RURAL FAMILIES TO BE CONSIDERED: Aaron, Oscar, Chloe Cox and Penny Andretta.
RURAL FAMILIES TO BE CONSIDERED: Aaron, Oscar, Chloe Cox and Penny Andretta.

‘Second-class citizens’: Rural residents desperate for help

RURAL ratepayers feel like “second-class citizens” after missing out on drought-relief measures provided by Southern Downs Regional Council.

The water tank rebate scheme grants a concession to ratepayers who pay a water utility access charge, allowing them to receive $2500 toward the purchase of a water tank.

The aim of the rebate is to make water cheaper for residents with an access charge and reduce demand on the region’s water supply.

Rural resident Gina Cork was on board with the plan until she applied at the council office in Warwick.

“They told me it was only for people in town and primary producers,” Ms Cork said.

“My concern is if I’m paying the same rates as everyone else, why aren’t I entitled to the same rebate?

“I felt discriminated against.”

Ballandean resident Aaron Cox said he understood that urban residents paid a higher charge for their water access, but claimed the numbers still didn’t add up.

Once Mr Cox accounted for the higher water charge and cost of carting, he found rural residents paid significantly more than their urban counterparts.

“That’s fine in ordinary circumstances but we have a situation where, for some people, the only way they can get water is to either buy it at $300 a load or get it through some sort of charity,” he said.

Ms Cork said the rebate would have allowed her the ability to increase her self-sufficiency.

“It would take the pressure off having to buy water and then there’d be no need for me to use town water,” she said.

“It’s a win-win.”

Mr Cox said the rebate was the symptom of a larger problem wherein council had “forgotten” rural ratepayers.

“Council has done whatever they can to make sure town water users will continue to have water,” he said.

“But if you live outside of town there’s absolutely no guarantee for water.

“I don’t think council understands how many people are not getting any water to their house.

“They should be responsible for providing water to all of those people, no matter where they live, particularly during drought when they have no other way than to buy from the reticulated water system.”

Mr Cox said he understood the limitations and rules the council was restricted to, but said there were “times when you have to throw the rule book out the window”.

“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures,” he said.

“If we don’t start doing something differently, these people won’t have any water, and that’s against human rights.”

But big changes could be on the way, according to Southern Downs Mayor Tracy Dobie, who said council staff were already investigating what they could do to ease the burden on rural residents.

“We’re trying to figure out where we can get the money from to provide the rebate to rural residents,” she said.

“We want to facilitate that without being a burden on our ratepayers.

“The longer the drought goes on, the more we want to ease that burden on our residents.”

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