State Electricity Commission Amendment Bill 2023

07 March 2024

I rise to speak on the State Electricity Commission Amendment Bill 2023, and I think we could have called this bill the ‘SEC is back bill’. We are very excited. I heard the contributions yesterday. I heard fantastic contributions from this side of the house talking about the importance of this bill.

The transition we have to renewable energy is a really big part of that urgent need for collective action on climate change and against climate change. We are as a world at a critical juncture where decisions made today will profoundly impact the future generations that will come after us, and the evidence is obviously irrefutable. We are witnessing rising sea temperatures, extreme weather events, disappearing ecosystems and the consequences of inaction threatening not only our environment but also our economies, health and security.

One of the most effective ways to combat climate change is transitioning away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and one of the most effective ways to combat energy security and the cost of power is to invest in the cheapest form of energy generation, which we know is renewables. The transition to renewables presents an unprecedented opportunity for innovation and job creation. We know that it is going to create thousands of jobs and economic growth, and by investing in renewable energy infrastructure we can create thousands of those new jobs and technology advancements and stimulate the economy at the same time.

However, this is all very easy to say. Words are great. But we also need action, and we need governments who are bold and ambitious. That is exactly what we are on this side of the house, and that is what we will be doing to see this transition. We are already leading the nation on many parts in this space. We are leading in that transition to renewables. We have more than tripled the share of renewables in power generation in just eight years. Renewables are very much backed by our own communities. Millions of Australians have put solar on their roofs. They are installing batteries and heat pumps, and they are looking for that energy efficiency in their home. That is a smart move. We all know that, and it is clear that that is a cheaper and cleaner future for our families and our households.

If families know to do that in their own households, it is pretty easy to see that bringing renewable infrastructure into the energy market will do the same and address those cost-of-living issues. We understand that households are facing pressures with the cost of living, and we continue to have initiatives to drive down those pressures. This is just one way that we can do that. By having government-owned energy back in government-owned hands we will see that investment going back into Victorians’ hands. On 14 November 2023 the SEC was declared a state-owned company under the State Owned Enterprises Act 1992. The Premier and Treasurer hold one share each in the SEC, and it will be a government-owned and government-controlled entity. Its first project is under construction, which is really good news for those bills and cost-of-living pressures which I have talked about, and it is going to be able to push that renewable energy into the system, putting downward pressure on wholesale prices and delivering benefits to Victorians. There is also construction of a huge battery, our first project, out in Melton powering over 200,000 homes, storing that excess energy from renewables in battery storage. We know that we need to continue to invest in our energy storage to put downward pressure, and we will continue to work on that.

As part of that transition though, excitingly, at the last election the government did commit to 100 ‍neighbourhood batteries, which is also part of the system reform and the system becoming more modern. I was really excited to be able to commit to a neighbourhood battery at the last election in Bellarine, in one of my local government areas, the Queenscliffe borough area, and that community had been advocating for a community battery or neighbourhood battery for a while. They have worked considerably hard over the last few years to develop a climate emergency response plan for the area, and the battery was part of that plan. They set ambitious targets at a local level by providing initiatives and actions that they want to undertake. They have gone through bulk solar buying programs, reducing single-use plastics, diverting food and garden waste from landfill and so much more. I would like to congratulate them on their work and their advocacy. They have done an incredible amount of work in this space, particularly led by a group called Queenscliffe Climate Action Now, a group that are really achieving some wonderful things that aim to not only protect our environment but leave our area cleaner and greener for our future generations. I am looking forward to seeing that project come to life very soon, that neighbourhood battery.

I have talked a little bit about the workforce that this opportunity allows us to grab hold of. I can see careers counsellors in schools saying to kids in the next few years, ‘Have you thought about working in the SEC?’ I am a mum of very early teenage kids, and I talk to a lot of other parents in the electorate who talk about what their career path for their children is – what is it that they will be looking for? We know that the jobs now might not be there in the future, but what are our future jobs for our kids? And I think this is an absolutely wonderful opportunity. To transition to do that work we will need a workforce, and we expect to create thousands of jobs. Part of that will be apprenticeships as well. To do that work does need some investment in our training and our commitment, and we are committed to establishing an SEC centre of training excellence and also encouraging schools and parents to look at engaging in the SEC as a career. Having careers nights in schools would be one example. As part of the budget, though, we also committed $12 million over three years to develop a business case for that SEC centre of training excellence, new renewable energy VET certificates and also the Victorian energy jobs plan. As I said, I can see the careers counsellors helping encourage students and school leavers to go into this field.

We understand that our households are feeling the pressures of cost of living, and I have talked a little bit about that. But there is a cost-of-living pain in various forms. We will see, as we have more recently, fires, heatwaves, droughts, floods and cyclones – extreme weather events which are coming our way unless we do something now, and we know that transitioning to renewables is part of that solution. As someone who has come from a farming background and someone who has experienced, I suppose, extreme weather events in terms of farming, farmers are absolutely on the front line of climate change, which then has a flow-on effect on growing our food and fibre for not only the state but indeed the nation and what we export as well to the world. We need to be ambitious and get on with this job. We have not got really any time to waste – and speaking of waste, we had a federal government that wasted 10 years in this space. They were closet climate change deniers. They pretended to do something when they did absolutely nothing. I feel it is a little bit the same here, where the opposition say some really nice things in this place but have no policies to address energy security.

A member: What about nuclear power?

Alison MARCHANT: Well, they have some solutions maybe – absolutely ridiculous, really – but they also had a policy of gas at the last election. They said that they would turbocharge gas. Coming from a background with a fracking campaign, it is clear that there is no proven and probable amount of gas that would be able to be extracted in Victoria onshore without fracking. At the unconventional gas inquiry the lead scientist said there was no proven and probable gas. I sat on the advisory panel and know that there is no proven probable gas. We know renewables are our future. We know that that is where the investment needs to go, and I am really proud to be part of a government that listens to the science and directs us to the right avenues to really be looking towards the future for a cleaner and greener energy-secure future.