Essential Services Commission (Governance, Procedural and Administrative Improvements) Amendment Bill 2018

Mr J. BULL (Sunbury) (18:09:41) — I am very pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Essential Services Commission (Governance, Procedural and Administrative Improvements) Amendment Bill 2018. This government stands for fairness, equality and opportunity. We stand for a quality of life that enables each individual to be the very best they can be, the opportunity and the chance to start life and go to a good school and get a quality education, access to high-quality health care that does not send you and your family broke when you get sick and the chance to get a good job with decent working conditions. These are the things that we fight for. These are the things that the Andrews Labor government believes in — and access to essential services. We on this side of the house understand how important core services are to people’s lives — access to gas, water, electricity. These are things that help Victorians, whether they live in my community in Sunbury, whether they live in your community, Acting Speaker, in Geelong, or whether they live in Carrum. Right across the state we know that each and every Victorian needs these services, relies on these services, to live their daily lives.

The Essential Services Commission (ESC) does play an important role in monitoring and regulating our essential services. The ESC is of course charged with independent regulatory functions that deal with the price, quality and reliability of services. The ESC was established under an act of the Bracks government and assists in regulating our energy, water and transport sectors as well as administering the rate capping system introduced of course by this government.

The Andrews Labor government understands that Victoria is growing at a fast pace — 140 000 people roughly per year — and we understand that this in turn places a greater demand on infrastructure. There is a need to build more roads, more schools and better health services and of course to continue to upgrade the infrastructure that services our local communities. This government understands that, whether they be gas, water or electricity, paying for these services — paying these bills — is often very challenging for many in our community. It is why we are of course working so very hard to increase supply with the single biggest investment in renewable energy in the state’s history. These are genuinely exciting announcements around solar and wind, ensuring that there is more energy and there is greater supply in the market.

I had the opportunity to talk to some year 12 students in my community just a couple of weeks ago, and what was really clear was the understanding the students had around renewable energy and the passion that many of these students have for renewables — something that I think, when I was in year 12, certainly was not there amongst the cohort of people that I went to school with. I think it is —

Ms Williams interjected.

Mr J. BULL — Well, maybe it does say something about my school friends, honourable member for Dandenong, or me. But I have to say it was genuinely exciting to hear their passion for renewable energy, to talk about the government’s commitment to solar and to talk about the government’s commitment to wind energy. I think this is a really exciting and changing space. Not only does it create jobs, it creates jobs in areas where we know they desperately need new jobs — in the regions. It is really important stuff, and something that is only possible because of this government. Not only are we looking at increasing supply into the sector, we know that solar and wind farms and the solar homes package, which the students spoke to me about — they were aware of it — will of course help drive down prices whilst being good for the planet.

This bill performs a range of functions. We know that in 2016 a review of the Essential Services Commission Act 2001 was conducted in accordance with the requirements of section 66 of the act, and the bill, as other speakers have mentioned, implements several of the recommendations of this review by replacing the appeal panel established under the act with a review jurisdiction conferred on the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, VCAT; enabling the minister to appoint a person to act as a chairperson in the absence of a chairperson or a vacancy in the office; making further provision for the Essential Services Commission to report on the market structure and performance of regulated industries; providing for a further review of the act to be completed by the end of 2026; and making amendments to other acts as a consequence of the repeal of provisions providing for appeal panels to hear appeals in relation to requirements, decisions or determinations of the commission.

We know that the review concluded that the ESC was working well as an economic regulator but found scope to clarify its role and improve governance, procedural and administrative arrangements. The review made 10 recommendations to address this, and I think it is certainly worth noting that it is a provision in the act that the review occurs, but to make the broader point around improved governance for our community and our society, we should constantly be taking into account new practices and better ways of doing things. This is something that I think has been a very strong hallmark of the Andrews Labor government — not shying away and not walking away from those things that might be difficult to address but constantly reviewing legislation to ensure that the very best, most updated pieces of legislation with the best frameworks are passed by this house and the other place to ensure that we know that our laws are for modern times, are up-to-date and of course, most importantly, provide the best outcomes for our local community.

The government’s response expressed broad support for those recommendations in the review, supporting nine of the recommendations and supporting in principle one recommendation. It is also noted of course that four of the recommendations do not require a legislative change and hence are not included in the bill.

It is timely that in discussions around the ESC that we acknowledge in this place the commitment of the Andrews Labor government when it comes to renewable energy, to be a leader — not a commentator, a leader — and to actually invest and spend money in areas to not only develop the science and the technology but to increase investment in this really exciting industry, an industry that is going places and an industry that not only creates jobs, as I mentioned before, in fantastic parts of rural and regional Victoria but on top of that is good for the environment and also brings down prices. I think that is what good policy does.

This government supports the right of every Victorian to have access to those essential services. We know that the work of the Essential Services Commission is important. We understand that this work must be constantly reviewed, and it is timely that this piece of legislation is before the house. The Essential Services Commission needs to be modern, robust and able to keep pace with what is a fast-moving world. If you look at the way energy is tracked and recorded, you have only got to look back 10 or 15 years and the technology has changed so much; no doubt in 10 to 15 years’ time it will have changed even more. This bill helps the ESC do this, and I commend the bill to the house.