By TONY FOSTER
THE fight to retain local government ownership of TasWater continues, with the State Government recently releasing a highly biased report from Infrastructure Tasmania to support its crude takeover bid.
Treasurer Peter Gutwein also called on councils to back off and allow him to take control of this multi-billion-dollar asset free of any opposition.
Well this is just not going to happen. Councils and their taxpayers own TasWater and they have invested in it over the decades. The State Government’s offer amounted to it paying just six cents in the dollar for an asset the Treasurer himself has valued at some $3 billion.
Mr Gutwein knows its value and he knows how little he is offering to pay for it. Tasmanians can only speculate what he would do with the balance sheet once he got his hands on the asset. He has already confirmed that he will borrow an unnecessary $600 million for a highly questionable speeding up of TasWater’s upgrading program.
Engineering and financial experts have already questioned the wisdom of this plan, despite the endorsement of Mr Gutwein’s underlings in Infrastructure Tasmania. Then there is the legal doubt surrounding the Government’s ability to actually takeover TasWater, with senior legal advice questioning the legality of Mr Gutwein’s asset grab.
Councils would be irresponsible if we allowed Mr Gutwein to simply walk in and take over our water and sewerage business and the overwhelming majority of TasWater’s 29 owner councils have rejected the bid.
For its part, Brighton Council will continue to resist the State Government takeover and we are determined to fight to protect the interests of our ratepayers and the community.
We are taking this approach for four key reasons:
- Because we firmly believe that the independent Board (with owner council oversight) and the expert management and professional staff are best suited to develop, manage and maintain Tasmania’s water and sewerage infrastructure.
- Based on its experience with other Government Business Enterprises where balance sheets and surpluses have been raided, we do not trust the State Government to run TasWater effectively and without political interference, and pork-barrelling;
- Because Brighton ratepayers have already paid significantly for their water and sewerage infrastructure and services and we do not believe they should have to pay again to fund the pet projects of State Government politicians.
- Because Council, having invested significantly in TasWater is entitled to receive appropriate dividends – dividends that are used to provide important and essential services for our community, such as roadworks and footpaths, child health clinics, parks, sport and recreation facilities, social programs and economic development.
All this would be lost should the State Government gain control of TasWater.
While Mr Gutwein is promising water and sewerage rate rises slightly below those in TasWater’s forward plans – not lower rates as he likes to portray, and completion of TasWater’s current upgrading program in eight and a half years instead of the current 10, he simply cannot be trusted.
His takeover bid and attack on local government is simply a political tactic to show him doing something and pretending to be tough in the lead-up to the next State election.
It has little to do with providing better water and sewerage services for all Tasmanians, but more about securing his and his party’s re-election at the poll due early next year.
Brighton ratepayers can be assured that our Council will not stand by and allow the Treasurer to place TasWater at risk and also risk the imposition on the community of higher water and sewerage charges as well as increased council rates to compensate for the lsses as a result of his folly.