MOTION ON ENERGY SUPPLY

I am pleased to support this motion moved by my colleague Mr Finn earlier today. I might add that given Mr Finn was a student in my electorate I know he appreciates what life is really like outside the tram tracks in rural Victoria. Like my colleague Ms Crozier, I grew up on a farm, and I still live on a farm. Until very recently we used wind to generate all the water that was needed around the farm, to feed the stock and even for us to use, so we are very familiar with how to use alternative energy.

The first point I make goes to the fundamental issue of whose responsibility it is to provide essential infrastructure. Obviously it is the responsibility of the government to provide the necessary infrastructure that the individual or the private sector cannot. This government is the licence provider for power generators; therefore the buck stops squarely with the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change. However, recent events clearly demonstrate that this government and this minister are incapable of providing this most basic and vital service—electrical power. Victoria is not some third-world state, where unreliable power can be expected. This state and indeed this nation once provided the cheapest and most reliable power infrastructure in the world. We led the way in reliability, affordability and availability. Sadly, that is not so today. On 24 January the energy minister said there would be no blackouts. In fact Ms D’Ambrosio said: Blackouts are something that absolutely will not be a feature of today or a possibility. Well, tell that to the 200 000 homes and businesses who lost power. She also said that no-one would be entitled to compensation for the 'minimal disruption and discomfort’ they had endured. Sympathy for those adversely affected also seems not to be a strong suit of this minister. The minister said there would be no blackouts one day and then, when they had occurred said they were not blackouts, they were brownouts. I am not interested in colour. The colour is irrelevant, but loss of power is critical to all those who were adversely affected.

The least any Victorian can expect of their government is to be able to flick a switch and receive power. Unlike this place, we cannot all afford diesel generators. However, this is what many of my hardworking constituents, farmers and businesses have had to resort to. Ms Shing referred to institutions et cetera going voluntarily off the grid. Some have no choice but to go off the grid. One dairy farmer in my electorate, who has a significant and important fresh milk contract which requires that he must supply a set quantity of milk every day, 365 days of the year, to a set standard, has had to invest in two diesel generators the size of shipping containers to operate his dairy farm. Available and reliable power also means access to three-phase power. Single-wire earth return line power is just not an option, but that would be foreign to anybody living inside the tram tracks. They would not be able to believe that we do not have three-phase power in country areas, because while Ms Shing might happily be able to hand out bottled water in her air-conditioned electorate office on a day when others could not, no dairy farm can operate without continual and reliable power—even putting aside the cost of power.

For the benefit of those inside the tram tracks, dairy cows have to be milked twice a day or else they get a shocking disease. The milk produced has to be kept chilled in huge vats—you would not like sour milk going into your bottles. The grain has to be milled to provide the essential elements of their vegan diet, and the irrigation system has to be kept flowing to provide the green grass essential for the fat content of the milk. Now I know there are some in this place who would happily deprive everyone of their fresh real-milk lattes and have us all switch to the energy-intensive fake-milk variations, but believe me: you are not representative of the majority.

Ms Shing also referred to providing comfort from the heat for the young, the elderly and the vulnerable. What a disgrace that those in need had to leave their homes and shelter in her office. Anyway, how was it that Ms Shing had the power in her office for air conditioners and water coolers when her constituents had been disconnected? What special treatment did Ms Shing benefit from?

Look, our energy problem is quite simple. You cannot take 25 per cent of power supply out of the market because of a government’s obsession over coal, while tripling the royalties to the point of $87.5 million, without obvious consequences. Such a supply cut is exacerbated by Melbourne’s population increasing at the rate of 140 000 every year. This government has suddenly reduced the energy supply while demand has rapidly increased. It is simply economics 101: if demand increases, so must supply. We have to increase supply, and that should be done utilising all available forms of energy—conventional and renewable. The issue is not that the government is not endeavouring to increase supply through whatever means. The issue is simply not keeping up with demand. Proper management of energy provision needs to be made for the slow rollout of alternative supply.

This minister is clearly responsible for ensuring there is supply, and she has clearly failed the Victorian public in this role. After all, there does seem to be an inherent hypocrisy in that we are happy to export coal, gas and uranium—for the benefit of the citizens of the world, apparently—but we are not, according to this government, able to have our own citizens enjoy this access. For the record, I am a fervent believer in increasing the supply of energy from all available forms—indeed you could say I was technology agnostic—but I just do not know how that benefited the many people in Western Victoria Region who had these outages. I refer to the people in Camperdown, Weerite, Lara, Corio, Norlane, Herne Hill, Hamlyn Heights, Balmoral, Haven, Woolsthorpe, Grassmere and Mailors Flat. They all suffered on this day we were told there was going to be no problem with energy supply.

I thought it might be instructive if we knew just exactly how much energy is being created right now by the various forms. At the moment wind is creating an amount of 592 megawatts, while the coal-fired power stations—4241; solar actually only 31. So there is a vast difference at the moment between the amount of energy that can be created with wind and with solar. We still have to use coal for the most part. We have got to increase the supply, and we want to increase the supply with renewable forms. That is fine, but we have got to do it so that there is no reduction in supply—and that cannot be done instantly. In conclusion I support this motion and reiterate the failure of the energy minister to provide the essential service of energy to the people of Victoria and her totally misleading assurances that there would be no blackouts.

6 February 2019