Archive:   Auditor General - Failing Septic Tanks

Last Updated  25/9/06



Problems For Local And State Governments: Auditor-General's Alarming Report On Failing Septic Tanks

(23/7/06 - E)   While Victoria runs horribly short of water, according to the AG's report there's likely to be a State-wide surplus of the stuff that comes out of failing septic tanks

The Victorian Auditor General recently handed down a report titled "Protecting Our Community And Environment From Failing Septic Tanks".  The report investigates how septic tanks are dealt with across responsible bodies - including government departments, VCAT and Councils - and its findings are sobering, if not chilling.  There are still some 42,000 septic tanks in metropolitan Melbourne awaiting conversion to reticulated sewerage (some progress has been made but septic tanks continue to be approved).  There is no reliable way to count septic tanks in rural areas, so that number is unknown.  The report highlights deficiencies in current processes, including lack of Council resources and skills in approving and effectively managing on-site effluent disposal, lack of record-keeping and information bases in government departments, failure of VCAT to consistently recognise applications shouldn't be approved where land capability won't support on-site effluent disposal, and poor knowledge of responsibilities for on-site disposal by residents/new landowners along with lack of communication, information and inspection on the part of approving authorities.  Click here to see the Auditor General's Executive Summary, or go to the Auditor General's website ( for the full report (note: this is a large file).


MRRA Says:

There is an urgent need to comprehensively and quickly address this issue, particularly in rural potable drinking water catchments where the water which runs over privately-owned land (and failing septic tanks!) is the same water that goes into our reservoirs and then comes out of our taps as drinking water.  Just from recent discussions with some Macedon Ranges' residents, the real scale of problems with on-site effluent disposal could be enormous as two thirds of these residents reported known problems with existing systems.  These included septic tanks on adjoining lots draining to the same distribution pit (which apparently produces an interesting scenario if both households do their washing on the same day), as well as septic tanks being buried under dams and driveways.   Most of us turn our noses up at scenes on TV of effluent running in the streets in other, poorer places in the world.  After this report, perhaps we are not entitled to feel so superior.  The nature and extent of the Auditor General's recommendations themselves tell a sorry story, with some appearing to be so simple and sensible it's hard to believe they aren't happening now.  It won't be easy or inexpensive, but getting effluent under control must become a priority across Victoria, with the State government taking a leading role - morally and financially.  There's just too much to lose if nothing is done, or too little is done too late.