Well, how quickly things change
In the space of a few weeks, the state now has both major political parties committed to water and sewerage reform.
They may have different approaches, but they now have a clear, shared objective to drive improvement.
The State Government favours a TasWater takeover while the Opposition has suggested an innovative approach to utilise superannuation funds to build new infrastructure.
The change in attitude has occurred because the old way of thinking just won’t do.
For a solution to be found, all levels of Government must work together to deliver improvement. If they don’t, the Tamar River and all its challenges will continue to place an economic handbrake on Northern Tasmania’s future prosperity.
And for this to occur, we remain of the view that the State Government must provide bold leadership and own the assets.
In the North, if the State Government assumes control, the Launceston City Deal would provide a unique opportunity to strategically plan service delivery for a generation.
The Tamar River is one of the most talked about waterways in Australia. And while we are not the only community who experiences the complexities of acid sulphate soils, flocculation, water and sewerage infrastructure, and agriculture and industrialisation which has impacted water flow, we do arrive at the same point each time an election is on the horizon.
The creation of TasWater was due to neglected water and sewerage infrastructure which failed to meet the standards required by everyday Tasmanians. Raw sewage, inadequate drinking water, failing pump stations and a general lack of regulatory compliance was the legacy of the local government sector who historically managed the infrastructure.
Too many council municipalities, too many pump stations, topography, and poor network planning processes have resulted in a disconnected spider web of infrastructure that neither delivers compliance nor creates confidence.
And while TasWater says it will fix 21 boil water alerts and four do not consume notices over the next three years, this should have been completed years ago.
Regrettably, to achieve this outcome they have dropped the two major water and sewerage infrastructure projects which will drive ongoing investment. Namely, the dual system in Launceston and the Macquarie Point relocation project.
Many water treatment plants continue to operate even though they are clearly failing the Environment Protection Authority’s regulatory compliance regime.
If the shoe was on the other foot, and the local government sector was placed in the same position, they would be charging penalties with interest and enforcing compliance through the courts.
Yet, with significant investment required, TasWater pays millions of dollars in dividends to shareholder councils. Any short-term profits should be re-invested into infrastructure development.
Through ownership, the State Government can establish a 10-year capital investment and infrastructure network for the State, delivering a major economic catalyst. Delaying the inevitable takeover is just wasting time and opportunities.
Rates shouldn’t go through the roof and councils should be compensated as a result, but the change to a single owner provides our best chance for raising the capital required.
It is time for the political leaders in local government to focus on an approach which is in the best interests of the whole state, not their individual municipalities.
If they don’t, we will continue to focus on the old way of doings things, and that just won’t do.