Tasmanian Times

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Mayor Howard says TasWater’s Owners’ Representatives Group is defunct

Lead roof of a resident of Pioneer

On tour to Pioneer for Dorset Council’s general meeting, on Monday, February 18, Mayor Howard was asked why he had not written to the Owners’ Representatives Group (ORG) on behalf of Pioneer…

I addressed the Mayor as follows:

‘From your refusal to write to the Owners’ Representatives Group on behalf of Pioneer, it would seem that you would have us believe that the ORG is a defunct group…’

Mayor Howard replied:

‘It is!’

Perhaps this revelation can be seen in the light of Mayor Howard’s support of the failed hostile takeover of TasWater by his personal friend (he has assured Pioneer), Minister Gutwein, whose intention was to remove TasWater from the ownership of Tasmania’s 29 councils …

The overwhelming majority of councils rejected this hostile takeover, with Mayor Howard’s Dorset Council siding with a tiny minority.

The second, revised proposed model for a new-look ownership of TasWater – whereby council would retain ownership, the State gain a share-holder seat at the table for discussion, and inject $20M new money annually for ten years – this model was agreed to by the 29 councils, and later legislated in the Upper House in October 2018.

At the Dorset Council meeting last Monday night, when Mayor Howard was repeatedly asked if he had written to the Owners’ Representatives Group (ORG) on behalf of Pioneer, in relation to lead-painted roofs, and the ghostly prospect of a mini-treatment plant, Mayor Howard would not answer directly in the first instance, stating that it was ‘…a waste of time writing to the ORG’, and that representations by him on unrelated matters had failed.

Under persistent questioning on Monday night, Mayor Howard eventually admitted that he has never written to the ORG on behalf of Pioneer.  

For the residents of Pioneer, this is a truly disturbing failure by Mayor Howard to never have written to ORG, to the other 28 mayors, who are all members of this legislated group for the discussion of TasWater issues, as well as being the owners and overseers of TasWater.

Mayor Howard has been asked countless times over the past years, in writing and in person, to write to the ORG on behalf of Pioneer.

Given TasWater’s 6-year history of poor leadership at Pioneer, and with active health concerns at Pioneer, the ORG are the primary group who could have made representations for Pioneer, if only the Dorset council conscientiously written to them.

In a pre-meeting meet-and-greet, which I did not attend – I and many others who arrived later for the Council meeting proper at 6pm were unaware that this time would be used by Council to hold an informal, off-the-record meeting to discuss water issues – the Mayor is reported to have said:

‘Council are of the opinion that TasWater agreed to do a survey of Pioneer’s residents with regard to the introduction of a reticulated water system.  TasWater representatives have a different view of what was said and have told Council they will engage with Pioneer’s residents once negotiations with DHHS are complete.’ (North-Eastern Advertiser, 20/2/2019.)

True to form, TasWater appear to be rewriting history.  But perhaps it is the first time in six years that Dorset Council has been close enough to witness it for themselves, and to be the direct casualty of it.

Also reported in the North-Eastern Advertiser is that during this pre-meeting session, the Mayor took a question on notice about a concern that fire-fighting tanks have not been properly installed, and in many cases are unable to be properly accessed, nor filled.

It should be noted that the Council workshop with TasWater in December, 2018, took place approximately five months following the Pioneer meeting with Council on July 17, 2018.  This is despite repeated e-mail correspondence to the Mayor.  There was no reason for this delay by council to request a meeting or workshop with TasWater, other than a lack of conscience for the community of Pioneer.

Also, Council were unaware that TasWater had not surveyed residents since their workshop, until I brought it to the attention of Deputy Mayor Jessup two weeks ago.  Council had not followed-up to check the progress of TasWater.

Further to this, until five months ago, on September 21, 2018, the DHHS were unaware of the issue relating to lead-painted roofs at Pioneer.  Dorset Council had not brought it to their attention, nor had TasWater or any other responsible group or person, including the ORG and Minister Gutwein.

Dr Veitch, the Tasmanian Director of Public Health, has not replied in 66 days to my e-mail of December 18, 2018, following the revelation presented to me in a telephone conversation with DHHS’s Mr Hunt – TasWater failed to apply the National Guideline Document for the Use and Installation of Rainwater Tanks.

Numerous e-mail reminders to Dr Veitch, and telephone calls to the DHHS’s Hotline number, have proved fruitless.

Returning to the council meeting at Pioneer on Monday night, there was further disappointing behaviour from the Mayor, and the General Manager, Mr Watson.

I politely asked the Mayor if he would read aloud to residents the council’s answers to my questions on notice, which were submitted by me seven days prior to the meeting.  The Mayor refused to read aloud Council’s answers for Pioneer.  Then Mayor Howard refused for a second time, citing ‘protocol’, and saying that it was ‘unnecessary’, and that ‘… the answers are published in the Agenda for the meeting’.

Following this refusal, the General Manager, Mr Tim Watson, was asked if he would read aloud Council’s (his) answers to my questions on notice – but Mr Watson refused.

Concerned about this apparent abuse of discretionary power by Dorset’s Mayor and General Manager, I formally and politely asked councillors if any or all of their number would speak-up to show their support for the answers to be read aloud to the meeting.

Each councillor of Dorset sat stone-cold silent … 

Once again Pioneer had been abandoned during an open public meeting of the Dorset Council.

Included in this number were two new councillors, Wendy McLennan and Edwina Powell, who, pre-election, had written privately to me to express their strong intention to act to help Pioneer if they were elected as councillors.

Perhaps there is a competing agenda for these members, such as the train along North-East Rail Trail, which is vehemently opposed by Mayor Howard and the majority of Dorset Council, in favour of a bicycle trail.

Councillor McLennan has not replied to any written correspondence from me since before the local government elections in 2018.

Councillor Powell expressed an interest to me in the days before the Council meeting, to speak with residents who have documented lead-painted roofs for the collection of drinking water from TasWater tanks.

Astonishingly, Mayor Howard has failed to contact any of the affected residents in more than nine months, despite numerous requests, written and verbal, the telephone numbers and addresses provided to him by me to him nearly one-year ago.

It should be noted that there is no rule against the reading aloud of answers to questions on notice during a council meeting.  This was confirmed to me by the Office for the Director Of Local Government, on the morning following this Dorset Council meeting.

According to Regulation 31 of the Local Government Meeting Regulations, it is at a council’s discretion as to whether they read the General Manager’s answers to questions on notice.

With this information at hand, it is probable that this was an abuse of discretionary power to refuse to read aloud Council’s answers, when it was politely requested by a citizen of Dorset who was in attendance at the meeting.

At the end of the council meeting, Mayor Howard happily exclaimed: ‘… this is one of the shortest meeting we’ve ever had!’  

The conclusion from this fact is that there was no constraint for time to justify the Mayor and GM’s  refusal to read the answers to questions on notice.

Transparency, work ethic, and a genuine interest in human health – these are not the strong suit of Dorset Council under Mayor Howard. 

However, the suggestion by General Manager Watson during an elaborate graph presentation on the big screen during the council meeting proper – directly following his refusal to read aloud his own words in answer to Pioneer’s drinking water problems – is that Dorset Council has a strong financial position – including an annual dividend to Council from TasWater last year approaching $200k …

All council members ignored a suggestion to the Mayor, GM, and councillors, during the post-meeting discussion, that Dorset Council should enact their own survey for Pioneer’s residents in relation to a mini-treatment plant.

Once again – silence…

My questions on notice, and Dorset Council’s answers, are published for TT readers below:

Dorset Council | Ordinary Meeting of Council | Agenda | 18 February 2019 Ref: DOC/19/1274   

Item 22/19 

The following questions were received on notice from Tim Slade on 12 February, 2019:

  1. The DHHS has recently advised me verbally that TasWater failed to apply the National Guideline Document for the Use and Installation of Rainwater Tanks. Subsequently, late last year, DHHS wrote to TasWater to instruct that they must apply this document to provide potable water for Pioneer.

a.) As a member of the Owners’ Representatives Group, would the Dorset Council like to make a comment about TasWater’s obvious and serious failure to apply this National Guideline Document at Pioneer after six years?

Response from General Manager, Tim Watson: Any non-compliance issues are a matter for DHHS and TasWater.  As Council is no longer responsible for water and sewerage Council does not involve itself in compliance issues.  However, Council has been informed by TasWater that the Director of Public Health did not issue a directive to TasWater in respect to this matter and we understand further discussions are scheduled between TasWater and the Department of Health representatives.

b.) Does Dorset Council have responsibilities to inspect and approve tank set-ups at Pioneer, with reference to this National Guideline Document?

Response from General Manager, Tim Watson: The water tanks were approved by Council as the Plumbing Permit Authority which is standard practice for plumbing works.  Once a Certificate of Completion is issued Council has no further responsibilities.

c.) What can Dorset Council do to make sure that this National Guideline Document is now applied at Pioneer, especially as it relates to lead contaminations from roof paint and roofing materials?

Response from General Manager, Tim Watson: Refer to previous responses.

  1. Dorset Council’s main promise in the last meeting with residents at Pioneer, exactly seven months ago, on July 18, 2018, was to write to the Minister for Local Government, Mr Gutwein, to seek a commitment to help Pioneer.
  • What representations or written commitments has Mr Gutwein made to Dorset Council for the residents of Pioneer?  (The new State-wide ownership model for TasWater has been approved, and Mr Gutwein has a new seat at the table for TasWater negotiations.)

Response from General Manager, Tim Watson: Council is not aware of the Treasurer making a formal representation to TasWater on the Pioneer township water supply.   The Treasurer and the Mayor have however discussed this matter and considering the Tasmania Government is now a TasWater shareholder, it provides the opportunity for water issues relating to Pioneer to be addressed in TasWater’ s corporate planning process.

  1. Deputy Mayor Jessup advised me last week that it is his understanding that, in the last council workshop with TasWater, TasWater promised to write to residents to formally survey our views about the potential for a mini-treatment plant.
  • TasWater has failed to write to the residents of Pioneer to survey them.  Has Dorset Council followed-up with TasWater?

Response from General Manager, Tim Watson: The Mayor has corresponded with TasWater on this matter and is informed that TasWater is of the understanding that it did not make a commitment to conduct such a survey.  However, TasWater has indicated that they intend to engage with the Pioneer community following discussions with the Director of Public Health and are unsure whether Department of Health will conduct a survey or not.

  1. Dorset Council was asked in writing to make representations to the Owners’ Representatives Group (ORG), TasWater’s owner and overseer, about Pioneer’s drinking water, in relation to lead-painted roofs and a mini-treatment plant.
  • What was the outcome of Dorset Council’s representations to the Owners’ Representatives Group (ORG)?

Response from General Manager, Tim Watson: The Owners’ Representatives Group is not in a position to influence a corporate work plan of TasWater.  Those decisions are made by management and therefore representations to the Owners’ Representatives Group on an issue like this is a waste of time.

Tim Slade is a resident of Pioneer.  His articles for Tasmanian Times can be read HERE

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25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. MjF

    March 5, 2019 at 3:44 pm

    “TasWater is responsible for managing and maintaining:

    208,219 water connections
    182,289 sewerage connections
    6,685km of water mains
    4,764 km of sewer mains
    995 water and sewerage pump stations
    298 water distribution storage facilities; and
    112 sewerage treatment plants.

    The campaign – ‘We’re working harder so you can take us for granted’ – launches tonight with the first TVCs going to air on local commercial television stations. It will then run statewide across mainstream and regional television, radio, press, social media and on the sides of buses.

    The campaign will be supported by direct communication with TasWater customers through a range of initiatives, including ongoing community engagement, regional media and education programs.”

    This is just the kind of pick-me-up the long suffering Pioneerites need. Tune in folks. See how your utility is best serving your interests.

    • Russell

      March 6, 2019 at 10:31 am

      Well, despite the recent catastrophic Tasmanian bushfires lasting over six weeks this year and also in 2016, TasWater STILL wishes to decommission the Waratah Reservoir.

      In 2017 TasWater lowered it by 90% because of a ‘piping’ problem which they never bothered to find out the full extent of. This lowering has caused all the native crustaceans in the Reservoir to die from heat stress and given the introduced pest yabby a year round habitat. The Sea Eagles which used to appear here each year during summer seem now to have gone because they have lost another habitat. So much for endangered species Acts and Plans.

      However, why in this age of Climate Change and record hot and dry conditions would you possibly even CONSIDER getting rid of an already established water supply?

      Here is an actual record of a course of events which recently played out in Waratah.

      During the recent 2019 Tasmanian bushfires some morons decided to light a fire on Australia Day (a statewide TOTAL FIRE BAN day) and it got out of hand so that the local fire brigade had to attend and put it out amidst a torrent of abuse from the drunken bogans who lit it. When the local firies had left, the morons lit another one which really got away and the Burnie, Ridgley and another Crew had to be called in to help the local Unit AS WELL as a helicopter water bomber which had to be diverted from the southern Tasmanian wildfires!

      Because TasWater lowered the Waratah Reservoir by 90% the fire units could no longer fill their tanks as they used to at the Reservoir (the only deemed safe and accessible place to formerly do so), and they had to use the substandard hydrants in town which had the effect of COMPLETELY cutting the water supply to EVERYONE ELSE! What would anyone be able to do if their own homes were then confronted with the fire? There wasn’t even any water to use a residential garden hose!

      Let this be a warning to you TasWater Board members and those Councils and Government whom own you, you are on notice!

      If you continue with this insane plan to decommission the Waratah Reservoir rather than fix it, and a fire causes loss to property or life in Waratah YOU WILL be brought before the Coroner and Courts and held personally responsible.

      • Simon Warriner

        March 6, 2019 at 6:02 pm

        Has the TFS given it’s official support to the letter written by Judith Lello, Waratah Fire Chief, to Tas Water on this subject, a copy of which appeared briefly on this site a few weeks ago?

        If Not, Why Not?

        • Russell

          March 7, 2019 at 8:07 am

          Hi Simon, I’m not sure if the TFS officially supported Judith’s letter BUT they and others were given it last year in September, well before the latest bushfires. I will ask her and get back to you.

          However, the truth and future is obvious to everyone but corrupt Government members of all levels and their corrupt employees and GBEs.

        • Russell

          March 7, 2019 at 10:47 am

          Judith says no it is her own opinion but the TFS respects the local knowledge of their volunteer members and Judith has lived in Waratah for 20+ years and has similar experience and qualifications in the position.

    • Kate

      March 7, 2019 at 2:59 pm

      I suspect your cause will go the same way TT Tim. At the end of the day it amounted to nothing more than a fart in bottle! (sorry)

      • Simon Warriner

        March 7, 2019 at 7:29 pm

        Sounding ever more like a .gov troll there Kate. I suggest you get hold of a mirror and ponder your” serial pest” jibe at Tim.

        • Kate

          March 7, 2019 at 9:12 pm

          If you can’t go stirring the pot with the “loony left” S Simon, what can you do with them?

          • Simon Warriner

            March 9, 2019 at 3:48 pm

            It is a really stupid individual that cannot tell the difference between the Looney left and a genuine grievance about piss poor service.

  2. Alison Bleaney

    March 3, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    What can I add to the debate?
    Not a lot really as the matter is relatively simple.
    Pioneer’s articulated water supply was stopped for the purposes of drinking by TasWater due to lead contamination. TasWater is owned by all Tas Local Councils and State Gvt recently joined the ownership group. DHHS have control over the safety of drinking water in Tasmania.
    It seems bizarre and is confronting to any taxpayer that 6 years later, taxpayers do not have an adequate and agreed upon supply of safe drinking water. The powers that be cannot agree in a straightforward manner as to resolve these issues in a timely fashion. DHHS and TasWater were and are responsible for the problems surrounding the lead contamination and its resolution.This would never ever have eventuated in Sydney – even Hobart!
    So let’s stop the circular defences, the obfuscation, the intransigence, the buck passing by those same powers and let’s just get on and sort the situation. Six years for a community the size of Pioneer to not have drinking water of adequate quantity and safety must surely be a record! This is Australia, isn’t it? It’s embarrassing!

  3. Brian P.Khan

    February 27, 2019 at 10:18 am

    Have you lost my reply

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Brian, to whom is this question addressed? What is the subject?

    A question requires a question mark at its end.

    — Moderator

    • Brian P.Khan

      February 27, 2019 at 5:29 pm

      Mr. Slade the writer believes that Wendy McLennan and Edwina Powell are representing all residents of Dorset .Mr.Slade you must be aware they are on a learning curve with council , and life is not meant to be easy for new comers as they traverse the field of a local government act , which was given to the electorate by former minister Jim Cox.This obsolete Act needs reform.{Trust you are making a submission on the grounds you are not being heard ]
      You have the Ombudsman you can go to , but he has limited staff, should the Chairman of Local Government ignore your request. Then it becomes an issue for local and federal politicians , they have the ability to direct you to The Integrity commission

      • Tim Slade

        March 2, 2019 at 3:21 pm

        My earlier comment in relation to these two councilors covers your latest comment, so I need not repeat myself. The Meeting Regulations need reform, beginning with Reg 31 – the officer I spoke to suggested that I may submit to them as part of their current review. The Local Government Code of Conduct, from earlier enquiries, seems to be very limited. You can read my previous articles for information about the active and ongoing submissions by individuals from Pioneer to the Ombudsman. On earlier issues at Pioneer, we have had no success with the Integrity Commission, whereby direct ‘misconduct’ must be proven — the definition is limited. I consider that some of these issues documented within my article here may be suitable for submission to the IC. Regarding Federal MPs, the last I heard, Mr Hart (Bass) has not received a reply from the CEO of TasWater in over 50 days, notwithstanding a reminder to him.

        • Brian P .Khan

          March 3, 2019 at 2:38 pm

          Bring to Lara Von Stieglitz Ross Hart,s secretary attention it is normal business practice to acknowledge a letter failure to do so by Tas Water is not acceptable .Ross should bring this to the attention of the Chairman of Tas Water .General Manager needs to be held accountable

    • Kate

      February 28, 2019 at 10:39 am

      The house in the photo needs a lot more than clean water. The council should demolish it!

      • Tim Slade

        March 2, 2019 at 3:34 pm

        Gosh, it never fails to surprise me that some folk are willing to lay the boot in when they do not understand the facts… The agreement between TasWater and Pioneer was that roofs will be replaced if they are not suitable for the collection of drinking water. TasWater understood this, and factored it in to their budget – by far the cheapest option available to them – with full knowledge that many of the roofs at Pioneer will not be suitable for the collection of drinking water, and thus would need to be replaced. This TasWater customer had no influence over the solution offered to Pioneer by TasWater, so it is therefore not this customer’s responsibility to have a roof satisfactory for this higher purpose – this customer’s roof is satisfactory for keeping the rain out only. Any person calling for the demolition of a pensioner’s home should probably think first, or at the very least identify themself with their full name.

        • Kate

          March 6, 2019 at 7:48 am

          That extension on the house is clearly illegal. The house is unfit for human habitation. Sometimes it pays to look at the broader picture before you go on a one man mission to make a pest out of yourself. If that house was housing commission, people would be calling for an enquiry!

          • Tim Slade

            March 7, 2019 at 1:35 pm

            I accept that I will not be able to satisfy you, ‘Kate’. I wish you good health…

          • Russell

            March 9, 2019 at 11:48 am

            That was probably one of the last public houses built by this corrupt lazy and incompetent government.

  4. Tim Slade

    February 26, 2019 at 1:55 pm

    Mr Khan…Thank you for your comments… As a freelance reporter, your honey versus vinegar comment is probably easy for you to make, but I stand by my now twenty-one articles since 2013, all of which are about Tasmania’s drinking water issues, with a focus on Pioneer, and also the statewide policy for the real-time reporting of all drinking water data. At all times I write with reference to documented facts. It is proper for me to report on discrepancies of proper process. This includes any ‘change’ from an elected member’s election platform of policies, and their subsequent actions / non-actions when elected. In relation to Ms McLennan, you overlook her absence of written reply to Pioneer since the election, as I report. This is fact. Of course, I am not privy to anything which may have been discussed in a confidential council workshop, and this information has not been made available to me by any Member. (For the record, my personal view is that I support Ms McLennan’s campaign regarding the train vs bike issue.) I am not here to report with favouritism – one way or the other – after 6 years Pioneer cannot afford this soft approach. Mr Khan, in relation to your comments with regard to a wariness by elected members at Dorset not to breach the code of conduct – then I do understand to a certain degree – I am aware of these issues as they relate to a lack of freedom, and I am not oblivious to it, or unsympathetic. However, the reading aloud of answers to questions on notice is obviously 100% legitimate and reasonable practice in a council meeting. The single reason I chose to seek formal confirmation from the Dir. Loc. Govt. Office, is to formalise this otherwise obvious understanding for TT readers. I invite you to read my articles: you will see that I have documented my extensive and exhaustive respresentations to State and Federal members of parliament. As the Owners, Shareholders and part-overseers of TasWater, the 29 councils (ORG) have a right to be made aware of any serious failure of process by TasWater management. A failure to apply the National Guideline Document for the Use and Installation of Rainwater Tanks, as one example, is certainly such a serious breach. But due to the persistent failure by Mayor Howard to write to the ORG, it is likely that these 28 mayors are formally unaware of this fact. Of course, these remaining 28 mayors should not be deprived of the opportunity to make a representation to TasWater on behalf of the residents of Pioneer. So with respect, Mr Khan, your warning for me to be careful not to be vexatious, is misplaced, and your easy comment is of course deeply disappointing to me, as it will be to any resident of Pioneer. The main elder matriach of Pioneer writes to me last week to thank me and compliment me on this most recent article which I forwarded to her. Thank you Mr Khan.

  5. Brian P.Khan

    February 25, 2019 at 11:37 am

    There is an old saying “You get more with honey ,than you do with vinegar” The criticism of Wendy McLennan and Edwina Powell is unwarranted .Because of the ‘Code of Conduct ” they have to be cogniisant and aware of breaching council policy.. Code of conduct is an issue that needs to be reviewed during local government review along with , Workshops i.e more open debate at open council along with role of General Manager should be same as chief executive of a public company responsible to its board of directors and comply with A.I.S.I.C , because it is handling rate payers money which is similar to shareholders. ON READING YOUR SUBMISSION , YOU HAVE THE ABILITY TO GO TO YOUR LOCAL MEMBERS IN STATE AND FEDERAL PARLIAMENT .Council are only a share holder in Taswater and one must be careful not to be vexatious

    • Kate

      February 25, 2019 at 7:12 pm

      You have some very “on the money comments” there Brian. Do you have any ideas on how to encourage the councils to amalgamate, if for no other reason but to pick up the average level of professionalism? I would like to know what level of state bureaucrat the general managers are, because in my experience they can be just a tad amateur.

      • Simon Warriner

        February 25, 2019 at 8:26 pm

        So a bigger pot of money and more staff to waste it will make gm’s more professional?

        Want to buy a bridge?

  6. Russell

    February 23, 2019 at 8:43 am

    It seems the Councils are addicted to their TasWater dividends and are actually owned by TasWater rather than the other way around.

    As usual it’s all about the money and NOT the community

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