Labor’s energy amendments fall short

The Nationals Member for Gippsland South Danny O’Brien is concerned that new energy legislation passed by the Andrews Labor Government will do little to improve resilience or help communities affected by extended power blackouts.

Mr O’Brien said he was pleased when the Energy Minister answered his calls for an electricity distribution network resilience review in the wake of the prolonged power outages that occurred after the significant storms of July and October 2021. But he is worried the Andrews Labor Government has missed the mark with changes passed in Parliament this week.

“These amendments focus on compelling the electricity distribution businesses to provide the government with ‘information’ to assist in emergency management operations,” Mr O’Brien said.

“While I support the amendments being put forward, I am not entirely sure that it is going to make that much difference when extended blackouts inevitably happen again.

“Certainly AusNet, which is both the transmission and the distribution provider in Gippsland, did its best trying to get people back on line.

“But of course there was frustration about the information provided at the time. In some cases they would say, ‘We’ll be back on midnight tomorrow night’, and then the next day it would be midnight the next night and in some cases days and weeks later before power returned.

“But I am not sure how having legislation to direct businesses to provide this sort of information to government is going to make that much difference.

“They are clearly making an effort to provide information to customers but it was very difficult for them to gauge exactly how long it would be in some circumstances.

“The second part of the direction is to compel distribution businesses to support and administer relief programs and payments. Again that is a useful backup plan, but that is how relief was delivered in 2021, so I am not sure that we are adding a lot of value in this legislation.”

Mr O’Brien said he called for this review to look at the resilience of all our utilities, particularly electricity and telecommunications systems, response times, the provision of emergency information and options for mitigating blackouts.

“I am not convinced that these changes do much to address any of those concerns.

“I am aware that many Gippsland South residents took part in the consultation phase of this review and provided a lot of feedback that isn’t going to be addressed by these amendments.

“I support the attempt to do something better, but I think there are other recommendations in the report that should be looked at, and that includes things like the payments for people who were off power for seven days. There were many people who were off power for five, six and six and a half days who then did not qualify for those payments and yet incurred significant costs.”

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