SA Water

07 May 2014 questionsarchive

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: ESCOSA's report, entitled SA—Water Retail Service Performance Outcomes, revealed that South Australian water customers are continually failed by the services provided by SA Water despite paying the nation's highest water bills. For instance, in the previous financial year SA Water customers experienced more sewer, main and property connection breaks and chokes than comparable Australian water utilities customers, and SA Water customers experienced more and longer water supply interruptions than the average of comparable Australian water utilities.

My questions to the minister are:

1.Can he explain how this situation has arisen despite the fact that we are paying the highest water prices in the nation?

2.What strategies does he plan to implement to ensure that SA Water customers are better serviced?
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER  (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation)  ( 14:23  ): I thank the honourable member for her most important question, and can I just say at the outset that the honourable member tries the past trick of the Liberal Party of actually only selectively quoting from the report. She doesn't advise the chamber that ESCOSA summed up the report by saying that SA Water is performing satisfactorily in a range of KPIs and matters.

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink interjecting: 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: The honourable member doesn't want to talk about that. She was there. She heard the speeches. I was there with her when ESCOSA gave a glowing report about the first period of regulation under ESCOSA and of course they went through a series of measures where we accept SA Water needs to improve, but there are, of course, reasons for that which the honourable member also neglects to inform the chamber about. For example, when you compare water breakages from the Eastern States to Adelaide, you need to understand—and I am sure she does because I have said this to her before—that we have reactive clay soils in Adelaide.
The Hon. D.W. Ridgway: Rubbish!
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Oh, we don't have! The Hon. David Ridgway is the expert. He says we don't have reactive clay soils in Adelaide. I invite the Hon. Mr Ridgway to go out with a shovel in any of his company neighbourhoods, wherever he has his investment properties, and have a little dig to find out what the soils are in those properties. He'll come down to some reactive clay soils, and that is one of the things they don't have in the other states that we need to deal with.

Let me go to the particular issue. Again, I will come back in a moment and reflect on the commitment of the South Australian Liberal Party, in the lead-up to the election, on SA Water's performance and what their federal Liberal colleagues tell us privately. I have to say that it is a very cute proposition indeed from the Liberal opposition to be talking about SA Water when we know from leaks from interstate that they had full-on plans to sell the assets of SA Water.

They had planned everything. They had it lined up. You should have seen the faces of the Liberal government in Canberra when they had to actually grapple with the fact that their $13 billion privatisation plan had gone out of the planning stages when it came to South Australia. They had it already sewn up—they had it already sewn up.
The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: We said no. That's a lie.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: The honourable member says, 'We said no.' When did they ever say no to Tony Abbott? When have they ever stood up for South Australia and said no to Tony Abbott? They roll over to have their tummy tickled every time he is in town. Let me give the honourable member a little lesson in how to read these performance reports.

Under SA Water's water industry retail licence, SA Water is required to report performance and compliance data to ESCOSA on a quarterly basis. The data in ESCOSA's performance report is from 1 January 2013 to 30 June 2013—only that period—and does not reflect improvements from this current financial year, for example. ESCOSA acknowledges that SA Water has performed satisfactorily—it is there in black and white in the report—against its regulatory obligations for this initial six-month period. However, as I said earlier, there is always room to improve on these service targets, and SA Water will endeavour to improve on those outcomes.

I understand that much of the data is based on the National Performance Report, which is a national benchmarking report prepared by the National Water Commission in conjunction with all state and territory governments. Each year, SA Water's performance, as represented in the National Performance Report, is relatively consistent and indicative of strong comparative performance with its peers. SA Water reports performance for the Adelaide metropolitan area, Mount Gambier and Whyalla, and performance across indicators, of course, can vary.

SA Water's performance during 2012-13 is favourable in comparison with its peers. SA Water was reported to have: low levels of customer complaints; the third highest percentage of customer calls answered within 30 seconds; low operating costs in metropolitan Adelaide, despite an increase of 21 per cent attributable to increased electricity costs and the water planning and management fee; the second highest percentage of effluent recycled in metropolitan Adelaide, being 32 per cent; the fifth lowest number of water main breaks per 100 kilometres of water main in metropolitan Adelaide, with satisfactory performance in the country regions as well; and a 21 per cent decrease in the average duration of water interruptions in metropolitan Adelaide and very low durations in regional areas.

There are less favourable comparisons in the report in comparison with peers interstate, including high levels of sewer mains breaks and chokes per 100 kilometres of sewer main in Adelaide and higher levels of property connection breaks and chokes per 1,000 properties in Adelaide, Mount Gambier and Whyalla. These indicators are consistently an issue due to our local environmental conditions, such as our highly reactive clay soils—which the Hon. Mr Ridgway doesn't believe we have in Adelaide.

It is a typical Liberal trait to forget about science, to forget about the evidence from our technical regulators, to forget about the technical details. No, that's not what the Liberals are worried about. 'Facts? Don't give us facts, they just get in the way of our arguments,' and we are used to that from the Liberal Party.

I come back to the proposition that the Liberal Party in South Australia wanted to privatise the assets of SA Water.
The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: You know that's not true.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Well, I do not know that, in fact. Every time you were skewered with that question, you fudged your way out of it. You fudged your way out of it. You would never ever promise you would not privatise the assets of SA Water. You never said that.

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink interjecting: 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: You said you would not privatise SA Water and then when you were asked the further probing question, 'Well, what about the assets?' there was this stunned silence.

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Ms Lensink, can you let him finish his answer, please.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: The people of South Australia know full well from the last Liberal Party's privatisation efforts of electricity what that would mean. It would mean higher prices, private companies would come in and take the assets away from the states, away from the taxpayers, and charge higher prices for sewerage and higher prices for water. That is the policy the Liberals had in their packet of policies. That is the policy they did not want anybody to find out about in the state election and that is the policy that came back to haunt them from time immemorial.

Privatisation is the Liberal way. We see that at the national level with all the state Liberal governments and the federal Liberal government with their Commission of Audit saying privatise everything that moves. That is what they want to do and they have been foiled.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK  ( 14:30  ): Does the minister acknowledge the fact that SA Water has spent less money on pipe maintenance in recent years because it has had to spend so much money on the desal plant?
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER  (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation)  ( 14:31  ): The honourable member is wrong again, and I refer her to answers to questions I gave in this place in the last session about how much expenditure we have put into those networks and she can refer back to those and get the real facts. Get the real facts. Get the real facts.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK  ( 14:31  ): Will the minister provide us with what the pipe and maintenance expenditure has been for the last five financial years?
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER  (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation)  ( 14:31  ): Well, Mr President, I have already given those figures in this place last session. The honourable member can look up Hansard for them herself.