Second Reading – Energy Legislation Amendment (licence conditions) bill 2020

I rise to speak on the Energy Legislation Amendment (Licence Conditions) Bill 2020. I follow on from our lead speaker, who has given us a lot of detail and understanding of what this bill actually does. Overarchingly we are opposing the bill and overarchingly the reason we are doing that is that this bill is actually another example of how the government is taking away powers from agencies and putting too much power sometimes—and in this case that is certainly the situation—in the minister’s hands when it is completely unnecessary given the fact that the Essential Services Commission, from whom the powers are being taken by the minister, have put forward a recommendation to address the issues that were of concern to customers.

We have seen this before with this minister where she has taken powers away from AEMO, the Australian Energy Market Operator, and the Australian Energy Regulator, so here we go again with the Essential Services Commission.

The reason it is so concerning is that the Essential Services Commission was set up to protect and assist the customer, with that in mind. The commission’s primary objective was to protect the long-term interests of the Victorian consumer with regard to price, quality and reliability of essential services. It is on that note that I would like to discuss my disappointment at receiving a letter recently which said that a project in my electorate, the Tyrendarra three-phase power upgrade, would not go ahead.

The rationale given was that it was not valid to treat gross regional output as an economic benefit. This is really disappointing, but it does provide an opportunity, as it says in the letter rejecting the project, for the community members there to seek other avenues such as through the Victorian government to progress these upgrades.

When we see that the rationale for not going ahead with that project is not understanding the importance of gross regional output, I find that that is a really disappointing statement. I know that Bruce Knowles from Tyrendarra, the community there and the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria who are pushing for this project have all been putting forward the potential for growth in the agricultural community, particularly dairy.

Right now in COVID, when we have got the need for projects in the regions particularly to increase the opportunities for jobs, we need projects like this one, that will provide reliable access to three-phase power which is needed for industry, particularly the dairy industry.

We have got opportunities for food production in Victoria as the demand for food continues to grow around the world. It has not gone away. It is a real shame for the community following all that work led by Bruce Knowles and the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria and the team out in western Victoria who represent them locally and who pushed that project.

The bill itself though is really about governance, and it is about the fact that the minister is removing the oversight that these agencies provide. And when we see this government, this is not the first time we see it in all sorts of examples.

One of those examples is another situation as a result of the COVID situation we find ourselves in, and that is the removal of the cabinet around the government. We have got the Premier who is doing exactly this again, just taking that almost dictatorial, my way or the highway approach instead of being able to have a process that protects. These processes that have been around in the Westminster system for many, many, many years protect us from having that situation. We see it written in the foyer in the tiles that talk about counsel. I cannot remember the quote, but it talks about how in many there is safety, with one there is danger. I have misquoted that, but the intent is similar.

We have seen it with hotel quarantine. We have that debacle situation where we did not just go through a second wave, we are not coming out of second wave, we actually were in a first wave because the decision was made to keep the virus, when it came over to Australia from overseas, in the hotels. Only in Victoria did it escape. I remember yesterday hearing the member for Gippsland South saying, you know, we need to not look overseas but we need to look at our neighbours here in Australia.

In New South Wales there were 53 deaths. In South Australia, my neighbour, there were four deaths. In Victoria there were 800 deaths, and that was proven to be from hotel quarantine—the virus escaping because of mismanagement. I come back to the rationale that I am actually discussing, and that is lack of governance, lack of process, and here we see it again with this bill with the minister grabbing more power and removing the power from agencies which provide that oversight and protection.

It is a sign of this government, it is a symptom of this government I see a lot. In my electorate recently we had a project called the Mortlake Road development where a large amount of units were being constructed. Now, the community deserve the ability to have some consultation around what goes on in their neighbourhood, and the government has come over the top and taken away the council’s ability to actually go through that consultation process. The community members in that Mortlake Road area have come to me and said, ‘This is really unfair. Why are we unable to have our voices heard about this development that will affect us?’. Now, I am not saying they are against it. I am not saying I am against it.

I am saying that that consultation process is the right of the community. It is why we come into the Parliament here to get debate happening, to make sure there is consultation. I see it too many times, and I could go on about some bills that have been put in and rushed through without consultation.

There is another example in my electorate of this where a bus stop was being put down on Beach Road. It is a very popular area and the community want to have access to public transport, but the members there were saying, ‘Just let us consult about where the best place is. Use the local knowledge. We live here and we want people to enjoy the precinct as well’. John Hudson called me and asked if I minded just trying to get some time so the discussion could take place with the locals. Whilst I made that representation to the minister, it was completely ignored. The bus stop just got built. No-one got to have any discussion about it.

I think we live in a democratic society. I think democracy is incredibly important, and when I see processes like what is happening in this bill I completely agree with the opposing of this bill because at the end of the day we must stand up for the importance of democracy. And there is no better example of where democracy has failed than removing that cabinet process around the Premier where he put his gang of eight around him. He obviously determined who he was going to have so he could control that, and what we see in Victoria is a debacle. It is not even a debacle, it is an absolute catastrophe. We are going to see the fallout from this for the next decade: the kids in my electorate who could not go to school, the teenagers who could not get their licences, the young year 12s who are sitting exams—English yesterday and their exams today—in masks.

You know, in New South Wales and South Australia they are not sitting their exams in masks. They have not suffered like our Victorian students have suffered. They will have very different results because they have not had to stay home from school and try and manage the COVID situation in their lounge rooms. Particularly in my area and many regional areas—I am sure the member for Gippsland South would agree—many of the kids could not even get access to the internet reliably.

So how could they do their education and be competitive against our neighbours in New South Wales and South Australia, who they will compete with for university places? It is absolutely a big disadvantage to our kids. That is not to mention the elderly and the lonely, who were locked away and suffered mental health challenges.

The ability of people to actually struggle through this—people who were possibly already compromised—is something we are going to see the effect of for many, many years.

Ms Edwards: On a point of order, Speaker, the member for South-West Coast has digressed considerably from the bill before the house today, and I ask you to draw her back to speaking on the bill.

Ms BRITNELL: On the point of order, Speaker, I do understand what the member is saying, but the fact is this bill is about governance. It is about taking away the ability to have oversight and putting that oversight into one person’s hands. I am using these examples of how that is a really concerning challenge for us as people who have tried to make sure we uphold democracy, so I am referring to that.

The SPEAKER: I ask the member to continue to relate her remarks to the bill.

Ms BRITNELL: I will conclude by saying that it is something I think every member in this place should really consider. When one person decides that they are going to take all the power, we end up with the example we are looking at of how Victoria is faring right now, and we will see this economically and we will see this emotionally for a very long time.

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