Former Council CEO touts selling water assets

Central Coast Council CEO Rob Noble (left) & Administrator Ian ReynoldsFormer Central Coast Council CEO Rob Noble (left) & Former Administrator Ian Reynolds

Rob Noble, who took over as Acting CEO in 2016 when Central Coast Council was created, told the Public Inquiry he was surprised to discover a cash reward system in place for Gosford staff.

“I handed out cash rewards totalling about $166,000 in the first year because I had to and because it was a very nice thing to do, but a similar system wasn’t in place for people who might have been performing to the same level at Wyong,” he said.

Noble suggested that the Gosford Council staff had more anxiety and it was more of a fear-driven culture than the Wyong Council where he had been CEO before the merger.

“As a result of that, they were heavily unionised,” he said.

“I recall that at the time of the amalgamation, the Gosford Council had about 31 matters in front of the state Industrial Relations Commission, and Wyong had zero,” he said.

“It was very difficult and highly expensive to harmonise the salary and wages systems and conditions across the two councils.”

He said it was somewhere in the vicinity of “20-something million dollars”.

Noble revealed he had contemplated the idea of selling the water, sewerage and drainage system because of the massive backlog of infrastructure works at both former councils.

“I used to have regular meetings with the CEO of Hunter Water,” Noble said.

“We had, you know, a shared water pipeline arrangement and other collaborations.

“I raised the idea as a potential for the future with him and he thought it was well worth pursuing.

“I suggested that one option might be to sell the business to either Hunter Water or to Sydney Water, if the complexities of the government’s permissions and all that sort of thing could be gotten through.

“If that could have been achieved, I thought that there might well be a multi-billion dollar benefit for the general fund to Council that would remain at the Central Coast, which would not only cover all of the infrastructure backlogs many, many times over, but provide a whole new lifestyle and way forward and quality of life for the citizens of the Central Coast with fabulous infrastructure and wonderful service levels and maintenance levels.

“I’m throwing that out there as something that, you know, the Council and the State Government may wish to think about into the future,” he said.

The inquiry continues this week.

Council commissioned an independent review of the model governing its water and sewer operations late last year.

CEO David Farmer said at the time that the review would explore if there are opportunities to produce better value and return on investment for the community.

He said 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,” Farmer said.

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

The United Services Union was concerned that the review could open the door to privatisation.

Administrator, Rik Hart, said in August last year that he was against any sell-off.

The review has yet to return to a public meeting.

Merilyn Vale