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SA fails on water fundamentals

SA fails on water fundamentals for regional & remote SA communities
The South Australian Council of Social Service (SACOSS) was glad to today address a public hearing held by the Productivity Commission for its National Water Reform inquiry, following the release of the Commission's National Water Reform Draft Report. SACOSS CEO Ross Womersley told the Commission that action is needed to address issues of water quality, reliability and cost of water services for regional and remote SA communities.

"Water is one of the most fundamental basic human needs and access to safe, secure and affordable drinking water is critical for our collective health and wellbeing," stated SACOSS CEO Ross Womersley.

"As the peak body for the non-government community services and health sectors in South Australia, SACOSS has a long-standing interest in the efficient delivery of essential services such as water, energy and telecommunications. Our work in essential services is focused on reducing inequality and ensuring that all South Australians have their basic human needs met.

"SACOSS supports the Productivity Commission’s view that elements of the National Water Initiative are no longer fit-for-purpose, as we continue to grapple with the impacts of a drying climate, more severe and frequent droughts and other extreme events.

"The next era of water reforms presents an opportunity to improve service provision for those living in regional and remote areas, particularly remote Aboriginal communities. Regional and remote communities face specific issues and challenges when it comes to the provision of water services, which are not adequately addressed in the current policy, legislative and regulatory framework.

"Policies and reforms to date have mostly remained silent on addressing the gap in standards of service delivery for drinking water services in smaller regional and remote communities, where full cost recovery is difficult. This is particularly the case for those who are not connected to SA Water's network or covered under Community Service Obligations. As a result, some communities are receiving poor (sometimes unsafe), unreliable and high-cost water services.

"Notably, we don't really know the true magnitude of the problem - which is troubling.

"There is currently no single source of information or understanding regarding the ownership, delivery and status of water services to regional and remote communities across South Australia. Without this collective understanding of the state-of-play, policy responses are often ad-hoc and reactive to individual problems and can tend to focus on short-term, partial solutions.

"An example of this is the Scotdesco Aboriginal Community, 100km west of Ceduna. In 2019, the community experienced critical water shortages due to lack of winter rainfall and required emergency water to be carted in at a cost of $1,400 per truckload. As the Scotdesco community falls outside of the boundary of a prescribed area, it was unable to access the subsidised cost of $300 for the same amount of water. We still do not have visibility over where a state government taskforce, set up last year to address these issues, has landed.

"SACOSS is advocating for a state-wide stocktake of South Australian regional and remote communities' water services to better understand the extent and magnitude of the issues, root causes, any systemic challenges, and the level of investment required to address the issues.

"This needs to be done as a matter of priority. Access to clean, affordable, reliable water is something we want to see as a fundamental across our state, not just for those in metro Adelaide," stated Mr Womersley.

"We know that other states are facing similar issues - we are not alone in this - but we'd like to see SA really stepping up. And if others don't get there first, perhaps we can even help show the way."

Media enquiries: Eva O'Driscoll, Communications Coordinator: 8305 4227 

Published Date: 
Wednesday, 31 March 2021