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National Energy Laws (Wholesale Market Monitoring)

9 April 2024

I rise to speak in favour of the Statutes Amendment (National Energy Laws) (Wholesale Market Monitoring) Bill 2023. This bill improves the transparency of energy contracts between energy wholesalers and retailers by giving the Australian Energy Regulator monitoring powers to analyse the efficacy of competition and to identify features of contracts that are detrimental to energy supply or cost.

The sale of ETSA back in the 1990s was a major blow to South Australia, exposing the vulnerability in our electricity systems. Now we are in a situation as a result of that appalling decision where we are relying on privatised wholesale and retail markets to provide efficient and affordable energy supply. What we are seeing in energy prices is an increase over time, even though renewable energy has dramatically reduced the cost of producing energy in our state. These increased costs are placing a huge burden on household budgets and putting the viability of small businesses at risk. This is simply not a sustainable situation.

It is for this reason that the Greens have been calling for the re-establishment of a new ETSA to bring power back into public hands and address the ongoing issues of our privatised energy market. Indeed, back in 2022 the Labor Party promised during the election that they would establish a commission of inquiry into bringing back public ownership of our trains and trams. They have not needed to proceed with that inquiry, and I recognise the work of the transport minister in that regard, but we could use that same model to examine the issues associated with our energy network, look at what it would take to bring back ETSA and give South Australians control of our electricity once again.

Local government is starting to take the power back into its own hands. Indeed, the City of Mitcham has become a leader in the energy industry, creating a community renewables program that gives local communities agency and control over their power. I understand that over 760 households have signed up to receive solar panels or batteries and their next step is to establish a virtual power plant. For those who may not be aware, a virtual power plant, also known as a VPP, shares renewable energy generated at individual properties across a local network. It helps prevent blackouts, reduces electricity costs and addresses climate change. As more people move towards models like this, we will see a total shift in our energy market. It is the democratisation of energy generation and distribution.

This bill is necessary for the Australian Energy Regulator to address the lack of transparency in contracts with the big retailers and the big wholesalers. If we were to bring back publicly owned electricity to South Australia and establish more local power networks, as could be achieved through virtual power plants, we could entirely change the energy landscape and entirely remove the need for the types of measures included in this bill. The problem here is not simply transparency; the problem is that the Liberals sold off ETSA to private providers who are more interested in making a buck than serving the public good. We need to see that reversed and we need to put the power back into public hands.

I do want to take this opportunity to caution the Liberal Party against ever going down the privatisation path again. I do welcome the fact that the Malinauskas government has worked with the Greens to support a bill that will make it very difficult to sell off key public assets in the future without appropriate parliamentary scrutiny. That is a really good step, and I think it will ensure that this parliament does not repeat the folly of the Liberals in the future.