Mrs ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Madam President, I will be brief and keep to the issue of the bill before us. These are major and complex changes but on the face of it they do appear to be in the best interests of Tasmanian consumers. There is no doubt there will be significant upfront costs and the best we can do is trust and hope that the ongoing benefits will outweigh these in the not too distant future.
Benefits to electricity consumers appear to be better price outcomes than in the past as competition usually offers the best opportunity for price reform. But it is essential that we have a reliable and secure cost as well as a reliable and secure service. Just a question to the honourable leader regarding the PAYG customers. I recall we heard in briefings this morning that the PAYG customers have 20 days to opt out without cost. Is that flexible? For example, if a PAYG customer is overseas on a holiday or out of the state and they come back and they are outside that 20 days; will they still be given the opportunity? Can you check that out? Sometimes 20 days is not very long, particularly if you are away and you come back or if it is over the Christmas period you might miss it.
Also, with the hydro-electric and the diesel power stations as well as three wind farms we really should have the cheapest electricity you could imagine, but I do not believe we have low energy costs in this state. You only need to ask my husband what he pays at his hotel and how the costs have increased over the last two years. I notice in the bill before us it says 'residential and small business'. Can you also advise what constitutes small business? Will it be hotels, restaurants and the like that use a fair amount of electricity with heating and cooking facilities? Or will it be measured on the amount of electricity they will now use or would it be on the amount of staffing that they had? Could you check that please?
One of the things you look at, particularly going on to small business, is employment. Yesterday we put a bill through that was supposed to increase employment but, of course, here we are looking at small business and the cost, particularly of electricity. It makes it difficult to operate in this economic climate. If we are going to looking at increasing jobs, we also need to be looking at keeping jobs in the businesses we have already. I think that is a really important thing, depending on which businesses are going to benefit from this new legislation.
The member for Windermere mentioned wood heaters. The federal government has provided a lot of money over the years for the wood heater buyback scheme, particularly in the Tamar Valley and Launceston area to improve the air quality. I think we need to stress that the wood heaters we get now are certainly of better quality than the ones they pulled out a long time ago but it still comes down to the efficiency of the user and whether or not they use good dry wood. It would be rather disappointing if the price of power gets to such a stage that people cannot afford it and they go back to using wood and perhaps putting less than perfect wood in and all of a sudden the gains we have made with the wood heater buyback scheme are lost. There does need to be clear information provided for people so they understand exactly what is happening, because it comes down to choice.
We hear, time and time again, that the changes will lead to improvement. Let us hope we do not follow the lead of the water and sewer corporation. From my memory, we were not going to notice any changes at all; it was simply that at the moment it is was on the rates bill. But all of a sudden it will not be on the rates bill because we are not going to pay any more, we are just going to pay in a different way. Woe betide if you happen to live in Launceston, if anyone has read the newspaper of late - the $5.8 million that they are supposed to be paying. They say 'Trust us' and that this will bring improvements. I just hope that it does. I will certainly support this bill, however I remember the sewer and water that was to allow potable water for the whole state without any impost on one area and so that it is all covered nice and evenly. But it does not always seem to happen.
I would like to mention solar and gas. I think that reflects on this. I am not trying to veer away from the bill but we are talking about having a cheaper service here. People go into gas and solar to try to improve efficiencies but it always seems to be the way that once there is a gain on one hand, the government says, hey, you are taking a bit from us here. People spent a lot of money going into solar, as we have read recently. The member for Windermere and I think the member for Rosevears mentioned how much money they may shortly be spending to put solar in to try to assist with costs because we all know electricity is probably one of the greatest costs that you have. It is disappointing to see now that people have been led down the garden path with solar. It is a bit like diesel fuel; things are cheap until people start using it. Like gas; that was cheap for a while too and all of a sudden now, when people are going to natural gas, the price goes up. It is like 'You can't go too much into that because we cannot lose too much money here on electricity'.
I feel particularly for pensioners or people who are on limited incomes. I too have had lots of calls mainly from pensioners but also people with several children who find it difficult to make ends meet. They wear overcoats in winter or they go to bed early because they cannot afford the heating. They cannot afford the bills when they come in and they get to the stage of living off their credit cards. Recently I visited a lady only in her sixties, and she said the bills like the Hydro have gone so beyond their means that they do not want to keep running up the costs. She is living at home waiting to die. When someone in their early sixties tells you they are waiting to die because all they have are bills and nothing to look forward to, you start to appreciate that it is very hard for people to live.
I hope that this is going to be better for the consumer and for businesses, both small and large because they keep people employed and enable them to go home and pay for their power and to adequately live and put money back into the community.
I will support this before us and I hope that it will not go along the track of water and sewerage and it will deliver what it has promised.