GAS SUPPLY AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from 15 October.
Mr PHILLIPS (Miranda - Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [8.54 p.m.]: I will not speak long on this amending bill and waste the time of the House, as the Government has by introducing this bill. The reason that this short amending bill is before the House is because of the tardiness, slackness and inability of the Government to deal with the regulation of the energy industry. If the Government’s tardiness in handling regulations and protecting consumers in the gas supply industry, which is already in the private sector, is any indication, the community is in for a very sad time when it comes to the privatisation of the electricity industry - the largest privatisation project ever undertaken in Australia’s history.
This originally simple bill moved for further deregulation and increased competition of the State’s gas distribution network. The bill was generally supported throughout the community, the industry and Parliament. All the Government had to do was to fulfil a clause within the bill to ensure that regulations protecting consumers were passed by 26 December 1996. Did I say 26 December 1996? It was almost a year ago that these regulations were supposed to have been passed, according to the bill. It is not as though preliminary work had not been done. In fact a regulatory impact statement was produced in October 1996. On 5 November 1996 a meeting of industry representatives was held to review the regulatory impact statement. That meeting was attended by the AGL Gas Company Ltd, the Australian Gas Association, Elgas, Wesley Mission, the Council on the Ageing, the Albury Gas Company Ltd, and so on. Written submissions were received going back to 1996.
Now, in October 1997, we still do not have regulations in place to protect consumers;
regulations necessary under this Government’s Act to have a standard form of contract, to look at the form and content of gas bills, debt collection procedures, standards of customer service to be provided by gas suppliers and distributors, and procedures for customer councils to advise gas suppliers and distributors on matters concerning the supply of gas to customers. These are simple regulatory matters, the bread and butter of any government, in an industry that is already in the private sector and has been for generations. Yet, the Government wants to embark on the privatisation of the electricity industry as a matter of urgency. The Government will see that it has bitten off more than it can chew when it comes to the privatisation and regulation of the electricity industry.
I will not take up any more time on this matter. This is a simple bill which amends the Gas Supply Act 1996 by omitting section 83(4)(a), which contained a clause that stated that regulations had to be assented to by December last year. The Government wants to lift the clause to give it as much time as it likes to deal with the regulations. I wish this tardy Government luck. It does not auger well for the privatisation and regulatory control of the electricity industry that the Government thinks it may undertake.
Mr SCULLY (Smithfield - Minister for Roads, Minister for Public Works and Services, Minister for Ports, Assistant Minister for Energy, and Assistant Minister for State and Regional Development) [8.59 p.m.], in reply: Tardy is certainly a word that applies to the previous Government, least of all because it had to negotiate the chain of government decision through the mire of Independents. The former Minister for Health found it difficult to get anything done in the previous regime. It is a bit rich for him, having been a Minister in a government that was legendary for not getting anything through Parliament -
Mr MacCarthy: That is a good excuse; what’s yours?
Mr SCULLY: The Deputy Leader of the Opposition suggested that this is a tardy government, yet he was a Minister of the champion of tardy governments. The Government opposes this amendment. Reference was made to regulations that have been drafted. That is in fact correct. A regulatory impact statement was published in accordance with section 83(5) but I am advised that finalising the regulations proved to be more complex than anticipated and it was not feasible to finalise the regulations in the short period specified in the Act. That Act was assented to in June 1996 and it provided for regulations to be put in place by December 1996. That is most unusual.
It is rich indeed for a former Minister for Health in the tardiest government of all to criticise this Government because the time has now expired to deal with this matter. I am advised also that the reason for this measure having to be put in place is that the regulations have now expired as a result of the provisions of the Subordinate Legislation Act. Until recently consumers were covered so it is necessary for this legislation to be passed so that those regulations can be put in place. I totally and emphatically reject the hypocritical comment that this is a tardy government. I find that remark offensive.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.