Thursday 23 November 2017
Hansard of the Legislative Council
WATER AND SEWERAGE TASMANIA BILL 2017 (No. 41)
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr Deputy President, as others have noted, the detail and minutiae of our evidence has been exposed, thrashed through and talked about here today. There are some things I want to put on the Hansard, particularly a couple of contributions. I am much more relaxed now because the member for Windermere told me the numbers are not there for the bill.
Ms Forrest - Is he relying on yours though?
Mr FINCH - It is interesting because normally the member for Windermere is very dogged. I was surprised to hear you capitulate during your speech because for some of us it has -
Mr Dean - I can always capitulate when it is very obvious.
Mr FINCH - I did mention in my contribution - I was going to say 'outburst' - earlier -
Mr Dean - It took me all lunchtime to recover.
Mr FINCH - I did mention -
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order. We will get back to the second reading speech.
Mr FINCH - Yes. It was a difficult decision for me to make, with all the evidence we are given. You have to sift through it, make sure you nail it; you get to the right bits that resonate with you and can give you that guidance. It was not coming to me. We had evidence here, we had counterclaims here. It came down to who you believe.
Mr Dean - I understand.
Mr FINCH - We had two terrific arguments on either side. That is what made it very difficult to make the decision. It was interesting that the member for Murchison, with all your investigation and crunching of numbers and drilling down into it, had not been able to form a decision that would enable you to say in your second reading speech, 'This is how I am going'. You still wanted to hear what other members had to say. Normally by the time we get here, you know where you are going.
Ms Forrest - Through you, Mr Deputy President, members of the committee had the privilege of hearing all that information and were more exposed to it than those who were not on it. That is why it would have been nice if some of the members of the committee had spoken earlier.
Mr FINCH - It has been an interesting journey. I am assuming that people recognise it has been a lot of work for everybody. As I have said here before, I need to ensure I keep a good record of the decisions I make. I have not made a decision in this House where I have later thought, 'I might have done that differently,' or, 'No, I did not do the right thing there'. I have no -
Ms Rattray - Not even taking up the railway line to Scottsdale?
Mr FINCH - I forget that issue. It is called a convenient memory. That is an issue that other people have, not me. The record I want to keep is that I have no regrets about the decisions I have made in the 16 years I have been in parliament. With this particular debate, I was hoping from the get-go that this was a strong initiative by the Government that could be supported by us.
I thought this might give us a new frontier, a new way of doing it, a new set‑up. I waited for the evidence to come through to convince me of the way I should go. It did not come. What concerned me was the confrontation between the Treasurer and the head of TasWater.
From the beginning I thought that was not what we need to be doing in Tasmania, to have that sort of process. We are too small. We are 519 000 people. We should have learned that if we are going to progress, we need to be in it together. We need to work for the betterment of all Tasmanians. The longer the debate went on, the more I did not see that.
I saw the schism in our community. I had better not go back to the pulp mill debate, but division in the community wastes a lot of energy. Just think of the energy wasted on this process. If, as the member for Windermere suspects, this does not get up, the time we have spent on it ‑ that everybody has spent on it, the Treasury people; I have spoken to Peter and he was very appreciative of the work that the team has done in bringing the evidence forward and trying to prove the situation. Very appreciative. It has not worked. I come back to what the member for Windermere was saying, which has come as quite a surprise for him to give us that lead as to where the vote is going to go.
It has been an interesting process and for me a frustrating result, because of that circumstance of the energy expended and wasted. I hark back to the pulp mill. What has that done for our community, for parliament, industry and people, the energy that was wasted in Tasmania? We cannot afford to waste that sort of energy and expertise running down pathways that do not come to fruition.
If we get on and do the things we can, we will provide dividends for Tassie. We need to be smarter in what we do. Avoid this confrontation stuff. Use honey not vinegar. That is what was happening here and it was a disappointing aspect of the way we went about it.
Ms Rattray - It has not been a wasted exercise, because if TasWater retains the infrastructure the processes of dealing with some aspects of the community will improve.
Mr FINCH - It is a good point. I take your point and it is part of my presentation. Because of that scrutiny brought about by Treasury and the Treasurer, it means we have material that could sink a battleship from TasWater which has had to take its eye off the ball of the work it has to do. It has had work to prove its case on why it should retain the position. As it transpires it may not be wasted energy. The way it has constructed the business, people have accepted it is a secure way to move into the future.
With all this local government expertise here, they are the people who can evaluate the implications for those of us who do not have local government experience. The point the member for McIntyre, Ms Rattray, made is right. I want to put one example into Hansard. I have evidence galore here of people who are and are not satisfied with what TasWater is doing. Here are those two sides of the argument. One I want to read in, because I realise now TasWater is going to be more cognisant of those issues people are talking about if they are raised through this process. That is the bonus. The people connected are going to say, 'Okay, we might have taken our eye off the ball and we need to focus on these things'. A personal letter - and I am sure he will not mind me talking about his issue - from Jim Gleason in George Town, your electorate member for Windermere.
Mr Dean - What is that?
Mr FINCH - Pay attention. Jim Gleason from George Town says -
I thought it might be worth raising a matter concerning TasWater and their impact on small businesses through the Tamar Valley that you may not be aware of as a member of the Legislative Council. Around 18 months ago an audit of small food premises was conducted by TasWater officers who then determined a schedule of compliancy requirements for each category of business. As you are aware, I own the Oven Bakery and premises in George Town and as a result of the audit we were graded as a bakery level 2A.
Such a level appears to require us to install basket strainers in all sinks and floor drains and a retrofit of a 100 litre grease trap.
I have no problem with the strainers, although it will be expensive and require complete new sink units, however the retrofitting of a major piece of infrastructure, such as a grease trap, will cost between $10 000 and $20 000 .
Although time has been given to complete the works, TasWater goes on to threaten that non-compliance could result in the premises being disconnected from their sewerage system. Such an expense is far beyond what is affordable by businesses like ours.
I am concerned that already, there are some that have had to close down as the costs were impossible to achieve.
We have seen that.
Mr Dean - I have had a couple of others as well. The member for Launceston and I had some others.
Ms Forrest - They had a real blitz in Circular Head at one stage. They had to have a chill pill and be a bit collaborative, a bit more cooperative about solutions.
Mr FINCH - My raising this matter with you, is that I am concerned, not just for my business, but about many operators/employers who will be forced to take the drastic action of shutting shop for no other reason than not having the funds to carry out the required works.
I am sure we all appreciate the importance of reducing pollution in waste water outflow, however, the burden of such an expensive solution is unreasonable, especially when waste output from a bakery like ours, is limited to normal washing up water, as all organic waste is scrapped into what we call pig bins and taken off-site daily, with any small amounts of food residue to be trapped by the sink strainers.
Furthermore, the installation of something like a grease trap is not a simple thing and in many cases the old buildings that house such businesses around the state are limited in what can be effectively and efficiently carried out due to location, heritage requirements and/or general access.
Therefore the implication is that TasWater's demands are often impossible to fulfil.
Apologies for the ramble, however, I do believe the imposition of such requirements without due consideration will have a serious impact on budgets, will see many small businesses exit the market and that can never be a good thing, especially for local communities.
That is something I wanted to signal to the people from TasWater who are listening. This is a businessman who is a giver as well as a taker in his business. He wants to run a successful business but he is prepared to be compliant and work within the rules. He wanted to highlight that to me and I appreciate that.
There was something from the Mayor of Meander Valley Council, Craig Perkins , which amplified the problem I was having reaching my decision, because there were so many questions. The Treasurer did offer to be party to any discussion that might clarify things and I did not take up that offer. I wanted to keep a clearer mind. Craig Perkins amplifies what I am saying -
Is the evidence before you sufficient to suggest that the takeover will:
1) Materially make a difference to shorten the capital world time frame of the Corporations current ten year plan?
2) Will the takeover make a substantial difference to the Tasmanian economy (or require substantial resources from outside of Tasmania) to make it happen (and therefore Tasmanias money will benefit others)?
3) will the takeover have a material impact on the long term sustainability of the Corporation, what will it be, and how will that be managed?
4) what will the impact on the budgets of Councils (and their community/ratepayers) be after 2024/25, and particularly the smaller rural councils where the larger projects will not be undertaken
5) will the compression of the rollout time frame push actually push the capital works projects costs upwards and have an impact on value for money?
6) does the Tasmanian Governments own infrastructure report address these concerns or raise the risk of unintended consequences
My question to you all, is simple, if you are unable to find unequivocal evidence to back such a significant change without material consequences to the Tasmanian community, then rejection of the legislation is the only choice.
What would be helpful though is to make a statement that local government, State government and TasWater continue to work together, and with the support of the Australian Government commit to continued upgrade of our water and sewerage systems.
That contribution is from the mayor of Meander Valley, Craig Perkins, putting it into a nutshell and suggesting in that closing statement what I am suggesting - that there should be more cooperation. If it is a good idea, and I am hoping it is, let us massage it and get it going for the benefit of Tasmania. As we have seen, according to the member for Windermere, this situation is not going to get legs. There might be an outcome from this that might be of benefit to Tasmanians, I certainly hope so. I will not be supporting this bill.