Are 'Not for Sale' comments masking the reality?
LETTER TO THE EDITOR:
IN HIS comments with headline "Water, sewerage not for sale” (The Gympie Times, April 12, 2017), is the Mayor asking us to take his word regarding the future management and ownership of our water and waste assets?
The decisions regarding the commercialisation of our water and waste assets were made in "committee” away from public scrutiny as with so many other decisions that are of public interest and the Mayor wants us to believe that our water and waste assets will remain in council hands.
Only councillors Hilary Smerdon, Glen Hartwig and James Cochrane voted against the motion to proceed with the commercialisation of our water and waste assets (see council minutes, September 28, 2016).
However, I note that in a recent vote James Cochrane has changed his mind and voted with the Mayor (see council minutes, March 29, 2017).
What has changed James?
There has been little or no meaningful community engagement and transparency regarding this and a number of other projects and issues of importance to this community.
The Mayor uses the words "Not for Sale” but are these assets destined to be transferred from Gympie Regional Council which is a state government corporation to another state government retail corporation such as unitywater, as has happened with Moreton, Sunshine Coast and Noosa councils?
Their assets were transferred to unitywater using participation rights under the State Government Northern SEQ Distributor-Retailer Authority of South-East Queensland Water (Distribution and Retail Restructuring) Act 2009.
This Act gives mayors and CEOs unprecedented powers, particularly if they have a collaborative alliance with other councils, which, together with the ambiguity of the Local Government Regulation 2012 allows them sufficient licence to ignore the five principals that underpin the Local Government Act 2009 and use the "free money” coerced from us to undertake unpopular decisions which will have significant ongoing cost consequences for the community.
We should be concerned about the direction our council is taking us as the secrecy surrounding the future of our water and waste assets is unprecedented.
From information available it would appear that a restructure of the water and waste assets may have been in development for some time.
The Wide Bay Burnett Regional Organisation of Councils, of which our Mayor is chairman, has engaged a regional water co-ordinator and formed an association with the Water and Waste Water Urban Water Technical Committee formerly known as Queensland Water Regional Alliance Program.
This is a collaborative arrangement between the LGAQ (Registered as an Australian Public Co) and IPWEA Qld Division Inc (registered as a charity) T/A qldwater.
These are both non government bodies who receive some State Government funding to determine the risks and benefits of different collaboration models, and to initiate arrangements for transitioning to a new regional model for water and sewerage services (LGAM Knowledge Base).
Additionally our council has established a new water business unit and engaged five new managers and/or engineers and is establishing a new, three person water technical board which the Mayor claims is advisory only, however that is in conflict with the council resolution of September 28, 2016, and contravenes the Local Government regulation s28 (b) management autonomy and authority.
Why would anyone set up a new complex and costly management structure if our water and waste assets are "Not for Sale” and are allegedly being retained and controlled by our council?
These are assets that had been successfully managed and have been profitable with fewer boards and expensive expanded numbers of managers and engineers.
The following extract is from an article by Professor PJ Coombes of the rbanwatercyclesolutions.com/ author/coombes/ which offers an insight into why councils should not be considering commercialisation of our water and waste assets.
The economic efficiency of Australia's centralised water utilities is rapidly declining and consumers are paying for it.
At a macroeconomic level (household welfare across the economy), grid water costs of households in Melbourne, Adelaide and south-east Queensland have jumped by up to 180% over the past decade, while water usage has increased by less than 10%. At a microeconomic level (utility budgets), the operating costs for water utilities have soared by up to 170% and the economic efficiency of water supply has plunged by up to 2300%.
Did Bob Fredman disagree with our CEO over this excessive restructuring and the costs associated with this cumbersome and expensive commercial structure and was this the reason for his demise?
From the information available one could be excused for feeling that the council is behaving in a surreptitious way, hiding the truth and hoping we will accept the way the "free money” is being spent to move our water and waste assets to a centralised model which would provide another high cost corporate structure layer and increase the cost to the consumer.
Local jobs will be lost to state-government-of-the-day party-appointed hacks which will further increase bureaucratic control of our water supply and waste disposal.
If you are concerned about the secrecy that abounds in this council and how they are spending your "free money”, contact your divisional councillor today and demand a vote on the future of our water and waste assets.
Don't let them baffle you with the "Not for Sale” line used by the Mayor.
Demand complete transparency and the true facts of what the long term plans are for assets you paid for and own.
Be aware that we have more councillors who follow the Mayor and CEO than we have who dare question their actions.
Currently the answers given by councillors differ on this matter and other subjects. For councillors to be believed all answers need to be consistent.