Sale of water and sewer ‘catastrophic’ says union

Mardi water treatment plant

Despite assurances from Central Coast Council Administrator, Rik Hart, that he is against any sell-off of the Council’s water and sewerage assets, the United Services Union (USU) is concerned that a review now underway could open the door to privatisation.

Council has commissioned an independent review of the model governing its water and sewer operations, which CEO David Farmer says will explore if there are opportunities to produce better value and return on investment for the community.

“Central Coast Council is unique in NSW in (having) the only Council owned water authority alongside the State-owned Sydney Water and Hunter Water,” Farmer said.

“This means there is a complex legislative environment requiring Council to adhere to dual regulations across both the Local Government and Water Management Acts.

“In some parts, this dual compliance is contradictory and causes inefficiencies in how the water and sewer operations can be governed because the business is currently managed as an arm of Council.

“Council’s water and sewer assets are valued at close to $4B.

“Our obligation to the community is to ensure we are maximising the value of these assets, and improving efficiency and performance in how water and sewer services are delivered.

“This review is about gathering and assessing all the data to get an informed view of all the possible operating structures.”

While Farmer said there was no intention to sell the water and sewer assets, it would be one of the options in the comparison of operating structures.

Administrator, Rik Hart, said he supported the review but remained adamant he was not in favour of any water and sewer asset sell-off.

The inclusion of a sell-off as one of the options to be examined has prompted the USU to foreshadow a “relentless campaign to protect the jobs and services of this current Council operation to prevent any moves to privatise it”.

The USU said the publicly-owned water and sewer infrastructure not only provided an essential community service, but also generates ongoing income for the Council.

“The privatisation of water and sewer services would be catastrophic for the Central Coast community,” USU organiser Luke Hutchinson said.

“A sale of these assets — which have been entirely paid for by the local community — would see them run for the profit of their new owners, rather than in the best interest of the Central Coast community.

“The Central Coast is already struggling with the effects of the COVID pandemic and ongoing lockdowns; the last thing they need is for their water and sewerage assets to be sold off to private interests.

“If water and sewerage assets are sold off, it will lead to higher water bills, lower service, and the loss of good local jobs.

“The threat of privatisation is also causing extreme hardship for Central Coast Council workers who have already faced 10 months of uncertainty due to the current financial crisis, including the loss of 287 jobs.

“The Central Coast community needs to send a clear message to the Council and the Administrator that the sell-off of local essential services is not an acceptable way to address Council’s financial mess.

“The USU has a very strong and proud record of protecting jobs and community assets and is committed to leading vigorous and continuous opposition to any moves to sell these community assets.”

Results of the review are expected to be presented to Council in coming months.

Terry Collins and Merilyn Vale