The Murray-Darling Basin is an area of vast significance to Australia. It plays a crucial role in Australia’s food supply network, producing over 40% of our agricultural produce, and is home to 35 endangered species and 16 internationally significant wetlands. It supports over 2.2 million Australians, including 40 different First Nations communities.

Its significance is due to one critical and universal aspect – water. As the driest inhabited continent on Earth, water is our lifeblood and essential to our existence. This is a fact First Nations people have recognised, embraced, and protected for over 50,000 years.

The Murray-Darling Basin covers over one million square kilometres – about the size of France and Spain combined. This catchment area delivers water into major river systems spanning from southern Queensland through New South Wales, Victoria and as far west as Adelaide.

The Great Artesian Basin (GAB), located in north western NSW, is the world’s largest and deepest underground freshwater resource.

Today, protecting these natural water resources is critical for Australia’s economic viability and water security for the future.

SMEC’s water specialists and Communication and Stakeholder Engagement team have developed a strong and collaborative relationship with Water Infrastructure NSW (WINSW) to help deliver key water security and resilience projects. These projects aim to establish better operating environments and efficiencies which will help deliver long-term benefits for the environment, and the communities who rely on these water supplies.

Building trust – the key to successful engagement
SMEC’s National Communication and Stakeholder Engagement Team Leader, Alyse Phillips, knew that building trust would be crucial in achieving the best outcomes for the project and the water systems.

“Establishing trust and a positive outcome starts long before any of our team members touch down in the community. It’s important to establish clear messages and objectives within the project and work collaboratively with our clients to help raise community awareness and establish trust,” said Alyse.

Raveena Grover, Communication and Stakeholder Engagement Advisor at SMEC, was pivotal in building this relationship with WINSW. Establishing effective and productive relationships enabled SMEC to deliver highly detailed and nuanced content for NSW communities in the Murray Darling Basin.

After establishing this relationship, SMEC’s Skye Jamieson, Senior Advisor, was engaged to provide knowledge and engagement support for a program in the GAB region in January 2021.

Skye made several hundred calls and drafted dozens of emails to landholders and stakeholders to encourage participation in the program. This involved building trust, using key messages and engaging with landholders to collect feedback.

SMEC’s services provided to WINSW achieved improved stakeholder relationships, significantly increasing landholder trust and engagement. Farmers across the GAB have had mixed experiences with various government projects. Learning and adapting to these legacy experiences were key to the engagement approach.

Skye received positive feedback for her work developing communication and engagement plans, a suite of communication material and direct liaison with GAB landowners. Following this, Skye was engaged to provide support on a water security program across NSW.

Better community outcomes for the future
Across all programs, Skye and Raveena worked to translate highly technical information into communications material which enabled transparency and genuine sharing of information. Communities were clearly informed of the program benefits, potential impacts and timeframes, and therefore able to provide beneficial and meaningful feedback.

Overall, SMEC’s commitment to client service and effective relationship building resulted in positive community engagement results for the water infrastructure projects. The combination of detailed and community-focused engagement plans and strategies, high quality packages of communication materials and consistent, proactive client engagement resulted in outstanding feedback.

Importantly, the dedication of the team to develop authentic community relationships has led to improved trust, essential to the success of these vital programs and to ensuring the best possible outcomes for our environment and communities.

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SMEC

SMEC is a global engineering, management and development consultancy delivering innovative solutions for our clients and partners. Leveraging our 70-year history of delivering nation-building infrastructure, we provide technical expertise and advanced engineering services to resolve complex challenges across the project lifecycle, from initial concept, feasibility, planning and design through to construction, commissioning, and operation and maintenance.

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