Business and community groups are putting their might behind the Government’s TasWater takeover as community support of TasWater rate capping blindsides local government.
The message is now clear that Tasmanian communities want caps on their water charges and no excuses for increases in local government rates as opposed to the current TasWater wallet breaker seeing five to six per cent annual increases in water and sewerage over the next decade.
If the Government takeover delivers its agenda of major sewerage and water reforms, there are estimates of 1000 new construction jobs likely as well as the removal of some 25 “boil water” alerts.
The selling point for a government-run TasWater is to reduce the timeframe for the $1.5 billion capital works program from 10 years to five.
The legislation for the takeover in July next year has already passed the House of Assembly on its way to the Legislative Council.
Organisations from business to Tascoss have recognised that the political debate between Treasurer and Minister for Local Government, Peter Gutwein and Labor Opposition, TasWater and LGAT, has dominated the discourse while ratepayers believe they have been ignored.
Tasmanian’s peak business organisation, the Tasmania Chamber of Commerce and Industry, has supported the takeover from the outset and is now seeking more detailed information from Minister Gutwein.
“This move will provide clarity and surety for Tasmania’s water supply,” TCCI chair, Susan Parr said of the March announcement by Premier Will Hodgman.
“Now we are moving the debate on, we want to know the nuts and bolts of the government plan.
“This will help us understand all the opportunities which can be created by the takeover.”
The Labor Opposition has committed to a public private partnership at Macquarie Point and TCCI is pushing the Government for an answer to the Macquarie Point situation – it will cost $150 milion to relocate the infrastructure, unlocking $1billion in development on the site.
The TCCI says our infrastructure needs to be suitable for the growing population and a burgeoning tourism industry.
“Certainly the TCCI is very concerned that more than 20 places in our state have a third world water supply which is just not acceptable,” Ms Parr said.
“You have to feel for the residents who can’t drink the tap water and then they have to warn tourists from around the world that they can’t drink the water. Really!”
Meanwhile, Tascoss argues that consumer voice must be at the centre of the debate and the priority must be keeping prices down.
TasCoss CEO Kym Goodes said that pensioners had to budget between $500 to $700 a year (and rising) to cover the cost of receiving basic water and sewerage services.
“Access to clean, potable water is not just an essential service, it’s a human right,” Ms Goodes said.
“We support decisions that will achieve a 21st century water and sewerage system for Tasmanians.
“Change must be made and we applaud leaders brave enough to make it.”
Bringing forward the $1.5b capital works program is expected to create at least 1000 new jobs, with the government looking to prioritise opportunities for Tasmanian workers and companies.
Many of the speciality projects will be supported by private enterprise and in some cases, shared contracts with TasWater on strict deadlines.
Although much of the information has still to be released, discussions before the announcement made it clear that the strategic plan had been tested and accepted as was the financial aspect of the takeover.
The takeover, if approved by the Legislative Council, will utilise TasWater’s strong balance sheet to secure additional funds to cover the projects.
Organisations supporting the changes include the Property Council, Tourism Industry Council Tasmania, Master Builders Association, TCCI and TasCoss.
While the Local Government Association in general has reacted negatively to the change, there are fractures – Launceston City City Council is a big supporter of change, given its region and ratepayers would benefit significantly.
A number of East Coast councils are also in favour of rapid change, given many business owners in the region have struggled financially with the devastating consequences of sewerage overflows on seafood stocks.