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Queensland: Toowoomba residents vote against recycled water program; debate about water recycling.



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This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Department of the Parliamentary Library.

 

It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in any other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

 

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PM

 

Mon day 31 July 2006

Queensland: Toowoomba residents vote against recycled water program; debate about water recycling

 

MARK COLVIN: Where to now for the Queensland city of Toowoomba, which has a major looming water crisis, but has voted against a plan to recycle its sewerage? 

 

To the most severe water restrictions possible for one thing, and they're just around the corner for Toowoomba's ratepayers after their solid "no" vote. 

 

Some scientists say they made the right decision, but others say the recycled water might have been cleaner than what they're drinking at the moment. 

 

The Australian Water Association believes it's all about perceptions, and they're going to commission a national survey to prove the recycled product is just as good. 

 

Conor Duffy reports. 

 

CONOR DUFFY: Denice Reeves didn't want her children drinking recycled sewage and was among the 60 per cent of people from Toowoomba who voted no. 

 

DENICE REEVES: I'd just simply… my answer to you is that simply I don't want it. Anything that starts with effluent and ends in water isn't something I want. 

 

CONOR DUFFY: The nation's first vote on drinking recycled sewage was seen as an important litmus test as to how willing people are to accept the idea. 

 

Denice Reeves reckons it won't make it anywhere else in Australia and doesn't trust the science. 

 

DENICE REEVES: Listen, if you want to go into the science of things, it's not like science has never let us down, science has let us down many times. 

 

CONOR DUFFY: It's a view supported by Queensland's Opposition leader Lawrence Springborg. 

 

Today, Mr Springborg said there is a body of scientific evidence that recycled sewage can change the gender of fish, and he suggested the same thing could happen to other species. 

 

LAWRENCE SPRINGBORG: There's quite a significant amount of research as well, I mean with regards to hormones and the effect that's having on the feminisation of fish. There's a whole range of information that's available in various journals, that's where the unanswered questions are, because what it does it actually changes the basic metabolism of species. 

 

CONOR DUFFY: That argument doesn't wash with Dr Megan Hargreaves from the Queensland University of Technology. 

 

Dr Hargreaves says more education is needed. 

 

MEGAN HARGREAVES: In terms of microbiological safety, drinking water that's been treated will be to Australian standards for drinking water, whether it comes from a recycled source or it comes from a dam.  

 

So in terms of public safety, there can be no microbiological problem with drinking purified, recycled water. 

 

CONOR DUFFY: The Chief Executive of the Australian Water Association, Chris Davis, agrees. 

 

CHRIS DAVIS: I agree that there needs to be a national education campaign. I guess the citizens of Toowoomba had the whole notion of drinking recycled water thrust on them quite quickly and in a climate of misinformation, it's very easy to be spooked and be put off the notion. 

 

CONOR DUFFY: Mr Davis says other communities in Australia already drink treated water.  

 

CHRIS DAVIS: The iconic example is Adelaide, which is at the tail-end of the Murray and which gets everybody from Canberra, right through all the Murray river towns going down, treat their used water and discharge it in a somewhat purified form into the Murray river and that all blends and becomes Adelaide's water supply.  

 

CONOR DUFFY: The Federal Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, says the debate about recycled sewerage isn't over and there may be places in Australia where it's appropriate. 

 

He's dismissed Lawrence Springborg's concerns about fish changing sexes. 

 

MALCOLM TURNBULL: As far as I'm aware there is no evidence to support that proposition.  

 

I think the suggestions that I've seen is that in some cases, very high levels of sewage, untreated sewage, in rivers and lakes can have an impact on aquatic life in that environment. But that really is an irrelevant consideration because you're not talking about people drinking sewage, what you're talking about here is recycling and treating water.  

 

CONOR DUFFY: He says the water is cleaner than what's coming out of our taps at the moment. 

 

MALCOLM TURNBULL: The water that is produced from the type of treatment that was proposed in Toowoomba and that is used in Singapore and in other places around the world actually produces a water that is much pure than water you would find in any river or dam in Australia. It is the purest of the pure, that's why they call it six star water.  

 

MARK COLVIN: The Federal Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, ending that report from Conor Duffy.