The state’s treasurer and TasWater had their longawaited showdown in front of a parliamentary inquiry on Thursday.
The inquiry, to probe the government’s planned takeover of the council-owned entity, centred on risks to its future finances, asset replacement and renewal program, service outcomes, and confidence in leadership.
The government wants to take on TasWater as a government business enterprise from next year and finish off its 10-year, $1.5 billion capital works program three years earlier.
TasWater chairman Miles Hampton said an accelerated plan was unnecessary as there was no crisis, as the government had claimed, and that could result in sub-optimal outcomes and raise debt too high in the short-term.
He said interest expenses needed to be half the profit amount.
“Today, interest rates are low and they may be for some time but who knows what that will be in the future,” Mr Hampton said.
He said the government’s plan was “based on inadequate research and selective data”.
Mr Hampton said the Environmental Protection Authority had not once issued TasWater with an environmental infringement notice on wastewater discharge.
Mr Hampton said trade waste, like fats, greases and oils, was the single biggest contributor to the non-compliance of most of TasWater’s wastewater treatment plants and a key issue with sewerage blockages.
The expensive solutions imposed by TasWater on businesses to mitigate the program formed much of the Tasmanian Hospitality Association’s submission to the inquiry’s committee on Thursday.
Treasurer Peter Gutwein claimed that there was a crisis in Tasmania’s water and sewerage sector as assets were deteriorating faster than they could be fixed.
He said councils had constrained investment in TasWater infrastructure so they could hold onto dividend payments.
Mr Gutwein said the company had taken too long to reach the unilateral decision it made last year on its capital works program.
He said he did not have confidence in the current leadership and under government ownership, questions about TasWater’s performance could be raised much more frequently in Parliament.
“The level of scrutiny will rise exponentially under new ownership,” he said.