Page 2378 - Week 06 - Friday, 27 June 2008
One obvious problem, when we are talking about reducing Canberra’s water use in the context of Actew’s budget, is the fact that Actew is a corporation. It is not a non-profit agency. It has been given a mandate to profit from water use. Is it really in Actew’s interest to reduce our water use? We come up against that contradiction all the time. No, it sounds far more profitable to build a water recycling plant, which will be very expensive. Even a trial will cost millions of dollars. Again, I refer the Chief Minister to the ICRC report. So on the one hand TAMS is spending $2 million on water reduction programs, while on the other we are trying to make a profit from people’s water use.
With respect to smart metering, it is interesting that in the environment part of the budget the government says they will implement a pilot smart metering program. However, in the Actew part of the budget, the relevant priority says that they will be “continuing to investigate” a smart metering pilot program. Is it an investigation or are we going to have a pilot smart metering program? This should be a high priority as it will help households to see for themselves what their water usage is each day.
Back in the old days, when everyone ran off a tank, they knew how much water they used each day. But ACT people have got the idea that water is an infinite resource, that they can turn the tap on whenever they like and there should be water coming out of it. They have got the idea that they should have green lawns and they should be able to wash their cars every week. That is slowly changing. People are learning that that is not the case. But it is not so easy for people to see how much they use. When they get their water bills, they usually get a big shock, and they do not realise it is actually related to the amount of water that they have used. If we have smart metering, people will not have to wait three months for their bill to arrive to see whether they have managed to reduce their water use. Smart meters are a real opportunity for people to be able to take control over their use, and see the effects immediately. If knowledge is power then allowing people to gain information about their households is empowering.
The federal government has put some funding towards smart metering in the ACT. The interesting thing is that it is not as simple as that. It turns out that the ICRC then tells Actew how much money they are allowed to recover from those funds through price increases. This should not be so complicated, and this is certainly not a program that should be dependent upon funding. Initiatives that move our society towards saving water should be supported. There has still been no decision to proceed with the trial. One priority for Actew is to manage their investments in electricity, gas and telecommunications to achieve satisfactory returns. (Second speaking period taken.)
We have had a little conversation about the gas-fired power plant today. One of the things that I have brought up a couple of times, and discussed with at least one of the shareholders, is the fact that Actew, being a territory-owned corporation, is managed by a board and does have two people who represent the Canberra population acting as shareholders. We have a fundamental difference about the way that shareholders should conduct their responsibilities. The Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister believe that it requires a hands-off approach. I think that, as well as their ministerial roles in relation to water use and the gas-fired power station, the