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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 13 Hansard (20 November) . . Page.. 3787 ..

MR CORNWELL (continuing):

not know the extent of the financial help that is required. This matter has been debated and canvassed in this place on a number of occasions. Mr Quinlan quoted $1.92 as a possible increase per month and went on to say it could rise to $3.25 per month. Actew themselves quoted $12 per month. The ICRC, in a draft report in May of this year, quoted an increase of $2 per month and, in their final report in July of this year, only two months later, quoted $6 per month. You can understand the confusion, therefore, that prevails at this point. I would remind you that we are only four months away from the introduction of full retail contestability.

Whilst in the eyes of many people the amount may not appear a great deal, I submit that, whatever the extra cost, the amount to people on low or fixed incomes is quite significant. Let us take an average. Let us say it is $6 per month. That is $72 per year. To people in this Assembly, an extra $72 per year may not amount to a great deal of money. However, it does to people on low or fixed incomes. Secondly, this amount is not evenly distributed over 12 months of the year. In winter, in this cold climate, those costs will rise. That will put an extra impost upon people on low or fixed incomes when the bill arrives.

The Commonwealth Department of Family and Community Services estimates that the average electricity expenditure of income support recipients is approximately $850 per year. Whatever figure you wish to place on it, clearly the introduction of FRC is going to increase that impost.

The other problem we face is that, whilst the Treasurer has said that this extra cost will apply for three years, we have no guarantee that that is going to be the case. What happens over the next three years after its introduction if things have not worked out as hoped and the new government in this place, which will of course be a Liberal government, Mr Humphries, is faced with the predicament of extending these additional costs? We cannot guarantee that this will last only for three years. Therefore, we need to do something to protect the low-income and fixed income people of this city.

The introduction of this full retail contestability saw the ACT receive from the Commonwealth, as part of the national competition policy, $11.6 million in 2001-02. I understand the ACT will receive a similar amount this financial year. I do not believe that the government of the day should necessarily put that in its hip pocket and use it for other things. I believe that some of that money should be directed to assisting people on low or fixed incomes to pay the increased costs for electricity.

I do not have any suggestions as to how this could be done, but it does occur to me that, rather than a cash amount, it might be better to institute a percentage rebate. That may be easier to handle, but I am no expert in this and I would be happy to leave it to the financial experts to organise.

The motion does not call for the government to do anything special. I am asking them to prepare a proposal to address the impact of FRC on ACT low-income earners, pensioners and self-funded retirees. I am not laying down hard and fast conditions. However, I have asked for one thing to be done, and that is that details of the proposal they prepare to address the impact of FRC be made available to this Assembly in the first sitting week of 2003. That date is quite intentional. It is before 1 March, when FRC will be introduced.

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