and were regularly involved in drafting documents, convening stakeholder committees and working directly with staff members and communities on projects of mutual interest. 

The role of the Board evolved over time as the PPWCMA steadily grew and matured, and it gradually took on more of a conventional, corporate Board role. But the connection to communities and industries has always remained, as has the practice that our Board and staff members operate as a team. It has always been productive and enjoyable work practice that our Board and staff members engage and collaborate in both the strategy and operations of the PPWCMA.   

Tania Foster and David Buntine signing a Partnership Agreement with Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation’s Aunty Dyan Summers and Dan Turnbull on French Island in 2018. The opportunity to develop relationships with Traditional Owners across the region has been a privilege and highlight for everyone at the PPWCMA.

Through its history, the PPWCMA has been a lean and nimble organisation with a profile amongst our key partners and community sectors that defied our size. For most years our staff numbers were in the range of 15-20 which was regularly a surprise for external parties who saw the diversity and scale of projects we actively engaged in and the breadth of community engagement activities we initiated. Our contacts, relationships, influence and reach made us seem bigger. Being relatively small also had its advantages including that we were flexible, quick to respond to relevant opportunities, accessible and personal. Stakeholders felt like they were partnering with a local business and that they knew everyone working in our shop.

Using those advantages, we have created much to be proud of. Amongst them, we can stand alongside many organisations and landholders and be proud of the landscape-scale revegetation achieved in the Grow West program to the west of Melbourne near Bacchus Marsh.

We can be very proud of our contributions helping the Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater, DELWP, Zoos Victoria and many others that have collaborated to bring the wild HeHo population back from the brink of extinction.

We can be proud of the support we have provided for the amazing Landcare and environmental volunteer movement of this region.

We can be proud of the Living Links program demonstrating that integrated catchment management can work in urban areas just as well as it can in rural areas.

We can be proud of our work protecting Ramsar wetlands and the project initiated recently to eradicate feral cats on French Island.

We can be proud of our work promoting sustainable agriculture over many years, assisting communities recover from bushfires at various times, and managing fantastic works crews that helped many people through the pandemic.

We can be proud of the new Regional Catchment Strategy, the fourth iteration of this region-wide strategic plan, which has around 120 organisations now formally signed on as supportive partners.

And we are proud to have had the opportunity to develop strong and personal relationships with many Traditional Owners across the region.

With all of these programs and projects, the common denominator is that we have been part of a team of organisations working together. We have modelled our internal PPWCMA catchphrase that “we can achieve much more working together than working alone” and it is a principal that all of our PPWCMA people will carry forward in their next endeavours.

An example of the PPWCMA’s collaboration, many organisations and community members came together each year at the annual Grow West Community Planting Day

Of course, there have also been challenges with being a small organisation. Our scope was very broad and the environmental issues substantial, but we could not deal with everything.  We had to identify priorities and match our effort to the resources at hand. We also couldn’t offer our staff as many career advancement opportunities as we would like.  

The upsides of the PPWCMA’s integration into Melbourne Water are therefore significant. For our staff, there will be improved security of employment and expanded career opportunities. For our work and our ideas, there will be access to the many excellent minds in Melbourne Water and the potential to expand environmental, agricultural, coastal, marine and community programs in the years ahead.

The leaders and staff at Melbourne Water have been a pleasure to work with from the moment that the integration was announced. They have shown great respect and care for our staff as we navigated the change of employment arrangements. They have committed to fulfilling the contracts that the PPWCMA has in place and continuing the key programs and projects of the PPWCMA. They have recognised the expanded scope that this integration brings for their work and the opportunities that it can enable in the years ahead. As a result, our people are proud of the PPWCMA’s legacy and also enthusiastic about taking up new role next year.

We hope and expect that our partners will not initially notice much difference in the delivery of our work, save for our staff wearing a different logo on their work shirts, but that over time they will see efficiencies, and hopefully significant expansion of some programs. 

Many partners have said they will miss the PPWCMA. That means a great deal to us. We will miss the PPWCMA too. We will miss working as closely with the workplace friends that we have shared happy times with in the PPWCMA over the years. We have loved our work and we have created and maintained a great internal culture and a genuine family atmosphere. It has been special and we might never experience quite the same atmosphere again. Saying goodbye to this organisation therefore naturally involves some sadness.

Mixing work and wellbeing – PPWCMA staff cycling along Dandenong Creek for a Christmas gathering in 2019 and seeing the outcomes of a major project that helped revegetate and improve the creek environment

As we reach our final week of operation, we’re in a phase of doing many ‘last’ things. The last run of project payments, the last staff Christmas gathering, the last days we will use our PPWCMA email address. This has brought on a few sentimental tears so far and we expect there will be more as we approach the final day.

However, we are a group that always quickly identifies positives and move forward with energy and enthusiasm. Our bags are packed, our faces are smiling and we are on our way to Melbourne Water proud of the PPWCMA’s 25 years and planning to make the next 25 years even better.

David Buntine
Port Phillip & Westernport CMA