A Young Aussie Operator's Tour of NZ
Andrew Hanifin is a Water Industry Worker with Unitywater and recipient of qldwater’s Young Operator of the Year award in 2018. His award provided him with the opportunity to participate in the WIOA facilities tour of New Zealand and attend the Water industry Operations Group NZ Conference. He has recently returned from his tour and spoke to qldwater’s Carlie Sargent about his experience.
Q: Your prize included a tour of NZ water facilities and attendance at the WIOG NZ Conference. Could you provide a summary of your trip please?
A: The tour started in Christchurch with 15 of us from a number of different water utilities from across Australia. We headed south and visited Franz Josef which had been hit hard with floods and earthquakes, to the point that they had considered relocating the town. We visited a number of other towns and toured drinking water and wastewater treatment plants, including the lovely town of Hanmer Springs. After 6 days of travelling we headed back to Christchurch to attend the conference.
Q: Did you observe any particular differences in the way New Zealand and Australian utilities operate?
A: New Zealand utilities have to deal with a lot more infrastructure issues as a result of natural disasters but locals are very accepting of being without services for a number of days following disasters. In the case of major disasters that lead to breaks, communities can be without water for up to 5 days without any issues. Their level of acceptance seems to be much higher than that in Australia where we get the problems fixed very quickly. It was also clear that water utilities in NZ have a preference for repairing their infrastructure rather than replacing it to extend its useful life and save money. They definitely work to the conditions and expect to be hit with some form of disaster about every two years. In Queensland, we’re pretty spoilt with the conditions we operate in.
Q: Was there anything else that surprised you on the trip?
A: New Zealand’s source water quality is very good and pure and their treatment processes are very thorough like they are in Queensland. However, there is a current push in some areas to remove chlorine from the NZ water network which was pretty surprising to the Australians on the tour. Luckily their source water is very potable but, in any case, most providers want to keep chlorinating their water. Also, we learned that the water charges in NZ are much cheaper on average than in Queensland at about ¼ of the price charged in Queensland and it’s hard to understand how utilities can afford to run at that rate.
Q: Did you learn about any innovative technologies/processes that could be applied here in Australia?
A: There’s always amazing new technology in the water industry so it was great to see some of this on display at the conference. I felt though that the NZ utilities are probably in a particular stage of development and are where we were a couple of years ago. Our processes are pretty advanced at Unitywater and across Australia. We’ve worked through a lot of our challenges and have evolved and changed a lot. This gave me a bit of a perspective change and appreciation for my role and my employer. And we’re paid better here in Australia too!
Q: Were there any speakers or topics that stood out for you at the conference?
A: One Operator shared his experience of their safety journey and that it had previously been quite relaxed. He had experienced issues with infections from working in sewers as he didn’t have sufficient PPE, and the steel in his boots were exposed which led to infection. Our safety standards appear more thorough. Some over there didn’t wear hard hats or high vis, which is not what it’s like here. More casual and relaxed.
Q: What was the most valuable part of the trip?
A: Discovering the differences between utilities but also the similarities, both with the NZ operators who hosted us but also from the Australians who were part of the tour. Everyone on the trip had slightly different roles and there was a great mix of ages, genders and locations. I learnt a lot about the challenges in Victoria and Tasmania particularly, with issues like frozen water meters and bushfires and the impacts of those on water infrastructure.
Q: What would you say to other young operators considering applying for a qldwater award?
A: I was totally surprised that I won this award but it made me feel very proud to have been nominated by my employer and recognized with the award. I would absolutely encourage people to nominate for the qldwater operator awards. The experience was a great opportunity to see how other water utilities operate and I learnt a lot from other operators’ knowledge of their infrastructure and the way they’ve approached their challenges. WIOA treated us really well, we had a really good group on tour. Water industry people are a great bunch and it was really motivating to be around people with a similar passion for the water industry.
2019 was the tenth year qldwater have been privileged to present the annual Civil/ Allrounder Operator of the Year and Young Operator of the Year in conjunction with WIOA. Read more about this year's award winners at www.qldwater.com.au/qldwaterAwards.