Septic, Waste Water - New Standard Failure?

There are 1.4 million Aussie homes according to this report not able to connect to a reticulated sewage system. That’s approx 1 in 6 residential properties, (high rise, flats etc not included).

Briefly, the new standard has been developed without significant consumer input. Arguably it has also favoured one technical solution and therefor industry segment over all others.

The updated standard favours complex automated Aerated Waste Water Treatment Systems (AWS or AWWS shortened). These require electrical power. They range in cost, but up to $20,000 per system installed is often quoted. Additionally local councils and regulation require these to be inspected and maintained by a licensed person. Quarterly inspections, chemicals as needed and power to operate can easily add $1,000 as an annual running cost.

The ABC report suggests the runaway train is already leaving the station. Like swimming pool fences, state and local government have demonstrated their power to enforce change.

In this instance is it change for all the right reasons or vested industry interests take advantage of consumers?

The industry is currently worth $100’s of millions. Potentially the future is more than $1B in annualised maintenance income plus a similar turnover each year for new installs.

I’ve previously made note that it is an area for which Choice could deliver more value to it’s members living in regional and rural Australia, by helping consumers understand the full range of products, technology and costs. @jhook, @BrendanMays


Our various levels of government seem adept at making rules and regulations that at end of the day do little more than create winners and losers in business, or just make ‘business’ the winner, as well as some rules and regulations that withstand scrutiny no matter how ‘diced or sliced’. Whether a particular rule or regulation falls into one or the other is often arguable, and other times it is obvious.


I think jumping up and down may be premature.

Just because a new standard has been approved (in 2017) does not mean every system must be updated to that standard. My Council says nothing about it and still lists Septic Systems, AWTS etc as options. The advent of the previous standard for AWTS in 2008 did not mean passive systems had to be upgraded to active systems. I would like to see some authoritative pronouncement from local government about the impact of this new standard and which systems (if any) will become superseded. The only reference I could see in the linked article on the official side of was Standards Australia who are NOT responsible for implementation.

More information is required but it is entirely possible this is bad reporting generating a tempest in a teacup.

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When there is a lack of transparency in the decision process, one must always question whether there are vested interests at play.

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That is correct, and the standard applies to new installations and not existing ones…

‘While new rules only apply to newly-installed systems, AWTS units typically need to be replaced within 15 to 25 years, Dr Murray said.’

The comment also only relates to AWTS and not passive systems which should have a far longer life.

As discussed in another thread, Australian standards aren’t law and it will only be when state or local governments enact laws/planning provisions which are consistent with the standard, will any change be effective. Generally such will apply to new installations and not existing installations consistent with the standard.


It’s the 1,200 litres a day that is frightening. This is for rural properties on tank water, where the old 5,000 Gal tank is 22,730 litres = 19 days worth.

Our nearest town of 600 people is fully septic as the Council has said repeatedly, that it is too expensive to sewer it. Due to the rush from the cities and the cheap land, there are many new houses / liveable sheds on the drawing board.

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Government has always had the option to move the goal posts. Otherwise the pool fencing safety laws would still only apply to new pools and not existing.

True for that comment, however septic systems typically require their waste water trenches to be replaced after a period of use due to the build up of solids. This can be as little as 10 years, but typically 15-25 years. The older concrete style tanks also suffer from decay of the concrete at the surface adjacent to the crud layer (fatty acids).

The proposition being put in the ABC report is that application of the standard favours a particular outcome. In our instance the local council forces application of the standard in it’s latest revision at any opportunity. The council can and does refuse repair or replacement of septic systems with like.

The Qld State Govt appears to have applied two cut off dates with 2019 revisions to the relevant code. One relates to approvals of existing systems and a date commencing 01 Jan 2021. The other 01 Jan 2024. I’ll take it that the professionals looking at the issues reported by the ABC know the significance of the changes in the Australian Standard, it’s application under the respective codes and legislation in each state, and responses of local government.

If one is worried about having to replace or repair your septic, a talk to your local council might determine if it is a teacup or tornado. I’m keen to open up the discussion of the options. In particular which of the powered systems are best, and if permitted which of the passive alternatives can comply.

Some observations:
We had an extension proposal for our 3 bedroom home Sunshine Coast Council area. It included a hydrology and waste water system assessment by a professional accredited for that purpose. The reconfiguration added no more bedrooms, but added an extra toilet. The same maximum number of occupants. That is all it takes. Even relocating a toilet or bath or shower can trigger a council requirement for a new approval!

There are also our 20+ neighbours who have or had septic. At least one when their septic failed was refused council approval to replace with other than an AWTS. Our outside the house plumber has told us they cannot repair or replace any of our black or grey water trenches, or septic tank if it fails/leaks. We/they need council approval as for a new system. Several of our neighbours have received the same advice from their plumbing providers when they have had issues with their septic or grey water disposal.

They do and could with everything we use, consume or do. But they don’t.

There is no need to fret about something hypothetical, which may never happen. The time to take action, if one is concerned, is when government goes out for consultation with green or white papers, draft legislation etc. Otherwise efforts will be wasted for no real reason.

That might be one point the ABC report left open.

In the instance of our local council, ‘but they do’!
The evidence is with the neighbours who now have AWTS.

For our property I have the first hand knowledge of our local plumber and sewage expert, a building certifier and an authorised waste water system designer. I don’t doubt the ABC is highlighting a real issue.

Not every council may be as resolute. For those of us likely affected a real issue. I’m open to considering that if our existing septic presents a risk or concern in our circumstances, it will need to be upgraded, rather than renewed/repaired.

Please give us the space to discuss all aspects. No need for empathy, understanding optional. :wink:

P.S. it’s really a discussion for just 1.4 million of us, 500,000 in Queensland.

In an idealistic world that is the case. In our real world it is often the case that all that rigmarole is circus at worst or theatre at best, and on occasion is done in good faith toward the electorate with questionable competence, and a few times all works for the best for everyone.

We have an OT problem down the road with an iconic tree’d roundabout being replaced by what is almost (?) an MCG of concrete. Government (state and its agency, MPs and Minister involved) has gone full on despite significant local community opposition, shire opposition, and activist opposition, design based on outdated statistics and ignoring a significant upgrade in another area that most agree changes the equation, and they decline to explain how it solves any of the problems they cite as the raison d’etat for the project.

From many exchanges with our state MP (government side of the chamber) I deduced she (Transport Sect’y) has been read the riot act for party discipline; the government department seems to have a not invented here syndrome; but every box you cite has been ticked in the history of the project. After a year+ of what now appears to be lip service the responsive tone is ‘sorry this is not the answer you wanted’ translated to it is going to be done, too bad.

This could also be cross-linked under ‘do our ministers behave morally correctly’.

Would many issues be easier to deal with if ‘dealing experiences’ were not so often similar? It could be different in other localities and my experience is a sample of 1. Sadly it is possible this single issue could flip the seat at the next state election, but they are taking the punt and risking it, having done some good work they hope will offset this.

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Their web site says the same stuff it did years ago:

On-site Sewage Management

If you live in a rural, rural residential area or in a small village and you’re not connected to the MidCoast Council Water Services sewerage system, you will need an on-site sewage management (OSSM) system.

OSSM systems include:

  • traditional septic tanks
  • pump-out systems
  • aerated wastewater treatment systems
  • composting units
  • reed beds, sand filters and mounds.

The detailed manual about assessment of onsite sewage plants (115 pages) is dated 2012. There is no mention of any update to AS 1546 so I would have to phone them to find out. On the face of it there is no evidence of any “favoured one technical solution and therefor industry segment over all others.” All categories are available.

Indeed. Our usage is about 150 l per day when it is just two. Even with a big crowd here we wouldn’t use 1200.


We have one of these systems as it was a better solution than cutting a swathe through bush crossing two roads and pumping uphill to join the sewer. It works well. I am comforted by the quarterly inspections as I am certain all is working as it should.


We also have an Aerated Waste Water Treatment system, living on a rural residential block in central vic (2 people). All our water supplied to the house is rain water from 2 X 27,000lt tanks. Our waste water, that is all water leaving the house, goes into the treatment system, where it is processed, and as the cleaned water accumulates it is pumped out into the gardens (underground soakage system).

Our system has been installed for about 12 years and works well. Similar to septic systems, they need to be pumped out approx each 10 years (specialist required) and ours was done in 2018 as our maintainer advised having it done.

Yes, there is electricity required to run the pump out pump and also the air pump for the aeration system, which would add to our electricity costs, though we have 4.8KW of solar panels which clearly go some part to offset the cost.

The greatest ongoing cost is the maintenance (approx $80 per quarter). This can be an issue as until last couple of years, the maintainer was coming up from Melb to do the service which meant there was increased costs. Maintenance must be done by qualified people (general plumbers, with additional training).

All that being said, we are happy with the system