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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 4 Hansard (25 June) . . Page.. 1037 ..

MR KAINE (continuing):

Clause 39 provides the Gas Technical Regulator with a general power to do all things necessary in connection with the performance the function.

Something has been omitted there. Again, that is even more brief than the clause in the Bill. If an explanatory memorandum is supposed to serve the purpose of explaining to us what the Bill means, for heaven's sake, I submit that these memoranda fail miserably. It is my contention, Mr Speaker, that these explanatory memoranda do not explain fully what it means. I know this gives the public officials that are preparing these documents a bit of extra work to do, but that is what we employ them for. I would seek the Minister's guarantee that in future, particularly with a Bill as complicated as these two are, the explanatory memoranda will indeed explain what the legislation means. Mr Speaker, I would be interested to hear the Minister's comments, particularly on the matter of clarifying the issues that I raised that arise from his own amendments.

MR HIRD (11.35): Mr Speaker, I would like to speak in support of the package of gas reform Bills. The choice of energy supply for ACT consumers has, until now, been AGL for gas and ACTEW Corporation for electricity. Many ACT consumers make decisions on heating and cooling systems which entail substantial investments in their houses. This is a fact of life for home owners, due to the extreme climate which is experienced in Canberra. Mr Speaker, having made this investment we, the consumers, are dependent on a reliable and affordable energy supply, and we are tied to that energy choice for the life of the heating system. Although householders on residential tariffs will have to wait until the middle of next year to gain access to a fully contestable gas market, Mr Speaker, it will certainly put choice of home energy supplier high on the list for home owners and occupants.

No less important for home energy consumers is the long-term reliability of supply. In adopting these recommendations and in maintaining the timetable for reform, the ACT and New South Wales will be in the forefront of contestability in home energy supply, with particular emphasis placed on gas. The gas industry has long been preparing for these changes, firstly through the introduction of cost-reflective pricing where there is a separation of the supply fee, which applies to the cost of operating a service connection, from the usage charge for the quantity of gas used. Mr Speaker, this will enable competing retailers to be benchmarked in a similar manner to that which occurs in other utilities, such as electricity and telecommunications.

Together with the provisions contained in the access code, there will be greater levels of scrutiny by regulators of operators in the gas market. This, in turn, benefits consumers through public benefit tests and consumer protection principles applied by the regulators. AGL has geared itself for the advent of the market reform by separating into a gas networks business, based at Fyshwick, and an energy retail business, located in Civic near Garema Place. In preparing for a competitive market, AGL has also shed its former businesses of appliance retail sales, installation and appliance servicing. This has meant an increase in work going to Canberra's small businesses - gas appliance retailers, and appliance installation and appliance servicing businesses - which is good news for the smaller business operators in this Territory.

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