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Peter Coombes, Victorian water agency’s chief scientist departs

The architect of the Victorian coalition’s urban water policies, Peter Coombes, is no longer the Office of Living Victoria’s chief scientist.
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Fairfax Media has confirmed the Napthine government and Dr Coombes mutually agreed to terminate his two-year contract in late September.

The decision has not been publicly announced. It represents the final act in the dismantling of the agency established by Water Minister Peter Walsh in 2012 and charged with revolutionising Victoria’s water sector.

The Department of Environment and Primary Industries has confirmed Dr Coombes is no longer OLV’s chief scientist.

Dr Coombes was appointed to the post in mid-2013 on a two-year, $986,000 contract. Some of that money was dedicated to hiring support staff.

The circumstances of Dr Coombes’ departure raises further questions for Mr Walsh over his handling of the water portfolio, with the OLV having now lost its chief executive, chief operating officer and chief scientist.

Mr Walsh, who had engaged Dr Coombes to help draft the coalition’s water policies before overseeing his appointment as chief scientist, gave the OLV enormous power and autonomy to change the way Victorians use and pay for water.

Using Dr Coombes’ unique scientific modelling, the OLV was focused on restricting the transfer of water from rural areas to Melbourne and increasing the use of recycled water.

However, it ran out of control, with the Ombudsman reporting in August that the OLV had awarded millions of dollars in contracts with no regard for the government’s procurement rules. Former National Party advisers were among those hired by the OLV.

In May, Mr Walsh told state parliament’s Public Accounts and Estimates Committee that Dr Coombes was a “world renowned expert” in response to criticism by the opposition about delays affecting the delivery of the OLV’s flagship $1 million water recycling project in Ballarat.

Fairfax Media in September published leaked confidential documents that revealed Mr Walsh had far greater control over the OLV than he had stated publicly.

Letters signed by Mr Walsh revealed his expectation to be briefed weekly on OLV issues and for his office to be consulted on staffing, working priorities and location.

The Auditor-General is believed to be conducting a financial audit of the OLV, which in July lost its independent status and was brought under the control of the environment department.

Despite its problems, the OLV was instrumental in reviewing water pricing for Melbourne, resulting in lower bills for most householders.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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