FAULTY LEGISLATION HAS LEFT OUR COUNTRY WATER UTILITIES OUT TO DRY

Thursday, 31 May 2023

MEMBER for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall has condemned the State Government’s late-night rushing of a bill to protect Sydney and Hunter Water consumers while refusing to offer the same protection for rural and regional water utilities and communities.

Mr Marshall spoke in the debate on the floor of Parliament last night and said the government refused to amend the Constitution Amendment (Sydney Water and Hunter Water) Bill 2023, which seeks to provide constitutional protection to Sydney and Hunter Water, with the bill not providing any protection for 89 regional water utilities owned by councils across the State.

“No one expects a brand-new government to be perfect at their first Bill but there is an expectation that they at least listen – and on this first hurdle they have failed miserably,” Mr Marshall said.

“Despite country mayors, general managers and multiple regional MPs all urging the Government to provide the same level of protection to regional water utilities as they will for Sydney and Hunter Water, the government has refused to change its own bill, or accept some basic amendments to make it fair and equitable for everyone.

“This bill is barely one and half pages long – with it being so comically brief it is clear this omission is not an oversight, it is deliberate.

“It costs the government nothing to maintain the status quo and requires changing a few words in this Bill to provide the same protection from a future water fire-sale to regional councils, who own the bulk of the overall water infrastructure in NSW. They point blank refused to do this.

“It is alarming because Labor has previously looked at the possibility of consolidating and privatising country water utilities in 2007. This is because collectively, the value of regional water utilities could be in the billions. Local Government beat them back then – but now they are hiding their future policies behind the NSW constitution.”

The previous Carr Labor Government held an inquiry into consolidating regional water utilities in 2007. Due to community and council anger, the subsequent 2008 report was never actioned.

Last week, the NSW Country Mayors Association moved a motion at their annual meeting to have the same protections in the (Bill) include regional water utilities.

“By refusing to afford them the same protection as Sydney and Hunter Water, the government is leaving the door open to flog off these water assets for cheap, rather than provide funding for their maintenance and deliver on their obligation as the Government to design policies that are equitable,” Mr Marshall said.

“There is a reason that $1 billion was put into regional water utilities by the last Government and another billion promised – they are vital to regional communities and the scale of their footprint is significant. It is not remotely plausible that this hasn’t factored into the Government’s thinking when with a stoke of a pen they put any question around their future plans for our water beyond reasonable doubt.

“Regional water consumers, businesses and councils have been left out to dry by this Bill and the government’s excuses quite literally don’t hold water.

“They should come clean about their plans for our local water utilities.”

** A Hansard record of Mr Marshall’s speech in the debate can be found at www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/Hansard/Pages/HansardResult.aspx#/docid/HANSARD-1323879322-131328/link/100

** A Dropbox link to the video and audio of Mr Marshall’s speech is at www.dropbox.com/s/6hwcrn176ckqirr/video.legislative-assembly.2023-05-30T05_49_19.288Z.2023-05-30T05_59_27.010Z.MP4?dl=0

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