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Motion: Reviving ETSA

2 November 2022

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I move:

That this council—

1. Notes that the commonwealth budget released last week forecast:

(a) a 56 per cent increase in electricity prices over the next 18 months; and

(b) a 44 per cent increase in gas prices over the next 18 months;

2. Notes that Adelaide recorded the highest quarterly rise in CPI in the country with a 2.6 per cent rise for the September 2022 quarter, and an annual rise of 8.4 per cent;

3. Recognises that cost-of-living pressures are continuing to increase for South Australians;

4. Acknowledges that the privatisation of ETSA was a failure of market regulation and contributed to an increase in electricity prices; and

5. Calls on the Malinauskas government to establish a commission of inquiry to examine reviving ETSA and returning South Australia's electricity distribution and transmission network to public ownership.

This motion is calling on the government to establish a commission of inquiry looking into reviving ETSA and returning our electricity service distribution network back into public hands. The reason why the Greens are making this call is because we recognise the significant cost-of-living pressures that South Australians are facing at the moment.

While people are sleeping in tents due to skyrocketing rental prices and low vacancy rates in housing, every day essentials are becoming more and more out of reach. Indeed, just this week we have seen interest rates increase once again, and we have seen predictions around inflation hitting 8 per cent, or more than 8 per cent, here in South Australia.

Last week's federal budget, the first federal Labor budget, forecast a 56 per cent increase in electricity prices over the next 18 months—a 56 per cent increase in electricity prices—and a 44 per cent increase in gas prices over the same period. Such a dramatic increase in energy prices, given the already skyrocketing cost of living, will be devastating for people who are already struggling to stay afloat in our state. Sadly, it is always the most vulnerable who are affected. South Australians should not have to choose between necessary groceries, turning on the heater during this winter period or having appropriate air conditioning when the weather finally warms up.

According to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Adelaide recorded the highest quarterly rise in CPI in the country for the September 2022 quarter. Over the last 12 months, the CPI for Adelaide has increased to 8.4 per cent. Over the same period, wages have increased in South Australia by only 2.3 per cent. We have wage stagnation while we have inflation skyrocketing out of control. Where are people going to find the money for extra power bills? The average energy price in South Australia is $1,840 per year. An increase of 56 per cent would equate to more than $1,000 per year for the average household, so in 18 months' time, low-income workers will be spending up to 13 per cent of their income on energy.

The privatisation of ETSA by the Liberal Olsen government delivered higher energy prices—that is a fact—and South Australians have paid dearly for that appalling failure of leadership from that ill-fated Liberal government. Research from the Australia Institute in 2019 found that 40 per cent of South Australians blamed the privatisation of ETSA for power price increases, and they are right because we have seen power prices increase over a long period of time. We know what happens when you sell off key utilities like our electricity network. When you sell off key utilities like electricity, then you let the free market decide, and what we see is utilities working for the interests of shareholders, not the interests of the community.

That is why we are calling for this commission of inquiry to look at bringing back ETSA, re-establishing that as an independent statutory authority that operates for the interests of all South Australians rather than the business of shareholders. The people of South Australia deserve an energy service that is managed by South Australians for South Australians. Over the border, the Victorian Labor government have committed to reviving their State Electricity Commission with a majority share owned by the state should they win the next election. I encourage the Malinauskas government to take inspiration from Daniel Andrews over in Victoria.

I note that yesterday Premier Malinauskas announced a National Energy Crisis Committee of Cabinet to investigate measures to mitigate the impact on the community of price hikes. In the Premier's ministerial statement, he said that South Australia's prices are expected to be lower than in the Eastern States, which rely on coal-fired power stations. That is correct. The SA Productivity Commission's annual report, tabled yesterday, finds that:

…the State's ability to take advantage of these natural advantages has been limited by problems in the local electricity market which reduced the pass through of these lower prices to consumers…this means that South Australia is not currently [at] a competitive advantage due to renewable energy.

We need to fix the electricity market to ensure our power prices stay low so that we can take advantage of our potential position. While the National Energy Crisis Committee of Cabinet is valuable in terms of mitigating the impacts on consumers, bringing back ETSA, returning our electricity network to public hands, would ensure the government can play a vital role in keeping our local energy market on track.

During the last state election, the Labor Party made a commitment to return our trains and trams back into public hands and establish a commission of inquiry to enable that to happen. I know that the Minister for Transport several months ago announced that it was not necessary to progress with that commission of inquiry because he had been working with Keolis Downer to return the train network back into public hands—we welcome that—but that means that the commission of inquiry that was budgeted for by the Labor Party has not been commissioned, and we believe that money should be reallocated to a commission of inquiry looking into bringing back ETSA. That would be a worthy project for this government to undertake.

I welcome statements made to date by the Premier and the Treasurer and other ministers in the Malinauskas government, where they have stated that every option is on the table. I hope this is an option to which they give serious consideration. I hope they seek inspiration from the Daniel Andrews government over in Victoria and look at what is happening in other places around the world, where publicly-owned utilities are able to better serve the needs of the community.

The Greens of course continue to advocate a range of policies that are about not only improving affordability for consumers but also mitigating the impacts of climate change. I note that gas continues to skyrocket out of control; I note that petrol prices continue to skyrocket out of control. The Greens will continue to advocate for alternatives to these. I have a bill before this parliament that would end gas connections to all new homes, and I hope that the Labor Party will give that serious consideration as well.

In the meantime, let's get the commission of inquiry happening, and let's look at how we can bring our electricity network back into public hands so that it operates for the best interests of all South Australians, rather than shareholders of a large corporation. With that, I conclude my remarks.