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The Cost of Living

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Tags: Cost of Living, Renewable Energy

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to remind the minister for Energy and Resources that any increases in power prices that came about prior to the Liberals taking government were in fact set by the Economic Regulator and they were the consequence, as the history tells us, of a widespread 'gold-plating' of the transmission network system. That is why power prices went up.

This minister's record on power prices which he speaks of, often falsely, will be cold comfort to those people who this past winter have had significant spikes in their power bills. Even our little place at Nubeena - three months, one bedroom, a $1000 power bill - that is out of this world. The minister needs to be more frank and a bit less self-congratulatory about what is really happening out there because the evidence that has come to us this past winter is that power prices are increasing.

If you are really serious about making sure you are bringing down the cost of living for everyday Tasmanians, but particularly people on low-to-medium incomes, then what you need to do is invest in energy efficiency for low-to-medium income households. That is the best way to bring down power bills for the long term. You can take $500 a year off people's power bill simply by making their house more thermally-efficient, changing the light bulbs, sealing the draughts, and making sure that the hot water system is insulated. Those are simple measures that Government can take to bring down power prices, which we did under the Labor/Greens government with a massive roll-out of energy efficiency to 9500 low income households, small businesses and community groups. If you are serious about cost of living and taking the pressure of low income households, Government should intervene and enable this energy efficiency roll-out.

There is no question that the cost of living is on the rise and it has become a key concern in the lives of Tasmanians. We have COVID-19, where thousands of people were put out of work, and you have long-term wages stagnation in this country over the last 15 years or so, while the cost of living, the price of basic goods, continues to go up. Only yesterday when I read into Hansard some of Shelter's budget submission, it was clear that we are the least affordable capital city in the country for rents, even less affordable than Melbourne, yet our average income, medium income, is about $63 000 to 64 000 a year.

This Government has under-invested in social and affordable housing which jacks-up the cost of living to people who are in the private rental market. Life is becoming increasingly unaffordable and, yes, we need to have systems in place to support families that are on the bread line. We need FoodBank, Second Bite, our food organisations that are there to support families who are doing it really tough. But we also need to think a little bit long-term because those emergency food relief services are not the only answer to deal with food security.

There are food deserts in Tasmania where families cannot get fresh fruit and vegetables. We have some of the most productive farms and finest produce anywhere in the country, and yet our kids in rural and regional Tasmania, in urban fringes, are going without fresh fruit and vegetables. We can do better. It is about the choices we make as a community and it is about the choices government makes. For too long governments have been thinking in the short-term. If you are serious about food security you need to work with farmers, you need to look at your supply chains, you need to make sure that you are providing fresh fruit and vegetables and quality produce throughout Tasmania and into communities.

We should be encouraging people to learn how to grow their own produce. We saw a lot of that happen during the lockdown months. You could go into Bunnings looking for fruit and vegetable seedlings and they had all been sold out, which was fantastic because households were taking their food security into their own hands.

We do need to make cost of living a priority because when people are polled about their key concerns, cost of living is right up there. People feel that pain in their back pocket and parents feel it when they send their kids off to school in a uniform that is from the year before last and shoes that are half a size too small.

In closing I will just say this: if either of the two parties in this place apart from the Greens are serious about cost of living and taking the pressure off low-income Tasmanians they will not support the legislation that will embed poker machines in communities until 2048 because that rips money out of families' pockets, takes food away from children and entrenches poverty and disadvantage in our community.