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Water Billing

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY (15:18): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Water questions regarding water billing.

Leave granted.

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY: I understand that SA Water receive the information they use to issue bills from the State Valuation Office. The State Valuation Office do not have a list of tenants, and so I understand historically it was decided to charge landowners instead. I have recently been contacted by several constituents who are frustrated that they have been left with outstanding debts to SA Water totalling thousands of dollars because tenants have absconded and refused to pay water bills, notwithstanding any tenant agreements.

While I understand that there is a process to recoup this money through SACAT, this is often a lengthy process. Landlords often have to wait months for the matter to be heard and decided. Meanwhile, they continue to be pursued by SA Water for the debt. Further, even if landlords are successful, tenants are often not in a position to pay, which leaves the landlord out of pocket. My questions to the minister are:

  1. What is the government's position on ESCOSA's recommendation that the end users should be SA Water's customers and not landowners?

  2. Has consideration been given to SA Water using the list of tenants held by OCBA to issue bills to the end users rather than the landlords?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) (15:20): I thank the honourable member for his most important question. At the heart of the question, and therefore the answer, is essentially who should wear the cost for an investment. That is what these situations are; they are an investment of a landlord owning a property and renting it out. Who should wear the cost of a default? We know that landlords have to wear the cost of defaults in many areas, particularly when it comes to damage, and there are usually bonds in place through the Residential Tenancies Tribunal to deal with those sorts of issues.

The honourable member also said that there are methods in place of a similar nature for landlords to recoup those costs, and that is appropriate. If the honourable member is seeking to transfer that risk away from the private landowner to the public owner, that is the public of South Australia, which owns SA Water, that is something we would need to consider very carefully because that comes with a cost in itself. If you want to transfer cost from the private sector to the public sector, normally you have to have a very good reason to do that because you will be, at the end of the day, potentially increasing costs to consumers, SA Water customers. This is a cost-shifting exercise, understandably.

There is also a question of efficiency. At the end of the day, the question for SA Water as the operator has to be: is it in the interests of the shareholders, who are the public of South Australia, that they go to a system where they have to be responsible for keeping up with a list of tenants in all the private residences around the state and having a system of bureaucracy in place to go and check on those tenants when they change their tenancy, when they move from house to house or flat to flat? If that is the bureaucracy you want to create in SA Water, that is a very brave call. It is not one that the government is currently interested in progressing.