The agriculture sector has been found to be non-compliant with regards to Council's recycled water scheme.
The agriculture sector has been found to be non-compliant with regards to Council's recycled water scheme. TREVOR VEALE

‘Is this a carbon tax?’ Cr fires from left-field during water debate

THE spirit of 2011 was invoked at last week's council meeting as Cr Michael Adendorff saw similarities between the controversial carbon tax and a push to charge farmers for recycled water.

Coffs Harbour City Council signalled their intention to introduce a new Recycled Water Access and Consumption Charge from next year after a report found significant levels of noncompliance from users.

Council currently provide recycled water to 59 users across the LGA and of the 34 in the agriculture sector, none were fully compliant with the conditions of their agreements.

Of particular concern was the amount of recycled water ending up in waterways like Double Crossing Creek and Hearnes Lake, which was revealed in a recent Southern Cross University report into water quality.

Cr Sally Townley said while the introduction of fees and charges was unlikely to have "a material impact" on pollution in the waterways, she supported the measures as a first step to fixing a complex problem.

Blueberries have been loving council’s recycled water though the Hearnes Lake ecosystem has been less enthusiastic. Picture: Alison Wynd
Blueberries have been loving council’s recycled water though the Hearnes Lake ecosystem has been less enthusiastic. Picture: Alison Wynd

"Is putting a price on water going to really effect anyone's behaviour if this industry is willing to be non-compliant in so many ways?" she said.

"What (this) does is take a step toward having a more formalised agreement with growers so that hopefully we can require them - as conditions of their licences - to do more testing."

"At the moment this is basically a waste product - a pollutant source - and someone else is taking it off our hands for free and dumping it into the creek."

However, the idea didn't sit well with Cr Paul Amos who said the charges did "not achieve anything" with regards to reducing pollution and was concerned with charging for a product of uncertain quality.

"If we start selling water to people producing food that is not up to standards and something goes wrong - we are in big trouble," he said.

"We are doing the wrong thing charging until we know the quality of water coming out the end of that pipe."

Mr Amos subsequently put up an amendment which sought to introduce an annual fee and establish a sophisticated testing regime to ensure better water quality going into and coming out of the farms.

 

Councillor Michael Adendorff was invoking the spirit of 2011 with his concerns a proposal to charge for recycled water was in fact a carbon tax.
Councillor Michael Adendorff was invoking the spirit of 2011 with his concerns a proposal to charge for recycled water was in fact a carbon tax.

 

While his amendment was eventually lost, the discussion over implementing a user-pays system to encourage better compliance led Cr Michael Adendorff to remark that the fee "smacks of a carbon tax".

"Is this a carbon tax dressed up as a fee, because it seems like it is," he asked.

Section Leader Mick Raby responded by saying that by definition it wasn't, but the recommendation was premised on the idea that "if you give away free stuff, people will consume more of it".

"The recommendation is simply putting in place a mechanism which allows council … to start to apply some demand management and thereby drive some better environmental outcomes," he said.

"So in that context, yes it is a carbon tax in that it is designed to change behaviour."

After more than an hour of discussion, councillors resolved to introduce the fees, starting at 20 cents per kilolitre and $2.00 for usage in excess of their allocation, and put it out for community consultation.

A report will be prepared for Councillors following the consultation period.

Councillors Denise Knight, Sally Townley, Michael Adendorff and George Cecato voted for the motion with John Arkan and Paul Amos voting against. Tegan Swan was absent and Keith Rhoades had declared an interest and was not in the chamber.


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