NSW waste levy wrangle leaves Stockton high and dry

Hunter Water faces a big bill to clean up decades-old rubbish uncovered at Stockton beach five months ago.

The state-owned corporation will have to pay dumping fees north of $2 million plus other costs after the NSW Environment Protection Authority declined a request for an exemption to the state’s $138.20-per-tonne waste levy.

The levy is designed to encourage recycling and discourage landfill, although there is plenty of evidence to suggest it has simply shifted the problem elsewhere.

The EPA’s insistence that Hunter Water does not qualify for an exemption because the severe storm that uncovered the mess was not declared a natural disaster could be regarded as a hair-splitting exercise.

Its contention that it does not have the authority to grant discretionary exemptions because the Office of Emergency Management is responsible for classifying natural disasters is labyrinthine logic worthy of a Joseph Heller novel.

The EPA is understandably reluctant to grant too many exemptions to the levy, but in this case the public good of cleaning up the beach quickly and efficiently should outweigh the desire to reduce landfill.        

One state entity effectively paying levies to another state entity could be regarded as meaningless, but the money would presumably come out of Hunter Water’s budget and will take away funds which would otherwise have been spent on services in the Hunter.

Hunter Water paid a $41.6 million dividend to Macquarie Street last financial year. 

The water corporation’s bill for disposing of the 8000 tonnes of Stockton waste – presuming it doesn’t truck it north to Queensland like everybody else – will be about $2.2 million at the council’s Summerhill tip.

The waste levy accounts for half the tip’s $275-a-tonne fee. 

The other half, which amounts to more than $1.1 million, appears destined for the council, which is ironic given some of the waste originates from a former council tip on the Hunter Water land.

The council, which joined Hunter Water in asking for the exemption, argues that waiving its tip fees would pass the burden of paying the levy onto Newcastle ratepayers who are already paying tens of millions in levy funds each year to the state.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the levy, Hunter Water must get on with the job of removing the rubbish sooner rather than later.

Issue: 38,798