Second Reading-ENERGY SAFETY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (VICTORIAN ENERGY SAFETY COMMISSION AND OTHER MATTERS) BILL 2019
Mr FREGON (Mount Waverley) (16:29:32): I rise with delight to speak on the Energy Safety Legislation Amendment (Victorian Energy Safety Commission and Other Matters) Bill 2019. I would firstly like to thank the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change for her work, the work of her officers and the work of the department in getting us to this point with this very important bill. I would also like to note the contributions of some of my colleagues. The member for Broadmeadows and the member for Essendon certainly highlighted the fact that this bill assists us with community safety. As the member for Ringwood said, this bill is timely when New South Wales and southern Queensland are dealing with the catastrophic conditions that we saw yesterday and continue to see. I think it is timely. I join him in also thanking not only the Victorian service personnel but also those from New South Wales, Queensland and anywhere else who have gone to assist the people of those states. This bill is about strengthening the powers of Energy Safe Victoria and ensuring better licensing protocols for electrical line workers. We are committed to ensuring we have an energy system that is safe, affordable and reliable for all Victorians. We have seen that a number of times this year by the bills that have passed, and I will come back to those in a little bit. We make sure we have best practice to keep workers safe through mandating the minimum qualifications, training and experience for, in this case, electrical line workers. As the member for South Barwon mentioned, this is the 12th piece of legislation we have brought into this Parliament to reform our energy system and to make continual improvements. Again, the minister should be applauded for that work. The bill has two key elements. The first is the establishment of Energy Safe Victoria as a three-person commission. The member for Thomastown quite rightly mentioned that the 43rd recommendation out of the Grimes review, which I will mention, was in fact to have the CEO as the sole head. We have gone further for the sake of governance to make it a three-person commission. The second element of this bill is the establishment of an electrical line worker licensing scheme, which is also a very good improvement in the safety of our electricity system and also our workers. The Andrews Labor government is getting on with the job, as we all know, of ensuring affordable and reliable energy for every household. Some might ask: why do we keep coming back to energy? For some of us, the first thing we realise is we pop our microwave lasagne in the microwave and turn it on and wait a minute, and then that is all we think about it. Behind the microwave is a power point and behind the power point are some lines outside and then the substations and high-voltage wires. We have workers on every part of that system and we need to protect those workers in order to provide the electricity system that our consumers, our Victorians, rely on. That is what we are doing. The changes that the bill makes have come about due to recommendations by the Grimes review last year. The multimember commission will be more broadly skilled, improving its regulatory decision-making capabilities by ensuring consideration of a wider range of perspectives and experience. As I mentioned before, we have an unfortunate fire situation in other states. But of course we are bracing ourselves for a long hot summer, and hopefully we will not have similar problems here. We need to do everything we can to minimise any risk at all. Recent coronial inquests have reinforced the need to strengthen the regulatory effectiveness of the energy safety regulator in order to ensure community safety. The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission recommended reducing the risk of powerline fires after it was revealed that fires that had started from powerline faults caused 159 deaths on Black Saturday in 2009. I think we would all remember where we were that day. I think it was a pivotal moment for all Victorians. The rapid earth fault current limiter, abbreviated to REFCL so I will not say that mouthful again, is a network protection device. They are capable of detecting when a powerline has fallen to the ground and almost instantaneously reduce the voltage on the fallen line. As other speakers have mentioned, these REFCLs are being deployed as a part of the bushfire mitigation program. Now, an interesting technical fact here is that a normal 22 kilovolt is a 22 kilovolt phase to phase and two, I believe, 12.7 kilovolt phase to earth thing. In a REFCL system, when the REFCL operates, the 22 kilovolt phase to phase is maintained and supply continues. But the two phases rise to 22 kilovolts as the second one, where the third phase is reduced to 0 kilovolts phase to earth. This eliminates the voltage to earth and the fault current to earth, which could then possibly cause a fire. That is why we put these things in. To prevent resultant higher than 22 kilovolts damage to equipment within a planned installation, sometimes what is called an isolating transformer is used at the end of the line, like for a business that is using three phase power. Some customers might need multiples of those. The Victorian government has agreed to fund businesses for 50 per cent of the upgrade cost to a maximum of $1.5 million in some hardship cases. I thank the minister for working not only for the safety of Victorians through the bill and everything in it, but also working proactively with business and business groups. In fact the Ai Group stated that not only had the minister reassured them that action was being taken to support companies in this way, but that she had kept her word. I think that is a good vote from the Ai Group. It just so happens that we have a company in the Mount Waverley district called the Wilson Transformer Company and they have been around since the 1930s. Jack Wilson started this company, I believe, in Port Melbourne. They moved in the 1950s to Glen Waverley and have been there ever since. We have had Jack Wilson, then Robert and now Ed and his brother, who will, I presume, take over at some point. This is a great story of Victorian manufacturing in my district of Mount Waverley that will help us protect Victorians. A shout-out to the Wilson company. I spent a number of hours there a couple of months ago and I learned a lot. Whilst I have got about 2 minutes left, I also need to talk about line workers. Glen Campbell would have probably done it better in a better voice, but we are not in Wichita now; we are in Mount Waverley, in my district. A big shout-out to the Electrical Trades Union and to secretary Troy Gray and all his members for their constant work, with the assistance obviously of the minister and the work she has done, to get us to a situation where we are now going to license line workers. This is a good step, because as we speak, before this bill is passed, once you get your certificate III that is it. Once you have got your certificate III you can do the job. What is being implemented here is licensing as you would expect of the sparky who comes into your house to change a light globe: he has got to be licensed. But our line workers, who might be 200 feet in the air working on high-voltage lines, do not. This is a very important step and it makes a lot of sense when you think about it. We will have a licensing scheme to make sure these people have done what they need to do and are continuing to do it. I think we can see that this bill is definitely improving the safety of Victorians. It is improving the safety of our system and it is reducing the risks of fire, and at this very timely moment I think we would all agree that that is important and worthy of any work that we in this house can do. Again, I can only commend the minister and the government in general on concentrating on what some may think are smaller things, but these smaller things protect our Victorians and our community day after day after day. In that regard I commend this bill to the house.