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Tuesday, 14 February 2017
Page: 1011


Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (19:40): Power outages have caused profound hardship in my electorate and for communities across South Australia. We want answers and we deserve solutions. But we are getting the same old blame game: mudslinging between Liberal and Labor and between the federal government and the state government.

I urge governments and parties of all persuasions to review the joint statement issued yesterday by a diverse coalition of Australian community representatives, including organisations such as Energy Networks Australia, the Australian Conservation Foundation, St Vincent de Paul Society, the Australian Steel Institute, and ACOSS. Those are just some of the organisations represented. I quote:

Representatives of Australian communities, including civil society, households, workers, investors, business energy users and energy suppliers today challenged all political leaders to stop partisan antics and work together to reform Australia's energy systems and markets to deliver the reliable, affordable and clean energy that is critical to wellbeing, employment and prosperity.

There is simply no room for partisan politics when the reliability, affordability and sustainability of Australia's energy system is at stake.

The status quo of policy uncertainty, lack of coordination and unreformed markets is increasing costs, undermining investment and worsening reliability risks. This impacts all Australians, including vulnerable low-income households, workers, regional communities and trade-exposed industries.

The finger pointing will not solve our energy challenges. More than a decade of this has made most energy investments impossibly risky.

It is too hard.

This has pushed prices higher while hindering transformational change of our energy system. The result is enduring dysfunction in the electricity sector.

I agree wholeheartedly with this statement. It is rare that workers, businesses, investors, environmentalists and civil society can so passionately agree on an issue. The Australian community gets it. Yet many in our parliament choose to be blinded by ideology.

In Mayo, we are in the middle of a bushfire season, and I cannot stress enough the absolute catastrophe that will ensue if there is a bushfire during a prolonged power outage. In my electorate, when households lose power many also lose water and sewerage. We have properties and towns with no access to mains water, so they rely on pump-operated tanks and bores. Yet last week vulnerable communities in bushfire prone Echunga, Meadows and Longwood were forced onto the roster for power-shedding on a 40-plus degree day. There were no flushing toilets and there was no water to drink in the taps and no water to bathe with for thousands of households for almost five days, and that is what happened to us at Christmas time. This made us lose medical supplies, and food in fridges and freezers was also wasted.

During prolonged power outages, the public health consequences of losing access to water and sewerage are especially difficult for people with mobility issues. For them it is potentially life-threatening. Our mobile phone towers failed after only four hours. We lose internet, and in areas with NBN fibre-to-the-node, which is installed in parts of my electorate, we also lose landlines. It is of particular concern when households have children, elderly citizens and people with a disability. The challenge when you cannot communicate is that you do not even know if a fire is coming.

The Nick Xenophon Team has called upon the South Australian government to intervene directly in the state electricity market. Through its ability to contract for the electricity that it uses, the state government has the market power to underwrite a gas-fired power plant which would provide both energy security and lower prices for consumers. Such a move would add real competition pressures on existing generators and prevent the price gouging that is currently occurring during intermittent and unreliable electricity supply in South Australia.

And so I urge the federal government to join with the state government and get some action here for South Australia, and to stop using us in question time as the butt of its jokes.