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Gas Infrastructure

9 June 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:25): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to amend the Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act 2016. Read a first time.

Second Reading

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:26): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Planning, Development and Infrastructure (Gas Infrastructure) Amendment Bill 2021 aims to deal with a problem that South Australian consumers face with respect to gas connections. Despite all the recent innovations in energy efficiency, renewable energy and energy storage, there are many South Australian families who are being locked into higher energy bills, and they are being locked into a lack of choice thanks to the conduct of certain property developers in South Australia.

These developers want to stop South Australian families from being able to choose what kind of energy they use in their homes and they do this by locking them into legally binding arrangements that force them to use fossil fuels in their homes forever. This may sound like a familiar statement, and I can assure you it is. In 2018, my friend and former MLC the Hon. Mark Parnell introduced this exact bill into this place. He hoped then that common sense would prevail. Sadly, three years later we are back here with a second attempt to deal with this issue.

While there are currently no laws in place in South Australia that mandate gas connection to newly developed properties, these connections are mandated by property developers in new developments. This bill seeks to do one simple thing: to legislate to void requirements for mandatory gas connections in new residential developments.

We know that for new houses, all-electric households are cheaper to run, compared to households with gas and electricity, in the medium to long term. Mandated gas connections for newly built properties are expensive, burdensome, unsustainable and environmentally harmful. With more environmentally friendly, cost-effective alternatives available, it is imperative that we move away from this harmful practice. When allowing these clauses of mandatory gas installation to exist, we take away people's autonomy and we condemn our state's future to the continued use of fossil fuels.

I want to make it very clear that I am not saying that people cannot use gas. That is not what this bill is seeking to do. It is about giving consumers, new home owners and those who are purchasing a new property choice. This is a bill about choice. It is not an ideological position. It is about respecting the rights of consumers to determine where they would like to source their energy.

The way that South Australian developers are mandating the use of gas is through these legally binding covenants that are registered on the certificates of title for new houses and land packages in new housing estates. To give you a concrete example, the Lightsview property development is one worthy of consideration. This property development by Peet Limited has been undertaken in partnership with Renewal SA. This is a government agency, and I quote from their mission statement:

…to initiate, undertake, promote, and support urban development activity to help deliver key strategic priorities of the Government of South Australia, particularly the new urban development directions outlined in the 30-Year Plan for Greater Adelaide.

More than 85 per cent of this development has been sold as at June 2021.

Upon further investigation, my office has been advised that these developers are mandating a gas connection to all newly built dwellings. A simple read of section 10.7 of their vacant land contract states that gas connections are mandated alongside the installation of either a gas-boosted split solar system or a six-star instantaneous gas hot water service. It says at section 10.7 of that agreement:

You must install a gas-boosted split solar hot water system or a six star instantaneous gas hot water service on the dwelling to be erected on the allotment in accordance with the requirements of the Lightsview Design Guidelines. A six star instantaneous gas hot water service can be erected on the dwelling as an alternative only when a photo Voltaic system of 1.5 kw or greater is installed also.

The deal is, if you want to buy into the Lightsview estate, you have to agree to connect to gas, and you have to agree to use gas at the very least for heating your home and for heating your water. What this contract means is that you are legally prevented from becoming more energy efficient and from using electricity as an alternative.

This bill is very simple: it outlaws this practice. It declares null and void any attempts to force householders to use fossil fuels in their homes if they do not want to. It puts energy choice back into the hands of South Australian families and takes that power away from the developers. It also frees up the opportunity for South Australian families to save money and to contribute to reducing carbon emissions and reducing our pressure on the climate.

There are significant savings to be made here. According to the Grattan Institute, running a new Adelaide house on all-electric energy would save up to $2,183 over 10 years and up to $5,556 over 10 years. That is if they switched from gas cooking, hot water and space heating. The practice of property developers mandating gas connection and gas use in these homes is locking South Australians into higher energy bills and higher emissions. I know that this will be an issue at the forefront of many South Australians' minds as they consider the harsh winter conditions that we are facing.

I also want to draw this council's attention to the new research that has come out looking at the health impacts of gas cookers in homes. In particular, I refer to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald dated 6 May this year, where it was noted that gas cookers in homes and gas heaters used in thousands of New South Wales classrooms pose serious health risks for children with asthma or allergies. The Climate Council research highlights the danger of gas use domestically, as gas cooking can have the same impact as passive smoking on children with asthma. The fuel should be consigned to the past like coal, wood and kerosene. This is a health risk we can no longer afford, the report says.

I agree. Why on earth are South Australian families, South Australian home owners being denied that choice when they buy a new property off the plan? It seems absurd that in modern South Australia families are being shackled with gas against their will and forced into a situation where they are going to face spiralling energy prices as a result and where they are going to be contributing to carbon emissions. This is a straightforward bill. It is about choice, and I hope that all South Australians will be supportive. I think most South Australians will be supportive—I have positive feedback—but I hope that parties in this place will get behind this simple reform.