Energy Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 - Legislation

23 June 2021

It gives me great pleasure to again rise in this place to speak on legislation that we are putting through that relates to energy and renewable technologies in this state, the Energy Legislation Amendment Bill 2021. I am going to pick up right where the member for Sandringham left off, and I am going to talk about not getting the basics right. I have to say to the member for Sandringham: unfortunately you have not got the basics of this bill and this government’s agenda right when it comes to energy reform, climate change and the energy industry here in this state. You need to get the basics right—yes, you do. I would say to the member for Sandringham: go and spend time with some of the networks. Go and speak to people who are the experts, the absolute pinnacle, the engineers and the game changers in this state. Understand the industry. Get the basics right.

Now, I am little bit less eloquent in setting out my speeches about energy than the member for Sandringham, because I feel it here in the gut. It is so exciting to stand here and talk about energy, not only because I have worked in it but because it is a discussion that is happening at every kitchen table in every household right across Victoria. Whether it is around climate change, whether it is around driving down energy prices, it is a conversation on everyone’s lips. Everyone is talking about this and everyone is relying on us to get it right. And I would say to all the Victorians: we have your back. The Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change in this state has your back. She has not only had your back since 2014 when we came to government but in the years and years before in opposition when I know she was studying her heart out on this sector. She was going to get the basics right. She was identifying where the gaps were and what we needed to do to fix them.

This bill is about making sure that our energy framework is keeping up with the changes taking place with respect to new and developing technologies in renewable energy. And, yes, it is complex. I can tell you a story from many, many moons ago of me being pregnant and working on energy reform, writing legislation and lobbying the Australian Energy Regulator and commonwealth government to make changes to the national electricity rules. I think it was the distribution network cost-benefit economic test—I cannot remember what the acronym was—but I know that that took so long to get through the commonwealth government, I had two babies during that time.

I remember the first time going off on maternity leave thinking ‘This stuff is really complex; see you later’ and handing it over to the person that was filling in for me. I came back after maternity leave to continue doing it. Then I went off and had another baby. Do you know what? I came back, and it took about five years to make a change to national legislation that regulated our energy sector—five years to change the policy and the framework around energy. And do you know what the problem is with those five years? Do you know what happens in five years? The sector moves forward. Technology develops. Innovation happens. And right now that is exactly what is happening here in Victoria. That is exactly what this legislation is doing—it is getting on and creating the energy framework that we need to help support and empower new businesses to create new technologies that help take us forward on our destiny towards a renewable energy future that not only we, here in Victoria right now, can be proud of but that generations of Victorians who are yet to come will benefit from. That is what this legislation does.

Now, I have to say that when we first came to government in 2014—and I was just reading this for some background—renewable energy formed less than 10 per cent of our state’s energy mix. You do not have to be a genius to know that it was years of climate wars—years and years of climate wars—that caused inertia in this state and in this country and stalled our ability to move forward. And there are probably many reasons for that.

Mr Richardson interjected.

Ms CONNOLLY: I could hear the member for Mordialloc talking about that lump of coal, but I think it was much more clearly articulated today by the member for Footscray when she talked about ‘scienticians’—scientific people mixed with a bit of magician. That is what stopped us from moving forward. But when we fast-forward six years, thanks to our government—the Andrews Labor government—and the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, we are now leading this country in investment in renewables. We had a 2020 target of 20 per cent renewables in our energy mix, and we had more than passed that at that point. We all agree with that. It is now 40 per cent by 2025, which I think we are on track to meeting. And we are on track to meeting it, but not because we can just click our fingers—we might have the Greens party and people opposite thinking this stuff happens at the click of your fingers; it does not happen, change does not happen—or just because you will it to. You have to go through the years of hard work that it takes to change policy through regulatory reform to incentivise businesses to move forward with new technologies.

I say to the member for Sandringham—and I have no doubt the minister is sitting in her office thinking the same thing—the change that we are doing with natural gas and hydrogen, we are doing that, we are adding it to that definition, that blending, because business is moving forward. And do you know what? That change in legislation will be an enabler for businesses to move forward. They are looking to be able to transition from natural gas and use other forms of gas down their pipelines because, let us face it, when you are a monopoly business and you stick pipelines in the ground for many, many years, that costs a hell of a lot of money. And you still need to be able to use them—that is what that is doing in this bill. I talked about 40 per cent by 2025, and in the last two years alone we have put more than 1.6 gigawatts of renewable power into our grid. That is far more than any other state in this country, and that is certainly something that should be applauded in this place. We need to be telling our communities about this sort of thing.

The member for Sandringham touched on single-wire earth return lines and vulnerable communities being without power. Just before I left work at AusNet Services we were talking about the SWER line going down to a wonderful, wonderful community in Mallacoota. We all know Mallacoota from the bushfires that they have suffered in the years just gone. The crew in Mallacoota were keen to keep the lights and the power on, and that SWER line is a really long way from the main lines that run through that part of Victoria. It is very expensive to maintain, and I say to the member for Sandringham: do you know who pays for the maintenance of that line down in Mallacoota? We all do, because it is smoothed across the customer base. We all pay for the maintenance of those very, very expensive lines. Not only is that community going to be empowered with a renewable energy future when it comes to standalone power systems, which this bill is also going to enable to happen, that standalone power system is going to keep the fridges on and the lights on at the local pub. They will not have to stick on their backup generator. Backup generators can be expensive—expensive to run, expensive to pay for. The people in Mallacoota are going to be able to explore other options. They have wanted to explore them for some time, and that is what this bill is doing.

This is an incredible bill. Not only is this another bill about creating fairness and equality when we talk about standalone power systems and vulnerable communities, this bill is all about empowering and moving forward on our journey towards renewable technology and renewable energy in this future. That is going to mean lower greenhouse gas emissions, and that is better for everyone—every single Victorian in this state right now and those that are not yet born. I wholeheartedly commend the bill to the house.