March 8, 2016: Second reading debate – National Electricity (Victoria)Further Amendment Bill 2015

It pleases me to rise to speak on the National Electricity (Victoria) Further Amendment Bill 2015. The purpose of the bill is to facilitate certain customer connection arrangements and to ensure speedy connections and transparency in improving access to the grid, particularly for renewable energy customers of solar. Currently the process is onerous, with levels of paperwork that prevent customers from wanting to embark on connecting. I wish to place on record that I do not oppose the bill but I do not feel that the changes go far enough.

The power challenge we are facing as a state needs further action. In fact, I think it needs a review: a review of the short, medium and long-term implications of exactly what the future looks like with more people hooking up to renewables and fewer being left on the grid, the implication being that consumption will go down but the cost will be greater because the sharing of the infrastructure of the power — the poles and wires — will be left with just a few to maintain it.

Obviously I agree with renewable energy, and it is being embraced by our community. It is what we will be moving towards in the future. However, at this time we have to understand that renewables are not reliable every single day. As a dairy farmer I need power every day, twice a day, and I cannot have it being unreliable.

In Western Victoria we have a big dairying area. One particular company, Murray Goulburn, the largest Australian-owned food and beverage company, has sites at Leongatha, Koroit and Cobram. They are all at capacity from a power perspective, and for companies like Murray Goulburn, Saputo and Fonterra the cost to increase the power supply into their factories is absolutely prohibitive. We need to come up with a solution, because although manufacturing is a success story in our regions, employing thousands of people, it is obviously under enormous pressure. At this point in time we have not got the answer. Renewables are on the way to becoming part of the solution, but we are certainly not in a situation where we can rely on renewable energy every single day.

The Murray Goulburn company, for example, has revenue of $2.9 billion and exports to 49 countries around the world. We all know there is increasing demand for protein, and it is an opportunity for Victoria, but we need to find a way to make sure we can facilitate that so we can grow the manufacturing opportunity that the dairy industry, for example, provides for our region. It is not only manufacturers like dairy companies, it is also farmers. In south-western Victoria we have 1500 dairy farms, and they produce as much milk as they were producing several years ago with twice as many farmers. So it is not a diminishing industry; it is a growing industry. What is holding it back is infrastructure, and power is one part of that, particularly in my electorate of South-West Coast.

We have dairy farmers wanting to expand. One particular fellow, Bruce Knowles, has a campaign up at the moment. He has no access to power in the Heywood area and has had to purchase very old-fashioned technology such as generators. I have to say that the member for Essendon, who says we had brownouts back in the 1970s, should come out and visit my region. Brownouts are normal. Brownouts happen a lot. We have real problems with being able to access power. Three-phase power is not something everyone can access. SWER lines are causing all sorts of problems. When the Murray Goulburn factory has a brownout someone has to physically get into the silos to shovel out the product that has been downgraded as a result of the brownout — power not being able to get to the factory because there is too much load. It is costing us a lot of money, and we need to find ways to facilitate a future where we can optimise the growth by a review, as I said, to find better ways to provide the essential service that electricity is.

Whilst we have not got the answer that renewables will maybe provide for us into the future, in reality it is probably a balance, and we are a long way off achieving that balance at this point. On the farm there is no economic return for me if I invest in solar; it just will not pay over a 10 to 15-year period, so it is not able to be invested in. I do not have the luxury of doing something because it feels good. In business you are not in a position where you can do things that do not return on an investment within a reasonable period of time. There are just not the margins.

I think this bill is one of the six I heard referred to earlier that have been put through by the government, but I think it falls a long way short of attending to the needs of rural communities that need to be considered to be just as important as other communities, particularly going into the future. We have finished a mining boom, and we are about to embark on a dining boom — and if we do not find ways of embracing that opportunity, it is going to be very, very hard for farmers who have always wanted to optimise the environment. They are not the enemy of the environment. They understand it, and have understood it for generations. That is why they hand farms from father to son to grandson.

Mr Nardella — And granddaughter.

Ms BRITNELL — I am a dairy farmer, and I am a daughter, but I am not the daughter of a farmer. I made myself a farmer. I use the words ‘grandson’ and ‘granddaughter’ with respect. I understand that it is International Women’s Day. I respect the fact that women and men have equal rights — and I have milked the cows just as many times as my husband, let me assure you.

But getting back to the bill, I think it is great that we are facilitating a better way for customers to feel it is less onerous getting onto renewable energy, if that is what they want. However, I think we must remember the importance of power, particularly out in the regions. I mention Alcoa, another manufacturer that is providing many jobs and sustaining the very important regional town of Portland. It is a beautiful town, and I urge all members to go to visit it. It is one beautiful place to visit in Victoria. I think it is sometimes misunderstood for how much it has to offer. Alcoa is very important. There is an opportunity right now for government to deliver on the promise that was made prior to the election to ensure that every job is worth fighting for. On that note I wish the bill a speedy passage through the Parliament.