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Electricity, Water and Sewerage Pricing (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2020

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Tags: Legislation, Cost of Living, Renewable Energy, Water, Sewerage

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, the Greens support this legislation. It is a necessary bill in a time of pandemic. It will provide some certainty to both Aurora and TasWater about the prices that may be set over the next year, but it will reassure Tasmanians that there will not be upwards pressure on the price of their power, water and sewerage.

We are heading into a calamitous global recession. I do not want to be what Mr Tucker would call the doomsayer, the Cassandra, the prophetess of doom, in this place, but all the signs are there that the world is heading into a significant serious and deep global recession. At some point the rubber is going to hit the road with things like regulated price setting. It is really important that in Tasmania we have an independent economic regulator and a system of setting prices that is by and large above politics. At some point, the Government or parliament is going to have to take the brake off the economic regulator, otherwise what is the point of having an independent economic regulator?

We need to be mindful of that and the potential for very significant shocks to people when they receive their water and sewerage bill and their electricity bills. I hope that is something the Government is actively considering. While it makes sense to extend the regulatory pricing period to the middle of 2022, economists are telling us that we are only just beginning to see the evidence of a global depression.

The Reserve Bank, for example, when it cut interest rates to 0.5 per cent, is projecting that interest rates will stay at record lows for years to come. That is an acknowledgement that the global economy is staggering and reeling as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. I too have spoken to constituents who got a terrible shock when their electricity bill arrived this year. The months of lockdown and the pandemic were the winter months, so not only were people home more and there were more people in the house during the day, it was colder. Of course, the power bills have soared. Any government that is thinking about this clearly and strategically and wants to deliver long-term cost-of-living benefits to electricity consumers needs to have a look at the Labor-Greens government's energy efficiency rollout program. That is how you deliver permanent savings to people on their electricity bill.

Of course we need a robust concessions scheme in place. Tasmania has had that for many years. It makes all the difference to the lives of people on Commonwealth support, or low-income people. We are going to see the price of utilities increase. You cannot keep a lid on electricity price rises for ever. The same goes for water and sewerage. I encourage the Government to think about this. For a fraction of the allocation, for example, of the $3.1 billion infrastructure fund, we could roll out free energy efficiency upgrades to every single low-income household in Tasmania for about $2500 a household. That will reduce their power bills by hundreds of dollars every year, as well as bringing down our emissions from energy, because, of course, we do still import coal power across Basslink.

Rather than having to bring in legislation which allows Aurora and TasWater to effectively tread water on their costs, the Government needs to be thinking about long-term investment in bringing down the cost of living for Tasmanian households.

I know there is a financial wall between the expenditure of government as such and a government business, but there is an allocation of a $3 billion-plus Infrastructure budget, so why isn't the Government supporting TasWater to upgrade some of its critical and failing infrastructure? Surely this is the time.

It would have a very similar effect on employment but it would also mean we are modernising and strengthening our water and sewerage infrastructure and we will need to do that in part because of the accelerating impacts of climate change and the likelihood that some of our water and sewerage infrastructure simply will not be able to cope with the high levels potentially of inundation, extreme weather events and the like.

The Greens would be encouraging government to think a bit more long term about how it invests public money in bringing down the cost of living, as well as assisting TasWater, which has been handed a hugely difficult task, to upgrade some of the infrastructure that we know desperately needs upgrading, such as Launceston's water and sewerage system. It is a really hard ask of government to put primarily the cost of all of that on TasWater, which means the cost is borne by customers.

We support the bill because it is a necessary extension of the regulatory period in a time of pandemic, but let us start thinking more long term about how we permanently bring down the cost of living for Tasmanian electricity users by investing in megawatts, which means energy efficiency, and providing some sort of structural capital investment support for TasWater in order to enable it to upgrade the infrastructure that every single Tasmanian relies on.