TasWater has told the Legislative Council Inquiry that there is absolutely no justification or benefit for Tasmanians from the proposed State Government takeover of the water and sewerage business.
In evidence to the Legislative Council Select Committee Inquiry into TasWater’s ownership, Chairman Miles Hampton said the State Government’s primary justification for its proposed takeover was that a ‘water and sewerage crisis’ existed and this was damaging the State’s economic interests.
“This claim is not supported by the facts, is at odds with the actions and judgement of industry regulators and should be dismissed out of hand,” Mr Hampton said.
“Further, the Government’s claims that a new State Government-owned water and sewerage business will result in lower prices, will be fairer to everyone and will deliver solutions faster, does not stand up to scrutiny and it is more likely that the opposite will be the case.”
In a detailed and authoritative submission, TasWater has recommended the Legislative Council reject the Government’s legislation on the basis that it was not sound, was based on a false premise and a lack of necessary due diligence, it represented a high degree of risk and ignored the success and achievements of the current ownership and management structure.
Mr Hampton said while many challenges remained to fix the State’s water and sewerage infrastructure, there was also a professionally developed and carefully considered long-term plan, a record of achievement and a means of funding that plan which did not rely on any external funding.
“Importantly, the existing ownership and governance model protects TasWater from undue political influence in decision-making, facilitates the equitable allocation of resources across the state on a priority basis and is delivering tangible, measurable benefits for Tasmanians,” he said.
“In contrast, the State Government has not provided any financial modelling. The limited information publicly available shows that its promised price savings are well in excess of what can be achieved, its proposed acceleration of works is unrealistic, unnecessary and will drive up costs, it risks long-term inequity by creating an unnecessary debt burden that will have to be repaid, and removes the independent oversight of TasWater’s governance, pricing, infrastructure decisions and operations.”
TasWater’s Chief Executive Officer Mike Brewster said in contrast, in the four years since its formation, TasWater had established a strong record of achievement.
“We have successfully merged three regional corporations into a single statewide operation and achieved national recognition as a leader in safety and staff development,” Mr Brewster said.
“We have the lowest litre-for-litre bills in the country and the highest grade of service in the country for comparable-sized water utilities.
“TasWater has invested $413 million in capital improvements with the current capital expenditure per property being the highest in the country for comparable-sized water utilities and this has seen an increase in the percentage of customers receiving compliant drinking water from 94 per cent to 99.4 per cent. We have completed major upgrades to 23 drinking water systems, removed Public Health Alerts from 17 towns and are on track to have 100 per cent of customers receiving compliant drinking water by August 2018.
“TasWater permanently removed headworks charges to stimulate economic activity and the Tasmanian Economic Regulator approved our recommendation for a statewide pricing regime, that has seen the majority of customers across the State paying the same price for the same services.
“Effluent compliance has increased from 81.4 per cent to 86 per cent, recycled water compliance improved (69 per cent to 79 per cent), sewerage odour complaints reduced by 50 per cent, increased beneficial use of bio-solids (56 per cent to 99.8 per cent) and reduced the number of dry weather sewage spills by more than 50 per cent.”
Mr Brewster said TasWater had delivered $10.7 million of annualised productivity savings and is on track to lift this to $21 million per annum by the end of its 10-year plan. It had developed the first comprehensive long-term Strategic Plan for the State’s water and sewerage systems.
These achievements collectively benefit the environment, the economy and the health of all Tasmanians.
Miles Hampton said the Government argument was based on inadequate research, exaggerations and the selective use of data for pure political purposes. However, most offensive of all was its inference that the people who work for TasWater had not been doing their job.
“In doing this, they are also, by inference, making the same criticism of the EPA, DHHS and the various other regulators who have oversight of TasWater, as those key government agencies are fully aware of and endorse our plans.
“I especially and fervently defend the record of the men and women who work for TasWater and the many contractors who support us, who have done, and continue to do an outstanding job in providing water and sewerage service for the people of Tasmania.”
Mr Hampton said he could not recall when a government anywhere in Australia had sought so rancorously to attack the reputation and credibility of a highly committed workforce in such a shameful manner.
“This takeover is politically motivated and unjustified and on that basis our Board and the overwhelming majority of our owner Councils reject it and stand determined to oppose it,” he said.