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An Independent Queensland Regional & Rural 

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(Cairns... Far North Queensland)


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Selwyn Johnston



One person, with the support of the community, can make a difference




Water is a hot topic around Australia right now in both the State and Federal spheres and controversy abounds. In Queensland the State Government has just been reported as announcing that it will allow ‘private companies’ to sell water to South East Queensland consumers.  

The Councils will apparently own the pipes, [at this stage] and presumably the maintenance of them, but private companies will sell the water. A potential purchaser of the water rights has been reported as saying “You don’t have to own the pipes to sell the water”. In fact it’s probably better if you don’t own the pipes, as then you don’t have to maintain them. Normally the Councils would sell the water albeit at what some would say are, overly inflated prices. 

In fact the State Governments unilateral move to acquire Local Government assets is almost certainly connected with this privatisation move. While the Councils may be allowed to maintain the water distribution at this time you will find that these assets and maintenance will eventually also be transferred to the private sector. It is part of a system that could well be described as “incremental deception” of the electorate that has in recent years become a government art form. 

But it would appear that there is sufficient margin in the sale of water to allow another player into the field, which means that the consumer will have three mouths to feed not just two. Officially, this is all covered using that well-worn and universally discredited concept that competition between major vendors will make water cheaper. This has never noticeably happened anywhere in the world and the longer the concepts runs on any particular commodity, in any particular place the higher the prices go, competition notwithstanding. 

Surely it would be better, assuming the market could afford another mouth to feed, to reduce the price of the product to the consumer rather than admit the third player. But it would appear that this is a far to reasonable an outcome. And there’s certainly no margin in it for the big players. 

Like the energy market, first the retailing of the product is divested, the next move is to divest the production of the product and then of course the whole project is in private hands. But don’t complain about the service to your local Member of Parliament, as s/he will only be able to say that '... the government has nothing to do with that'.

So what, you may ask, if it can be sold at a competitive price. Well here’s the catch. In any contract of sale of water or any other service assets you can be assured that there will be a clause in the contract that, in effect states that if the Government does anything to try to control the price of the product to the consumer then the producer or distributor will be able to claim compensation from the government if that change in any way shape or form negatively affects their profits. Let’s face it, would you invest millions of dollars it you weren’t assured control. 

In regard to water some present potential purchasers of retail rights are named as Origin, AGL, Telstra and even Foxtel. But international players will ultimately enter the field, such the internationally well-known companies such as Vivendi, Saur or ONDEO. It is inevitable that these styles of companies will be attracted to the market. Anyone in any market knows that the thing that counts most in any market is “depth” that is having or being able to access finance. Our local giants simply don’t match genuine multinationals in this department, so it’s not a matter of if but when. 

Which reminds us that the Federal Government has not been inactive in the water field either. Right now, but for Victoria’s Premier Steve Bracks, the Commonwealth would have taken the water rights from the States. Victoria’s holding out on the Murray Darling Agreement has put the venture in limbo but it has by no means gone away. Peter Beattie has volunteered to the Commonwealth Queensland’s constitutional water rights for what concessions we don’t know.  

What we do know is that Federal Governments of every persuasion over the last twenty years or so have been heavily into the business of centralisation and privatisation come hell or high water. Maybe there’s a connection, maybe there’s not. But Traveston Crossing certainly comes to mind. 

It is really quite clear where our politicians are taking us and it is really something they should be asked to account for. What they are doing is selling all those public service functions that we and our forefathers have paid for to international corporations and doing so in a way that means that we will never again be able to gain control of them.  

Public service functions are things like water, communications, transportation, health, power, emergency services and the like. When these are gone, to macro private enterprise the only way the Governments can be funded is through taxation. And they will not be averse to increasing taxation, or introducing new forms of taxation. Few of these new taxes, if any, will fall on foreign companies but local residents are another matter. This is all the more worrying given that our currencies now have no backing except faith, and there seems to be precious little of that about, and even less intergenerational responsibility.  

There are [at least] two questions you should ask your local politicians, both State and Federal.  

Firstly, just what is it that they think they are doing for us? If for a moment they think that selling our children’s future is acceptable then perhaps, and before the next election, they should explain to us in detail what they think the advantages or benefits are.  

Secondly, just what do they think will be the extent of their parliamentary authority and respect when multinational companies control everything that matters. And supplementary to this, where do they think this takes or leaves Australia’s democracy. 

Perhaps it’s all to do with globalisation and that’s what we are going to get whether we want it or not. How’s that for democracy … Canberra style!




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Written and Authorised by Selwyn Johnston, Cairns FNQ 4870