Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Economy

TasWater takeover: It’s all spin …

image

The buck stops here: Treasurer Peter Gutwein (who is pushing for a takeover of TasWater) and Premier Will Hodgman spruik the 2016 Budget …

On 23 November 2017 the Legislative Council voted 10 to 4 against the legislation to facilitate the State Government’s takeover of TasWater from its current council owners. The State Government now intends to take the proposal for State Government takeover of TasWater to the next election to seek a mandate.

Now that the parliamentary vote is out of the way we expect the government will focus on attempting to win community support. It remains to be seen whether the government will continue its bluster and spin about a ‘crisis’ and its ‘big talk’ about State Government ownership being better.

Or, will it actually define policy objectives in regard to sewerage and water. Under government ownership what, if any, will be the benefits for customers and the environment?

I have read every public statement I can find from the government. There is no standalone policy, rather a series of media releases and statements in Parliament that contain the same sweeping statements about ‘fixing the water and sewerage mess’ and ‘giving Tasmanians the services they deserve’ and constant claims of a water and sewage ‘crisis’.

The State Government has preferred to focus on its promise to takeover TasWater from its council owners, which is the ‘means’ and not the ‘outcome’. Sadly, this is a popular political ploy to keep people focused on a decisive decision, a takeover, rather than the actual practical benefits, if any.

The government says very little about the outcomes for customers and the environment. Our analysis shows there will be very little benefit as measured by: quality of services and environmental performance; prices for customers, and speed of upgrades.

The TCT is not in principle against TasWater being owned and controlled by the State Government but we are not convinced the current government’s proposal would deliver sufficient benefits to justify it. It will be up to TasWater’s current owners, opposition parties and groups such as the TCT to draw the government out, to be honest about what we will get out of a takeover.

The false crisis

Before looking at the possible benefits of a takeover, it is important to realise that there is no sewerage and water crisis as Minister Peter Gutwein constantly claims. This is another political ploy. If the public believes there is a crisis, they tend to accept any proposed solutions without questioning them. The key facts to keep in mind are:
TasWater intends to fix all drinking water problems by August 2018, therefore the State Government will have nothing left to fix. 12 of the 24 towns that have been on water boil alerts are now off the alerts and able to safely drink their water.

Minister Gutwein’s claim that TasWater has 7 times the national rate of sewage spills per 100km of sewer pipe is invalid because TasWater is required to report many smaller spills that most mainland utilities do not. No one knows how TasWater compares in terms of the actual number and volume of spills.

Minister Gutwein’s claim that only 1 out of 78 sewerage treatment plants is fully compliant is grossly unfair. Full compliance is a poor measure of performance because one failed test in a year results in non-compliance. This measure can only result in perfection or failure. The percentage of effluent by volume that is compliant is a much more appropriate performance measure and TasWater currently achieves 84% compliance.

Quality of service and environmental performance

In regard to customer service quality and environmental performance the State Government has promised nothing more than what TasWater promises. The government has promised to deliver the same works plan as TasWater’s. The same upgrades to sewer treatment plants, sewer mains, etc.

Minister Gutwein has made much of the complaint that TasWater records 7 times the national rate of sewage spills per 100km of sewer pipe. But he has never once said that he will reduce the rate of spills to the national average or any other level.

He also complains that only 1 out of 78 sewerage treatment plants are fully compliant but he has not committed to getting all 78 plants to be fully compliant or any other number.

Prices

The State Government intends to increase the average price for residential water and sewerage, but promises prices will rise by slightly less those TasWater has planned. In a letter that the Premier has sent to householders in Bass, he promised a price increase that will be ’up to’ $550 less for the average customer over six years. The comparable ‘saving’ is only a maximum of $91 per year or $1.76 per week.

TasWater Chair, Miles Hampton, has argued that the savings proposed by the government are much less.

TasWater claims that if the government doesn’t increase water and sewage bills by more, it will need to borrow money to pay for the accelerated upgrades. The interest payments for these loans will cost taxpayers eventually.

Over the last four years, the State Government should have shown leadership by helping to convince Tasmanians that higher prices are justifiable to lift water and sewerage standards and help TasWater to pay for them. Tasmanians pay much less than the national average (more than $300 less per household per year according to the Bureau of Meteorology who report on urban water use) and we probably need to pay much more than the national average because our systems are much more decentralised.

Timeframes

The government’s only significant proposed change to TasWater’s current management is to speed up the delivery of some upgrades i.e. deliver TasWater’s ten-year plan in seven years.

Only 3 years of the 10 year plan is promised to be completed earlier than TasWater promises. Under the government’s control just 30% of projects will happen up to three years earlier and 70% of projects will happen no earlier. This is not taking into account the possibility that the disruption from changing ownership may further delay some planned projects.

But as TasWater has rightly stated, it is likely that accelerating the upgrades will either cost more or will lead to compromises in construction or environmental standards or both. If you ask your builder to build your house in 4 weeks rather than 6 weeks they are bound to charge you more or cut corners and compromise their work.

I worry that a State Government-controlled TasWater will pressure the Environmental Protection Authority to lower sewerage treatment plant effluent standards to make upgrades easier to attain and give an appearance of improved compliance.

The government has never endorsed the seven year plan which it commissioned Infrastructure Tasmania to prepare, but rather used it to demonstrate that it was feasible to accelerate the upgrades. The government is not currently bound to deliver any particular project by a specific time.

What a policy should look like …

During the state election the voting public should demand the government states more clearly what its policy is, including:

• What, if any, are the advantages of having the ownership and management of TasWater changed from councils to state government?

• What alternatives to a government takeover have been considered e.g. helping TasWater to obtain more money as proposed by the Labor party?

• What are the risks (environmental, financial and other) with an accelerated program of works and how will these be addressed?

• Will the government set targets for improvements to sewerage spills and sewerage treatment compliance?

• Will the government commit to an actual work program i.e. defining when each Tasmanian town will have its upgrades completed?

• Does the government intend providing reticulated services to communities currently not receiving them? TasWater reports that 25% of Tasmanian households are currently not connected to TasWater for sewage and 15% of households are not connected for drinking water.

*Peter McGlone is the State Director of the Tasmanian Conservation Trust Inc.

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]
2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Russell

    February 6, 2018 at 12:22 pm

    The community of Waratah would gladly like to see TasWater’s takeover.

    TasWater, ruled by the same person who jointly oversaw the demise of FT and the entire Tasmanian Forest Industry, is now bullying small or struggling Tasmanian towns.

    TasWater’s main interest now is solely in making the most out of irrigation projects and making Tasmanians pay through the nose for it.

    This is being done at the expense of town catchment drinking water supplies like that of the northwest township of Waratah.

    TasWater is closing down and decommissioning non-profit water storages despite them being in good condition and the main drinking water supplies.

    So much for their slogan of “providing drinking water to all Tasmanians.”

    TasWater says that the Waratah Reservoir is not part of the town’s drinking water supply, yet the Cardle Coast Water sign there clearly stated that it was. This sign has since been knocked down and then removed by TasWater when folly of their lie was brought to their attention.

    The Waratah Reservoir IS the main drinking water supply for the town. You would think in this time of water shortages and climate change we would be keeping all the water reserves we have, especially in another year of unprecedented dry spell in Tasmania, especially in the north west.

    Waratah has again had one of its driest winter/spring/summer periods on record just two years after the north west of the state was burning uncontrollably for months, and Waratah experienced some of its driest months ever. The water storages at that time in Waratah were being used to fight the fires.

    Will TasWater be held responsible for future bushfire disasters when there is not enough water to protect or save communities?

    TasWater has lowered the level of the Waratah Reservoir by 90% in its haste to begin decommissioning of the Reservoir over the Christmas period. This has already caused immense stress on the environment there and within where the wildlife population including platypus, crayfish, non-diseased devils, native fish, trout, eagles, etc has established itself over the past 100 years. Not to mention the impact to Waratah’s tourism economy where most people come to see the waterfall spectacle right in the middle of the town and fish the Reservoir and ponds.

    NO environmental impact study was conducted prior to TasWater’s works commencing which is a breach of State and Federal Laws.

    Part of TasWater’s recent works on the Waratah Reservoir carried out by sub-contracters was allegedly to scratch away at the upstream face of the dam wall which is also at odds with normal dam maintenance practice and damaged the integrity of the dam, hence the lowering of the water level.

    To date all political parties and the Councils which own TasWater have been missing in action.

    Is TasWater the new anti-social/anti-economy Forestry Tasmania?

    Please sign and distribute this petition.

    https://www.change.org/p/premier-of-tasmania-save-the-waratah-dam

  2. Geoff Dickinson

    February 4, 2018 at 5:59 pm

    The arguments presented by Peter McGlone resonate as true and I want to see TasWater remain in the current structure, i.e. owned by the Councils.

    In the past some Council’s pulled their weight, and then some, in satisfying their ratepayers in providing sewerage and water services. The ratepayers ultimately made an intergenerational investment in the infrastructure that was their part of TasWater. Think West Tamar Council for one.

    Other Councils did a so-so job and provided some services well, some badly. Hobart, Glenorchy and Launceston Councils did not even provide water meters to have two-part pricing and called upon the Federal Government to toss in $5 million when the State Government did not help to bring in two part pricing. So, for the State Government to take over TasWater the State Government will be appropriating that $5 million.

    To add to that Launceston Council in the far past decided to mix sewerage and stormwater wastes to the detriment of the Tamar and the area.

    Launceston Council has under-invested for decades in water and sewerage infrastructure.

    An outcome of a TasWater takeover by the State Government is a possible boost to the Liberal Party vote in Bass in getting Taswater to bring forward sewerage works for Launceston and even then it would take an unwise person to think it would be completed in time for the next State election (or even the one after that). The project will likely be done in an earlier time frame if it remains with the TasWater we now have.

    For the State Government to take over Taswater and displace the current Council ownership structure is intergeneration plunder, almost theft.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To Top