First published March 8.
Punctuality is the politeness of princes, but it appears that Premier Hodgman arrived on the scene yesterday anyway, announcing that the State Government will take over TasWater, usurping Tasmania’s local councils, in July, 2018.
The Premier also promised yesterday, in his State-Of-The-State address to Parliament ( TT here, and here: specific MR ), that his government will legislate for the guaranteed public ownership of TasWater, filtering-out the chance that TasWater will be privatised in the future.
The Premier committed to retaining dividends to local councils until 2024 / 2025, with dividends to local councils to be halved at that time.
With the promise that these two major sticking points will be taken care of by the Premier, it may indeed be the case that a State Government takeover of TasWater is much closer to being the correct plan.
But the Liberal Federal Government has refused to gift, to Tasmania’s Liberal Premier, funding for the improvement of the state’s water and sewerage infrastructure.
By contrast, the Federal Labor Party has committed $65 million, should it win the next election, for Launceston’s leaking sewerage infrastructure.
With the waft of an early election, and the increased likelihood of council amalgamations, the Premier’s announcement yesterday is a win-win for the Liberal State Government’s private interests.
No small detail.
Nevertheless, it is true that Tasmania’s local councils have proven themselves to be too dispersed, disorganised, and disinterested, to oversee TasWater properly, when TasWater has been publically shown to act negligently and /or without transparency, since its formation in 2012.
It is also the case that the local councils have a financial conflict of interest in their role as TasWater’s sole overseer. This point was belatedly made by the Chairman of TasWater, in an interview with ABC Radio, late last year, on the day following TasWater’s public announcement to reduce dividends to the local councils.
In the year gone by, the Tasmanian State Government and owner councils have performed what can only be described as a high dive in reverse, before the popular policy pool of real-time reporting of drinking water data on TasWater’s website.
Who can say if the State Government will change policy, to happily adopt real-time data reporting in the near future ...The State Labor Party has spoken in Parliament to voice their commitment to doing so if they are elected.
TasWater, in a statement to ABC radio yesterday, said it had learned of the Premier’s announcement for a take over of TasWater only minutes earlier, and that TasWater would wait to be provided the details of the Premier’s takeover, before making a public comment.
With an election pending, the Premier is likely guilty of deep political opportunism, for it follows a deeply cynical view by the State Government since the last election, particularly towards towns such as Pioneer in the north-east, a town left to fend for itself for the past four years and three months, since the alert for lead-contaminated drinking water in 2012.
Yesterday’s statement by the Premier falls more than two years after an ABC 7.30 Report, in 2015, showing the depth of failure of TasWater and its government overseers, to deliver safe drinking water, via 30 individual rainwater tanks, to the tiny town of Pioneer.
On the day following the 7.30 Report broadcast in 2015, the Premier made his first public statement in two years about Pioneer. Premier Hodgman said: We can’t write a blank cheque ...
In a Budget Estimates hearing a little later in the year, when asked about Pioneer, the responsible Minister, Mr Gutwein, said: TasWater are getting on with the job at Pioneer!
And in April 2016, the Premier and his Ministers voted against a parliamentary inquiry into TasWater and its overseers, the local councils. The motion was put forward by the Tasmanian Greens.
Yesterday in Parliament, the Premier privately prayed that the mind of the Tasmanian public had not noticed anything going wrong in the years gone by, or that he and his colleagues hadn’t done anything to fix it, when he said: Tasmanians expect their government to act.
The Premier, wearing a checkered tie, which was almost more distracting than the historical facts, went on to say: With our plan we will fix it faster, and it will be cheaper for consumers ... and we’ll do so without councils needing to increase their rates ... And water bills, which councils have forecast to increase by 5% a year. under our plan will be cut to no more than 3.5%.
On ABC local radio yesterday, Mr David Downie, the Chairman of the TasWater Owner’s Representatives Group, representing the 29 local council owners, said: I’ve only heard about this less than an hour ago ... It’s all a bit sudden ... But at the end of the day we’ve got to do the best thing. And if that outcome is achieved under a new model, or under the old model, I believe that that’s the major point we have to consider ... We’ve been willing to work with the State Government ... If they can deliver a better outcome than we have delivered, then that’s the way it will go ... But I’d like to add ... I believe it has been a success story [Local Government ownership of TasWater] ... The information we have from TasWater is that it can’t be done [in five years] ... But if he [the Premier] can do the job then he should be held accountable to that ... And at the end of the day, if the job can be done in five years, then the people of Tasmania are going to benefit … But if the dividends are removed, it will put an upward pressure on rates ... A fundamental part of this argument is cost of living issues.
Later in the day, the President of the Local Government Association of Tasmania (LGAT), Mr Doug Chipman said on ABC local radio yesterday: We are disappointed that the State Government continues to beat up TasWater and the councils over TasWater’s performance. We don’t believe that that’s justified. And by the time they can take over TasWater, by the 1st of July next year, most if not all of the water problems in Tasmania will have been fixed.
Punctuality is the politeness of princes…
And since 2012, never has a member of the Liberal State Government visited the lead-affected town of Pioneer, even when invited.
Nearly all of Pioneer’s neighbouring towns have been blessed with a visit from one or more Ministers from the Tasmanian Liberal State Government ~ at Bridport, Scottsdale, Moorina, Derby and St Helens ~ but these visits were to promote good news stories only, which is to say that the content of these stories was specifically not drinking water in the north-east of Tasmania.
Perhaps readers, who pays their bill each quarter to TasWater, will like this one the best:
Punctuality is the price of princess’ paupers ...
*Tim Slade lives in Pioneer, Tasmania. Tim’s many articles about drinking water in Tasmania can be found in the archives of Tasmanian Times: HERE