Among water campaigners, there has been much ooh-ing and aah-ing since the Mayor of Paris announced on June 2, 2008 the re-municipalization of water in that city. On 1 January 2010, water once again became municipal responsibility in Paris. Suez and Veolia, each massive French-originating international water and wastewater corporations, would go. The newly elected Paris city council believes it can offer both a better service and a better price.
Remunicipalization is not new in the towns and cities of France. In fact, there is a concerted rebuff of their own French corporations in putting water - a human right and a public good - back into the hands of elected representatives. Anne le Strat in her article Paris: local authorities regain control of water management explains the situation. If your French is fluent, you may like to flick across to You Tube for two interviews with le Strat.
Here in Victoria our ALP government has had strong contacts with Suez and Veolia. In fact, a subsidiary of Veolia, until last year ran Melbourne's trains. As for Suez, they are building and will run as part of a consortium called Aquasure a desalination plant near Wonthaggi. It will be the fifth largest in the world. Australia's relationship with these two corporations does not extend back as far a France's. They have had about 150 years of Suez and Veolia experience and we are just beginning. 'Tis a pity that we don't learn from the experiences of others, don't you think?
In Victoria, our water is not yet in the hands of the water corporations. Our water boards are, however, corporatised and ready to go very quickly should the government so decide. The government is the No. 1 & Only shareholder of these corporations and does not table balance sheets in the Victorian Parliament.
In fact, for one water board, the government is allowing a major corporation, namely Veolia, an inside run. You see a Veolia executive, David Beard, sits on the board of Coliban Water. How easy would it be, do you think, for this person to make a professional assessment of current government thinking and future government directions for water? How easy would it be, do you think, for this person to push his company's views and offerings up the pipeline to government?
Clearly the Brumby Government in Victoria couldn't give a fig for being seen to be accountable and transparent and keeping more than an arm's distance away from corporates with vested interests in getting the government's attention and its contracts. And I see no elected representative - not the Liberal Party; not the Greens; not the Independent, Craig Ingram; not the Democratic Labor Party - holding the Australian Labor Party and Coliban Water to account in this matter. Veolia has done business in the past with Coliban. It is likely to do so in the future. As I said, an inside run if ever I saw one. And if water and waste-water contracting was a horse race, can you guess which horse would be the likely bet?
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