August 20, 2020
A petition signed by 656 residents opposing a 150 per cent increase in standpipe water charges was presented to the South Burnett Regional Council at Wednesday’s Council meeting.
The principal petitioner was Member for Nanango Deb Frecklington but Nanango businesswoman Jane Erkens collected most of the signatures.
She gathered some at August’s Nanango Markets but the majority were from people who had heard about the petition and had come into her Drayton Street office to sign it.
Mrs Erkens was granted permission to address the Council meeting before the day’s business got under way.
She said the decision to raise standpipe prices hurt the most vulnerable people in the community, including pensioners, the elderly and the unemployed.
And the arguments used by Council to justify the price rise did not stand up to any close analysis.
One of them was that water was precious and needed to be conserved.
“Honestly, I really don’t think that anybody knows that more than somebody who lives on a small acreage block with no decent rain for many years and not enough money to order a load of water,” she said.
“So to put the price up thinking you’re going to stop people using water is wrong.
“The ones you’re punishing are the ones who can’t afford it.”
Another argument councillors had used to justify the price rise was that standpipe water was to be used for domestic purposes only.
Mrs Erkens said she had consulted the Queensland Water Act 2000 and found that it defined “domestic use” as water for consumption, cooking, toilets, showers and maintaining gardens of up to a quarter of a hectare.
“For those of you who don’t know, that’s 2500 square metres or about half an acre,” she said.
Another argument she had heard was that standpipe water was used to water animals.
This was also a furphy, because on small acre blocks that usually amounted to nothing more than a child’s pony, a house cow or a pair of sheep.
“We’re not talking a feedlot here,” Mrs Erkens said.
She reserved her most damning criticisms for the Council itself, reminding Councillors of several major water leaks in Nanango that Council took months to fix, and that former councils had encouraged the development of small acreage blocks because they wanted more rates income.
She also reminded councillors that Nanango’s bore water was not only plentiful but also very cheap, since the only treatment Council applied to it was chlorination.
It was so cheap, in fact, she thought it was highly likely Nanango residents were subsidising the water systems of the region’s other towns.
While she didn’t object to this type of cost-sharing, she thought it was unfair to penalise standpipe users with one of the steepest price rises Council had ever handed down.
At the end of her talk, Mrs Erkens thanked the Councillors for their attention.
Following normal procedure, councillors voted to receive the petition and then pass it on to CEO Mark Pitt for consideration.
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Jane Erkens Addresses Council
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