Ms DAWKINS question to MINISTER for PLANNING and LOCAL GOVERNMENT, Mr GUTWEIN
CEO of TasWater, Miles Hampton, has publicly stated that the ailing water infrastructure in Launceston is the community's problem. TasWater has committed to improving the water quality for 24 communities now on boil water alerts as a matter of priority, but said funding for Launceston's critical infrastructure would require a contribution from all levels of government.
As you know, our home city has seen raw sewage on the streets as a result of flood events and infrastructure failing. Will you now commit to spending some of the so-called surplus you have been crowing about on this critical infrastructure for Launceston, for your home, your electorate of Bass?
Madam Speaker, I thank the member for her interest in this, albeit belated. She never said a word about this when she was on Launceston City Council, when Ms Dawkins was actually an owner of TasWater and could have done something about it.
Ms O'Connor interjecting.
Madam SPEAKER - Order.
Mr GUTWEIN - I thank the member for her belated interest in this question.
Ms O'Connor interjecting.
Madam SPEAKER - Order. I am not going to put up with these constant interjections.
Mr GUTWEIN - We welcome the decision yesterday by TasWater's board to take up the Government's suggestion to do more to fix the problem of the state's ageing water and sewerage system. This is a very good announcement by TasWater and congratulate Miles Hampton and his board on their decision.
However, it will leave many Tasmanians wondering why local government - perhaps Ms Dawkins could provide some illumination on this matter - as the owners of TasWater have failed to act until now. The Government has held the view for a long time that TasWater has a strong balance sheet and that its local government owners, rather than focusing on the dividend stream they receive, should be doing more to fix these problems.
Boil water alerts in small towns across Tasmania are not a new problem. In fact fixing boiled water alerts and ensuring that all Tasmanians have access to potable water across the state was one of the key reasons for the reforms some years ago. There is a need to ensure that water and sewerage infrastructure is not only meeting contemporary standards but also provides the investment platform to ensure that the momentum in our economy continues.
The board has clearly listened to the Government on this issue, but unfortunately their local government owners appear reluctant to support what appears to be a very sensible and long overdue decision. It is important to note that over the same period since the corporations have been established, since water and sewerage reform, TasWater has delivered $143 million in returns to councils over that period. Over the next 10 years local government is still going to receive around $200 million in returns from TasWater. Local government receives the benefit of ownership and now the board of the corporation that they own has outlined a plan where they will also need to accept the responsibility of ownership. The decision by TasWater should in no way flow through to rate increases.
Local government owners, as a collective, have a very strong financial position. They received last year around three-quarters of a billion dollars in revenue. They have assets of around $9 billion. They hold nearly $400 million in cash and investments and they have relatively low borrowings.
Ms O'CONNOR - Point of Order, Madam Speaker, regarding standing order 195 on irrelevant, tedious repetition. You were asked about Launceston's water and sewerage.
Madam SPEAKER - The member can resume her seat. I made a ruling yesterday in relation to this. It was a detailed question containing a few questions. The Treasurer does have latitude if latitude is given in asking the question. This is how the House has always operated, otherwise you would be restricted to one question only, and it would have to be through the Chair to not breach the Standing Orders. The Treasurer will resume, but wind up.
Mr GUTWEIN - Thank you, Madam Speaker. Councils clearly have very strong balance sheets and could do more.
With local government at the moment we are looking to improve efficiencies through voluntary amalgamation options and looking at feasibility studies. I have no doubt they will comfortably be able to afford the plan TasWater has outlined. The Government's view is that Tasmanians will not view positively any move by councils to use this decision to opportunistically lift rates to fix a problem they, as local government, are responsible for.
We will continue to work with local government, as we have been, as the owners of TasWater to ensure we find solutions for the challenges presented by the Launceston combined system and Macquarie Point. We will ensure we end up with a twenty-first century water and sewerage sector and an efficient and viable local government sector.