National Energy Retail Law (Victoria) Bill 2024

02 May 2024

I rise to contribute to the National Energy Retail Law (Victoria) Bill 2024. This bill certainly is another reform that our government is making to protect Victorians in that retail market. I have spoken in this place several times on various bills that are energy related and on the topic of renewables particularly and the SEC. It probably speaks to the amount of work that we are doing in this place, having to speak on so many bills in this space. I know the minister is here in the chamber today. We are doing so much, and I would like to point out the amount of work. I am not only very proud to be part of a government and to work behind a minister who is ambitious for our state – we have achieved so much already, and there is a lot to continue to do – but proud we are a government that has got on with it, with consumers and Victorians at the centre of our reforms. That is what our reforms have been about. They are about our consumers. They are about our Victorians having the better deal for them.

The fact is we are bringing back the SEC. It is a really exciting part of our energy transition. We are building our renewables and building our batteries, our storage, and indeed when I look around the country I do believe that we are leading in this space. This bill marks a significant step towards that safeguard, like I have talked about. The best interests of our consumers are at heart in this energy landscape. It is a complex landscape, and it is ever evolving, but this bill particularly is there to provide a national retailer of last resort, and that is a scheme for Victoria. This bill applies to parts of the National Energy Retail Law in Victoria. We have our own energy retail laws, and they are regulated by the Essential Services Commission, and those Victorian retail energy laws are, as I said, tailored to benefit Victorian consumers. This last resort scheme is really a way to give consumers those protection measures that are needed. It aims to transition customers to alternative energy providers in the event that their current one collapses in the market. It has that primary goal of ensuring stability and guaranteeing uninterrupted electricity or gas supply for our consumers. Unlike other jurisdictions where energy retail laws are regulated by the National Energy Retail Law and monitored by the Australian Energy Regulator, Victoria does maintain its own regulatory framework, and that, like I have said, is enforced by the Essential Services Commission. Victoria does have some of the strongest energy consumer protections in this country, and that will indeed continue.

In the last eight years we have done some incredible work in this space and what I would say has in the past been deemed impossible by others. I do love a moment of ‘told you so’, but this certainly is a moment where we can celebrate the ambitious targets we have reset but also celebrate the achievements that we have achieved in government in a really short amount of time. We had a federal government that wasted decades in this space. We did not have a federal partner. We had constituents saying to us they wanted action on climate change, they wanted action in the energy space, they wanted reduction of emissions, and we wasted at a national level 10 years. Thankfully we do have that partner now in Canberra that is certainly willing to be a really strong partner with us in the work that we are doing.

We have not only embraced our renewable energy, though; we have more than tripled the share of renewables in power generation. We are leading that transition, but we also know that we want to put ‍– excuse the pun – power back in the hands of the Victorian people as well. And they have done that. They have put solar on their roofs. They have been able to do that to reduce their bills. They are embracing that clean energy, and many households now are also turning to looking at batteries and electric vehicles, and the technology keeps improving as we do that transition.

Really great for the Geelong region and Victoria – but I will proudly say it is in the Geelong region – is the Victorian Big Battery. It is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, and it does symbolise that transition that we are having, the innovation and the determination. I was interested to see that the footprint of that big battery is just under the size of the GMHBA Stadium at Kardinia Park – so two great things in Geelong, the Geelong Football Club and the Victorian Big Battery, with a very similar footprint. But yes, it is a great space to be – there is a lot of energy from that ground as well.

We also know that this type of investment is about the energy, but it is also about driving down our emissions. It is about slashing those greenhouse gas emissions, and we are doing that here in Victoria as well. We have set targets, but we have actually met them and done more. We have comfortably surpassed our 2020 renewable energy target of 20 per cent, and then we increased our 2030 renewable target from 50 per cent to 65 per cent. We are not shy of setting ambitious targets for ourselves.

We have talked about the large-scale battery, but we also know that we need to do at a local level some small community and neighbourhood batteries. Proudly, four of those neighbourhood batteries will come to my electorate, in the Borough of Queenscliffe. It is going to be an exciting project. I went along to a community forum where the community could learn more about the investment that is coming. We are partnering with Mondo Energy, the borough and a group called Queenscliffe Climate Action Now, and the community have really been the drivers of this transition for their own local communities. Proudly, we are going to be investing in these four neighbourhood batteries to allow more solar in the area, to soak up that solar, to store it locally and to really have those benefits at a local level, so it is a really exciting project. I said to the community on the night that they are really leading this transition at a local level. They are on this journey. There are still things to work out in terms of seeing the long-term benefits, but they are willing to give this a go. They are willing to say, ‘We want to lead in this space.’ So it is a really exciting time for that community.

Just on the solar and batteries, another exciting project, again driven by the community, was under the greener government school buildings program. We were able to partner also with the local primary school, the climate action group, the borough and the Queenscliff Music Festival with a really generous donation from them to put 74 solar panels, which is a 30-kilowatt system, on the school roof. That has been able to support the school to reduce their own energy bills but also feed that solar into the neighbourhood batteries that will come to the town. So this really has been a collective effort where government and communities come together and say, ‘Look, this is what we want to achieve,’ and it is supported by community organisations, and then we can get on with the work that we are doing.

This bill is vitally needed in a world where energy is our everyday life. We need energy in all our daily lives, and it is imperative that we really safeguard that when we have adverse outcomes within the market. Imagine a scenario where you now no longer have energy. Your provider has failed. You need to access power. It can be chaotic and very much an inconvenience to families. That is where this retailer of last resort scheme will step in. For years Victoria has operated a successful scheme, but as we are doing this transition, as we are seeing the markets change, we have seen that turbulent energy sector, so that is why this bill is so important. We know that bringing back the SEC was one of the biggest things at the last election. We talked about putting the power back into Victorian hands, where privatised companies and greed are not the drivers of an essential service like power. We as a government knew that we had to remove that privatisation and put it back into government hands, and I am really proud that we have done this. This bill is another example of this government delivering real reforms in the energy sector. We make reforms that put consumers at the centre, and we ensure that Victorians are getting the best deal from our energy system. We will continue to lead the nation in this space.