This page has been developed by the Queensland Water Directorate as an education resource for elected representatives. We understand that water and sewerage services are complex and that it can be hard for elected members to make informed decisions without a good understanding of the issues impacting on service providers.

The topics for these Frequently Asked Questions are based on the 5 priority issues selected by the LGAQ. The 6th specifically targets the roles and responsibilities of anyone involved in making decisions around water and sewerage services for a local government.

If there is something else you would like to know that isn't covered here, please send you questions to skills@qldwater.com.au and we will get back to you with an answer.

1. Fundamental roles of elected representatives in local government

Providing safe drinking water to communities

Add FAQs module here, including basic functions of drinking water services and roles of decision makers.

2. Sustainable investment and financial sustainability

Facts and figures, national and international trends, understanding where revenues come from etc

Raising the bar – establishing agreed minimum levels of service across the state

Put simply, we know that our sector suffers from under-investment in renewing infrastructure and that significantly more $ will be required into the future. Working out how much is only possible with a clearly defined expectation of what customers should receive.

qldwater has advocated strongly for this for several years and in the most recent Productivity Commission report it has been reflected as a strong theme. Minimum Standards are not the same thing as Customer Service Standards, which are basic regulated Queensland Government-regulated performance indicators.

Minimum standards link a level of service to customers with the infrastructure required to deliver it. The idea embraces basic principles of equity, and suggests that every water and sewerage service customer in Queensland should be assured about receiving drinking water to a defined standard, preferably 24/7, and with a protected environment, particularly waterways. Nationally, some argue that Health Based Targets (link) provide that standard for drinking water. If that is the case, Queensland has a significant infrastructure deficit to be able to meet those targets.

In theory if you have a minimum standard then a customer can more easily be asked to pay a premium for a service which is greater than that standard. It is easier to consider examples for other goods and services (e.g. you can get garbage collected more regularly or provide a sealed road rather than dirt) than it is for reticulated water, but things are constantly evolving.

Defining minimum standards creates a baseline from which required improvement (and level of investment) can be measured. It is one step towards enabling a strategic state investment pipeline, allowing a stronger focus on risk and equity, and e.g. economic stimulation. Much of the current government investment is made via competitive grants, which is strongly criticised by the Productivity Commission.

In theory such programs reward those who write the best application, rather than target the greatest need or help ensure the best return on investment.
The Productivity Commission is perhaps the most comprehensive source for this information, but put simply, grant programs don’t necessarily address equity or need and have historically promoted the construction of inefficient infrastructure – commonly referred to as “gold plating.” They rarely consider whole of life cycle costs, with an injection of funding at the front end and then councils required to fund operational costs for something which may be oversized or a sub-optimal technology.

Defining a minimum service standard, then working out an appropriate infrastructure solution to meet that standard and developing a CSO (Customer Service Obligation) model to support councils without an appropriate financial base to meet that standard, are all components of the type of model the Commission proposes. The CSO supports more than just the up-front costs, it theoretically also contributes to operating costs. There are other elements of a sustainable model to consider, including fair pricing. The term “User Pays” is often used or “Full Cost Pricing” which can be a little confusing. The key element is the belief that end users must understand what the full cost of providing the service is and where it is being subsidised if you want to operate efficiently. What is actually charged is a different question.

It is crucial to understand what a service costs to deliver in order to be able to make responsible decisions around future management of that service, especially where revenue from the sale of the service can’t meet the costs to operate.

The models to make transparent costing work are available now, but not a lot of councils use it.
The base price of water across the state varies from 0c per kilolitre up to quite a bit in SEQ. Once on a price path it is difficult to change, but it is clear that prices in many local government areas are unsustainable.

It is actually an area which qldwater members have mostly been consistent in supporting. Understanding costs and cost drivers, helps understand where cross-subsidisation occurs and more strategic decisions about future investment and appropriate levels of service. Transparent costing is the fundamental building block for building a sustainable financial model for a council water/ sewerage business, as well as essential to be able to stimulate discussion with other tiers of government about the best way to steer future investment.

3. Asset management challenges including a growing infrastructure deficit

Add FAQ module on fit for purpose infrastructure, scaleable and sustainable treatment solutions and planning

4. Effectively managing both growth and decline

Water Security

FAQs on water security

5. Access to appropriate skills and capability

FAQs on workforce planning, attraction, retention, upskilling, outsourcing