Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Wet Weekend sparks debate -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

Broadcast: 18/05/2006

Wet Weekend sparks debate

Reporter: Peter McCutcheon

KERRY O'BRIEN: Hosing down the driveway has become a distant memory for many Australians. Years of
drought and gradual climate change have meant water restrictions in cities around the nation are
increasingly becoming the norm. One local council which, out of necessity, helped pioneer the more
efficient use of household water is the Gold Coast, which has had water restrictions in place since
2002. But critics say the headway there is in danger of being undone, with the council holding what
it calls an 'Autumn Clean Up' this weekend, temporarily lifting its water controls. The row has
also sparked debate about the way we manage precious water supplies. Peter McCutcheon reports.

PETER McCUTCHEON: The Gold Coast may be renowned for its sweeping beaches, sparkling high rise and
canal estates. But like most of south-eastern Australia, it's gone through years of drought and the
surrounding suburban sprawl is looking a bit dry and dusty. So after four years of water
restrictions, the local council has decided to reward residents, permitting them to get their hoses
out for a weekend of cleaning.

RON CLARKE, GOLD COAST MAYOR: Yes, one weekend. Now's the time to do it.

PETER McCUTCHEON: But this 'Wet Weekend', as it's commonly called, has drawn a chorus of


JUANITA WHEELER, AUSTRALIAN GREENS: The City Council should immediately reverse their decision and
say, "We made a mistake and we're not going to go ahead with it".

PETER McCUTCHEON: And the controversy raises questions about the longer-term viability of water

systems tend to perform worse the longer they're in place.

PETER McCUTCHEON: The combined water storage levels for south-east Queensland are at their lowest
point for more than a century. The use of garden hoses and sprinklers is mostly banned during
daylight hours, but last summer, the rain fell in just the right place for the Gold Coast, filling
up its main water supply, the Hinze Dam.

RON CLARKE: Our yield is 191 megalitres a day from Hinze, we're well under that. We're using about

PETER McCUTCHEON: Gold Coast Mayor Ron Clarke says the City Council can easily afford one weekend
of hosing down houses and driveways. After all, the mayor argues, it's already an option for those
who can afford professional house cleaners, who have always been exempt from water restrictions.

RON CLARKE: We're saying those people that haven't got the money should be allowed to clean their
pathways. Gee whiz.

PETER McCUTCHEON: The 'Wet Weekend' will bring some welcome relief to Gold Coast City Council
resident Robert Billiau. So what's the plan for the weekend?

ROBERT BILLIAU: We're going to wash down the driveway and wash the windows on the house and wash
all the roof of the house and that and wash the boat. I think it's a good idea, really, cause it's
like everyone's been saving water for ages - like I've got a couple of tanks at the back and I've
been saving water and all that.

HENRY PALASZCZUK: All people who live in our region should be on the same restrictions and there
should not be a break out by a single council.

PETER McCUTCHEON: Queensland's Natural Resources Minister Henry Palaszczuk accuses the Gold Coast
of breaking the spirit of an agreement for a united regional approach to water shortages, and he's
urging Gold Coast residents not to take part in the weekend of hosing.

HENRY PALASZCZUK: It sends out the wrong signals. Currently, the slogan in south-east Queensland is
to "save every drop". This is contrary to that slogan.

PETER McCUTCHEON: Is there a danger that by temporarily lifting water restrictions you're sending a
message that the water situation isn't really that serious, and it may encourage people not to be
as diligent in the future?

RON CLARKE: No, we've done this before in 2003 for the same reason and the reaction was good. We're
still better than anybody else.

PETER McCUTCHEON: But there is one criticism of the weekend that the Gold Coast mayor admits may
have some validity. Residents of the far north of the council draw their water not from the Hinze
Dam, but from Brisbane's Wivenhoe Dam, which is critically low. The Gold Coast mayor at first tried
to exclude these residents, but was overruled by his council.

RON CLARKE: Yes, well, that's what council have agreed to do that. I mean, I agree with you, I
think there's some problems with that and I was against that.

PETER McCUTCHEON: Although Robert Billiau lives in the northern area that draws its water from
Brisbane's dam, he can't see what all the fuss is about.

ROBERT BILLIAU: Like you're not wasting a lot of water cause you're still turning your taps off and
everything, while you're sponging everything down.

PETER McCUTCHEON: Do you see this as the beginning of the end of water rationing?

PROF JOHN QUIGGIN: Well, it's hard to say.

PETER McCUTCHEON: Economist, Professor John Quiggin, argues the 'Wet Weekend' controversy
illustrates the problem of keeping in place water restrictions or rationing in the longer-term. The
spirit of cooperation, he argues, tends to dissipate once exemptions emerge. Petrol shortages are
dealt with by simply putting up the price, and Professor Quiggin argues eventually authorities will
have to do the same thing with water.

PROF JOHN QUIGGIN: In the long run, rather than saying you can only water at certain times at day,
it will be better just to give people a signal, it's costly to water in the middle of the day - you
use more water, you'll pay more.

PETER McCUTCHEON: This is likely to be the Gold Coast's last water splurge, with the Queensland
Government moving to take control of water restrictions away from local councils. But the
controversy, nevertheless, raises challenging questions about how and why we ration water.

JUANITA WHEELER: It's just not important enough to have a clean driveway, that you would throw
aside water restrictions.

ROBERT BILLIAU: Everyone's been saving a lot of water in the last year or so, so I reckon it's a
good opportunity to get out and do it.

(c) 2006 ABC