Energy Legislation Amendment Bill 2021: Second Reading

Ms ADDISON (Wendouree) (11:01): I stand to speak in support of the legislation that is before the house, the Energy Legislation Amendment Bill 2021, and I am very pleased to see that it is receiving bipartisan support.

I always like to follow in the footsteps of my dear friend the member for Bass, who is such a passionate advocate for her community, as well as the member for Tarneit, who is such a great contributor when it comes to energy legislation. She is a great contributor on all legislation, but her experience in the sector, her years and years of working in energy, gives her really, really good insight, and she demystifies an industry that I do not have a strong understanding of—so well done to the member for Tarneit.

The member for Mordialloc also headed off our contributions today. He had looked through Hansard to have a look at the contribution of the member for Sandringham, and he talked about really the difference between the two key parties in this Parliament—that we have a real commitment to renewable energy and climate change and we just do not see it on the other side.

The Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change is one of the hardest working people in Victoria, and she does such a magnificent job under very challenging circumstances with such a broad portfolio. But she does such an excellent job, so I thank her for introducing this bill that seeks to update and modernise Victoria’s energy legislative and regulatory framework. I would really like to take the opportunity to thank her very hardworking office, who are always so helpful with any inquiries or with any request for support. So thank you very much to the ministerial office, and also I would like to pay tribute to the hardworking members of the department, who have been very, very busy in terms of pushing forward the Andrews Labor government’s commitment to addressing issues of climate change and renewables.

When we talk about renewables we have got some great projects that have been funded by the Andrews Labor government in my electorate of Wendouree. A number of Ballarat community organisations are reaping the benefits and installing solar systems on their buildings as part of the Victorian government’s $2.7 billion building works package.

This includes the Ballarat Table Tennis Centre and McCallum Disability Services—and I would like to say a big hello to all my dear friends who are participants at McCallum. I hope you are having a great day, working hard, as you always do, and always having a few laughs. Also Ballarat Regional Industries received funding to put solar systems on their buildings. Ballarat Squash and Racquetball and the very good people at CAFS, Children and Family Services, in Ballarat also received a grant, as did Ballarat Cemeteries to put some solar panels on at the crematorium in Ballarat, which is very good to know. The Old Colonists Association is putting solar panels on social housing in Lake Gardens.

What is really great about this is not only are we tackling climate change through the introduction of solar systems but what we are doing is allowing these organisations that often operate on a shoestring to take charge of their energy consumption and use those savings to then invest back in the community. That $1.1 million in the Grampians region has been most well received, and I look forward to working with more community groups to try and support them to receive solar systems for their buildings as well.

Another important issue for my community—and I would really like to thank the minister—is the thousands of Wendouree residents who have benefited from the $250 power saving bonus. This one-off payment provides important financial support for eligible concession holders, and this year’s state budget has provided eligible concession card holders facing immediate hardship with the one-off $250 power saving bonus payment to help offset these costs. The direct bill relief is available to help an estimated 950 000 Victorian households that otherwise would struggle to pay bills and put food on the table. All pension types are eligible—aged pensioners and people receiving a disability support pension, carer payments and single parenting payments—and there is no cap on this program. All eligible households can apply, and the program is open until 31 January 2022.

I am so pleased that we are doing this. My office is always here to help. So far we have helped over 200 constituents directly to get their $250 power bonus, and I am really pleased that more than 3000 households in the electorate of Wendouree have already benefited. That is three-quarters of a million dollars in bonus payments that have been made to my community. We know how Ballarat can be incredibly cold during our chilly winters, so this is very important.

Getting to the bill, this bill gives effect to a suite of proposed reforms to improve the regulatory framework for energy in Victoria. The proposed amendments update the framework and implement reforms that have been made to the national energy laws. It is an omnibus bill which will result in changes being made to five different pieces of legislation. The legislation includes the Electricity Industry Act 2000, the Gas Industry Act 2001, the National Electricity (Victoria) Act 2005, the National Gas (Victoria) Act 2008 and the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target Act 2007.

As with all the legislation that we bring to this house, we engaged with stakeholders. I am very pleased that the department has undertaken stakeholder engagement and consultation about the proposed amendments, including with the Australian Energy Regulator, the Essential Services Commissioner, the Australian Energy Market Operator, the Australian Energy Market Commission and Energy Safe Victoria.

What is changing with this omnibus legislation? We are making six changes to the five pieces of legislation that have already been listed, and the first change is about regulatory sandboxing. The bill is mirroring reforms to national energy laws to enable innovative business models and technology to be trialled in Victoria by implementing a regulatory sandbox. I did not know what a regulatory sandbox was, but I am very pleased now that I do, because it is really interesting. It is a framework within which participants can test innovation concepts in the market under relaxed regulatory requirements, but only on a small scale and on a time-limited basis, with appropriate safeguards in place. That sounds like a really, really good way forward to me in terms of trialling something or piloting a program.

We also are looking at standalone power systems, also known as SAPS, and this bill will enable Victoria to opt in by regulation to the new regulatory national energy laws for standalone power systems. It also allows—I will have to be brief because I am running out of time—the setting of energy efficiency targets, providing power to the minister to make regulation settings to set the 2022 to 2025 energy efficiency targets. It is going to strengthen the National Electricity (Victoria) Act 2005 to enable the minister to seek orders from the Supreme Court in relation to contraventions or even proposed contraventions of an order.

The fifth thing that this omnibus bill does is it really clarifies the civil penalty framework. We are making amendments to clarify the application in Victoria of previous amendments, based on the new three-tiered civil penalty structure: so up to $10 million—three times the benefit gained from breaching the rules or 10 per cent of the annual turnover—for breaches in the higher tier; two, up to $1.435 million for the middle tier; and three, $170 000 for the lowest tier.

The final thing that this bill is doing is enabling hydrogen blending. Renewable gases such as hydrogen can be blended at low concentrations with natural gas to lower emissions with gas contribution. This bill will enable hydrogen blending because it will give powers to the minister to make orders to include hydrogen or other gas in the definition of natural gas.

There are important reforms in this omnibus bill, and I commend it to the house.


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