Mr NORTHE (Morwell) — I am pleased to rise this afternoon to speak on the National Electricity (Victoria) Further Amendment Bill 2015, following the member for Bendigo West and her rewrite of history. I will try to put some facts back on the table during my contribution — the real facts. This bill does a number of things, and I suppose its most important parts are in the establishment of a new framework to provide greater clarity regarding information that is exchanged between an electricity distributor and a customer in setting up a connection. The member for Caulfield talked about making sure that those connections are done in a timely manner, bringing the required number of days back from 20 to 10 in most cases. However, he noted the fact that complex cases remain at 65 days. The bill talks about any disputes that may arise, and the Australian Energy Regulator would be the dispute resolution provider in that case. It is interesting to note that at the moment the national energy market is an interesting one — it is certainly one that has challenged all governments, and indeed all involved in the industry, over a long period of time. As members would know, my electorate of Morwell is a very important and critical part of not only Victoria’s energy supply but also the national electricity market. Without being condescending, I would say that I am not really sure that a lot of members of Parliament or indeed the general public understand the reliance of other jurisdictions on the electricity supply that comes out of the Latrobe Valley. From a local point of view there is no doubt there are significant challenges for the energy industry in Victoria. The shift has been substantial in recent years. Overall we have seen a reduction in demand, and that can be attributed to a number of factors. Part of the challenge, which I will take up with the member for Bendigo West, is the suggestion that for four years under the former government things went backwards from a renewable energy perspective. That is not the case at all. In fact, if you look at rooftop solar, you see it more than doubled in the four years we were in government, as one example. Indeed in the Victorian context the take-up of renewable energy actually increased substantially in our term in government. Nonetheless, from a local point of view there are challenges in the industry. Statewide we have seen that some of the heavy users of electricity in Victoria have closed or had some challenges, and the take-up of renewable energy is the primary reason we have seen a reduction in demand. At the same time the generators in the Latrobe Valley have seen a very stable price, or even a reduction in the wholesale price, over a long period of time, which has put enormous financial pressures on those particular industries — the businesses and the workers. Still, today, in 2016, the Latrobe Valley is absolutely critical to the security of supply in Victoria, and might I say it is critical as an exporter to other jurisdictions, which I will talk about shortly. I want to set the record straight on some points. When we were in government I think one of the key things we did was to issue an energy policy statement, and that talked about a number of things that we were able to do and some of the key initiatives that we were to take up. Price has been discussed by the members for Bendigo West and Caulfield, and that is absolutely a critical part of it. I remind all members of the house that one of the key initiatives the coalition put in place was to extend electricity concessions, making them available all year round. Those concessions are critical to some of the most vulnerable people within our community. It was actually the coalition government that implemented that policy — we did that — and until this day it has been an important concession for many of the most vulnerable in our community. We have talked about the smart meter rollout — I will not go there — but from a consumer perspective there was the My Power Planner initiative, which the current government has rebadged and which has morphed into something else. It was going perfectly well. Ms D’Ambrosio interjected. Mr NORTHE — It was going perfectly well. The minister at the table is interjecting, but nonetheless I appreciate that the government has rebadged it. It is a good initiative that we introduced as a coalition, and it had a great take-up. I know many people, including me, actually use it on a frequent basis. It is a good initiative. It gives some power back to the consumers — pardon the pun! It is a good tool, and it is a good initiative that has been used. Again, I can stand here and say that I have used it myself. There are a whole range of other initiatives that we put in place. Critically when we are talking about distribution companies, after the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission reported we implemented the powerline bushfire safety program, which is a critically important part of making sure that we do protect our electricity assets whilst keeping the community safe at the same time. I mentioned our energy policy statement, and one of the key aspects of that was competition for network connections. If I can read just part of that out, on page 41 we said: Electricity distribution connections are currently provided to consumers by network businesses. There is little competition in delivery of this service and anecdotal evidence suggests that many consumers experience considerable delays in applying for and having the connections installed. Successive Victorian governments have supported an approach that allows competitive markets to drive efficient service delivery and ongoing improvements in productivity. While it is not possible to introduce competition into all elements of the energy supply chain, network connection services could be provided by suitably qualified third party providers. I have been approached as a local member of Parliament on a few occasions about the exorbitant costs that can exist for one to have electricity connected and the time frames for doing so. We put measures in place in September 2014 to drive that contestability but also to make sure that connections did occur in a timely manner, and that is very important. Here we are, probably 18 months later, and we are talking about these same things. I also want to talk about these matters from a national electricity market point of view. I am not sure if some of the challenges that other states are having at the moment are widely known, and I will preface my comments by saying, of course, that I am very supportive of the notion that we do increase our renewable energy capacity in Victoria, but it has been interesting to read over the past few months about the challenges that some of the other states are encountering at the moment. Many members may not be aware, but we are a substantial electricity exporter to South Australia and New South Wales. South Australia had enormous challenges over the summer period. There has been media article after media article talking about the fact that the wind did not blow over the summer, and that state has had to endure substantial electricity prices and a threat to its security of supply. I will say it in context: good on South Australia, but at the same time we have to be very careful in making sure that we still do have a mix of energy supply sources and that we do have substantial baseload power to be able to continue to not only power homes but also businesses. Members may have heard about the Basslink issue Tasmania is having at the moment, with the interconnector not working, having been offline for months. I have an article that says, ‘Hydro’s solution to Tasmanian electricity crisis to cost millions’. You have one of the largest paper machines in Tasmania effectively shutting down as a consequence of it not having power. Hydro Tasmania’s facilities are not working effectively. Water storages are very low, and with the interconnector now broken, Tasmania is really struggling. I will make that point again: the fact is that I well and truly and strongly support the notion of having a mix of renewable energy in Victoria, but at the same time Victoria has been playing a key role in making sure that South Australia is has power during critical periods, and we also play an important role with respect to Tasmania. From my perspective these are sensible provisions, and I commend the bill to the house.