Renewable Energy (Jobs and Investment) Bill 2017

Victoria was built on available, reasonably priced energy, and we built a great economy. We were a great manufacturing state, but slowly but surely those things have been whittled down due to a variety of reasons. Now I think this state is facing one of its greatest challenges, and that challenge is at the moment being personified by this government with its ideological bent towards moving us to renewables regardless of the cost to our economy, to our state and to our families. That is really an unforgivable situation for a state government to find itself in, but this is not the first time this government or this brand of government has done such a thing to an economy. We only have to look back at the Cain and Kirner years to understand that there is already a record of a Labor government in Victoria destroying an economy and putting its people at great risk through making ridiculous decisions. They really amount to what can only be best described as economic vandals. Over the last century, as I say, Victoria really has built a wonderful economy based on cheap and reliable energy. In one fell swoop this government intends to remove that.

We should not mince words about why Hazelwood was closed and who closed it. Hazelwood was closed only because this government wanted it closed. It was clearly its policy. It was saying it was going to introduce the Victorian renewable energy target, which was going to have a massive impact on Hazelwood. It tripled coal royalties. What organisation could afford to triple their coal royalties in one hit like that? And if that was not enough, in November last year the Treasurer was dispatched to see Engie in France, and then in three weeks Engie announced that they were going to close Hazelwood. What a surprise! This government is getting done what it wants, and that is to do anything it can to stay in power.

Mr BURGESS (Hastings) — I will continue with my contribution. Another item I have been talking about is the contribution from Rod Sims, the chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, who spoke to the National Press Club yesterday and made very strong points about what is to blame for why we find ourselves in such a diabolical situation.

There are a number of things that he said. Some of them certainly reflect very, very poorly on this government’s decisions, particularly on its decisions to maintain a moratorium on conventional gas as well as fracking. He made the point that gas can be obtained from brown coal without fracking, but that is something this government has completely overlooked. He also spoke of the fact that they have banned and are continuing to ban conventional gas exploration in Victoria, something that would make a massive difference to the availability of gas.

Mr Nardella interjected.

Mr BURGESS — The member for Melton wants to argue with the ACCC chair, but I would suggest that he looks before he opens his mouth and makes a fool of himself like he always does.

Sims has said the closure of Hazelwood has contributed significantly to the increase in energy costs to Victorians. In fact the Premier said that the closure of Hazelwood would cost — I believe it was 18 cents or thereabouts, or it may be up to 78 cents, depending on which day it was. But we now know it has doubled and tripled in many places, and the costs just continue to soar. In fact the comparisons that Rod Sims made yesterday about how it has been handled in different states really leaves Victoria in a very, very poor light. He said yesterday:

The three LNG producers, however, could not have foreseen that after their investment decisions were made the onshore gas exploration and development rules would change completely. I doubt anyone in the industry expected Victoria to ban all onshore gas exploration and production, which has stopped even conventional gas projects; nor could they have foreseen the delays and uncertainty over projects in NSW and the NT.

That is a direct quote, and the member for Melton can always look for that on the ABC website, which I am sure he spends a lot of time on. Sims also said that:

Greatly worsening the picture is the spectre of regulatory uncertainty and state and territory‑based moratoria, which has delayed or stopped development entirely.

Moratoria and other regulatory restrictions in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania are preventing or impeding onshore gas exploration and development in those states, and particularly causing higher gas prices in the south.

As we said in our first gas inquiry report, while we do not purport to weigh in on the debate surrounding the environmental issues, we feel that policy makers need to consider the cost or benefits of projects on a case‑by‑case basis.

That is something this government should be looking at. We know that we are in a diabolical situation, and in fact it was described as ‘a very bad place’ yesterday by Rod Sims. This government is doing nothing to fix that situation.

When it really starts to have an impact is when you understand what it is doing to Victorians. Across my electorate I have had the experience of talking to many in my community who have told me what effect this is having on them, on their families and on their businesses. It really is quite devastating. In fact it was in the newspaper, and I have got the quote in front of me, where they ended up owing $18 000 on their electricity bill. That $18 000 was going to see them have their electricity cut off. Much of the money was being spent on electricity that they were relying on for life support systems. The piece was in the first edition of the Sunday Herald Sun on 3 September, and I quote:

Rising power bills are leaving Victorian families with debts of up to $18 000 for unpaid gas and electricity.

A Sunday Herald Sun investigation into Victoria’s three largest energy retailers, AGL, Origin and Energy Australia, reported the shutting down of Hazelwood power station had driven prices up.

The Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change has gone very quiet at the table because it is very difficult to argue with that. To quote, further down:

‘What we are seeing are some real challenges for customers who have got themselves into significant arrears’, she said.

‘It is not unusual for customers to present to us with $5000 worth of outstanding arrears.

‘There are customers finding themselves in really dire situations.’

In one case EWOV was contacted by a woman with $18 172 in electricity debts and faced disconnection despite needing power for life support equipment.

There is no doubt that Victorians are under huge pressure. They are under huge pressure because this government’s policies are driving up electricity prices further. The closure of Hazelwood has taken 22 per cent of base load power out of the grid and it has not been replaced with anything that is reliable. There is a continuing moratorium on exploration for both non‑conventional and conventional gas, and that is — again in the words of Rod Sims from yesterday — driving up the price of electricity as well. The lack of availability of gas has a direct impact on the price of electricity.

This government’s policies are driving energy prices to the point where Victorians can no longer afford it. We have the most vulnerable within our community having to choose between turning the lights on or eating food. We have them staying in bed for the majority of the day to stay warm, and this government has not responded to that in any way. It is not good enough to put in little programs to look after individuals; these are policies that are destroying the livelihoods of people and destroying the lifestyles of people, as well as putting the most vulnerable lives at risk.