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Electricity Safety Bill 2022

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 19 October 2022

Tags: Legislation, Community Safety

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, the Greens will be supporting the new Electricity Safety Bill 2022. It provides some very important changes to the way operations are done and the way decisions are taken that will make Tasmania a safer place and the people who work around electricity better protected. We support what this bill does to regulate safety and maintenance requirements and to regulate electrical installations and electrical equipment to conform them with national and international standards. We also support the regulation of safety requirements of activities that are near electrical infrastructure and electrical installations and the safety of electrical infrastructure and equipment in their design, maintenance and management so that the people and the properties contained within are not at risk.

We note that Labor has quite a number of amendments and we will discuss them in Committee and consider our position on a case-by-case basis. We look forward to that conversation. We do not have any amendments that we have prepared for this bill.

I want to make some points about it from a climate change point of view. What this bill flags for us is that there has not been enough discussion from the Government about electricity infrastructure and the increasing likelihood of a range of climate change heating events in the future. We are already seeing events - we are in the midst of one right at the moment - and we are seeing the devastation that has been wrought across northern Tasmania. It is pretty confronting. People might have seen a video that was online showing some of the damage across the roads. I thought the boulders were the size of cars until I saw somebody walking between them and realised they were twice the size of the person. That is very challenging for the bridge and the road. Equally, what we saw in the Dunalley bushfires was tens of kilometres where all the powerlines were burnt down, as well as all the fences, the livestock, the trees and the houses that were there as well.

We have some big issues to confront as a society and it is not just Tasmania. All societies around the world are having to take a pretty serious stocktake, if you like, of how we invest in public and private infrastructure. Private companies are mostly getting on with the job of being future looking but governments are very slow. We are concerned that, in Tasmania, the Liberals in the past eight years have not been on the front foot with this. They have not invested and have not required the sorts of planning and forward looking decision making of their GBEs such as Hydro and TasNetworks to name two in particular, but also TasRail, TasPorts: every single industry and every single GBE and public agency will be affected by each natural disaster.

Electricity safety and the supply of reliable continuous electricity is critical for a functioning society. It is about safety, because if we do not have a reliable grid and a reliable electricity supply, people's lives are at risk, and we are seeing that around the world and in Australia with outages in nursing homes and hospitals. That means that people cannot get the medical care or the support they need when they need it and people have died overseas. I hope and expect the institutions in Tasmania have multiple backup systems of generators and other sorts of electricity supply if there is an extreme event and an electricity outage, but there are many people in rural and regional Tasmania or in urban and suburban centres who have not got that organised.

We need to have a big conversation about where we put new electricity infrastructure, transmission and distribution lines. Where do the distribution poles go? Many countries are mandating that they go underground. Obviously if they go underground that immediately reduces the risk of them falling and collapsing during bushfires or extreme wind events or as a result of flooding and trees falling on the line. It takes an enormous amount of constant work out of TasNetworks and private property owners who, within this bill, are required to have continual maintenance scheduled because they live surrounded by vegetation and just to simply make sure that the poles and wires are fit and safe.

We need to have a conversation about how we invest because there is a lot of money spent on people going out, as they are at the moment, in the middle of the night, or voluntarily, not being paid and putting their lives at risk, to clear power lines that are on the road and rebuild poles and wires so that people can have electricity. There are other methods. We have to require our GBEs to undertake a process of talking about climate-proofing poles and wires, and electricity supply for the future. The Government has not taken this on. That means: each year that goes by and as the risk of extreme flooding will increase for every degree in temperature, there will be 7-10 per cent more water circulating in the atmosphere that will fall down as rain. What we are seeing now in northern Tasmania, and expecting to see again at the end of the week, these La Niña patterns stalling across inland Australia and now southern parts of Australia during an Indian Ocean Dipole and La Niña event, will continue.

Who knows what other changes will happen. It is changing all the time but we can be confident that every fraction of a degree brings with it a large increase in the amount of water circulating in the atmosphere that is going to get dumped down, and not by an even measure, unfortunately. If only it were every single day averaged out across the year but it will not be. There might be some years where there will be no rain at all for years.

I would like to hear from the minister whether there was any consideration of the climate change impacts in terms of electricity safety-proofing. It is slightly sideways in this bill but unless we have a climate change lens across all of our legislation, we miss the opportunities to be as forward-thinking as we can with our planning; planning for changes like replacing poles and wires from being overground to being underground. It costs a lot of money and it takes time. We have to ask the question about how long we will be distributing electricity like that.

Maybe we are just going to skip that stage, get rid of poles and wires, and go to individual community solar renewable electricity supply? That will be the case for some communities. There is no doubt that remote islands around Tasmania are already taking that opportunity up. Remote communities are already stand-alone off the grid and we do have a fantastic battery in Tasmania. We have the luxury that other states do not of having one big battery in hydro. I do not think we should all be wanting to get off the grid. We should be making a contribution to renewable electricity generation but that does not mean all going separate. We can use hydro as the great big stabiliser that it is.

The other thing I wanted to talk about was section 35, the vegetation clearance spaces. The director will be determining minimum vegetation clearance spaces and codes of practice in respect to vegetation clearance spaces. Could the Attorney-General talk about whether it is your understanding that regulations will be updated or that standards are in place? Is there any change being expected in that? Who feeds into the standards that are made? Are they state developed or are there national standards we apply when it comes to, for example, overhead power lines and vegetation clearance spaces? That would be useful to understand.

I will not make any further comments now but I look forward to having a discussion in the committee stage of the bill about Labor's amendments.