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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 13 Hansard (20 November) . . Page.. 3792 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

with little experience in seeking out electricity suppliers may end up with a deal that does not suit their needs or ends up being more expensive than the regulated rate. It would be unfair to force these people to stay in this disadvantaged situation.

It is also important that there be an extensive public education campaign on the new electricity market, not just before the market starts but also afterwards, so that people are aware of the options available to them to move into the market or to stay or move back on to a regulated contract with ActewAGL if they run into problems.

Mr Cornwell's motion has in some ways been upstaged by Mr Quinlan's statement yesterday, but it is still a relevant motion and deserves support. If the government does all the things it said it would do for low-income earners in the new electricity market, then it should not have many problems in fulfilling the terms of this motion. I would hope that the proposal Mr Cornwell's motion calls for from the government to address the impact on low-income earners will provide more detail than was contained in the minister's statement yesterday.

MR HUMPHRIES (Leader of the Opposition) (11.19): This debate has become a debate about whether full retail contestability or competition is a good thing. It is important to concentrate on a couple of elements of that if we are to look at compensation mechanisms or concessions. The question has been much debated not just in the context of this reform but in the context of all reforms that have been put in place in the last seven years following the agreement in 1994 to have a national competition policy.

We obviously are getting to the tougher end of the competition policy cycle where the decisions become a bit more difficult, in that the costs to the government or to the consumer are potentially higher, at least in the short term, and the benefits might be further down the track. When we are talking about things like electricity supply, these are major overheads that all consumers have to meet, whether they are domestic users, businesses or community organisations. Everybody has to pay for electricity. We all have to use it. If there is potential for cheaper electricity by virtue of reform, then clearly we must look at providing that kind of opportunity for reduction.

We need to acknowledge that the Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission has examined this issue on behalf of the territory community, assessed the benefits of FRC and determined that there are benefits potentially available to the community. It said in its report produced in July:

The Commission believes that FRC will produce a range of benefits but notes that they are diffuse, long term and difficult to quantify.

I would agree with that. What is not so difficult to quantify is the short-term problem. The Treasurer has acknowledged today and previously in the media that the poor will initially almost certainly be worse off as the result of an open electricity market. The costs have been variously quoted at between $2 and $12 a month.

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