Tuesday, March 29, 2011

When the user pays and pays

Public Meeting in the Town Hall. I didn't know this was the Town Hall.
Thought it was further down where they had the
Dinosaurs, the Xavier Rudd Concert and flower shows. It's really rather lovely.

 I went to a Public Meeting in the Town Hall yesterday to hear why we need water meters at a cost of $45 million, not to mention the $700,000 spent to tell us why we need them, the cost of consultants reports and the estimated $40 million spent on the billing system and the untold administrative costs to read them and collect our money.
Mike Paine CEO of the newly formed Southern Water Corporation, was at great pains to point out how much fairer and more equitable it was all going to be, that the rates were going up 12% and that the law prevented them from charging flat dwellers separately, carefully avoiding the elephant -in -the -room question, why on earth are we doing this at all?

Sure the old system had some anomalies such as little old ladies on pensions paying on the basis of the assessed value of their homes, even though they might use only a small amount of water compared to a neighbour with five children, but the costs were reasonable and equal, much as applies to garbage collection. I only need to put my bin out once a month, but that doesn't stop me paying the same as others who put theirs out every week. And if flat owners - sometimes holders of 18 flats or more, are only paying for one service altogether under the new system, how does that become fairer? If it's a matter of the law, as Paine claims, then the law is an ass and should be changed immediately.

I suppose I shouldn't complain too much as technically my water rate could go down under the new system, but I'm skeptical. When does anything ever go down? Even if the water rate itself was less, what about the flow -on implications?  If everything else goes up because of the increased rate, those costs will flow on to me too, so where will the saving be?


The plan is to charge not just individuals but industry, hospitals, businesses, nurseries and market gardens and schools exactly for the water they use. Obviously their products and services will become more expensive and those costs will either be passed on to consumers or taxpayers and more businesses will end up going broke or laying off staff, which in turn means less government revenue and either higher taxes or poorer service, which is already pretty appalling. I personally do not want schools, hospitals or restaurants to economise on water!!!

This comes on top of the privatisation of our power supply which was also supposed to become more efficient, but the costs of administration (including $60 million for a new billing system) has meant a 27% increase to date, rising to 32% next year. Nor will trying to reduce consumption by installing water saving devices or tanks, necessarily reduce costs. If the example of Origin Energy is any guide, as they proudly boasted in the business pages of the national paper, they will simply increase the base charges applied to every property to maintain their revenue. The people who'll save without discomfort, will be those wealthy enough to buy the technology. It is poor people who will be forced to economise by going without. As one lady quipped, " Tasmania won't be the clean and green state, it will be the brown and grubby one."

Tasmania already has more poor people, more unemployed and more elderly folk than any other state - over one third of the population is on government welfare of some kind -while the young and the able go elsewhere to get work. Even self -funded retirees are feeling the pinch.  As one elderly attendee said "We thought when we came here we would have enough for a comfortable retirement, but the way costs keep going up, we'll end up having to live on handouts too." This is a bitter blow for people who have worked hard all their lives and planned and provided for their old age themselves.

While concessions are promised for the really poor, (if you don't mind begging welfare groups to help you out),  they are generally not enough to cover the immediate costs, much less the flow -on effects, and the people who will be hardest hit, yet again, will be struggling families and people who have low income work (which again, is most Tasmanians, except for parliamentarians and heads of water corporations), who won't be eligible for any concessions.

If saving water was really the issue, rather than raising revenue, then government would subsidise tanks and high pressure showerheads instead of meters. They would also make provision, at least on large plants or commercial users for a dual system, so that first class treated and purified water is not used for flushing toilets, watering lawns or industrial processes.

Water is a basic necessity and a human right. We are not short of it in Hobart. We have the River Derwent at out feet. It should not be treated like a commodity. Sure there are costs for pumping and purifying and maintaining pipes and for that I don't mind paying a bit. Nor do I mind subsidising the East Coast a bit to raise their water supply to somewhere above Third World standards. I don't even mind paying a bit more than I use to cover hospitals, families and schools. We need to do that in the interests of having a decent society. I do however, resent subsidising the overseas holidays of our elected representatives and their families or the holiday homes of Water Board CEOs.

It's the ever -moving goal posts which frighten me. How can anyone ever feel relaxed and at ease when prices are constantly and unpredictably changing?

Southern Water is also responsible for sewerage. Does it mean that next there will be meters on our toilets? That we'll be crossing our legs until we can visit friends  or will it be back to holes in the backyard and long drop dunnies? I think I'll move to Bolivia if I can ever raise the fare. When the powers that be wanted to privatise the water supply there, the people rose en masse and marched on the Parliament and took it back. 


Gazing around the many white heads at the meeting, I couldn't help thinking we
must all just look like sheep awaiting fleecing

What's next?  The witty woman on my right added this sign to the podium.
Bring on the Revolution, I say!

2 comments:

cluan said...

Hahaha!! I -LOVE- the sign the lady added! ...genius!

Veronika Wild said...

Don't laugh! They charge in Germany and Russia!