High water bill relief in pipeline for customers

Thursday July 25, 2019

Published by The Border Watch

By Sandra Morello

MEMBER for Mount Gambier Troy Bell says regional residents have a right to feel “angry” over exorbitant SA Water bills and deserve immediate relief. 

This follows the political bombshell that regional householders and business operators have been hit with inflated water prices for at least six years. 

An independent probe found average household water bills - under the former Labor Government regime - skyrocketed by a whopping 232pc. 

The State Government has now foreshadowed lower SA Water bills, but this will not be swept in until mid next year. 

It is understood SA Water’s regulated asset base was inflated by more than $520m, which drove up water bills for families and businesses. 

Mr Bell said the findings would come as no surprise to families struggling to pay hefty SA Water bills. 

“We all knew we were paying too much for water and this inquiry has confirmed our suspicions,” the independent politician said. 

“The people of South Australia have paid the price for the last five years and they will rightfully be angry about hearing this news.” 

But he called on the government to introduce bill relief as soon as possible. 

“I find it disappointing that it will take until 2020 to get prices back down to an acceptable level - that’s 11 more months of ongoing financial strain on already struggling households,” Mr Bell said. 

“This demonstrates the importance of independent eyes on government business.” 

The state’s peak business group yesterday also welcomed the independent inquiry, which found the value of SA Water’s assets were overvalued by between $520m and $870m. 

Business SA industry and government engagement executive director Anthony Penney said the organisation had long supported a water price inquiry, particularly given a tripling of the drinking water price since the mid-2000s. 

He said the high prices were impacting the competitiveness of water-intensive businesses like food and beverage manufacturers. 

“SA will be a more attractive place to live and invest in and this will encourage additional growth in output and employment,” the inquiry found. 

Mr Penney said the state’s future economic prosperity was intrinsically linked to a low sustainable cost environment, which can help our exporters compete internationally. 

“The State Government has benefited from inflated water prices for at least six years and the inquiry’s report shows price relief for consumers needs to be implemented as soon as possible, which Business SA estimates should result in a 7pc saving on water prices alone, with further savings to come from lower interest rates,” he said. 

Average household water bills under Labor rose from $236 in 2001-02 to an estimated $782 in 2017-18. 

Treasurer Rob Lucas said this report was a “stunning and damning indictment” of the former Labor government. 

“We now know what many have suspected for years and that is Labor puts its flagrant self-interest above the needs of hard-working South Australian families and business,’’ Mr Lucas said. 

“They ignored criticism and advice and arrogantly pushed ahead with inflating the opening value of SA Water’s regulated asset base, knowing full-well it would ultimately cause undue hip pocket pain to consumers.” 

He called on Labor leader Peter Malinauskas to apologise to South Australians and offer an explanation why their water bills were “jacked up”. 

Mr Lucas said the government would now consider the report in full and he expected it - together with a lower interest rate environment - would result in lower water prices to customers and lower returns to the budget from 2020-21 onwards. 

The next SA Water regulatory determination will apply from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2024.