The Australian Government’s Water Supplier Advocate, Bob Herbert AM, is leading a strategy to develop, improve and promote the Australian water industry and champion firms in this vital sector. Bob has a life time career built around supporting Australian industry including eight years as Chief Executive of the Australian Industry Group. He has been admitted into the Victorian Manufacturing Hall of Fame and made a Member of the Order of Australia for exceptional services to industry. Bob Herbert is proud to be assisting local water suppliers to increase their competitiveness and win more work. He spoke to Chris Bland about the Water Supplier Advocate initiative.

Water Supplier Advocate, Bob Herbert AM

CB: What does the role of the Water Supplier Advocate encompass?
BH: I have been given a simple brief – to provide leadership to Australian water suppliers and assist them maximise their involvement in water projects in Australia and internationally.
I should mention that “water suppliers” has broad coverage, embracing manufacturers of products such as pipes, pumps, water tanks, etc. It also includes organisations that supply innovative services, technologies, practical solutions, management expertise, research, as well as those involved in policy settings and implementation.
To achieve practical benefits for this sector, I am implementing an industry development strategy to improve the competitiveness of water firms and increase their access to opportunities in the domestic and international water market. I work closely with businesses, industry associations and partner organisations such as waterAUSTRALIA, Enterprise Connect, Industry Capability Network (ICN), and Austrade to deliver this strategy and help firms develop and promote their capability.
What is one of the key activities currently underway helping to increase Australian firms’ access to opportunities?
Since being appointed as Water Supplier Advocate in May 2010, I am pleased to report that the important foundations have been laid to underpin the opportunities for capable suppliers.
One of the key activities I am leading, in close partnership with peak industry body waterAUSTRALIA, is the establishment of “Water Industry Capability Teams”. With over 320 firms involved, this initiative is helping firms “hunt as a pack” and work together to market their offerings to customer groups and increase their access to opportunities. These firms are working in teams to pursue new supply chains, market their solutions, participate in workshops to better prepare them to meet customers and work collaboratively to establish networks and connections with other suppliers.
I am working closely with these teams to help facilitate their access to major customers. We are targeting resources companies and coal seam gas project proponents to understand their requirements, needs and drivers to see how we can link our capable local firms into these markets.
What progress has been made on some of the other initiatives you are leading?
I have been actively promoting the Australian water industry both domestically and internationally. The sector is world renowned for its water management expertise and ability to handle extremely variable weather conditions from drought to flood often occurring in different parts of Australia at the same time. We have a very strong standing amongst our international colleagues but we need to continue to get the message out there that Australia is the “go to” country for water technologies and solutions to suit a wide variety of needs.
I have been working closely with Austrade and waterAUSTRALIA to advocate Australia’s Dynamic Water Industry, a narrative that encapsulates Australia’s remarkable water story through its reporting on the level of local skills available in various areas of the industry as well as promoting the capabilities of local water industry suppliers.
I have also championed the need for an accurate and comprehensive understanding of our water industry and its capabilities. Last year we released the Water Industry Capability Report, drawing on information of over 430 Australian water firms on the key capabilities, challenges and barriers Australian water firms are facing and the key markets they wish to pursue. This information is being used by ICN in their water directory to better promote the capabilities of Australian firms and assist in linking them with customers here and overseas.
One of the most significant customers of Australian water businesses are the urban water utilities. How are you working to increase the engagement of Australian water firms with this major customer?
With urban water utilities spending $10.3 billion on water projects and operations in 2010-11, the opportunities for Australian firms in this market are quite significant. I have engaged with the utilities, represented by the Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA) and water firms, through waterAUSTRALIA, to develop the “Water Supplier Compact”, launched by Minister Combet in April 2012.
The Compact represents an agreement between the water utilities and suppliers to work together to address barriers and increase suppliers’ access to opportunities. Through the Compact WSAA, waterAUSTRALIA and the ICN have identified and prioritised the forward agenda of the Compact. One of the first initiatives we are getting underway is to ensure Australia suppliers are well informed of upcoming opportunities being undertaken by the utilities. The Compact agreement also means that this is a two way exercise and that utilities will aim to increase their awareness of capable local suppliers for these projects.
It seems as though progress is being made in the domestic market. What work are you undertaking to market our capabilities internationally?
I have been working closely with waterAUSTRALIA and ICN in implementing a strategy to increase Australian firm’s ability to access opportunities in the US market, building on the success of the G’Day USA water mission in January 2011 which identified $150 million in opportunities. A vital part of this strategy has been the appointment of Rubin Mallows under the Government’s Supplier Access to Major Project’s Program to work with Australian firms to increase their ability to win contracts in the United States.
To further pursue this strategy, I am leading a delegation of over 20 firms to the WEFTEC exhibition in New Orleans in late September and early October. Australian firms will be exhibiting under the unified banner of “waterAUSTRALIA” to present a team approach to promoting the Australian water industry.
In July 2012 I was also proud to work alongside waterAUSTRALIA to promote the Australian water industry and lead a delegation of 20 Australian organisations to Singapore International Water Week. This event identified over $50 million worth of opportunities for those firms involved – an incredible success for all of those involved.
These trade missions are proving the brand “waterAUSTRALIA” works and is quickly establishing credibility in international markets. Other international markets (including Asia and South America) are already approaching waterAUSTRALIA to learn more about our industry’s capabilities and how to best pursue these opportunities.
Australia is quickly becoming recognised as the country to go to for water technologies and expertise. Our variable climate has fostered a culture of innovation in developing water related solutions in all market segments. We need to continue our support for Australia water companies to be at the leading edge of capability. As Water Supplier Advocate, this is where my focus will continue to be.

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