Former Australian Water Association president warns of need to keep water utilities in public hands

Water utilities must be kept in public hands, a former Australian Water Association president has said.

In an interview with The West Australian on Monday, the newly-retired Western Australian Water Corporation chief operating officer Peter Moore said ensuring water quality was critical.

“Ministers and governments can survive if people don’t have power for a day or two,” he said.

“If the water quality is not managed in a supply system and you get it significantly wrong you have hundreds of thousands of people very ill and multiple deaths.

“Governments don’t survive that.”

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Speaking to Fairfax Tasmania, Mr Moore said for Tasmania, having a single utility like TasWater meant necessary expertise was concentrated in the correct place to work on infrastructure and improve water quality, regardless of ownership.

In the past week, TasWater has removed a ‘boil water’ alert at Mole Creek, and a ‘do not consume’ alert at Avoca as part of its infrastructure improvement program.

Mr Moore said for the communities, having those alerts meant clarity about what was and wasn’t safe to use, and acted as one barrier against poor water quality while efforts to improve infrastructure continued, regardless of utility ownership.

A state government spokesperson said Mr Moore’s comments matched the government’s takeover proposal.

“By taking over TasWater, the government will ensure that vital water infrastructure remains in public hands for good,” the spokesperson said.

“We have already announced that as part of our plan, the government’s 50 per cent share of any future dividends beyond 2025 will either be reinvested into essential infrastructure or lower prices.”

Opposition local government spokeswoman Madeleine Ogilvie said Labor’s policy on water and sewerage infrastructure was that it was the responsibility of “all three” levels of government, and that Treasurer Peter Gutwein had not proven the state government could meet their projected timeline.

“The mere fact of a change in share ownership, without additional resources going into achieving accelerated timeframes for deliverables, won't speed things up,” she said. “Likewise, the pressure is on TasWater to achieve its goal of addressing all of the boiled water alerts by August 2018.”

TasWater was contacted for comment.