Mr D O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (19:05): (6138) My adjournment matter this evening is for the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, and the action I seek is for the minister to instigate a formal review or inquiry into the electricity distribution system, in particular in light of the most recent outages that we had across Victoria but particularly in my electorate of Gippsland South. Back in June of this year I actually called for a similar review, and the government did nothing. Here we are again: in October, another storm, more wind, and once again we had people without power.
Now, people in my electorate can generally accept that there will be times when trees go down, powerlines are down and the power is out for a day or two, maybe three or four, but when it gets to a week and more that is really stretching the friendship. And the feedback that I am getting is quite clear: in a developed economy it is simply not acceptable to have people without power for up to a week. In June it went to over two weeks for some people both in my electorate and in other parts of the state, and that is simply not good enough. It is a huge impact on households. It is an impact on businesses. It is particularly an impact on dairy farmers and those who do not have backup. It actually creates not only enormous financial losses but actually animal welfare issues as well in the dairy farmers’ situation.
So what I am seeking from the minister is a formal review—I actually think ideally we should be doing a parliamentary inquiry—into the system, looking into electricity and telecommunications. Although it is a federal issue, telecommunications is such an important issue when the power goes down, because very soon after, generally, so do the mobile services. And of course one of the challenges is we constantly tell people, ‘Check the outage tracker, check the VicEmergency app, check this’—all of it online, and people cannot get access to it online if they do not have those services.
We should be looking at the regulations governing private network providers like AusNet in our area—the response times, the provision of emergency information, as I said—and the options for mitigating these blackouts. It is simply not good enough just to say, ‘Look, it’s going to happen more, particularly in a changing environment’. We actually need to look at whether we can do it better. Now, AusNet was under the pump on both occasions, both in June and again at the end of last month—very widespread outages. They were never going to be able to cope more broadly, but we do need to look at the system. I think we have to acknowledge—and I certainly acknowledge—that any additional regulatory burden or any additional costs that are placed on the system will ultimately be borne by consumers. So we do need to be careful of that, and I understand the issues there. But it is simply not good enough that people go without power for so long—twice this year—and there is a concern that it is becoming more of a problem. I ask the minister and the government to actually properly review this and ensure that we learn the lessons of these events and that they do not happen again.