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The by-election for Pembroke today is considered by many as a referendum on the proposed State takeover of TasWater, with the Tasmanian State election due in March.

The pending vote in Tasmania’s Legislative Council, to decide upon this proposed State takeover of TasWater, has been placed on hold, by the Liberal State government, until after this by-election in Pembroke. 

With the numbers in the Legislative Council reported by insiders to be finely balanced in consideration, the State Liberal government hopes that the number of Liberal members in the Upper House will be restored today, to the number enjoyed prior to the resignation, earlier this year, of their Liberal member, Vanessa Goodwin (due to cancer).

For the Tasmanian Liberal government, in hot water controversy in each ministerial portfolio, and beset with resignations, they believe that their chances for re-election in March next year may be boosted if the State takeover of TasWater is approved by the Legislative Council.

In opposition to the takeover is the Tasmanian Labor Party, the Tasmanian Greens, and an overwhelming majority of the 29 owner-councils, legislated members of the Owners’ Representatives Group (ORG) and the Local Government Association of Tasmania (LGAT).

As a resident at Pioneer, a town living with an alert for lead-contamination since 2012, I have seen the Tasmanian State Liberal government ignore our town since taking government.  Not one member of the Liberal State parliament has ever attended a public meeting at Pioneer.  Requests by me for a meeting with Minister Peter Gutwein to discuss the detail of problems have been declined.  Questions in parliament about Pioneer have been deflected by Minister Gutwein, so that they have gone unanswered.  In Budget Estimates in 2016, Minister Gutwein defended TasWater, rather than stand up for Pioneer. Questions and evidence relating to failed process at TasWater, and with the 29 owner-councils, were ignored by Minister Gutwein, who the responsible Minister for drinking water, and the Minster for Local Government.

Doug Chipman, the front-runner in today’s Pembroke election, has been the president of LGAT since 2015.  He is also the Mayor of Clarence. Today he runs as an Independent candidate for Pembroke.  Doug Chipman’s candidacy is notable because of the senior role he has held at LGAT, representing the councils in issues relating to TasWater. 

Today Doug Chipman states in this questionnaire his new view on TasWater, which is to formally support the real-time reporting of all drinking water data on TasWater’s website, so long as the cost for the policy is reasonable.

The State Liberal government candidate for Pembroke, James Walker, who supports the proposed State takover of TasWater, would not answer Q2 of the questionnaire.  It can only be assumed that he does not support the policy for real-time data reporting at TasWater. In all discussions so far in the public arena, the State Liberal government has expressed its opposition to the real-time reporting of all drinking water data on TasWater’s website. (Also, in the House of Assembly this week, the State Liberal government voted against a motion which sought to adopt the real-time disclosure of money donations to political parties in Tasmania.)

So Mr Chipman’s new position today, for real-time data transparency at TasWater, would be a significant new point to consider for people voting in Pembroke.  Alas, it is unlikely that most folk of Pembroke will learn about his view in time for the election today. To-date, not one of the candidates has mentioned this policy in any media or public forums for discussion, leading up to today’s by-election.  But for readers here, Doug Chipman’s new view will highlight an additional contrast to the view of the State Liberal government, with regard to their plans for TasWater. 

Richard James (Independent) proves that it is possible to simultaneously support the State takeover of TasWater and support the real-time reporting of all drinking water.

On the morning of this Pembroke by-election, Tasmanians sipping their morning cup of tea may wonder (a new Boil Water Alert at Risdon Vale was lifted on Thursday) what this new view means for Tasmania’s chances to adopt this policy? 

Since the LGAT motion of July, 2015, which was successfully upheld, in favour of more timely and comprehensive data reporting on TasWater’s website, there has been more than two years of frustrated lobbying for this policy at TasWater: state-wide, beginning at Pioneer, where an alert for lead-contaminated drinking water has been active since 2012. Indeed, until now, Doug Chipman has held a position of silent opposition to the policy for real-time data transparency. 

Since 2015, this LGAT motion has travelled along a dark and endless detour, but perhaps there is now an unexpected glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel? 

Tasmanians trust that this new statement of action for transparency by Mr Chipman holds water.

It will be a great disappointment for many Tasmanians that the State Liberal government continues to oppose this policy for real-time data transparency at TasWater. 

The explicitly defined policy presently enjoys the support of Tasmania’s Legislative Council (since August, 2016), the Tasmanian Labor Party, and the Tasmanian Greens. 

TasWater has opposed the policy for the real-time reporting of all drinking water data; but a brief for an independent cost-analysis of this policy was recently lodged by the CEO of TasWater, Mike Brewster, following sustained lobbying. TasWater have since received the report and a quote. It is presently under consideration by TasWater and the Economic Regulator. 

The report for the independent cost-analysis has not been released by TasWater for public viewing at this time. 

Pembroke Questionnaire ~ Chipman’s New View On TasWater

The Hobart electorate of Pembroke includes the eastern-shore suburbs of Bellerive, Clarence, Geilston Bay, Howrah, Lindisfarne, Montagu Bay, Mornington, Otago, Risdon, Risdon Vale, Rose Bay, Rosny, Rosny Park, Tranmere, and Warrane.

The candidates for the Pembroke by-election today were asked two questions relating to TasWater:

1.  If you become the member for Pembroke, will you support the proposed legislation for the State takeover of TasWater?

Yes ~ James Walker (Liberal Party), Richard James (Independent).

No ~ Doug Chipman (Independent), Bill Harvey (Greens), Jo Siejka (Labor), Hans Willink (Independent)

2.  If you become the member for Pembroke, will you support the policy of real-time reporting of all drinking water data on TasWater’s website, so long as the ongoing cost for this policy is reasonable? [The definition of real-time was provided to candidates.]

Yes ~ Doug Chipman (Independent), Jo Siejka (Labor), Bill Harvey (Greens), Hans Willink (Independent), Richard James (Independent).

No ~ [James Walker (Liberal Party) did not reply to this question, but State Liberal Party policy opposes real-time data reporting at TasWater.]

Additional comments ~ These can be found at the end of this article (see below).

Failed to reply to the questionnaire ~ Carlo Di Falco (Shooters, Fishers, Farmers Party).

NOTE: 

Each candidate received this questionnaire from two sources.  First, via Facebook, on November 1; and for a second time, via e-mail, on November 2.  James Walker (Liberal Party) answered only one question of the questionnaire; and despite a follow-up e-mail from me, asking Mr Walker to answer both questions, he failed to reply, and so did not answer Q2.

Additional Comments by the Candidates for Pembroke ~
TasWater Questionnaire.

James Walker (Liberal)

‘Thank you for your email survey about TasWater.
Yes I support the Hodgman Liberal Government’s plan to take control of TasWater.’
[Mr. Walker did not answer Q2.]

Jo Siejka (Labor)

Q1:  No. TasWater takeover as presented currently is not supported by Tas. Labor.
Q2:  Real-time reporting – yes, supported in principle, subject to costing and accuracy (a robust system in place to ensure that the validity of data sets is able to be relied upon).

Richard James (Independent)

Q1:  Yes.  I believe water and sewerage services are essential services and have to come under the umbrella of State Government control.  It must stay in public ownership and I would not support legislation to sell water and sewerage services to the private sector.

Q2:  I would support the policy on the understanding a State takeover of TasWater would continue to provide real-time reporting until the State Government’s capital works programme of providing fresh water to all Tasmanians is concluded.  Subsequent to that an assessment should be undertaken to determine whether real-time reporting of all drinking water should occur in accordance with decisions reached between Legislative Council decision 2015, Tasmanian Labor Party and the Tasmanian Greens.  Reasonable costs made available to support the reporting process.

Questionnaire on Facebook HERE

*Tim Slade is an MEAA member, and he is a resident of Pioneer, Tasmania.

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