Image for Tim Slade responds to Mr Brewster, CEO of TasWater

*Pic: TasWater CEO Mike Brewster’s letter to the NE Advertiser ...

Dear Sir,

It is very important to note that the catalyst for change, to publish drinking water data, was not started by TasWater, but rather, originates from the successful motion from the Local Government Association of Tasmania (LGAT), on July 22, 2015.

If I may correct a statement by Mr. Brewster in his letter to the editor…  There is no suggestion at all that TasWater’s website be the main method for communicating alerts.  Mr. Brewster is aware that this is so.  His statement to the contrary was intended to mislead the people of Dorset.

And it is unfortunate that Mr. Brewster chooses to stir-up fear about the cost for the real-time reporting of Tasmania’s drinking water data. 

According to the advice of an experienced Tasmanian computer engineer, who has worked at the highest levels of the Department of Education in Victoria, the one-off start-up cost for a website for water data in Tasmania would be, at most, $20,000. 

This is less money than the $30,000 TasWater invested to create a ‘cloud of doubt’, over MacQuarie University’s study into the lead-contamination of drinking water at Pioneer (reference: ABC, Michael Atkin – 2016 Tasmanian Journalist of the Year).

Further advice from this independent computer engineer is that the ongoing costs for a Tasmanian website to report on all drinking water data, in real-time, will be a tiny $12,000 each year.

Mr. Brewster makes it seem that achieving data transparency is a really hard thing to do. 

But all of our drinking water data is already in TasWater’s private computer database, so there will be no added cost to employ a person for the input of data. 

Interestingly, Mr. Brewster, in his letter to the editor, did not give us a formal cost analysis for the real-time publication of all drinking water data. 

So if cost is not the reason, what is the reason for Mr. Brewster’s campaign against the reporting of all data, in real-time? 

Mr. Brewster’s claims that data transparency will not make our water any safer…

But at Pioneer, during the period 2009 - 2012, a long time before the alert was called for lead (Pb) in late 2012, several sample results exceeded the health value limit for lead (Pb), according to the data file of Ben Lomond Water (now, TasWater).  In late 2012, this data became public knowledge. 

TasWater’s Water Quality Officer, Mr. Stapleton, spoke to me this year about the Pioneer period, 2009 -2012.  During our conversation on March 11, Mr. Stapleton said:

‘That would not happen now… I’m here now.’

The implication of Mr. Stapleton’s professional opinion here suggest that the decision to NOT call an alert during this time, was not a gold standard decision.

Mr. Brewster’s comments contradict the comments made this year by his own Water Quality Officer. 

Interestingly, Mr. Stapleton, despite his own comments about Pioneer, 2009 – 2012, continues to support Mr. Brewster’s fight against the reporting of all data, in real-time.

Thus, it is a truly remarkable position that Mr. Brewster and Mr. Stapleton choose to take.

Of course, Mr. Stapleton’s comments raise the question: if the reporting of all data, in real-time, was available to Tasmanians between 2009 and 2012, would the alert for lead (Pb) have been brought on earlier?

Mr. Brewster sees no problem with the fact that the people of Pioneer, 2009 – 2012, did not have real-time access to all of their drinking water data. 

It is reasonable for all Tasmanians to ask: Does the Pioneer example count for nothing? 

Tasmania’s 29 local councils are the owners of TasWater, and Mr. Gutwein is our Minister for Local Government, but in a letter from Mr Gutwein to me on March 21 this year, Mr. Gutwein writes:

“…I’m unaware of any proposed model…”

So I informed Mr. Gutwein about the details of the data model – yes, it was necessary for a private citizen to inform Tasmania’s Minister about the specifics of TasWater’s drinking water data model. 

Is it that the CEO of TasWater, Mr. Brewster, was not being open and transparent with Mr. Gutwein (in real-time)?  Or is it that Minister Gutwein does not adequately monitor TasWater’s senior management? 

Mr. Brewster, in his recent letter to the editor, says of his pilot program, ‘…[it] will gauge community interest and inform how we present the data’. 

If Mr. Brewster wished to be informed by the people about how to present data, Mr. Brewster would have already consulted with the owners of TasWater – each and every one of Tasmania’s 29 local councils.  But Mr. Brewster did not consult.  And Mr. Brewster should not have embarked upon a campaign to prejudge and stop the reporting of all drinking water data, in real-time, before he had consulted about the specifics of a model with Tasmania’s 29 local councils. 

It has been observed by many, at Pioneer, Winnaleah, Ringarooma, Whitemark, Avoca, Rossarden, and beyond, that Mr. Brewster’s pipeline promises have seldom held much that is worthy of human consumption.  Actions speak louder than words, Mr. Brewster. 

Also, in Mr. Brewster’s letter to the editor, he deliberately led our people of Dorset to think that the real-time publication of all drinking water data is of concern only to me. 

Mr. Brewster knew that the Tasmanian Labor Party and the Tasmanian Greens were already in opposition to his policy, but Mr. Brewster chose to put it this way instead:

‘…[Mr Slade] may believe our response does not meet his demands…’. 

If I may humbly ask Mr. Brewster to take a look in the mirror – please. 

TasWater, led by you as the CEO, have, since the alert for lead (Pb) in Pioneer’s drinking water, threatened the people, with referral to a debt collection agency, and legal action, if we are overdue in our payment for lead-contaminated water, or if we refuse to pay for it, on moral grounds. 

Now that is what I call a demand, Mr. Brewster… 

Transparency is mutual respect.  Transparency is planning for the future.  Transparency is every Tasmanian’s right to know about the water that they and their family drink each day.

Tasmanians have lost trust in the senior management of TasWater to carry out its daily duties.  A further prime example is that it took TasWater a total of three years to install 22 rainwater tanks for the people of Pioneer. 
Tasmanians have lost trust in TasWater’s systems, processes and communication.

Minister Gutwein is now in possession of the documented facts in relation to the failed processes– including at LGAT – and the subsequent failed policy here by TasWater, as it relates to the development of a data model for Tasmania’s drinking water.

Minister Gutwein’s role henceforth, in his capacity as Tasmania’s Minister for Local Government, is to investigate and to intervene. 

It is not acceptable for Mr. Gutwein to handball the issue of data transparency out-of-bounds, as he did again in The Examiner on Monday, May 2.  Mr. Gutwein said:

‘…the issue [is] a matter for TasWater and the state’s 29 councils’.


Mr. Gutwein is fully aware that the 29 local councils have been sidelined in this process, and that TasWater’s CEO is campaigning in prejudgment against the reporting of all data, in real-time.
Tasmanians have seen the end results of our government, past and present, turning its back on communities across the state. 

Tasmania is watching you, Mr. Gutwein…

On Wednesday, April 27, the same day that Mr. Brewster’s letter to the editor was published in the North-Eastern Advertiser, a broad motion was put to the House of Assembly, for a parliamentary inquiry into water governance in Tasmania. 

The motion was rejected by Minister Gutwein’s Liberal government. 

The motion was also rejected by the Tasmanian Labor Party, who say that TasWater’s failures can be fixed directly, without the need for an inquiry. 

But it begs the question: How will Labor find out what the many and varied problems are at TasWater, if they do not allow for a process of parliamentary inquiry?

The motion for a parliamentary inquiry was supported by the Tasmanian Greens.

The real-time publication of all drinking water data is in the best interests of everybody.  This data belongs to us.  And thanks to website technology, and TasWater’s database, the conversion to true transparency is easy and cheaply available. 

The question is not: why publish all drinking water data in real-time?  The better question is: why not?

Tim Slade, Pioneer.

*Tim Slade (B.Ed.) was born in Hobart, Tasmania. Tim has lived at Pioneer, in Tasmania’s north-east, since 2009. Since Pioneer’s 2012 ‘Do Not Consume’ alert for lead-contaminated drinking water, Tim and many of his fellow residents at Pioneer have volunteered their time to lobby TasWater and the Tasmanian State government, with a view to providing safe drinking water for all. Tim’s five earlier essays about Tasmania’s drinking water can be read from the archives at Tasmanian Times. Tim’s essays and poetry have been published in Tasmanian Times, Famous Reporter, Koori Mail, Tasmanian Sagacity, The Henry Lawson Festival Poetry Collection, the Janice Bostock Haiku Award Anthology and Cricket Poetry Award Anthology.

Editor’s note: At the author’s request, this is a slightly modified version of the original article which was published here.

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