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ENERGY SUPPLY – Matters of public importance debate

You would think if the minister wanted to come into this place and insult this side of the chamber, she could do it unscripted, instead of slavishly reading from her notes, with prepared insults. But obviously she is not too nimble on her feet in that regard. I am delighted to rise and lead the coalition in this debate on the energy policies that the Andrews government has put forward. I particularly note paragraph 3 of the matter of public importance: (3) the Victorian default offer is giving families and small businesses a fair price on energy … That must be a pretty powerful policy considering the legislation has not even passed the upper house yet and considering that the Essential Services Commission has not even employed someone to set the default price, much less actually set the price itself.I call on the minister to perhaps reword her matter of public importance to be more accurate. It also never ceases to amaze me how this government and indeed all Labor governments just refuse to take responsibility for the mess that they cause Victorians. This and other Labor governments have been in office in Victoria for 16 of the last 20 years. While those opposite continue to say that the privatisation of our energy generators by the Kennett government is the cause of all our woes, they have had the best part of 20 years to do something about it. And we should not think that they have not tried, of course. They have put forward policies that have done nothing except add to the problem that Victorian householders face when they look to pay their bills. They have put policies in place that have only forced prices up over the last 20 years. Do not just take it from me; it is also on record that a former Deputy Premier, John Thwaites, said that the policies that he and his government put forward have been directly responsible for the price rises that we have seen in this state. The environment that we find ourselves in and the environment that households find themselves in as they bend under the weight of cost of living pressures are largely the fault of this and successive Labor governments. The minister said in her contribution that this government is wasting no time in making sure that prices are brought down. This is their fifth year in office. When this matter of public importance notes the commitment, it must be a newfound commitment because for the last four years, which way have prices gone? I ask the chamber rhetorically: which way have prices gone? They have only gone one way. They have gone up under this government, and they look to go up further. You should not listen to a word this government has said. For example, when Hazelwood  shut down, when it was forced to close under the policies of this government, the minister said that power prices would only rise by 4 per cent or that that would equate to about 85 cents a week for the energy user in Victoria. Of course we have seen prices rise far beyond that, something in the order of 25 per cent, which at the time even the Premier said was a wild and inaccurate possibility, much less the sorts of price rises that some businesses have had to face which have been 100, 200 or even up to 300 per cent.

The environment that we find ourselves in, the environment of high energy prices and household spending under the weight of cost of living pressures, is a direct result of this government’s policies—whether it is the 2002 policy to implement full retail contestability, the 2009 policy to remove retail price regulation or the policy to triple coal royalties and force a coal generator out of business. For those members who have not been here that long, I sat in this chamber when Peter Batchelor was minister for energy and he told this chamber and indeed all Victorians that the introduction of smart meters would result in lower prices flowing to all Victorians. And what did it do? After the Victorian energy users spent $2.5 billion to have the smart meters introduced, what have we seen? We have seen nothing in this state except higher price rises. That is the environment that we find ourselves in. We have more unreliable power, we have dearer power and we also have policies that affect jobs. It was interesting to listen to the member for Morwell when in question time yesterday he asked a pretty straightforward question of the minister. It was not a gotcha question; it was a pretty straightforward question: what modelling has been done to show the impact that closing other coal-fired power generators in the Latrobe Valley would have on jobs? It was a fairly straightforward question. You would think that amongst other priorities of the government jobs might be an important one, particularly in the Latrobe Valley, which again has been bending under the weight of 17 per cent unemployment, exacerbated by the policies of this government to force the closure of Hazelwood power station, putting 700 people out of work overnight—700 direct jobs gone, not to mention the indirect jobs, with restaurants, businesses and travel agents reporting cancellations of holidays and cancellation of events and all those sorts of things. The impact on the Latrobe Valley as a result of this government’s policies has been enormous.

It was not an unfair question for the member for Morwell to come into this place yesterday and actually ask the government of the day, ‘What further impact are your policies going to have on my community?’. The fact that the government and the minister danced around that is an indictment of them. Certainly for someone who consistently says in her statements to this chamber, ‘Let me be clear’, she could not be more ambiguous and vague if she tried, because in many cases the contributions from the minister leave people none the wiser as to where this government is going on energy policy and indeed the impacts that the government’s policies are having on the wider Victorian community. Let me move on to some of the policies or some of the finer points of this matter, including the Victorian default offer, which we debated in this place two weeks ago. During that time I challenged government members to actually stand up in this place and guarantee Victorian energy users that there would be no‑one worse off under this policy, and of course not one member could do it. Not one member could assure the Victorian community that the deeply discounted offers that many of the second and third-tier retailers were putting forward to the community would be left as they were. The government cannot guarantee that these sorts of discounted offers that many in the community enjoy—and as I said in this chamber two weeks ago, probably there are members of Parliament here who enjoy similar offers—will not move.

Research that has been put out by the Australian Energy Market Commission and indeed the Australian Energy Council show us that those deeply discounted offers will probably and almost certainly rise over the course of time as third‑tier retailers are forced out of the market as a result of competition being killed by this legislation and by this policy direction. A significant impost on energy users right around the state will be made as a result of this policy, and every piece of research and every piece of reporting and modelling that have gone into this particular issue will show that that is indeed the case. As I said, it does not take much to go through some of these documents to show that that is the case. Indeed, if I can go back to some of the issues that were raised earlier with regard to energy policy, would Victorians really think that the minister who is telling them that prices will go down as a result of this government’s policies should actually be believed? I go back again to other policies of Labor governments. I go to the 2002 policy around full retail contestability. John Thwaites was quoted in the newspaper in 2015 as saying that that part of the policy had not worked and the retail component had increased very substantially. He said that in developing the policy to deregulate energy retailers everyone expected there would be more competition and therefore a reduction in bills, and the figures show that that has not happened. As I said, every Victorian is bending under the weight of these extraordinary cost of living pressures. Just a few weeks ago the Herald Sun reported that more than 1000 Victorian households a week had been disconnected from electricity and gas because of unpaid bills. Energy retailers cut off a staggering 55 474 retail customers last financial year.

When speaking on the Victorian default offer bill last week, the member for Wendouree made comments about record disconnections under the government—I think she was referring back to the Kennett government 20 years ago—but indeed completely failed to comment on –  Actually it might have been the Napthine government. Was it? The 20 per cent surge in disconnections that this government has been overseeing is certainly something which should be taken into account. It should not be ignored by any member of this chamber who gets up to discuss these matters. I move onto paragraph (4) of the matter of public importance: (4) the failure of the federal Morrison government in energy policy. I just want to point out first of all that to say the federal government is failing on policy when one of their policies is a default market offer seems quite ludicrous. t seems quite bizarre that a government that has brought in a default market offer particular to Victoria says that a federal government that is bringing in a similar policy for around the nation has had a failure of policy. It is essentially the same policy. Indeed, how can it be a failure of policy when the federal government on 1 January got retailers to lower their standing offer prices and made sure retailers were offering targeted discounts for their concession customers? As a result of federal government policies retailers like AGL have taken 10 per cent off the whole bill for all standing customers, Energy Australia 15 per cent off the usage component for all concession standing customers and Origin 17 per cent off the whole bill for non-concession customers on standing offers. The list goes on of savings that federal government policy has overseen. I think to say that that is a failure when energy users in Victoria are paying less as a result of federal policies is again particularly bizarre. There are other federal government policies such as renewable energy investment, with Australian electricity statistics showing that clean energy investment was at its highest ever level in 2018, setting a new record of $13 billion. This government talks about renewable energy a great deal. The fact that the federal government is investing in it as well shows that the federal government is certainly on the right track when it comes to investing in renewable energy. The government members in the chamber laugh, but the reality is that these are facts—$13 billion in renewable energy investment. There are waste-to-energy projects that the government has invested in—certainly again not bad policy.

The federal government has a commitment to the targets of the Paris agreement, which it says it will reach eight years ahead of time. There are waste-to-energy projects, as I said. There is a retailer reliability obligation agreed to at the Council of Australian Governments meeting, again a policy that the federal government put forward that this minister, the Victorian minister, actually signed an agreement with. If she thinks of it as a failure of energy policy at a federal level, then why did she sign up to implement a retailer reliability obligation, which was a key priority of the Australian government? There has been a $67 million investment in energy efficiency programs to cut costs and emissions in a way that will enable small businesses to claim grants of up to $20 000 for high-energy-using businesses. This is a scheme very similar to one I introduced when I was environment minister: Smarter Resources, Smarter Businesses. It is an opportunity for businesses to assess where they are in regard to their energy usage and find ways of making sure that they are more efficient so there is more money in their business for research, development, expansion—things of that nature. Certainly all of these policies that the Victorian government is talking about are actually policies that the federal government has put forward to ensure that there is a focus on renewables, a focus on using our resources more efficiently and a focus on making sure that energy prices come down and that the cost-of-living pressures that Victorian households are experiencing are less than they currently are—not only currently are but have been over successive Victorian Labor governments with policies that have only hurt them. In a nutshell we can clearly see that it is in fact Labor policies that have caused the sort of pressures that Victorian households are facing. A number of issues have been raised about its policy around the Victorian default offer, which the government has completely failed to address during the course of the debate and indeed outside of this chamber when it is talking about this particular policy direction.

The fact that the Victorian government has pointed to the failure of the federal government on energy policy shows that theirs is a position put forward with blinkers on, because the federal government’s policy mirrors in many ways the policies that this government is putting forward. The Victorian government should be taking a bipartisan approach and putting forward policies centred and focused on the pressures that Victorian households are facing. Rather than embracing the policies of the federal government, which are very similar to the ones the Victorian government is talking about, the government has instead sought to paint the federal policies as out of touch. In many ways they are the same as those the Victorian government is putting forward. In short, it has been Victorian Labor governments that have caused the pressures that many Victorians are facing. This particular matter of public importance draws a long bow to say the least. Certainly the policies that we will be putting together over the next three or four years will be ones that are focused on Victorian energy users, and that will be our focus rather than the partisan focus that the government is taking.

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