Page 3230 - Week 10 - Tuesday, 18 October 2022

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It is clear to me that there is a reason that embedded networks are appearing across the ACT and that some consumers are having this negative experience. It is this. I quote, in relation to embedded networks, from one of the largest providers of embedded network operators in the ACT: “huge cost savings for the developer, as the provider supplies, installs and manages the meters”. For all the talk about providing discounted utilities to consumers, it can be forgotten from this conversation that there is a financial incentive for property developers to choose an embedded network. I suspect that any benefits or costs to individual consumers are secondary to this overriding profit-seeking of property developers.

We now live in a time when the cost of living and inflation are rising well above wage growth. Canberrans, like the rest of Australia, are doing it tough. As legislators, we have a responsibility to look at all the ways that we can bring down utility bills. We know that embedded networks may be limiting the consumer choice of Canberrans and increasing financial pressures, so I believe it is our responsibility to take action.

To be clear, I know that this is not the case for all users of embedded networks. Some people out there will be locked into a contract which is of better value than on-market offerings. The issue here, for me, is about accessing the cheapest utilities. Consumers should always be able to access the cheapest market offering on their utilities. If they are not free to choose a better deal or advocate legitimately for it, then something is going wrong and the system needs improvement.

I am also concerned about the lack of consumer protections afforded to users of embedded networks. In an ideal world, it would not matter whether you lived in an embedded network; you would have the same protections as those who do not. But the reality is different. The Utilities Legislation Amendment Act simply introduced embedded networks; it did not do anything to appropriately regulate them.

What recourse would be available to Canberrans if their embedded network suddenly went offline for a few days? They would literally be left cold or in the dark. The protections we all rely upon with our utilities do not exist for embedded network users. What support would be available to a person using a life support machine in an embedded network? Should they just hope that their embedded network operator cares? What about hardship provisions for people going through tough times? Major utility providers have numerous schemes in place to help keep the power on when money is tight. These protections are not ensured for consumers on embedded networks.

It is clear to me that the lack of regulation for embedded networks can have real implications for people’s lives, even if the stated purpose of embedded networks still sounds good. I also want us to consider how futureproofed the embedded network system is. With the adoption of new technologies like electric vehicles, embedded networks need to be as flexible as possible.

There are a range of issues that arise when you combine an embedded network, a body corporate and the need to retrofit or change the provision of a utility. I freely admit that this is a wicked problem. There are clearly benefits to a collective decision,

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