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Byron Shire
July 16, 2024

Conflict claims rejected over Mullum’s future water plans 

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The consultant who advises both Byron Council and water utility Rous has defended accusations that they have a perceived non-pecuniary conflict of interest in undertaking work for multiple clients.

Members of Council’s Water and Sewer Advisory Committee (WSAC) made the claim against consultant Hydrosphere, given the firm provides advice for both Council and Rous.

The WSAC members, all who have expertise in water engineering, are Ben Fawcett, Greens Cr Duncan Dey and Greens councillor candidate Elia Hauge. Last week, The Echo reported that their specific questions around the strategy remain unanswered by Council staff. 

Public submissions close June 30 for the future of Mullum’s water supply, which is currently sourced locally from the Wilsons Creek weir. 

Council staff are pushing to disconnect it, in favour of the town being supplied instead by Rous County Council via its Rocky Creek Dam near Lismore. This view is informed by Hydrosphere’s report.

Cr Dey says the mayor has adopted the position of staff and the consultant, and may be pushing the agenda behind closed doors.

Mayor Michael Lyon’s reply, which was received too late for publication, will be published next week.

Conflict explained

Cr Dey said of the perceived conflict is that the consultant ‘recommends to Rous that it find new sources to satisfy growing demand. Then it recommends to Council that it close down Lavertys Gap and connect to Rous, thus adding demand’. 

Remarkably, while councillors, staff and advisory committee members are required to declare interests and conflicts, consultants are under no such obligation. 

The Echo asked staff why consultants were not required to adhere to a code of conduct when advising Council in technical reports, for example. 

Staff replied, ‘Consultants do need to declare pecuniary interests to Council meetings they’re part of’.

‘But beyond that, the Code comes from the Local Government Act 1993, which is drafted and regulated by the NSW government’.

Staff also said, ‘Council has not received any formal complaints alleging breaches of the code regarding the Mullumbimby Water Supply Strategy’.

The Echo asked consultant Hydrosphere, ‘Does Hydrosphere believe it has a perceived non-pecuniary conflict of interest in providing advice and reports to two clients (Council and Rous) who share financial interests?’

Mick Howland from the company replied in part, ‘Hydrosphere Consulting does not have any conflict of interest in undertaking work for multiple clients’. 

He said, ‘If we were to become aware of a conflict of interest during the execution of a project then we would refer the issue to the client and determine how or whether we would continue to undertake the project’.

‘As consultants, we are subject to council procurement policies and are to expected to comply with statements of business ethics and numerous other guidelines which ensure ethical dealings’.

For more info, visit www.waternorthernrivers.org.

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  1. Absolute madness to abandon an existing high quality water supply that can provide 440ML/a.

    At the capital cost to provide new bulk water supplies in Rous’s report, the Laverty’s gap supply could cost over $20,000,000 to replace elsewhere (Alstonville groundwater etc).

    Water supplied in the Rous area is already some of the most expensive in Australia and these proposals will increase the cost even further.


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