I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Water and the River Murray a question regarding SA Water.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: This government likes to praise itself on some of its so-called cost-of-living initiatives implemented since 2012. However, South Australian families are paying the highest water bills in Australia, with the average household facing a cost of $873 a year, a whopping 31 per cent increase from 2011-12. The independent regulator, ESCOSA, has said in a recent report:
SA Water has the highest drinking water prices and revenue/property connection of comparable Australian water utilities, but amongst the lowest operating costs/property connections.
We have seen the total number of SA Water hardship customers increase from 1,445 in January 2012 to 3,618 by June 2013—a 150 per cent increase since the beginning of 2012. Meanwhile, SA Water's annual revenue from the provision of water retail services increased by 15 per cent. My questions are:
1.Can the minister please explain how the state Labor government has allowed South Australia to have the highest drinking water prices compared to all other Australian water utilities?
2.Has the minister sought advice from ESCOSA or any other body on how to reduce water prices?
3.Can the minister promise South Australian households that they will no longer be sacrificed to cover the state's failing budget?
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation) ( 16:05 ): I thank the honourable member for her first question to me in this session of parliament. It is ironic, in a way, that I would get a question like this from a Liberal Party member whose ambition in life was in fact to privatise SA Water. We all know ministers who have been to Canberra—
The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink interjecting:
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Well, no, let me correct myself, Mr President: no, they are not going to privatise SA Water, they say, 'We'll just sell off all the assets. We'll keep SA Water in government hands, but we'll sell off the assets.' That's what their plan was. When we go to Canberra, the federal government, in a little quiet clutch, have a little chat to us and say, 'Well, you know, we factored in all your SA Water assets; we have got them all priced here.' That is exactly what they intended to do because these people on the opposition benches will never stand up to Canberra for South Australia.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK ( 16:06 ): Supplementary question: how can you say such things when that was blatantly denied by the leader and has been denied by me several times on radio? Will you tell the truth?
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation) ( 16:07 ): The truth needs to be told by the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party never ever during the election campaign, to the best of my recollection, ruled out privatising assets. They said, 'No, we won't privatise SA Water,' but, when pressed, they never ruled out selling off the desalination plant, selling off the sewerage plant system—they never ever said any of that. They stuck to this little formula and said, 'Oh, we won't privatise SA Water,' but were silent when asked the question. 'What about the assets?' They never went that far because they had a secret plan to flog it all off.