eFlash #471

eFlash #471

eFlash #471
Date: 16-Feb-2021

In this edition: Release of the Productivity Commission’s National Water Reform 2020 Draft Report| COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout| Water Skills Forum 2021 – 4 March 2021| Call for papers and sponsors – Barcaldine Conference| NSW Town Water Risk Reduction Program Launches| Position Vacant – Water & Sewerage Operator, Goondiwindi 

1. Release of the Productivity Commission’s National Water Reform 2020 Draft Report

The Productivity Commission’s latest water sector report was released last week. It is available at:


The Commission is calling for submissions on the draft report by Wednesday 24 March 2021. Members are encouraged to consider providing direct feedback, or contact qldwater (Dave or Rob) if there are comments you’d like to see incorporated into our submission.

The key findings section of the report is available at https://www.pc.gov.au/inquiries/current/water-reform-2020/draft/water-reform-2020-draft-findings.pdf

Some key points from the findings, of particular relevance to urban water and sewerage services:

National Water Initiative

  • Should be renewed and governance should be strengthened, with jurisdictions committing to three-year rolling work programs, against which performance is assessed
  • Fit-for-purpose water resource management should be embedded

Entitlements, planning and markets, environmental management

  • Establish a process to determine which alternative sources (including stormwater and recycled water) can be incorporated into water access entitlement frameworks
  • Better consideration of cultural and environmental outcomes including engagement with Traditional Owners
  • Better account for climate change
  • Improve the identification of key environmental assets and the values communities place on those assets in water planning
  • Improved (fit-for purpose) measurement, recording, reporting

Urban water services

  • Update the National Urban Water Planning Principles and embed them within the NWI, including
    • Integrated management of water supply, wastewater and stormwater
    • Planning alignment across water security, service quality, the environment and urban amenity, and with involvement of all stakeholders including the community
    • Consideration of all supply options
    • Clear responsibilities and accountability
    • Jurisdictions should consider developing national guidelines for both long-term system planning and contingency planning for regional and remote water systems
  • Economic regulation and pricing
    • Need to embrace a number of best-practice principles around efficiency, transparency and the full efficient cost of service provision etc
    • Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory do not have adequate independent economic regulation in place
    • The NWI should include a framework to guide where different models of economic oversight can be applied, based on context. 
    • All large providers should be subject to best-practice independent economic regulation, unless a transparent analysis of regulatory costs and benefits shows that economic regulation imposes significant net costs. Where costs do outweigh benefits, jurisdictions should agree to a consistent assessment framework to inform decisions concerning the type of economic regulation to apply, based on the risk (and potential impact) of a utility exploiting market power, and the cost of regulation.
    • Jurisdictions should commit to light touch independent economic oversight for all regional and remote water service providers.
    • Incorporate stormwater into pricing frameworks
    • Recommit to the principle that developer charges are cost reflective
    • Jurisdictions should maintain institutional separation of water resource management, standard setting and regulatory enforcement from service delivery, including where local governments are owners.
    • There are inadequacies in the current NPR to be addressed for effective benchmarking
    • All urban water service providers, including those with fewer than 10,000 connections, should be subject to jurisdictional monitoring and (independent) public reporting.
  • Ensuring access to a basic level of service
    • A renewed National Water Initiative should include a commitment to ensure access to at least a basic level of safe and reliable drinking water to all Australians. State and Territory Governments could each develop a definition of, and commit to ensure access to, a basic level of service for each community in their jurisdiction.
    • Cost-reflective user charges should remain the default arrangement, but some regional and remote services in high-cost areas will require operational subsidies to maintain a basic level of service to all customers. Any subsidies to those areas should be provided as transparent community service obligation payments. Payments to local government-owned providers should be:
      • designed to ensure access to a basic level of service in those communities where such service provision would otherwise be unviable 
      • adequate to ensure a basic level of service is considered affordable
      • based on credible data on efficient service costs, subject to a degree of independent oversight, following State or Territory government involvement in system planning
      • calculated in a predictable fashion to provide a reliable source of funding
      • conditional on ongoing operational improvements, such as improvements to utility governance, better service outcomes (based on performance benchmarking), compliance with guidelines for system and contingency planning, or for pursuing collaboration.
    • Monitoring and reporting of water quality and service outcomes in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities should be coordinated with the development of data collection required to measure progress against the community infrastructure target under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.
  • Governance
    • A renewed National Water Initiative should contain agreed principles for governance of regional and remote water services where local governments retain ownership of utilities. 
    • Financial separation should be maintained, with utility finances ring-fenced from local government finances. 
    • Clear roles for State and Local Governments during extreme events should be defined.

Infrastructure investment

  • Jurisdictions should develop an element (in the NWI) to guide investment in water infrastructure. The new element should restate the high-level principle that all infrastructure is to be assessed as economically viable and environmentally sustainable prior to the commitment of funding, with cost recovery from users as the norm. Jurisdictions should agree to criteria on how adherence with the principle can be demonstrated. The new element should also include an agreed framework to guide government investment in major water infrastructure.
  • Assessment criteria for water infrastructure should include principles of transparency and consideration of non-infrastructure options.
  • The National Water Grid Authority should broaden its Investment Policy Framework to allow funding for all projects where government involvement may be warranted, including supporting access to essential town water supplies.
  • A new water infrastructure element should clarify relevant institutional roles and responsibilities underpinning the framework for government investment.
    • State and Territory Governments should have primary responsibility for proposing (and overseeing) major water infrastructure developments in their jurisdictions.
    • Australian Government funding should not exceed the contribution of the relevant State or Territory Government.
    • Independent infrastructure advisory bodies should transparently review the business cases of major projects.
  • Community engagement – including community water literacy, needs to be a focus.

2COVID-19Vaccine Rollout

qldwater has been investigating the plans for staged rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine to our sector. So far it looks like the vaccine rollout will be managed (in Queensland, and presumably other jurisdictions) according to the federal rollout schedule, which means that it will be prioritised mostly by the age and vulnerability of individuals:

Phase 1a: Quarantine and border workers; Front line health care; Aged care and disability staff and residents

Phase 1b: Adults 70+ ; Other health care workers; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 55+; Adults with a medical condition or disability; Critical and high-risk wo3. rkers (e.g.defence, police, fire, emergency services, meat processing)

Phase 2a: Adults 50+; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 18+ ; other critical and high-risk workers

Phase 2b: Balance of adult population

Phase 3: Under 18, if recommended

The roll-out is likely to commence in late-February and continue for 6- 12 months, depending upon vaccine supply. Each person will need two doses of the vaccine. The roll-out will commence with Phase 1a participants receiving the vaccine in 30-50 hospital hubs and in residential aged care and disability facilities. The hospital hubs will have the ability to handle the cold chain requirements of the Pfizer vaccine which needs to be stored at -70C.

According to Queensland Health, initial vaccination hubs for Queensland are being established in Townsville, Cairns, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Brisbane (RBWH and PA hospitals). These sites were selected as having the highest COVID-19 risk due to being major destinations and entry points for international travellers

Later the COVID-19 vaccine will be available from GPs and pharmacies.

At this point in time there seems to be no plan in place to target essential services beyond the health and aged care sectors, although this may change as the rollout takes place. Our sector fits in with phase 2a of the rollout, which puts the water and sewerage service providers in the first 50% of the population to be vaccinated.

There have also been some questions about enforcing vaccination. According to Queensland Health, the COVID-19 vaccine is not mandatory, and individuals will maintain the option to choose not to vaccinate. However, it goes on to say that policies around staff vaccination are the responsibility of individual employers and their policies and expectations. A worker who chooses not to be vaccinated may be redeployed by their employer if they face a risk of exposure to COVID-19 cases.

WSAA is seeking clarification from the federal Department of Health on where front-line essential water sector workers fit in within the phases and whether there should be mandatory requirements (or not) for the vaccination for office workers.

For more information, you can visit the respective federal and state sites for the COVID vaccine.

3Water Skills Forum 2021 – 4 March 2021

The Queensland Water Skills Partnership is hosting its annual Water Skills Forum on Thursday 4 March, 2021. Following three successful forums, the 2021 forum will provide an opportunity for Water and Sewerage Managers, Human Resources and Learning and Development professionals to hear presentations from water industry and other workforce experts on topics such as succession planning, leadership and future training needs and provide an opportunity to identify collaborative opportunities to address key water industry skilling challenges. View the program.

Please register online now to join us at our new location in Eagle Farm, or by linking into the sessions virtually. Water Skills Partners receive three free registrations (in person/virtual) to participate in the Forum, with registration also available for $50 plus GST for qldwater members who are not Water Skills Partners and $100 plus GST for non-members. View the registration options.

Thank you to TAFE Queensland – SkillsTech for sponsoring the forum once again and welcome to our new sponsor, Diona, who will be sponsoring the networking drinks at the close of the forum.

We hope to see you on the 4th of March and invite you to contact Carlie Sargent if you have any queries on 07 3632 6853 or csargent@qldwater.com.au.

4. Call for papers and sponsors – Barcaldine Conference

We’re about to head off for Goondiwindi this week and our next qldwater regional event will be in Barcaldine on 19/20 May, hosted by Barcaldine Regional Council. Parts of the program will again be available online, but we hope to get as many people in person as we can. Note that you’ll need to sort out your travel and accommodation logistics nice and early – we plan on flying to Emerald and driving.

Early bird registrations will be complimentary again for qldwater members, with a dinner planned on the evening of the 19th. Please contact Naomi (ncarragher@qldwater.com.au) if you are interested in sponsoring this event.

qldwater conferences are an informal opportunity for networking, updates on what’s impacting Queensland’s water and sewerage service providers, and technical presentations. 

The call is now open for relevant technical and other presentations to fill 20-25 minutes slots. Presentations from qldwater members or organisations able to co-present with members will always be prioritised. We aim to make the process as easy as possible: you only need to provide us with a brief outline now and a PowerPoint on the day if accepted. Please forward your ideas to dcameron@qldwater.com.au

The event theme will be focussed on service delivery in the West and we hope to be able to showcase some of the activities of the Remote Area Planning and Development Board’s Water and Sewerage Alliance which is supported through QWRAP.

Thank you to our confirmed sponsors in Dial Before You Dig for the Water Connections Tour and Aquatec Maxcon, Royce Water Technologies and Sigura Water our Gold Sponsors.

5. NSW Town Water Risk Reduction Program Launches

(adapted from the NSW Water Directorate’s e-news)

CEO of the NSW Water Sector, Jim Bentley and Executive Director Water Sector Reform, Amanda Chadwick of the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) have written to all NSW Local Water Utilities (LWU's) to announce the commencement of the Town Water Risk Reduction Program (TWRRP). 

DPIE is presently finalising the establishment of the program’s stakeholder advisory panel. This panel will bring together key sector stakeholders and trusted experts, enabling them to shape the program’s design, engagement approach and strategic direction from an early stage. The panel will include Local Government NSW, the NSW Water Directorate, Joint Organisations, local water utilities, co-regulators (NSW Health, Office of Local Government and the Environment Protection Authority) and DPIE Water’s Water Utilities team.

The NSW Directorate will be focussing its advocacy on

  • reform of many aspects of the existing Best Practice Management framework regulating Local Water Utilities
  • development of an explicit Community Service Obligation for remote water utilities in regional NSW to support sustainable and affordable water services for its smallest communities; and
  • development of a sustainable model for accredited water operator training in NSW.

6. Position Vacant – Water & Sewerage Operator, Goondiwindi

Goondiwindi Regional Council is looking for a full time Water & Sewerage Treatment Plant Operator/Assistant Operator based in Goondiwindi. The position’s objective is to ensure water and sewerage maintenance activities are carried out efficiently and effectively.

Are you looking for a career change or a change of scenery? This position could be perfect for you. 

Are you interested and want to find out more? For further information about the position or duties involved, please contact Council’s Manager Water & Sewerage, Trevor Seth on (07) 4671 7457 or via email on mail@grc.qld.gov.au.

Applications must be received by close of business Monday, 8 March 2021.

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