Adjournment - Electricity prices
Mr PITT (Hinkler) (21:05): Last week, the state member for Burnett, Stephen Bennett, and I called on the Queensland Labor government to follow Indonesia's lead—Indonesia, would you believe!—and cut power prices for farmers and businesses. As a former electrical engineer and farmer, electricity pricing is an issue I am particularly passionate about.
The median personal income in my electorate of Hinkler is just $411 a week—just $411. A substantial number of pensioners call Hinkler home, and we have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Unfortunately, many of Hinkler's major employers are making workforce decisions based on the cost of energy. Local foundries, farmers and manufacturers all say their overheads are rising at an unsustainable rate. It is no coincidence that in 2013-14 the number of households in regional Queensland disconnected for debt or non-payment rose 87 per cent to 12,454. Ergon and Energex recently released their yearly profits, showing a $3.5 billion dividend going straight to the state Labor government—$3½ billion! I just want to emphasise that point: while 12,500 Queenslanders were disconnected because they could not afford to pay their bills, the state government is making billions.
At the 2015-16 state budget, we saw the Queensland Labor government transferring debt to the government owned corporations rather than prudently managing their own budgets. The lack of market competition in regional Queensland will only worsen if the Queensland Labor government proceeds with its plan to merge the state owned corporations Ergon, Energex and Powerlink. The merger, combined with already high electricity prices, falling energy consumption and the renewable energy target will result in substantial job losses in the energy sector.
We have heard a lot from the Electrical Trades Union during the January 2015 state election, in Queensland, but where are they now? They are certainly not out there actively fighting for their members' jobs. Where is the ETU?
The Australian Energy Regulator has moved to restrict Ergon Energy's proposed revenue by 27 per cent over the next five years to try to save consumers some money, but, instead of reducing energy prices across the board, the state Labor government is challenging the AER's determination and is using Queenslanders as their personal cash cows. I acknowledge that some of the profits go towards ensuring those in the bush pay the same price as those in the city through a uniform tariff policy, but that is not the main issue here. The fact is that Labor has indicated it will use $3½ billion to pay down its own debt. So Queenslanders are paying for their financial incompetence. I would be willing to bet that the next Labor state budget will not show any reduction in debt, because they will do what not only state Labor governments but federal Labor governments do best: spend, spend, spend.
A 93 per cent increase in electricity prices for irrigators in six years, as reported by the Bundaberg News-Mail, is completely unacceptable. If things continue the way they are, before too long Australians will be buying all their food from overseas. The Australian newspaper reported last week that the Indonesian government will cut energy prices for companies by reducing their own revenue, to stimulate the economy and create jobs. There is absolutely no reason the Queensland state Labor government cannot do the same thing. Hinkler residents concerned about electricity prices or any other state issues should go along to Labor's community cabinet meeting in Bundaberg on 18 and 19 October and make their views known. Farmers, businesses and households in my electorate are hurting and they need cost-of-living relief now.
The issue for the electricity industry is difficult. The situation is like this: it is very similar to someone saying to you, as a family, as an owner of a car, that you need to buy a new car to fix the emissions from your old car. At the same time, you need to keep your old car, you need to maintain it, you need to pay for fuel, you need to pay insurance, you need to pay registration, you need to put tyres on it and you need to keep it ready and operational, because your new car, which has great emissions technology fitted, simply does not work all the time. It only works when the wind blows or the sun shines. That is the challenge for the electricity industry. You cannot have a factory which produces widgets at a particular rate and then hope to keep that on the sidelines and only turn it on when you think you require it, at peak periods. It will cost more money. It is very straightforward. It is economics 101. If we do not address this, there will be substantial job losses—further job losses—in Queensland. We already have a disastrous situation with what has happened in the mining industry. We cannot afford to lose our agriculture producers and, in particular, the sugar industry, which employs tens of thousands of Queenslanders across the Queensland coast. We must fix electricity pricing, we must fix it now, and we need to act.