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Treasurer Won't Accept Responsibility for No Dividend Return by Hydro

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Tags: Treasury, Renewable Energy, Hydro Tasmania


You have told Parliament that Hydro Tasmania will not be expected to return a dividend to government for the next three years, but isn't it a fact that in the past two years you have bled Hydro of $143.5 million in dividends.  During the recent Senate inquiry hearing, the Energy minister all but confessed that.  Last year, in the middle of a drought, Hydro Tasmania was selling gas on the mainland spot market rather than using the gas for Tamar Valley Power Station, and at the same time exporting to the mainland and running down its storages.  Will you now accept some responsibility for Hydro Tasmania being under such pressure to return dividends to government?  It flogged gas on the mainland and ran down its storages in order to help you deliver a sham budget surplus.


Madam Speaker, I thank the member for that question.  You do not have to go back very far to look at what occurred under the previous government of which this member was a minister.  In one year alone -

Ms O'Connor interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Order.  Allow the Treasurer to answer the question, which was long-winded and contained a number of questions.

Mr GUTWEIN - In one year alone the previous government took a total return of nearly a quarter of a billion dollars out of Hydro.  In the previous year to that, a total return of $115 million, and year before that $115 million again. 

When you look at that four-year period when you were government, around half a billion dollars worth of dividends from Hydro were taken by the previous government.  As the Minister for Energy said yesterday, there are legitimate questions Tasmanians want answered by the previous administration, of which this member was a minister and who sat at the Cabinet table.  Half a billion dollars in dividends were taken from Hydro through that period.

One has to wonder whether Mr McKim was not spot on when he described the behaviour of the previous government.  He said that under the previous government, Hydro prioritised chasing the money rather than looking after the dam levels.  That was the view of your former Cabinet colleague, the leader of the party in this place prior to the last election.  That is the view he has of what occurred about the behaviour that went on.

There are legitimate questions that Tasmanians want answered about the behaviour of the previous government.  Other matters that will need to be explored and looked at carefully through that period will be that the previous government, for eight years, took a special dividend from the Hydro.  It began in 1998-99 and took $40 million a year.

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Madam Speaker.  Standing order 182, a member shall not digress from the subject matter.  You have gone back into ancient history more than a decade ago.

Madam SPEAKER - You know there were a number of questions within your question and a few matters on which the Treasurer is permitted to have latitude. 

Mr GUTWEIN - Madam Speaker, I do not think the standing order says that if you do not like your own behaviour pointed out then you can stand up and call a point of order.  I am sure the Standing Orders do not allow for that. 

In any reasonable inspection of Hydro's finances, that side of the House has some significant questions to answer.  Around half a billion dollars in dividends were taken from the company -

Ms O'Connor interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Order.  I warn the member for Denison, Ms O'Connor, for constant interjections.

Mr GUTWEIN - through the period of the carbon tax.  Very rightly, as the minister said yesterday, there are legitimate questions that need to be answered.  Why did the former energy minister reduce the prudent water management levels?  Was it so you could take that half a billion dollars in returns?  These questions have been asked by Tasmanians.  There are significant questions that side of the House needs to answer.

Mr Green - Not nearly as significant as the ones you have to answer.

Mr GUTWEIN - We will see.  There are a lot of people asking questions about your behaviour.  There are even questions on that side of the House being asked by the shadow energy minister about the former minister's behaviour.  He has already declared what occurred in the last term as foolish, the behaviour of the former energy minister is foolish.  You have questions being answered on your own front bench of your former energy minister and now Leader of the Opposition.

We will continue to sensibly and responsibly manage Hydro's dividends.  As I announced yesterday, over the next three years there will be no expectation of a return from the Hydro.

Opposition members interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Order.  There are a number of members under a warning and I warn them again.

Mr GUTWEIN - As I said, we will sensibly and responsibly manage the returns from Hydro.  As I pointed out, there are some significant questions you, as a former Cabinet minister who sat around the table, need to answer about your behaviour with the Hydro.

Ms O'Connor interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Order.  I have already issued a warning to the member for Denison and I suggest you sit there quietly.