The South Burnett Regional Council Kirstie Schumacher, Kathy Duff, Danita Potter, Roz Frohloff, Mayor Brett Otto, Scott Henschen and Deputy Mayor Gavin Jones. Photo: Laura Blackmore
The South Burnett Regional Council Kirstie Schumacher, Kathy Duff, Danita Potter, Roz Frohloff, Mayor Brett Otto, Scott Henschen and Deputy Mayor Gavin Jones. Photo: Laura Blackmore

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Burnett standpipe water price debate

AFTER months of back and forth debate between the South Burnett Regional Council and residents of the region, Councillor’s will look to finalise the issue of the standpipe water price increase at tomorrow’s general council meeting.

In June, all of the South Burnett Councillors except division five Councillor Kathy Duff voted to increase the standpipe water price from $4.10 – $10 per kilolitre.

It was a momentous decision to that caused significant community outrage.

This article will recap the biggest stories to come out the standpipe water debate.

1. PRICE RISE: Water charges skyrocket by more than 150% – June 24

At the council’s June meeting, the topic of water caused a divide as division five councillor Kathy Duff opposed the proposed standpipe increase of $4.10 – $10 per kilolitre.

Division 1 Councillor and portfolio holder for Management, Water, Waste and Waste Management Roz Frohloff said she backed the rise in charges for the water.

“People are currently paying $41.0 per kilo litre,” Cr Frohloff said.

“For an example for people who are connected to the network, if you’re an urban user you are paying $13.29 per kilo litre.

“To make it fairer across the board, we are proposing to make it go to $10 per kilolitre, which is still below the average paid by the Rural Proston and Urban supply connections.”

Councillor Kathy Duff said she opposed the recommendation because she said it was unfair to raise the current prices by that much.

“We established the standpipe in Hivesville,” Cr Duff said.

“Half of them are on the Rural Proston scheme and half of them don’t have access to water, so they were excited about getting the opportunity to access non-potable water to water their garden and stock.

“We are still in drought, nothing has changed in that perspective. We still have people out of water.

“I think that a jump from $4 to $10 is too much. There will be backlash.”

2. MP asks council to reconsider 150% rise in water price – June 24

After the June monthly meeting, several South Burnett residents raised the issue with Member for Nanango Deb Frecklington who wrote a letter to the Mayor urging him to reconsider the decision.

Mrs Frecklington said on behalf of ratepayers who rely on the standpipes, I request council reconsider this decision.

“It has been brought to my attention that standpipe water charges were reviewed at the South Burnett Regional Council meeting on June 17, with council voting in favour of increasing charges from $4.10 per kl to $10 per kl,” Frecklington said.

“Following this meeting, I have received contact from SBRC residents who are very concerned about this 150 per cent increase.

“While I note council’s reasons for this increase are based on several issues, including the cost to repair vandalised standpipes, and concerns about tankers from outside the region using the service, I agree with the community’s concerns that the large increase during drought conditions and the COVID-19 pandemic is poor timing.”

Mayor Brett Otto regrets not further consulting the community prior to the councils vote to raise standpipe water prices, but stands by the decision.
Mayor Brett Otto regrets not further consulting the community prior to the councils vote to raise standpipe water prices, but stands by the decision.

3. Mayor stands by price hike after community backlash – June 30

After speaking with concerned rate payers in Nanango, South Burnett Mayor Brett Otto said he regrets not further consulting the community prior to the councils vote to raise standpipe water prices by 150 per cent, but stands by the decision.

Addressing the community at the informal gathering in Drayton Street, the Mayor apologised for the lack of public involvement in the decision, and vowed to reopen the matter at the next general council meeting in July.

“If I personally have made a mistake in the process, it’s that I didn’t consult the community as much as a would have liked,” he said.

“I have spent the last two days in Nanango, talking with people about their concerns, and I’m going to take that information back to council.”

Councillor Kathy Duff does not know why she didn't receive more support at the June general council meeting.
Councillor Kathy Duff does not know why she didn't receive more support at the June general council meeting.

4. ‘I think they regret it now’: Water price divides council – July 6

As the South Burnett Regional Council continued to battle backlash against the standpipe water price hike, the lone council opponent spoke out.

Councillor Kathy Duff had predicted that the 150% price hike was going to be wildly unpopular among members of the community.

Councillor Kathy Duff told the South Burnett Times she does not know why she didn’t receive some support for her opposition of the proposal.

“The main reason I voted against it was because of the drought, and because of the COVID crisis. It was just really poor timing,” Cr Duff said.

“I was also particularly challenged with the Hivesville standpipe because it’s not potable water.”

5. Water price hike here to stay to ‘encourage responsible use’ – July 15

In a fact sheet released in July, the price hike was attributed to a lack of restrictions placed on how much water can be taken from a standpipe – particularly while supply restrictions are in place.

According to the document, since the use of standpipe water is primarily managed through pricing, the increase from $4.10 to $10 will encourage ‘responsible use’ of the precious resource and ensure that the water is used for ‘essential’ domestic purposes only.

The justification for the severity of the increase has been broken down into four key points:

1. Ensuring that standpipes enable rural communities to access water in times of need for ‘domestic use only’.

2. Protect water security and reliability by ensuring that standpipe water is not used to as a continual and substantiative water supply for rural households.

3. Create a price point that encourages self restriction and ensures people only take what they need to live.

4. And create a fair price point that achieves all of the above.

Jane Erkens petition against the standpipe price hike has collected more than 500 signatures. Photo: Holly Cormack.
Jane Erkens petition against the standpipe price hike has collected more than 500 signatures. Photo: Holly Cormack.

6. Nanango stands up against water price hike- August 10

More than 600 locals put their name to a petition, hoping to reawaken an important issue that was put to bed.

Nanango local Jane Erkens has reached out to the community, asking them to share their hardship in this time of drought, in protest of councils decision to raise the standpipe water price.

While Ms Erkens has expressed gratitude to the council for the good work they do, she believes that in this instance the community is not being heard.

7. Standpipe water price hike petition gets handed to council – August 19

At August’s South Burnett Regional Council meeting Jane Erkens handed South Burnett Mayor Brett Otto a petition, signed by approximately 650 Nanango residents opposing the standpipe water price hike.

Mrs Erkens addressed the Council meeting this morning, saying while she doesn’t doubt the councillors sincerity to do right by the community, this issue will have the biggest impact on the vulnerable in the community.

“You promised to do the best by the community and so many people are struggling needing water, who shouldn’t be priced out of getting it,” Mrs Erkens said.

“By increasing the price of water you are not stopping those who can afford it you, are punishing those who can’t afford it, which is the elderly, pensioners and unemployed.

“I honestly don’t think anyone knows more about how precious water is than the people who live on small acreage blocks with no decent rainfall in years and not enough money to order a load.”

8. Ratepayers’ unique protest song against water price hike – September 13

A concerned South Burnett rate payer has taken her battle with the Council to the next level, writing and recording a four minute music video to protest the standpipe water price hike.

The standpipe water price increase has been the topic on everyone‘s minds after the South Burnett Regional Council made the decision to increase the price from $4.10-$10 per kilolitre in July.

After creating a petition that gained over 600 signatures, Mrs Erkens took it upon her self to use YouTube to push the message even further.

Mrs Erkens said the video is about telling the story of the people who this price hike really hurts.

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