Should water services stay in public hands? New research.

Adelaide’s desalination plant at Port Stanvac. Photo courtesy Melody Ayres-Griffiths. BUSINESS AND LAW
Adelaide’s desalination plant at Port Stanvac. Photo courtesy Melody Ayres-Griffiths.

Most South Australians do not want the State’s water services to be privatised, despite Adelaide’s desalination plant costing taxpayers $13.5 million last financial year.

That’s the overwhelming community feedback from a three-year research project undertaken by UniSA, five years after the controversial $1.83 billion desalination plant opened at Port Stanvac.

In an extensive case study analysing the decision to build desalination plants in South Australia and Victoria to ensure urban potable water supplies, UniSA PhD candidate Elnaz Ettehad found there was a lack of overwhelming support for both plants.

Ettehad surveyed more than 900 people in Adelaide and Melbourne metropolitan areas to evaluate the public interest in desalination delivery.

“Most people want the water sector and desalination plants to be run by either the state or federal governments, with water prices set by either these bodies or an independent regulatory organisation,” Ettehad says.

The results reveal that the private sector is among the least preferred organisations to manage water supplies.

“They feel very strongly that water is a basic human right and under private ownership these rights could be compromised,” Ettehad says.

“Desalination plants were built to create greater water security for people but in the public’s eyes it has not been the best choice.

“The survey shows there needs to be an integrated and holistic approach when it comes to sustainable water supplies and achieving water security, taking into account climate change, energy supplies and the ecosystem.

“We shouldn’t just be focusing on the physical aspects of supplying water but adopting a far broader approach,” Ettehad says.