COMMONWEALTH PROPERTY LIABILITY FOR WATER RATES : PAYMENT ACCORDING TO FLOOR SPACE . POWER OF COMMONWEALTH TO LEGISLATE FOR SUPPLY OF WATER
The Mackay Water Authority has rendered a voucher for £12, being rates for the Custom House on 4,799 square feet at 5s per 100 square feet.
The Sub-Collector on 3 March wrote informing the Town Clerk that rates could only be charged by meter; but the Town Clerk replied that the Municipal by-laws provide that all charges to Government buildings should be made on the superficial area of the floor, and that the Council intends to adhere to this system, and will refuse to supply water on any other terms.
On 18 December 1901(1), I gave an opinion that the Commonwealth was not liable to be rated by water authorities, but that such authorities were not bound to supply water free of charge to Commonwealth premises. The following is an extract from that opinion:
Though the Commonwealth cannot be rated, it must pay for what it consumes. The matter seems to be one for arrangement with the Municipal Councils and the Board of Water Supply and Sewerage. The most satisfactory arrangement would probably be for a supply by meter according to the established rate of charges for water so supplied.
The Government, however, may arrange for payment on any basis which they think reasonable, and which they can arrange with the water authorities. As those authorities have a monopoly of the supply, they are to a certain extent in a position to dictate terms; though doubtless any refusal to supply water on reasonable terms to the Commonwealth premises might be dealt with by Federal legislation.
There is no constitutional objection to the Government agreeing to pay for the water on the basis of floor space. It should be made clear, however, that the payment is for water supplied, and that there is no admission of any right to rate the Commonwealth.
The only question is as to the fairness of the charge having regard to the quantity of water consumed and its price to local consumers.
[Vol. l,p. 384]
(1) Not published [Vol. 1, p. 236].