ENERGY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (ENERGY FAIRNESS) BILL 2021
MR FREGON (Mount Waverley) (12:17): I rise also to speak on the Energy Legislation Amendment (Energy Fairness) Bill 2021. What a pleasure it is to follow the member for South Barwon, my whip colleague. It is a privilege to assist him in his duties in this noble house.
A member: What a suck.
Mr FREGON: I know. I wonder if that helps, but anyway.
Mr Dimopoulos interjected.
Mr FREGON: That is true. We are all doing very well. It is more important, I should say, that we are here to represent the people of Victoria and obviously in my case the great people of—God’s own country—Mount Waverley. From Bayswater to Tarneit, St Albans to Oakleigh or from Broadmeadows to the good people of Narre Warren or even Lowan, we are here to help them in their day-to-day lives—in keeping their energy prices fair and reasonable and hopefully lower, and making it easier to work in the energy environment and the industry that we have. Other people have mentioned changes to that industry over the years—some good, some not so good.
I would also just comment on the energy during this lockdown that my staff have been using while I have been working from home. I am just going to take this very short opportunity before I go back to the bill to say thank you to my staff. You are working very well. I really appreciate the work you do, and I should go back to the notes that Lisa has prepared for me.
In 2018 we made a commitment to Victorians. We made many commitments to Victorians, which we are ticking off without any doubt and which we are delivering, and I will get back to that word ‘delivering’ hopefully towards the end. We promised that a re-elected Andrews Labor government would deliver the biggest regulatory shake-up of the energy sector in Victoria’s history by providing stronger punishments for retailers who do the wrong thing and better protections for customers, while extending the power saving bonus to help more customers get a better deal on their energy bills. And I give a second shout-out to my staff on that, because of the amount of people who they have helped on our behalf to get those power saving bonuses, which have made a real difference. I know the Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers, who is at the table, would be well aware of the amount of seniors and pensioners who have directly benefited from the $250 power saving bonus. So I encourage all members—and I know that I do not really need to because we are all doing this—to make sure that message gets out so everyone who is eligible can get that assistance for their day-to-day bills. This builds on our work to cut power bills for Victorians by installing solar panels, batteries and hot water systems on 770 000 houses across the state through our Solar Homes package.
Labor is supporting all 11 recommendations of our independent review of the electricity and gas retail markets in Victoria, which found that intervention was required to make our system fairer for customers and recommended a range of measures to help cut power prices. Wrongful disconnections by big energy companies are consistently a major complaint, particularly for vulnerable Victorians, and that is why we are introducing tougher penalties to put retailers on notice. As part of Labor’s energy fairness plan we will double civil penalty notices to $250 000 for retailers who undertake wrongful disconnections, making it the highest fine in the nation. That really sets an example for those companies, and for the other states to follow suit, that when you go in the wrong direction and it hurts people, there should be consequences.
We will ban win-backs, the so-called short-term discounts that end up slugging customers more in the long run. We will also put an end to retailers’ door-to-door sales and cold-calling telemarketers harassing Victorian families. There is one thing that my office has received a number of complaints on over the years—many complaints—and that is door-to-door salesmen and the cold-call phone calls from people who are trying to sell you something which most people do not want, and they call us. I notice that in the reasoned amendment the member for Sandringham put forward he talks about stickers, and I think the member for Burwood highlighted some of the sticker policies that seem a little strange. But we do have the ‘Do not knock’ stickers in my office, and I am sure a lot of other members do. If there is anyone out there who does want one, please give us a call and we can get them out to you. I do not think we need to put that in legislation. It is available. There are plenty of options there.
Right now energy retailers are able to back bill up to nine months when they have undercharged their customers. Labor will reduce this to four months. The point of that is obviously so that customers are not forced to pay huge sums simply because the retailer mucked up and took a while to realise their mistake. Under Labor criminal penalties for energy retailers who mislead or deceive the Essential Services Commission or systematically and wrongfully disconnect households will increase to $1 million. Labor’s energy fairness plan will also provide the ESC with clearer investigatory powers as well as new powers to monitor and report on the competitiveness and efficiency of the Victorian retail energy market. Labor will appoint a fourth essential services commissioner—an energy cop on the beat—whose focus will be on prosecuting misbehaving energy retailers who have had it too easy for too long.
We have already been helping Victorians save money on their energy bills by extending our $50 power saving bonus, which originally ended on 30 June 2019. Since the introduction of the scheme in July 2018 more than 220 000 Victorians have claimed that $50 bonus by using the Victorian Energy Compare website to find a better deal on their power bills. On average Victorians who use the independent comparison website will save $330 or more on their bills in the first year alone, with seven out of 10 finding a better deal by switching retail offers. One thing John from my office was saying the other day is that in the last few years he has—
Mr Dimopoulos: Hi, John.
Mr FREGON: John is an excellent electorate officer, and I could not do most of this without him. But over the last couple of years every 12 months or so he goes back to Energy Compare. He has told me that in the last three years that he has done this he has saved money every year. So it is a bit of a reminder for us all: if you have not run the Energy Compare website in the last six or 12 months or so, it is probably worth having a look, because there are better deals out there.
Now, in 2021 we introduced the $250 power saving bonus for pensioner concession card holders and some healthcare card holders, including JobSeeker, youth allowance, Austudy and Abstudy recipients, to assist in paying their energy bills. We in the office send out birthday cards to our seniors—as a lot of, I know, members on all sides of the spectrum do—and in those birthday cards for 65-and-overs we have been putting mention of the power saving bonus, just to make sure people are aware of it. I tell you, it is a very nice day when you get a call from a 90-year-old who has lived in the Waverley area for 57 years and they say, ‘Oh, look, thank you very much for the card. That was very nice’. And you go, ‘Oh, well, that is the least I can do’, and they say, ‘And the $250: best present I got’. And you think, ‘Well, okay, it’s not exactly a present, so correct that’, but the fact is that was so useful to that person.
For people who are pensioners, their income is basically fixed and, let us face it, increases over the years to pensions have not been what you would actually call generous, so having that $250 makes a huge difference to the yearly income for those people. To know that we are a government who understands this, who understands how much we can help with sometimes a relatively small amount of money, is a good thing.
Mr Dimopoulos: It can make a big difference.
Mr FREGON: It does make a big difference, member for Oakleigh. You are absolutely right. It is the little things that this government does, like the $250 power saving bonus for people, that I think just show our values time and time again. If there is a little way we can help, we will help. And so, on that note, obviously this is a very good bill. On the reasoned amendment, the member for Sandringham said ‘It delivers’. I do not see how you can deliver by actually saying ‘We’re not going to do anything’, but maybe that is the way they work on that side. Here we just deliver.