Goal clear for new G-MW chair

By Geoff Adams

Businesswoman Diane James has been given some clear instructions on her new role as chair of Goulburn-Murray Water: continue the implementation of the recommendations of the Strategic Advisory Panel.

The panel’s report, delivered earlier this year, called for new approaches in G-MW’s governance, asset management, corporate structure, capital project delivery and engagement with customers.

‘‘Transformation’’ is the word her boss, Water Minister Lisa Neville, has used.

The other goals will be to govern the body to deliver sustainable service at affordable prices.

Underlying the goal is a complex task of addressing a declining income from a reduced water ‘‘bucket’’, finishing off the delivery of irrigation modernisation (arguably the hardest part of the deal), managing the biggest water delivery body of its kind in Australia and keeping the prices down.

Ms James has acknowledged the turnover in leadership in recent years (which includes the recent, sudden departure of the chair, and the equally sudden departure of a former chief executive officer), but said customers and the community should have confidence in G-MW’s future.

She comes to the job with governance, business and leadership credentials and admits this could be her biggest career challenge.

Her current role as chair of Southern Rural Water, which she has held since last year, sees her with oversight of a water body with a revenue of about $34million, compared with G-MW’s about $200million. G-MW has about 500 more people.

Ms James plans to undergo an induction at G-MW, and will be doing a tour of the region to meet stakeholders and see assets first hand.

Ms James, 64, has been awarded a Medal of Australia for her service to conservation and environment, particularly through the development of coastal planning and management in Victoria.

Based in Geelong, Ms James said she had a strong interest in the water industry, coupled with a desire for leadership roles and an interest in making a difference.

Asked about her experience with irrigation delivery, Ms James pointed to major modernisation projects her water authority had implemented in the Macalister, Werribee and Bacchus Marsh irrigation districts.

Her past includes a mixture of private businesses and public appointments. She started her working life teaching business studies and in career counselling before grasping the opportunity to start her own business.

Ms James started an executive relocation company and later obtained the rights to an Australian-designed swing for disabled children and adults, which saw them exported to a number of countries.

Ms James also has her own corporate communications company which offers services in leadership development and mentoring.

One of her interests is in developing and coaching female leaders.

She has a family connection to the region, as her husband, Mark Stone, comes from Murchison.

They have children and grandchildren.

Ms James plans to remain chair of Southern Rural Water, but said she would review her time commitments as the G-MW job progressed.