By TONY FOSTER
TASMANIANS are currently confronted by the prospect of a robbery of public assets of unprecedented proportions, fuelled by political ambition with the prospect that the proceeds of that robbery will be paid for by Tasmanians for years to come.
The irony is that this attempted robbery is being perpetrated by the State Treasurer Peter Gutwein who is the person in government with the responsibility for protecting public assets and funds.
Mr Gutwein’s target is, of course, TasWater, the state water and sewerage authority owned by Tasmania’s local councils on behalf of its ratepayers, with its assets paid for by ratepayers of those same owner councils. It is a very attractive target for a greedy and politically ambitious Treasurer.
Mr Gutwein wants to turn TasWater into a Government Business Enterprise (GBE) under his control, enabling him to raid the books to prop up his State Budget, as he has done with Hydro, Aurora, MAIB, TasNetworks and TT-Line.
His pretext for the takeover is his so-called “crisis” in Tasmania’s water and sewerage services. The fallacy of this claim is clearly demonstrated by the fact that some 99 percent of all Tasmanians already have access to clean, clear water that fully complies with Australian quality standards. And TasWater has developed a comprehensive and responsibly funded infrastructure upgrade program that will see all sewerage plants with environmental standards within 10 years or sooner. Funding is being provided by reductions in distributions to the owner councils and a responsible borrowing program based on TasWater’s assets and the capacity of consumers to pay.
Mr Gutwein wants to speed up this program and his answer is to borrow more money to add to TasWater’s current $430 million in loans. As any financier will tell you, increased debt means higher overall costs and this doesn’t alter if the borrowing is undertaken by TasWater, councils or the State Government. Another fallacy promoted by the Government is that it will be able to borrow funds at cheaper rates than TasWater. However, TasWater already borrows money through the Government’s Tasmanian Finance Corporation at the same rates, so there will be no savings there.
The Treasurer’s plan for huge additional borrowings is highly irresponsible and it is something that no sensible business would do. In fact, TasWater Chairman Miles Hampton, a vastly experienced and successful business leader has said as much, warning that additional borrowings as proposed by the Treasurer would result in TasWater becoming unsustainable i.e. it would go broke!
For this issue of Brighton Community News, we asked all our local representatives in State Parliament to provide their views on the Treasurer’s proposed TasWater takeover. The Labor politicians provided a detailed response outlining the party’s policy. That response is published in this issue of the newspaper.
The Liberal Government members, obviously under instructions from Treasurer Gutwein, did not even have the courtesy to respond.
Undoubtedly, Mr Gutwein is fast becoming the Donald Trump of Tasmanian politics. He makes outlandish claims, has no facts to back them up, bullies and berates opponents and has no respect for the truth. In short, fake news and alternative facts!
A crucial question for all Tasmanians is do they believe the real facts provided by TasWater and its highly-respected Chairman and vastly experienced business leader Miles Hampton, or do they accept the highly questionable and unsubstantiated claims of a politician seeking to raid public assets and create an election issue?
The very real concern is that if the Treasurer gets his way, Tasmania’s water and sewerage charges will increase and councils, including Brighton, will have less to spend on essential services for ratepayers and the community.
Be assured that Brighton Council supports TasWater’s carefully developed and fully-funded infrastructure upgrade program and remains determined to resist the attempted takeover grab by the Treasurer and the State Government.