Is there some reason the state should accept responsibility for our excreta?

In considering this question these things come to mind:

  • about 2 million Australians have on site sewage systems and drink rainwater each day
  • no one dies from those systems (except from a council sewage system which polluted some oysters some years ago and one person died)
  • where does the sewage go when it’s pumped?

Doesn’t being a mature citizen include the personal obligation to take care of our own waste and other needs unless we’re vulnerable and can only get by with the aid of the state?

On this issue – energy and pollution from pumping water and sewage – Sydney Water is among the State’s 20 biggest carbon polluter because of the energy used to pump its water and sewage.

The argument that it’s the state’s responsibility to handle the excreta of its citizens is being made strongly by 72 households across the Blue Mountains. Their “Sort Out Our Sewerage Campaign” started when, from 1 July 2014, residents incurred over a 950 per cent increase in their septic pump out fees. Residents were paying approximately $600 a year, but now have to pay at least $220 a fortnight or $5720 a year. Some residents are paying up to $300 a fortnight!

They say “This financial impost affects families, pensioners and single mothers alike and there have been no alternative and affordable options made available to residents for this essential service of sewerage provision (Essential Services Act, 1988)”:

They say, “This grossly unfair situation is the result of the recent decision by the NSW Government to prematurely abolish a septic pump subsidy. This is also in spite of the fact that some residents received as part of their conveyancing documentation in the purchase of their home, a letter from Sydney Water stating a subsidy would be in place and their property would be continually monitored for mains connection.”

Their solutions are:

  • That the septic pump out subsidy should be immediately reinstated – and should never have been removed before viable and affordable options were made available to residents for their sewerage disposal
  • That the NSW Government and Sydney Water should complete the work in the Blue Mountains and connect the remaining households to mains sewerage infrastructure
  • And, That Minister Kevin Humphries and the Member for Blue Mountains, Mrs Roza Sage, should meet with the affected community and the Blue Mountains City Council once and for all, and to open the discussion regarding this issue and the exploration of viable and affordable options for residents.

Unless we’re vulnerable and can’t be independent, when we place ourselves at the mercy of the state we surrender our rights to be treated as a mature citizen; instead we become subservient, dependent. A vulnerable citizen is owed a duty of care by the state – that’s what it’s there for, to do justice and deliver equity to those unable to have it without state intervention.

If that’s wrong – and it may be – surely it’s true that simply as a matter of how power is exercised that, having made ourselves dependent upon the state, we lose much of our bargaining power and hand over most control to the service provider state?

Any of us in Australia can put an on site sewage system in for about $7000- $14,000, and never pay water or sewage bills again; it’s in my book, Sustainable House, and there’s one in my backyard. If the put-upon citizens of the Blue Mountains bought on site systems in bulk the per item cost would come down by at least 10 per cent for an order of 10, I guess.

In summary, these citizens could set themselves free for about the same fees they’re paying to Sydney Water each year.

Citizenship has its rewards, and sometimes, as here, they can be financial.

It’s their choice, not governments’.

 Read a highly entertaining previous Burr by Michael Mobbs that discusses what happened when the sewage system at his house failed, Sustainable House book extracts: the things that worked and the nasty smelly things that didn’t – Ed

Michael Mobbs designed, built and lives in Sydney’s Sustainable House. His books, Sustainable House and Sustainable Food are best sellers, giving practical examples of how to live and eat sustainably in our cities. See

Bathurst Burr, pictured – “A burr under the saddle of government, red tape and sustainability police”

2 replies on “Bathurst Burr: Whose poo is it, anyway?”

  1. Hi, Anon

    Great to have your comment; thank you.

    Yes, septic tanks can smell.

    But there’s more to on site sewage than septics – a whole world of options, many of which are in Australia. They don’t smell.

    About ten years ago over 43% of new housing in the US had on site systems due to reliability, affordability and simple, effective maintenance due to back to base alarms.

    The types of systems, how to prevent smells and tips on how to keep all your sewage on site by reusing it to flush your toilet, wash your clothes and garden with are in my book, Sustainable House. It’s easy. Cheap. Liberating. And red tape and bullying-by-government-monopolies free.



  2. But, as you ask, where DOES the septic tank poo go Michael?

    Also, septic tanks can on the odd occasion and with the right (or is, wrong?) wind direction, be quite smelly. I know some sellers of such systems say “doesn’t smell! yay!” but that’s hogwash.

    whether old or new,
    a septic tank I’ve not met,
    that didn’t occasionally smell like poo.
    – Anon. (i.e. Mowgli!)

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