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Thursday, 21 June 2012
Page: 7529

Mr RAMSEY (Grey) (16:30): Last week I visited one of my northern towns, Coober Pedy. It pains me to once again have to bring to the attention of the House the price of electricity in Coober Pedy. Last July in this place I moved a motion condemning the Rann Labor government for its $1 million reduction in the electricity subsidy for 13 regional remote communities. In fact, it is no longer the Rann government. Mike Rann was dusted off by some union officials—that has a familiar ring to it in this place. The motion condemning the government for its reduction in subsidies was passed without dissent.

Coober Pedy has what we call 'off-grid electricity'. All other states support their regional communities in the generation of off-grid electricity but the South Australian government has vacated that space. To that end, it announced last year a reduction in the subsidy, which was going to lead to an increase in power prices of over 100 per cent. There was public outcry and my motion was passed in this parliament. Instead the government implemented a three-year scheme with the price going up each year. Here we are in year 2 and the carbon tax has been added to the result. The result is an increase of a further 30 per cent—

Mr Hartsuyker: How much?

Mr RAMSEY: Thirty per cent.

Mr Hartsuyker: Shame!

Mr RAMSEY: The result is an increase of another 30 per cent in the price of electricity for commercial users in the township of Coober Pedy. The commercial tariffs will be 124 per cent higher than for on-grid users—and there are more increases to come.

Coober Pedy is an opal mining town and a tourist icon. There is nothing like it in the world. For those who have not seen it, it is a fantastic destination. It has underground accommodation—from extensive award-winning underground backpacker accommodation right through to four-star luxury hotel rooms. You can experience the working mines, and fabulous opals are available at the numerous gem shops in the town. There is the landscape of one million holes, the stunning beauty of the Breakaways and the wild west atmosphere of the town. But Coober Pedy has to compete with every other tourist destination in Australia—places like Longreach, Broome, or, in my electorate, Port Lincoln and Edithburgh—and they have to operate with a 124 per cent penalty tied around their leg. When tourists come into businesses in Coober Pedy they say, 'Great place but it's incredibly dear!' That is the news that goes up and down the caravan parks of Australia and it is causing great pain for the community.

Until 2002 the government used to run the generators in Coober Pedy, and then they basically held a gun at the local council's head and said, 'You'll have to run them.' So they handed them over a bunch of what were, it must be said, very well used generators. Eventually the council had to replace the generators—and that was expensive enough—and then of course the government pulled the subsidy. But the percentage of the subsidy they still receive comes with the caveat that householders will not pay more than 10 per cent above the grid price for the rest of the state. Consequently, the council has no choice but to pass on the ever-increasing cost to the business community. That is why we are left with the 124 per cent.

I said in this place last year that providing a higher cost environment will cost business and it will cost jobs. Like a carbon tax, a higher electricity price must cascade through the whole economy. If a worker cannot afford to live in communities like Marree, Oodnadatta or Coober Pedy, why would they stay when the rest of Australia beckons? So these prices are passed on through the local businesses, through the local IGA, but the workers who are sent there in government jobs—teachers and policeman—are expected to get by on the normal wage. In fact, much of Coober Pedy's population are remote Indigenous people who live on welfare payments. The electricity prices, while they are only paying 10 per cent above the state average, are actually feeding down through all these other goods in the community.

This comes on the back of the state government and now also the federal government continuing to take from regional Australia but not being prepared to put back. The latest take from regional Australia is of course the mining tax. They are very happy to receive the receipts but they are not always so happy to support those communities that are actually providing the outcomes.