MR ENTSCH: (Leichhardt) (19:19): Far North Queensland is sick and tired of being treated as a cash cow when it comes to paying for electricity.
The Queensland Competition Authority has warned the state-owned regional electricity retailer, Ergon Energy, that it must be forced to compete against new retailers.
There is no competition out there.
The equation is simple: increased competition would result in lower prices for Far North Queenslanders.
Far North Queensland householders and businesses, especially those in my electorate, are absolutely screaming out for power relief, but it is a message that has fallen on deaf ears with the Queensland Labor government.
Why, you might ask. I’ll tell you why.
The state Labor government is addicted to the revenue that state-owned generators and retailers provide it.
In essence, they are unashamedly gouging family households, businesses and manufacturers in my electorate and taxing them by stealth.
Not only does Far North Queensland need immediate power relief, it also needs a reliable and secure base-load power.
It is utterly preposterous that Far North Queensland imports more than 90 per cent of its power needs from Central Queensland through transmission lines that lose up to 40 per cent of the power on the way through.
Where is the sense in that?
Far North Queensland is forced to import its power from more than a thousand kilometres away, and my constituents are forced to pay for electricity that is exported to Victoria and South Australia because of the ideologically driven agendas in those states.
One of the biggest issues facing Far North Queensland consumers craving lower power prices is state-owned vertically integrated behemoths that dominate the market.
The Queensland Labor government proudly spruik that they own the generators, the distribution networks and the retailers, but they have repeatedly demonstrated that they have no interest in creating competition in the market.
Why would they?
By having control over these vertically integrated behemoths, they have unlimited access to an ATM called the Queensland taxpayer.
They can load up these companies with billions of dollars worth of debt, as they did in 2015, and still demand 100 per cent dividends.
This is where the problem lies.
Last year the state-owned power generators were accused of using the market to drive up power prices to meet the state Labor government’s demands for higher dividends.
They were caught red-handed gaming the system and mums and dads across my electorate were picking up the tab.
In fact, an analysis last year of the state’s energy market found the wholesale price is 30 per cent higher in Queensland than in other states and territories.
Other very telling figures in wholesale pricing are that in 2012 the wholesale price was $29.07 per megawatt hour; moving forward to 2017, the average price was $93.12 per megawatt hour.
Essentially, the cash-hungry state government is addicted to the big dividends it has been receiving from the generating companies and it’s been ripping off far North Queensland families in the process.
I was fortunate enough to sit on the Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy, inquiry into modernising Australia’s electricity grid.
The cross-party committee, which handed down its report last week—it was a consensus report—delivered 23 recommendations.
While most related broadly to the national grid, there were two recommendation that were very relevant to my region.
Recommendation No. 22 stated:
… the Australian Energy Regulator review the issue of vertical integration in the generation sector and market concentration in the generation sector, with a view to considering ways to ensure that standalone retailers have sufficient access to risk management products and fairly priced wholesale electricity.
The key phrase in this is ‘fairly priced wholesale electricity’. How is this possible in my area, where the generators of Stanwell are gaming systems in order to line the Labor government’s pockets?
It needs to be looked at.
Recommendation No.12 stated:
… the Australian Energy Market Commission review any rules preventing users at the edge of the grid from being serviced via alternative means, whilst safeguarding reliability requirements and associated customer protections.
This recommendation is very relevant in Far North Queensland, particularly in my area.
Cooktown, in my electorate, is sitting right on the very tail end of the grid.
How is it that Queensland, with its abundance of coal, gas, sunshine and wind, is amongst the poorest when it comes to power generation and soaring power bills?
Unfortunately, the energy debate in Queensland has been hijacked by the renewable energy zealots and inner-city types, and Far North Queenslanders are paying the price.
This is no more evident than in the state government’s headlong rush to 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030, announced in Cairns last year.
This ideologically driven pipedream is unachievable and will result in business closures, job losses and soaring power bills.
Putting Far North Queensland livelihoods and businesses at risk simply to garner south-east corner inner-city green votes is certainly not the answer.
We as politicians must plan for future generations, not just for the three-year election cycle.
I fear that, if we don’t start planning and acting now, electricity will be a luxury afforded only by a select few in North Queensland in the years to come.
That’s why we must investigate and explore options to ensure that Far North Queensland has access to secure base-load power for generations to come, given we are right up there at the top end of the grid.
We know that the state Labor government are vehemently opposed to anything that will lose them green votes in the south-east corner, but what we need in Queensland is a mature debate by mature people who are willing to put politics aside and put the interests of Queenslanders first.
A new year brings some new opportunities.
I firmly believe that a reduction in power prices can only be achieved for Far North Queenslanders through a high-efficiency, low-emissions, gas-fired base-load power station located somewhere near Townsville.
In fact, a report commissioned by the Palaszczuk Labor government in February last year found that a high-efficiency, low-emissions power station near Townsville would be viable, reduce emissions and lower energy transmission losses.
The report also found that Far North Queensland risked effectively being stranded because it’s stuck to a single line.
It also concluded that a new power station would halve the current cost of a megawatt hour and deliver more reliable and secure base-load power to North and Far North Queensland.
While we’re talking about it, let’s not forget about the debacle that is the Daintree power supply situation.
We have a community of well over 800 living in Far North Queensland in the Daintree coast area, and each year those locals must burn millions of litres of diesel to generate electricity because they are not connected to the electricity grid.
In fact, the state government actually legislated to prevent them from being connected to mains power. In 2018, it’s ridiculous.
Once again, it comes as no surprise that they weren’t interested in doing anything about this—again, they are afraid of their inner-city green puppetmasters.
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency will very shortly hand down its long-awaited report that was commissioned by our minister, Minister Frydenberg, to examine ways in which we can get the situation in the Daintree resolved.
I ask the state government to come on board. These communities have been denied basic services for far too long.
I also think that we should be investigating whether the Tully-Millstream hydro scheme would be a viable option moving forward.
I have no doubt that the south-east corner types will be crying blue murder, for purely ideological reasons, but let’s take the responsibility as elected members to at least investigate the feasibility of the project.
In saying that, the feasibility study must be conducted independently to remove political bias and agendas. If it stacks up, then it must be seriously considered.
How can you have a mature debate and explore options when you’re dealing with the government that we have in Queensland at the moment?
I call on the Queensland government to immediately release the federally funded Nullinga Dam business study to see whether options there can be explored further.
It’s ridiculous that we’ve been waiting so long for that report to be released.
You only have to look at the recent decision to demolish the Springvale dam at Lakeland.
Labor wasted no time in calling for tenders on this massive body of water that would certainly provide opportunities in the region.
They called for tenders on 24 January for the decommissioning of this dam.
It’s just an absolute waste of a magnificent resource there.
The green tinge has well and truly descended onto our great state and, unfortunately, every single Far North Queenslander will be paying the price for generations to come.