WATER AND SEWERAGE CORPORATION BILL 2012
Mrs ARMITAGE ( Launceston ) - I will keep to the bill. As of 1 July 2009, as we all know, three local-government-owned corporations took over delivery and maintenance of water and sewerage services in Tasmania. In the north, Ben Lomond Water provided these services. In the past, of course, the fee for water and sewerage services had been included with the rates but as of that date, people received a separate notice from the individual water corporations. Because of that, people were told that council rates would be substantially less, but in total basically the same. This caused a lot of confusion for many with the outcome being no change to service but certainly an increase in cost. The cost has not been the same.
Initially, the removal of water and sewerage services from individual councils was not something embraced by all councils as many were managing very well, as has been mentioned. But it has happened and now we need to ensure the best system possible, for the best water and sewerage services for the consumer. Consumer is a word we have not heard very much. As has been mentioned, this came about mainly because of the lack of potable water in many areas of Tasmania. Simply, it came down to those that had good water assisting those that didn't. Some municipalities are very happy with their tank water, or what they currently have, and this has caused some angst in at least one area that I know of, where many residents do not want several million dollars to be spent on a new water system.
In my electorate, systematic drainage of Launceston commenced in 1853, a year after Launceston was proclaimed a municipality. The first sewer was laid in 1860 in York and Margaret Streets, and a large part of the central city has a combined sewerage and stormwater system. This system is now the responsibility of Ben Lomond Water. There are thousands of houses in the Launceston electorate that combine stormwater and sewer, which causes problems, particularly during heavy rain, and while they do not seem to be the rivers of gold that were promised by the then Treasurer, some clouds have silver linings because the ageing sewer network in Launceston is now the responsibility of the new water corporation.
The bill before us today is evidence of the commitment and hard work from the local councils, and the local government association, in an endeavour to improve the current situation and to progress the delivery of sustainable water and sewerage services across the state. The honourable member for Mersey covered the details of the special meetings of the local government association, whereby they resolved to support the formation of a single water and sewerage corporation in Tasmania, subject to agreement by the state government and to a number of requirements associated with the governance and transitional arrangements.
It has been said that the current system needs to be more efficient, and from a residential and even more so from a commercial point of view, many believe the rates to be excessive and unfair. Hopefully, establishing a single corporation will ensure substantial cost savings for the entity with the commencement date being 1 July next year. Assets, liabilities and employees will transfer across to the new corporation. I would be interested to know from the leader whether all employees will be transferred, as I recall that there may be some changes. I would be interested, leader, maybe in your summing up, in knowing how many employees may have to take redundancies or whether there will be any job losses.
It appears there should be savings from one corporation, and I am not going to go down the track of where it should be located. It is more important that it is efficient, irrespective of its location. The member for Windermere has mentioned some of the waste that is currently occurring with office space, particularly in the north.
Another issue was that all meters were replaced across the state, and I understand the reason. I hope that does not cause job losses for the people that no longer have to physically read them as I believe they can read them by driving past the premises.
I have found Ben Lomond Water to be very good to deal with. I can see some surprised looks around the chamber, but only yesterday I had to deal with Ben Lomond Water with an issue for a constituent and they did go above and beyond. They took responsibility for something that could have been either way, in order to avoid grief for an elderly couple. They accepted what I believe was their responsibility, although they were not too sure. They took it on board and I have phoned them many times - probably close to 100 over the period - on behalf of constituents and they have always answered the phone, they have always endeavoured to do their best. I cannot talk for the other two corporations but Ben Lomond Water has been very good and they have assisted when requested and when required. I want to put that on record because I have heard some say that there have been difficulties. I am sure there have, but from my stance I have no problems.
I support the bill and hope it will deliver some economic savings for the state and for consumers.