Water Security Rebate

19 Mar 2013 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Water and the River Murray questions about the water security rebate.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: The state Labor Weatherill government announced the water security rebate in May 2012 to help reduce the cost of living impacts associated with inflated water prices associated with the desalination plant. Eligible SA Water customers have been entitled to a one-off rebate of either $45 or $75 from their first water bill after 1 January 2013. Whilst most residential properties were eligible for the rebate, SA Water guidelines state that the rebate does not apply to non-residential or commercial customers, which includes properties listed by SA Water as 'country lands'.

A number of constituents in the electorate of Chaffey have expressed concerns after being excluded from the rebate due to their property being classified as 'country lands', and some of these constituents reside on the outer edges of a township. However, they all receive the same amenities as those living within the boundaries of the town. According to the local council and the State Valuation Office, these residences are classified as residential, not country lands. My questions are:

1.Will the minister explain the terms in which certain properties are classified as country lands under the water security rebate, compared with residential properties?

2.If a one-acre residential property in a township receives the rebate, how can the minister justify a one-acre residential property on the outskirts of a township, which was also affected by rising water prices, not being eligible to receive the rebate?

3.When considering the rebate, did the government take into account that former irrigation properties are now used for domestic purposes?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation) (14:42): I thank the honourable member for her most important questions. This government has made a significant investment to guarantee South Australia's water security. This investment was made necessary due to the recent drought, and the overallocation of the Murray-Darling Basin's waters by the upstream states has shown that we can no longer rely on our traditional sources of water to meet our water needs. A one-off water security rebate has been introduced to help alleviate the costs of increased water prices. The rebate is going to more than 600,000 residential customers, as the honourable member noted.

The water security rebate has been factored into the 2012-13 pricing decision, in recognition of substantial price increases experienced by consumers over the past few years. Households using up to and including 120 kilolitres per year are receiving a one-off rebate of $45, while those who have used more than 120 kilolitres—typically a larger family—are receiving a $75 rebate. In line with increases, and because the concession is based on a fixed 25 per cent of the water charges, the water concession paid to most concession holders will increase by around 25 per cent in 2012-13. The maximum and minimum level of water concessions will also increase in 2012-13. This is an example of the government's ongoing commitment to assist people to deal with cost of living pressures.

The water security rebate is applied to customers who are recognised as residential, based on the Valuer-General's land use codes. This includes normal residential properties, normal residential properties that have not used water in the previous year due to use of a non-SA Water source, that is rainwater tanks, and eligible vacant residential allotments where some water consumption has been recorded for the previous year, for example, water used whilst building a home.

The rebate does not apply to non-residential or commercial customers, as the honourable member noted, and this includes vacant land categories which SA Water, by default, classifies as residential but, based on the Valuer-General's land use codes, do not appear to be consistent with normal residential development. That would apply to median strips, car parks, reserves, etc. Most properties serviced by SA Water in rural areas, i.e. outside of township boundaries, are listed by SA Water as country lands and accordingly are not recognised as residential. Special arrangements are put in place for other properties such as retirement villages and blocks of flats that have multiple residences but are on a single title to ensure these properties receive rebate payments commensurate with the number of residences on that title.

I am advised that the Residential Tenancies Act 1995 has been significantly amended to require landlords to pass on the benefit of the water security rebate to tenants. I am advised that the state budget includes $45.7 million for that rebate.

Since 1995, SA Water's billing system has classified country lands properties as non-residential and applied country lands water rates to them. These country lands properties are located outside of town boundaries that receive water services but not sewerage services. Generally, country land properties are broadacre properties that are used for a range of purposes, not solely as a residential purpose—for example, farming. Country lands customers receive significant ongoing benefit from the government's policy of statewide water pricing.

The customers in more remote and difficult to serve locations pay the same water charges as customers in urban areas. In addition, country lands customers receive a range of ongoing rating benefits that have been tailored to their specific needs. This includes the ability to amalgamate continuous pieces of land. In addition, I am advised that country lands customers have the ability to have multiple meters dependent on the size of the land without incurring additional service rent fees. I am told that approximately 15 per cent of country land customers have multiple meters and benefit in this way.

Finally, water charges to country land use customers are calculated on a flat rate rather than a tiered rate. This means that, unlike residential customers, country land customers do not face the higher tier 3 charge. I am told that approximately 20 per cent of country land use customers would incur the third tier charges if the flat rate did not apply. They are already getting this extra benefit.