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Plumbing isn’t a topic that excites most people (current readers excepted of course), but it should. Master Plumbers CEO Peter Daly explains why.
Those of us who live in Australia’s suburbs and towns often take our plumbing set up for granted. We turn on a tap and expect to see clean, healthy, fresh water that’s fit for human consumption. We drink it without a second thought, use it when we’re cooking and for personal hygiene.
For most of us, most of the time, plumbing is something we forget about because it does exactly what it should, when we want it to. Yet plumbing is the basis of public health. Every year, around the globe, about two million people die from water-borne diseases.
Preventable and unnecessary, water-borne diseases are prevalent among our fellow Australians. The ones who aren’t fortunate enough to live in a town or suburb where things just work or where a qualified plumbing contractor or tradesperson isn’t far away.
They are in remote Aboriginal communities where there are serious health and social issues related to drinking water and sanitation.
Too often, the sheer size of Australia and the vast distances that separate Aboriginal communities from regional towns mean they lack the immediate plumbing services urban Australians take for granted. Essential plumbing repairs may be left unattended, not because of neglect but because of the time it takes to get a plumber out to do the work.
Inevitably, there are public health consequences. Water-borne diseases and poor hygiene result in health issues that in turn affect educational outcomes, life choices and the quality of life.
If there were people in the communities with plumbing skills and qualifications, they could fix broken pipes and leaky taps and do other essential maintenance work. A plumbing apprenticeship requires a young person to first successfully complete a high school education, then undertake a four-year training program with fixed blocks of time away from his or her community, learning and working in a regional centre or capital city.
It’s hard to appreciate the dislocation and separation from family and culture this requires. Little wonder that few young people start apprenticeships, yet alone complete them.
Few people understand this challenge better than activist, philanthropist and musician Sir Bob Geldof, the driving force behind world-changing campaigns such as Live Aid.
In Perth recently to launch a life changing project to deliver sustainable plumbing and sanitation solutions to remote communities around Australia, he reinforced the critical contribution of the plumbing industry to improving public health.
“Nearly every civilization since it sprang up has tried to do what you do, which is to create sanitation and healthy conditions for society to function within,” Sir Bob said.
“And yet today, poor sanitation is the cause of more than 1,200 deaths of children under five per day. To put that in perspective, that’s more than AIDS, TB and malaria combined.
“The lack of effective sanitation costs the world an estimated $223 billion every year - every dollar spent on sanitation provides at least $5 in economic return. Now apply that to some of the remote communities here and even if you don’t measure the pure economic return in terms of GDP but in terms of human value, it’s extreme.”
Sir Bob turned to the plumbing community at the launch and said: “I put it to you that with the ingenuity in this room alone, with the organisational structure that you’ve got here, you could radically alter how we manage not just the structures of a society but of the entire global environmental system.”
Enter Better Life Outcomes, a visionary program that is bolder and wider-reaching than anything any government or private sector organisation has attempted before. It has the support of local communities, Aboriginal corporations, industry associations and trade unions. It owes much to the vision and commitment from people like Master Plumbers’ Scott Dowsett (Victoria), Murray Thomas (Western Australia), and Earl Setches, Secretary of the Plumbing & Pipe Trades Employees Union.
Better Life Outcomes has two broad aims: to address underlying plumbing and sanitation problems in communities and to provide training and employment opportunities to transform lives and qualify more Aboriginal plumbers.
The program is being driven by the Indigenous Plumbing & Sanitation Foundation, Master Plumbers & Gasfitters Association of WA, Master Plumbers Australia, Nirrumbuk Aboriginal Corporation, Plumbing Industry Climate Action Council, and the Plumbing & Pipe Trades Employees Union of Australia.
Michael Long, former AFL star and indigenous advocate, is the program ambassador. Master Plumbers and Gasfitters Association of WA CEO Murray Thomas said it was time for industry and government to take a collaborative approach to delivering long-term outcomes.
“We need to get away from expensive band-aid measures currently in place to address issues affecting remote communities and investigate and implement improvements that are sustainable and self-manageable,” Mr Thomas said.
“That includes a new approach to education and training, and in particular the development of more flexible and culturally appropriate apprenticeship programs. These are services that must be permanently available within communities and can offer long-term employment opportunities for Aboriginal people.”
The Better Life Outcomes program will commence with pilots being run at communities in Western Australia’s Kimberley region and in regional Victoria.
Peter Daly is a Director of the Indigenous Plumbing and Sanitation Foundation.