Monday, 25 September 2017


Talking Point: TasWater is a pawn in political game
GREG BARNS, Mercury 
 September 18, 2017 12:00am

TASMANIA'S Treasurer Peter Gutwein has shown an appalling lack of judgment when it comes to TasWater.

What's more, Mr Gutwein has shown that he simply wants the state's water company to be a political plaything where tame directors and management prioritise government pet projects over what is rationally required.

The Legislative Council is conducting hearings into Mr Gutwein's desire to take over TasWater. No doubt, while this is happening, Mr Gutwein will be seeking to "buy" the votes of some Legislative Council MPs by making promises that TasWater in his hands will be told to spend funds on projects in their electorates.
Mr Gutwein showed in May this year that he has a glass jaw and like anyone with that affliction, he turns nasty when someone — in this case TasWater chairman Miles Hampton — stands up to him.

Mr Hampton was subjected to a disgraceful attack by Mr Gutwein, who naturally used the shield of parliamentary privilege.

Mr Hampton took the unusual step of using what is termed a Citizen's Reply to hit back at Mr Gutwein and lodged this with the Speaker of the House of Assembly in early July.

But according to Mr Hampton last week he "only received acknowledgment that it has been received from the Clerk of the House and no other advice in more than two months", he said. It appears the Hodgman Government is blocking Mr Hampton's right of reply to the attack by Mr Gutwein which was a vicious personal attack on the professional integrity of Mr Hampton.

As Mr Hampton rightly said: "Under Parliamentary Standing Orders, I am entitled to a Citizens' Right of Reply and after detailed consideration, I submitted this in early July. This is an important tenet of democracy when a person is wronged under parliamentary privilege and by any measure, this delay is unreasonable. You can only question the Government's motives and its commitment to fairness and the democratic process."

Mr Gutwein's glass jaw seems more important than fairness to Mr Hampton.

On the matter of Mr Gutwein's ego, one should also be very alarmed at his hostile reaction to TasWater's board obtaining its own legal advice as to the lawfulness of the takeover bid.

How dare they spend money on this, fumed the Treasurer recently.

This shows Mr Gutwein knows nothing about the duties and obligations of company directors. A director, and the board of which he or she is a member, has a legal obligation to ensure that any change in ownership is lawful. [This applies also to Aldermen/Councillors too but ratepayers and residents are not seeing much of that!!]

If these directors simply sat back and rolled over they would be grossly derelict in their obligations as directors. …  [ Sadly it seems Aldermen & Councillors have been succumbing to the self-serving and less than ept assertions of their managements albeit afforded the under SECTIONS 62 & 65 of Mt Gutweinds 1993 Local Got Act.]

And the fact is TasWater has solid legal advice that says the takeover by the Hodgman Government is clearly unlawful.

The Legislative Council, which in recent times has shown it is prepared to stand up to the populist nonsense of the Hodgman Government, must reject Gutwein's folly. Under the proposed law Mr Gutwein puts forward that he can seize the assets of the shareholders local councils — without having to pay just compensation. Welcome to the Venezuela of the South. … [We might also consider, and think of, the ratepayers as shareholders and again this Govt. is careless of their 'actual ownership']

The proposed law also removes the requirement for TasWater to operate in a commercial and financially sustainable manner. This suits Mr Gutwein, who simply wants TasWater to spend taxpayer funds on his pet political projects rather than investing and operating commercially. Mr Gutwein wants to do to TasWater what he does to other GBEs — raid them to prop up his Budget. Raiding bank accounts of government businesses is the order of the day.

What Mr Gutwein wants to do is play cynical politics with the water quality of Tasmania. … [Water is Tasmania's most precious resource and this Govt wants to play silly games with it even if amounts to mismanagement!]

He proposes in his draft law being able to order spending on projects such as removing a facility at Macquarie Point, fixing a similar issue for Mona and indulging some in Launceston with other second order projects. [ AND presumably with quick-fix technology that belongs to yesterday]

If he has to run up huge amounts of debt to do it, then so be it. [!!!!!]

Oh and one last thing. Mr Gutwein should stop insulting the billions of people who live in the developing world and endure every day with poor water quality or no potable water at all.

Mr Gutwein is wrong when he says Tasmania's water infrastructure and supply is in crisis. A crisis does not exist here and to say it does is to erroneously compare it to the developing world.

The Legislative Council should not reward Mr Gutwein's questionable conduct and his irresponsible fiscal follies.

It should keep Mr Hampton and his team in charge. [ IF the govetnance of Tasmaia's water infrastructure is to shift it might be worth considering a 'Community Cooperative' given that eventually council will need to amalgamate OR be abolished!!]

They have proven courageous in the face of the criticism flung by Mr Gutwein and his cronies and they have performed admirably in fixing Tasmanian water supply.

Barrister Greg Barns is a Hobart-based human rights lawyer. He was previously an adviser to state and federal Liberal governments.


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