Michelle Lensink

Water Pricing

I seek leave to make an explanation before directing a question to the Minister for Water and the River Murray about water pricing.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: On 10 November 2011 the minister who was representing the then water minister in this place made the following comments in his second reading contribution on the water industry bill, and I quote:

ESCOSA will also be empowered to make final price determinations on retail prices for water and sewerage services, with the first determination for SA Water to be applied from 1 July 2013. 

We now know that as a result of political interference and ministers misleading the public that the first pricing range for 2013-16 was altered and did not follow that regime. However, there had been indications that the subsequent pricing orders would follow more closely under ESCOSA's recommendations, including when Premier Weatherill was on radio on 28 May 2013 when Leon Byner asked him:

 …are you going to give ESCOSA the true independence to set the price of water, not SA Water and when are you going to do this? 

The Premier replied, 'I think that's contemplated for the next pricing round.' My questions to the minister are:

1.Was the Premier misleading the house when he made those remarks about final price determinations?

2.Why has the government adopted the same set of parameters for the upcoming price setting as it did in the initial one?
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER  (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation)  ( 14:27  ): I reject, of course, out of hand the leading of opinion in the honourable member's brief statement. It is wrong, it is erroneous. The whole process around the pricing of water is transparent. It is a public process and pricing directions are made public, and we will adhere to that regime.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK  ( 14:27  ): I have a supplementary question. Does the minister understand the difference between ESCOSA setting prices and setting revenue caps?
 
 The Hon. I.K. HUNTER  (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation)  ( 14:28  ): As I understand it, ESCOSA sets the revenue that SA Water can actually obtain. That has been the process that we have adopted and that is the process that we will keep for the foreseeable future, until such time as there is a better system that we may want to think about.

The important thing is this: the system we have now has reduced water prices by 6.4 per cent. What does the Liberal Party of this state have to offer to SA Water consumers? Nothing but privatisation and cost increases, when their mates in the big end of town—

Members interjecting: 

The PRESIDENT: Order! The minister has the floor. If you want to waste question time, that is your choice, but the minister has the floor and we want to hear his answer.
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: As I said in this place yesterday, that mob on the other side have form in this regard. Over there is a former—

Members interjecting: 

The PRESIDENT: Honourable members, the minister has the floor.
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Over there is a former Liberal treasurer responsible for selling off—

The Hon. T.J. Stephens interjecting: 

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Stephens!
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: —our Electricity Trust of South Australia. Over there, Mr President, over there on the other side of the chamber is the person responsible for selling off ETSA. Do you really think anyone in South Australia believes that, if the Liberal Party of South Australia ever got their hands on SA Water, they would be—

Members interjecting: 

The PRESIDENT: Order! Have we got the clock fixed yet? We have already wasted a few minutes of the time. The minister has the floor: just as those who ask the questions expect silence when asking a question, the minister has the right to silence when he is answering it. Minister.
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: They must be sensitive to this topic, of course, because, as I said, because they have form. Their Liberal Party confederates in other states—

The Hon. K.J. Maher interjecting: 

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Maher, don't engage, just listen to the minister.
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Their Liberal Party confederates in other states are lining up to take the money on offer from the commonwealth government to privatise assets. We have said consistently before the election, in the lead-up to the election, that we will not be privatising SA Water assets. We know that those opposite had a secret plan in their back pocket; they would not take it to the election, but everybody in South Australia knows you cannot trust the Liberal Party with public assets.

The PRESIDENT: Supplementary, Hon. Ms Lensink.

Members interjecting: 

The PRESIDENT: Order! The Hon. Ms Lensink has the floor.

The Hon. K.J. Maher interjecting: 

The PRESIDENT: Order! The Hon. Mr Maher, the Hon. Ms Lensink has the floor.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK  ( 14:30  ): I had to write the water policy, so I might know what is in it.

The Hon. K.J. Maher interjecting: 

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Maher, the Hon. Ms Lensink has the floor.
 
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Does the minister accept that the Essential Services Act provides a range of options for pricing and that, if the government had any mind to do it, it could provide a lot more independence to ESCOSA?
 
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  ): If ESCOSA had total independent control and could actually put in place some of its pure economic programs for efficiency, then the outcome of that would be that SA Water customers would be paying more. We know that is what the Liberal Party has endorsed. We know that that is what their fellow travellers in the Institute of Public Affairs want—

The Hon. K.J. Maher interjecting: 

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Maher, the minister has the floor. 
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: —and we know for sure that that is what this mob opposite would stand for. They would stand idly by—

The Hon. R.I. Lucas interjecting: 

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Lucas!
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: —while hard ideological economic winds blew through the system of SA Water and made the people of South Australia, SA Water customers, pay more for their water. That is what they stand for.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK  ( 14:32  ): By way of supplementary question, will the minister avail himself of the advice from ESCOSA, which talked about reducing tier 1 prices, which would have assisted vulnerable customers?
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER  (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation)  ( 14:32  ): The advice from ESCOSA from time to time is taken into consideration by the government, but we do not make decisions based just on economic theory. We look after people in hardship, we look after people who are on low incomes—

Members interjecting: 

The PRESIDENT: The minister has the floor.
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: —and we look after people in rural and regional South Australia, knowing that they will get a cheaper price from water from postage-stamp pricing, and we will adhere to that policy.

 

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