Another disastrous "Green" scheme in Australia
Home water tanks were subsidized by the Qld. government in lieu of building new dams
Three years ago, owning a water tank business was a licence to print money. Then the rebates were cut and the rains came. Now what was the busiest industry on the block is practically non-existent, as 400 water tank operators have been whittled to 12.
Millions of dollars have been lost, businesses have disappeared and customers wanting tanks for their homes have evaporated.
Leisa Donlan, from independent body the Association of Rotational Moulders, said it was the "industry that has been forgotten".
"Lives have been absolutely shattered by this. What the state government did by introducing the rebate and then cutting it all of a sudden was just awful," she said. "Family businesses have been ruined. Our staff have been suicidal some days after counselling the people involved. "Losing a business is a very human thing."
Department of Environment and Resource Management figures showed that across the state more than 250,000 Queenslanders claimed the rebate for a water tank.
"At the peak of the drought and the WaterWise Rebate Scheme, there were four-month waits. Manufacturers were working 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Ms Donlan said.
"State government ministers themselves came out and said that the industry needed to invest in better equipment to keep up with the demand, to step it up.
"Then, all of a sudden in June 2007, as quickly as it started, the rebate for the tanks stopped. Manufacturers had spent tens of millions of dollars buying new equipment to cope with the excessive demand and all of a sudden the demand was gone. Overnight. It was devastating."
Toby Peacock, owner of Brisbane water tank business QTank, said the abolition of the rebate, coupled with the breaking of the drought, had all but "killed" the industry.
"During the height of the drought, water was all everyone was talking about. People were desperate for water tanks, desperate to conserve water and everyone was wanting to safeguard themselves," he said.
"But once the rebate ended and the drought started to break, people moved on to talking about something else. They forgot how important it is to conserve water. Tanks were no longer fashionable."
Under Brisbane City Council planning regulations, all new dwellings must include a 5000-litre water tank to gain approval.
This regulation is the only thing keeping a handful of operators in business, Mr Peacock said. "Every night I go to bed nervous, praying that when I wake up in the morning, the government won’t have cancelled this regulation," he said.
Ms Donlan said the lack of support for the industry was disappointing because it was highly likely water consumption would be an issue again in the future.