In the fifty-year anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and Vietnam, a high-level delegation of Government of Vietnam officials visited Australia in April 2023 to share insights in water law, policy and reform. This provided an important opportunity to continue fostering strong diplomatic and technical relationships between Australia and Vietnam.
Vietnam has been continually seeking to improve its water resource governance and security at a national level over the past 25 years, and substantial reforms have been achieved. Notwithstanding this, country-wide water issues persist, including localised water insecurity, uneven distribution of water, impacts of climate change, degradation and widespread pollution of water resources, and challenges relating to gender equality, disability, and social inclusion (GEDSI). Vietnam is currently reviewing and amending its Law on Water Resources to address some of these issues.
Australia is an active partner in Vietnam’s water sector development. Working alongside other donors and funders, AWP is supporting Vietnam’s Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (MONRE) by funding Australian and Vietnamese experts in water law and policy to advise MONRE on proposed and potential further legislative amendments and related policy options. AWP Partner Aither is leading this work, collaborating with consortium partners EMM Consulting, AMPERES and Richard Dennis. The team includes leading Vietnamese practitioners in water management, economics and policy, who are working alongside MONRE colleagues on a daily basis.
As part of this project, Vietnamese delegates from Vietnam’s National Assembly, the Government Office of Vietnam and MONRE exchanged experiences with Australian parliamentarians, water regulators and water managers during a study visit to Victoria and South Australia in April 2023. Throughout the week-long visit, Australian interlocutors from 13 different water sector organisations shared lessons and insights with the delegation in areas including water licensing, planning, governance, accounting and cost recovery. Delegates, the expert project team and senior Australian officials participated in a range of structured learning events, reflective discussions and social engagements.
- Three site visits to demonstrate water management in action and the practicalities of implementing water use planning and licensing (Werribee River system at Melton Reservoir, First Creek managed aquifer recharge scheme at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, and South Australia’s Parliament House).
- Formal engagements providing opportunities to strengthen diplomatic partnerships including welcome and farewell dinners involving Bob McMullan, Chair of the Australian Water Partnership, Tom Mollenkopf, President of the International Water Association, and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade representatives, as well as meetings with the South Australian Deputy Premier and Minister for Climate, Environment and Water, the Honourable Susan Close, and South Australian Water Ambassador, the Honourable Karlene Maywald.
Reflections by delegates revealed that challenges lie in effectively implementing the water management tools discussed, including financial limitations, capability and capacity gaps, lack of information and data, unclear reform objectives, and political and institutional constraints. Drawing from Australia’s experience, strategies and approaches were discussed as to how to build consensus, buy-in and trust in support of reform. Valuable leadership insights were provided through presentations of Australian leaders reflecting on their experiences as well as leader-to-leader discussions.
Knowledge exchange and dialogue during the visit enhanced the breadth of experiences that Vietnamese decision-makers can draw upon in advocating for reform, and developing policy proposals, drafting legislative amendments, and considering the interests of stakeholders. Following the study visit, enhancements to the draft amended Law on Water Resources have been made based on an appraisal report prepared by study visit participants from the Committee of Science, Technology and Environment of the Vietnamese National Assembly. This has included proposals to strengthen legislative provisions relating to areas including water exploitation volumes, integrated planning and roles and responsibilities of river basin organisations.
Face-to-face contact has fostered new and deepened relationships between partners and discussions highlighted new and emerging areas of cooperation and collaboration where further Australian support would be welcomed by Vietnamese colleagues. This included a desire for further sharing of Australian approaches and leadership insights in support of water reform with Vietnamese decision makers, technical advice to develop subordinate instruments under the Law, and capacity building and support for the development of a renewed Vietnamese National Water Resources Strategy.
Delegates expressed high levels of satisfaction following the conclusion of the visit, stating that it had provided useful information to progress law reform and water security objectives in Vietnam. It is hoped that there will be further opportunities for Australian expertise to be deployed in line with the strong demand for this based on Vietnam and Australia’s shared aspirations to improve use of water and optimise the value of scarce water resources.
Featured image: Delegates and speakers from Day 1 of the study visit including presenters Yvette Colton and Vanessa O’Keefe on behalf of the Australian expert team, Rebecca Thornbury, Acting Director, Australian Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, Jennifer Fraser, Victorian Environmental Water Holder Commissioner, Emily Barbour, Mekong Program Lead, Australian Water Partnership and Tom Mollenkopf, President of the International Water Association. Images provided by Aither.