By Lilia Guan
A recent speech by the Minister for Water, Phillip Costa, has caused confusion among councils seeking decisive action from an inquiry started three years ago.
Mr Costa told delegates at the 2010 Water Management Conference in Orange he supported a model of regional alliances of local water utilities that is consistent with the one proposed by the Associations.
President of the Shires Associations of NSW, Bruce Miller said while the Minister’s words were welcome, they made council groups “nervy”.
“A number of these groups would like to go ahead with a co-operative alliance structure,” Cr Milller told Government News.
“However, we’ve been waiting almost two years for the government to respond to the inquiry.”
The inquiry commenced in August 2007, under then Minister for Water Utilities, Nathan Rees and looked at the institutional and regulatory arrangements by which town water supply and sewerage services were provided in country NSW.
The objectives of the Inquiry were; to identify the most effective institutional, regulatory and governance arrangements for the long term provision of water supply and sewerage services in country NSW; and to ensure these arrangements were cost-effective, financially viable, sustainable, optimise whole-of-community outcomes, and achieve integrated water cycle management.
“We’ve been calling on the government to release their findings for the past 12 months,” Cr Miller said.
“They’re sitting on making any decision from the inquiry and that makes us a bit nervy and this creates uncertainty, which then creates even more uncertainty.”
He said findings from an independent inquiry started at the same time and led by former Deputy Premier, Ian Armstrong and former head of the Premier's Department Dr Colin Gellatly, were released in March this year.
“Most councils favour a water utilities alliance,” he said.
“We want to be able to start looking at different parts of the State where these types of alliances work best.”
Cr Miller said councils simply don’t know what the government outcome will be and that puts a lot of alliances currently in place in a difficult situation.
“It makes these voluntary alliances uncertain how they should proceed in the future,” he said.
“We have to wait until we get a response form the Government.”
Cr Miller said the ones that have commenced have benefited from forming alliances.
“One of the benefits for smaller councils is the ability to access professional water engineers from larger councils,” he said.
“One of the impediments in local council, across the board, is the lack of professional engineers.”
Cr Miller said the Association wanted the Government to make a decision so councils could either come out and support it or mount a campaign against it.
A spokesperson from Minister Costa's office said, the Government was finalising its response to the recommendations of the Inquiry into Local Water Utilities by Dr Gellatly and Armstrong.
"[We] will be releasing it before the end of the year," he said.
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