IT WAS clear from the start that most of the crowd at Wednesday night's water forum was there to see only one thing: the eradication of Unitywater.
distribution of a Unitywater press release on Monday (see below), in which Water Supply Minister Mark McArdle stated suggestions that prices would be lower if responsibility for water and sewerage services was returned to councils were misguided, more than
400 ratepayers packed Bribie Island RSL's auditorium to the point of overflowing for the Pumicestone Community Forum on Water Pricing.
Mr McArdle, Moreton Bay Regional Council Mayor Allan Sutherland and Unitywater chairman Jim
Soorley were quizzed on rising water and sewerage costs.
The crowd was passionate, loud and often hostile towards the spokesmen, who were questioned on everything from executive pay rates to water access charges and the government's
approach to taxation.
But taking responsibility for water and sewerage provision away from Unitywater and handing it back to the council was never far from the agenda.
"Unitywater should be phased out,"
audience member Mike Wilkinson said, to long and raucous applause.
"This should be done in a manageable, cost-effective manner over two or three years. Senior management should be focused on successfully achieving this."
The anger and disappointment in the room was obvious when Mr McArdle responded with these words:
"Unitywater is not going to be dissolved," he said, to a chorus of jeers.
I'm very happy to do is work with the community down here, and Unitywater, and the council to work through the issues."
Of the many residents to speak, only Bribie Island Environmental Protection Association member Ian Bell supported
the visiting representatives' desire to maintain Unitywater, citing problems he saw with the council's previous maintenance of water and sewerage infrastructure.
Unite Against Unitywater spokesman Rodney Hansen speaks at the Forum. Photo Jorge Branco / Caboolture News Jorge Branco
After more than an hour and countless calls of "Rodney" from the audience, Unite Against Unitywater and Reclaim Caboolture Shire spokesman Rodney Hansen listed his
complaints against the water body.
"We need our water. We need it for life," he said.
"We will not let our water be treated as a commodity."
Two decisions came out of the
meeting. Mr McArdle promised to look into establishing a Queensland water board at the request of a resident. He also formed a working group with Mr Hansen and Mr Harvey as possible members and promised to meet as often as monthly to work through issues the
community had with water provision and pricing.
Monday's Unitywater press release in full
The State Water Minister and Mayors of Moreton Bay, the
Sunshine Coast and Noosa have today reiterated that there will be no change to the existing structure for the delivery of water and sewerage services.
Minister McArdle said that Councils were given an opportunity in 2012 to take
back responsibility for the retail delivery of water and sewerage services but after extensive analysis had decided to retain the current Unitywater model.
The group said Unitywater was able to bundle contracts and achieve procurement
savings due to its size that individual councils or smaller water providers could not match.
Unitywater Chairman Jim Soorley speaks at the forum. Photo Jorge Branco / Caboolture News Jorge Branco
They said the existing structure allowed for a region-wide approach to infrastructure planning and maintenance that had shaved about $390 million off forecast capital works spending over the
last three years without compromising the standard of service delivery or the long-term viability of the network.
Energy and Water Minister, Mark McArdle, said suggestions that prices would be lower if responsibility for water
and sewerage services was returned to councils were misguided.
"The reality is that the former Labor Government spent $10 billion on expensive water projects and unfortunately, we have to pay for it," Mr McArdle said.
"That will not change if we change the structure for water and sewerage service delivery."
Moreton Bay Mayor, Allan Sutherland, said a report from Ernst and Young commissioned by council in 2011 had found the cost of severing
ties with Unitywater would run to many millions of dollars.
"We were not prepared to impose the astronomical cost of unravelling Unitywater on our ratepayers then and our view remains the same today," Mayor Sutherland said.
"If we thought taking back control of water and sewerage services would reduce prices, we would have gone down that path."
Sunshine Coast Mayor, Mark Jamieson, said his council was more interested in working
with Unitywater in an effort to keep prices down rather than chasing further unnecessary reform.
"We know that regaining control of the services provided by Unitywater would be an expensive exercise that wouldn't result in lower
prices for our residents," Mayor Jamieson said.
Noosa Mayor, Noel Playford, said the council had its hands full re-establishing the council and dealing with those associated costs, without pursuing separation on another front.
He said when councils previously controlled water and sewerage services, they also owned local bulk water assets and received a 40% subsidy from the State Government for investment in sewerage infrastructure.
subsidy has since been scrapped and the state controls bulk water assets," Mayor Playford said.
"Regaining control of the services provided by Unitywater would not address those two critical factors contributing to water and sewerage