Water Waste World Bank Photo Collection CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
One of the most irksome things in all of this is not only that Tasmania’s salmon industry is polluting the coastlines and rivers, but that they’re getting the privilege of doing so nearly for free. We, the taxpayers, are footing the bill for this, so that the companies’ shareholders can pocket the dividends. Companies should make money — of course! — but where does one draw the line at profitable companies getting taxpayer-funded handouts. It just isn’t right.
Nearly Free Open-Pen Leases
Ask yourself how much you paid last year for the right to exclusive occupancy of your home and the land it sits on. This would include rent or mortgage payments, rates to your City Council, and any body corporate fees. As an example, one of the members of the Salmon Reform Alliance pays around $24,000 toward their mortgage each year, plus around $3000 in rates to the Hobart City Council. That gives them 179.5 square metres to call their own. How does yours compare?
Now let's compare that with the Tasmanian salmon farming industry. Salmon companies also have property that they call their own, but they don’t own it. They pay lease and license fees for exclusive use of coastal waters owned not by them but by the state — that is, by you and me. But we can’t go there, it’s private property. How much would that cost, you may wonder.
According to a 2019 report by The Australia Institute, the lease fees that year were $2,673 plus $302.94 per hectare . The entire industry occupied a total of 2,257 hectares spread across 44 leases, resulting in a whole-of-industry annual lease fee of $801,348. The license fees are minimal in comparison to the license fees: just $2,765 per lease. If all 44 leases were current, that would amount to another $121,660 per year. To compare apples with apples, that is, to compare this with the annual cost of a private home, this comes out to a cost of just two tenths of a cent per square metre — for exclusive use of public property.
Moreover, the salmon industry pays no royalties for the impact on native wildlife or degradation of natural habitats. And there is no provision for clean up costs. When a lease becomes too polluted to sustain live fish, they just move to another. Free of charge.
Nearly Free Unlimited Freshwater
Last year, many residential properties paid over $650 for water, and you may well have paid at least that. This wasn't big extravagant estate owners, this was people with a small apartment who may even live alone, this was for the basics like showers, laundry, cups of tea, boiling pasta, and watering of plants. It wasn’t a lot of water, but it was a lot of money. Also, just last year, most of Tasmania was facing water restrictions due to drought . So while Tasmania’s half million residents were using water wisely, and some were under stronger directives where watering of lawns and use of a handheld hoses were not permitted, it was a different story for aquaculture. The salmon industry enjoyed unmetered water for a pittance, along with the legal right to pollute it. Don’t believe it? Check these sources...
The Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) is the manager of Tasmania’s freshwater resources in accordance with the provisions stipulated by the Water Management Act 1999. DPIPWE provides two very interesting documents, the Application Fees under the Water Management Regulations 2009 , and the Regulatory Impact Statement: Water Management Regulations 2019 .
The Regulatory Impact Statement document  contains the Act itself. Quoting from this document (pages 28-29, Section 9 for aquaculture): “A licensee is to pay an annual fee of 247.5 fee units for a water allocation on a licence authorising the taking of water from a watercourse – (a) for aquaculture; or (b) for hydro-electricity generation; or (c) for any similar purpose where the water is returned to the watercourse directly after use without significant diminution of the quantity of water taken” . To be clear, that is a flat fee, that is to say, the water is unmetered.
The Application Fees document  stipulates that for 2020-2021, a fee unit is $1.62. By quick math, 247.5 fee units at $1.62 per fee unit equals $400.95. That’s it. Each of the salmon companies paid a total of just $400.95 for water last year. Like them, our residential water is returned to the watercourse directly after use: shower water, toothbrushing water, pasta water, laundry water, even our toilet water… these all go straight into the drain. But whereas our household effluents go into treatment before being discharged to the environment, their hatchery effluents flow straight into our rivers as highly polluting untreated sewage laced with antibiotics and other chemicals. Also note that the fee unit has only gone up 4 cents since 2018. Our water bill has gone up much more than 4 cents in that time. This is neither fair nor equitable.
No Benefit to Tasmania
If this sounds astonishing, it’s because it is. And it isn't even for the betterment of Tasmania. We are being exploited and we just can't give it away fast enough. Using Tassal as an example because it is Tasmania’s largest salmon-producer, it's most recent annual report indicates that at least 18 of the top 20 shareholders are not based in Tasmania . Most of these shareholders are big investment funds like HSBC, JP Morgan, and Citicorp. A few are families or individuals, like Mr Herman Rockefeller, who may be one and the same as the multi-millionaire churchgoing Melbourne businessman murdered and dismembered a few years ago in a grisly sexcapade-gone-horribly-wrong . We digress. These big companies do not pay taxes here, their investors do not live and work here, they are making no contribution of any kind that we can perceive to Tasmania. And yet, every Tasmanian is subsidising their profits.