Motion: South Australian Electricity Market


Mr GARDNER ( Morialta ) ( 16:23 ): I am very pleased to speak in favour of the Leader of the Opposition's motion, which is a very important motion. The motion, I should remind members, is that this house expresses its concern at the state of the South Australian electricity market. I hear from the government accusations that the opposition has been relentlessly negative in this debate, but I think it is entirely reasonable for the opposition to express its concern at the state of the South Australian electricity market. 

Anyone over the last four months who is a member of parliament who has been circulating in their community and who has not been getting feedback from members of their community expressing concern at the state of electricity in South Australia has not been listening to people in the community. Over the summer break, almost every conversation I had with a constituent at an event or walking down the street or going to a supermarket or in between Christmas and new year just being at the shops tended to start with questions about what we are going to do about the state of the South Australian electricity market. 

If, as I suspect, the government vote against this motion in the next hour or so, then I remind members of the government that they are putting their names against a motion that is moving that this house expresses its concern at the state of the South Australian electricity market. Members of the government who vote against this motion are voting against a motion that notes the following: 

(a) the state government ' s energy policy over the last 15 years has delivered South Australian consumers the worst outcomes in the nation; 

By voting against this motion, I assume government members are therefore suggesting that they think we do not have the worst outcomes in the nation, yet when our prices are the highest and our reliability is the lowest, it is just fanciful to suggest that the first point of this motion is not entirely reasonable and correct. The second part of this motion notes: 

(b) the first ever statewide electricity blackout in Australia occurred in South Australia on 28   September   2016; 

I have heard a lot of accusations of fake news this week from the Treasurer and others in the government, but I am fairly sure that even they would have to admit that that point is true. The motion goes on to identify that this house should note its concern that: 

(c) electricity supply reliability in South Australia is the lowest in the nation; 

(d) electricity prices in South Australia are the highest in the nation; 

These are just plain facts. The motion goes on to identify that we express our concern at: 

(e) the impact that high household electricity prices add to cost of living pressures; 

I am concerned about that, and my constituents are concerned about that. My constituents facing those increased cost of living pressures, based on having the highest electricity prices in the nation, are concerned about that. I invite government members to identify if they are not concerned that their households are facing those high electricity prices. The motion goes on to identify that we should be concerned about: 

(f) the impact that high business electricity prices add to unemployment pressures; 

When I first ran for the parliament at the 2010 election, the state government—the Labor Party—had a policy, a promise, that they would deliver 100,000 new jobs by 2016. We are now past 2016 and the jobs they promised they would deliver by then are nowhere to be seen. The unemployment rate over that period has continued to scrape along the bottom of the national barrel, and businesses in South Australia are facing the highest electricity prices in the land. 

We hear example after example of businesses in South Australia identifying that the cost of electricity is what is causing them to doubt their future here in South Australia. It is causing them to doubt that there is any opportunity for expansion or investment here in South Australia. For members of the government to argue against a motion that says we should be concerned about the impact that high business electricity prices add to unemployment pressures only identifies to me that these people who stand against this motion are not fit anymore to be the government, if they ever were. The motion goes on to identify: 

(g) unemployment in South Australia is the highest in the nation; 

I know over the period of time it has been. It certainly was when notice was given of this motion, but even when we have not been the highest we have been the second highest. That goes back and forth, but we are consistently the highest in the nation, and we have been getting worse and worse over the years. The motion goes on to identify: 

(h) both the Victorian and South Australian electricity markets were privatised at similar times and yet Victorians pay the lowest electricity prices in the nation 

Again, these are just bald statements of fact, and we are noting that we are concerned about these facts. Finally, the motion closes by stating that this house expresses its concern and notes: 

(i) the closure of the coal-fired electricity generator at Port Augusta has led to the increased importation of coal-fired electricity from Victoria. 

In reading this motion, I identify those individual points and invite government members who are still to speak to explain exactly which of those points they are voting against. Are they saying they are not concerned that the cost of living facing South Australian households is unacceptable? Are they voting against this motion because they do not consider that it is something to be of concern that our electricity supply is not reliable? 

Are members of the government considering voting against this motion doing so because they are arguing that there was not a statewide electricity blackout on 28 September 2016? It baffles me, yet the member for Reynell and other government members accuse us, the opposition, of just being relentlessly negative. It is an extraordinary piece of sophistry for the government to argue that the opposition is being negative for expressing the concerns—the entirely reasonable concerns—of members of our community. We need to be focused on how we can make the lives of the people in our communities and the people in South Australia better. 

The environmental future of the nation and of the world is beyond dispute important. The fact that renewable energy is going to play a key and critical role in that future is not disputed. The transition point between the electricity generating capacity that we have at the moment and have had in the past, and how we get to a carbon-free future, is the key question of the concern. But it is not of concern, it seems, to the government because they have expressed no interest in dealing with that transition. 

In fact, the debate today has been an appalling example of just pure partisanship and political advantage brought out by the government who seem to be identifying this motion in ways that it is not. By voting against it, they are demonstrating that they are only interested in political outcomes and have absolutely no interest whatsoever in the best interests of their communities. 

We need to be focused on the reliability of our electricity supply because the people in our communities expect it, deserve it, demand it, and they have every reasonable expectation that we in government and we in the parliament are going to deliver it. This is a 21st century First World nation, and a state that should be proud and able to offer perfectly reasonable services to our community. 

People should not be worried about whether their embryos are going to be safe at the Flinders Medical Centre. People should have absolutely no stress about whether medical equipment in their hospitals and in their homes, potentially, are going to be sound. People should not be stressed about food going off in their fridge because the power is going out due to unseasonably warm weather in the summer when the wind is not blowing. This is not something that is reasonable for our communities to be putting up with. It is completely unacceptable and we should not accept. 

Energy reliability is important, and that is what this motion identifies. That is what the Leader of the Opposition has been saying. The Leader of the Opposition has identified that no solution should be taken off the table to ensure that energy reliability is our first demand. Energy affordability is equally a very important matter. That is what the rest of this motion identifies: the impact that higher household electricity prices are having on our communities, the impact that higher power prices are having on our businesses, on our economy, and on employment and jobs for our future. These are entirely reasonable concerns for the opposition to put forward in the parliament—and the government calls us negative. It is an extraordinary state of affairs that they would do so. 

The transition from the types of electricity generators that we have been using for many years to those that are going to be more prevalent in the future is a challenge. Nobody is saying it is not a challenge, but this government has vacated the field on even trying to have a challenge because they are interested in a political argument and rhetorical debate. 

I was a candidate in that 2010 election when Mike Rann (who was then the Premier) used this as his central point, being so proud that his government had driven the increase in renewable energy in wind and solar to being the highest in the nation—he took credit for it. So it is entirely disingenuous now for the government—the Treasurer, as he so often does—to say, 'Oh no, that's all Canberra's fault. It's the federal Liberal government that's doing that.' This is the government that has been claiming credit for that for 10 years, right up until the point where the lights started turning off. They cannot have it both ways. 

The member for Reynell and others cannot say that the opposition, the Liberal Party, are negative and climate deniers, while at the same time the Treasurer is blaming Canberra for the renewable energy schemes that are going national. We need a national scheme, but having a state scheme is entirely counterproductive and negative. The motion that we are talking about today is entirely reasonable, and I urge all members to vote for it.