Essential Services Commission (Governance, Procedural and Administrative Improvements) Amendment Bill 2018 | Second Reading

Ms SULEYMAN (St Albans) (10:22:00) — I am also pleased to speak on the Essential Services Commission (Governance, Procedural and Administrative Improvements) Amendment Bill 2018. I echo the sentiments of by the member for Oakleigh that this is a fantastic opportunity for us to regulate and further empower the Essential Services Commission (ESC). This follows from a review conducted by the Andrews Labor government. The review was conducted with a number of consultations with various stakeholders. The review concluded that the Essential Services Commission was working very well as an economic regulator but found there were some areas that needed to be strengthened, including the improvement of governance, procedural and administrative arrangements.

The bill proposes to replace the appeals panel established under the act with a review jurisdiction conferred on VCAT. The bill also enables the minister to nominate a person to act as acting chairperson in the absence of a chairperson or a vacancy in the office. It streamlines the process to clarify that the Essential Services Commission has the function of reporting on the market structure and performance of regulated industries.

We have heard about the very important responsibility of the ESC, from energy, water and power companies to local government and of course administering rate capping. We have heard about, as the member for Oakleigh has just said, the Fair Go Rates system for Victorians. In particular in my electorate of Brimbank, where we do have everyday pressures, whether it is your rates or your bills, we need the Fair Go Rates system. I commend the Andrews Labor government for introducing this system because there were unfortunately some councils that were going beyond the means of their ratepayers and there were a number of ratepayers and constituents that were not able to keep up with the rate increases. But now with the essential services commissioner there is an absolute, responsible cap which allows ratepayers to understand what kinds of rates they are paying, and that they are in line with the CPI and day-to-day living costs.

This bill will make sure that the cost-of-living pressures that I know exist in my electorate of St Albans are eased, that rates are fair and that there are options and effective policies in place for local government so that councils do understand when it comes to spending and forecasting expenditure that that needs to be within their means and within community expectations as well. We cannot have councils — and unfortunately there have been some in the past — going beyond their means; we have seen some councils operating for over a decade without any form of capping or any form of a border on spending and raising rates in their municipalities.

As previous speakers have said, the Essential Services Commission is unseen, but it is critical and plays a very vital role in areas ranging from electricity energy to local government and in making sure that the appropriate procedures and administrations are in place.

I also note the recent announcement by the Andrews Labor government of the solar panel scheme. What a fantastic announcement that has been. I know that many residents in my electorate have taken up the scheme. Not everybody can afford an upfront payment, and this Labor scheme gives people, including those in my community, the opportunity to access the scheme. The government pays 50 per cent of the cost, and people can pay the other 50 per cent in instalments over time. It is really important to note that among my constituents in St Albans this has been extremely warmly welcomed, and I am looking forward to the continuing rollout of this important scheme to the rest of St Albans and Victoria.

Mr Dimopoulos interjected.

Ms SULEYMAN — Absolutely. As my colleague the member for Oakleigh has just said, it does apply to hot-water systems as well. This is the only government that has done this. When you look at the Andrews Labor government and the schemes, incentives, programs and support that it has introduced, it cannot be matched by any other state across Australia. We are leading the way when it comes to providing the appropriate support mechanisms to our communities not only in metropolitan Melbourne but also in regional Victoria.

I just want to reiterate, as previous speakers have said, that this bill deals with an essential part of the lives of everyday Victorians, but it is also making sure that the governance, the procedures and administrative arrangements are in place. It is strengthening the regulator, promoting long-term interests of course, making sure that we have respectful prices and that quality and reliable essential services are available to all Victorians. This bill will also regulate the Victorian energy efficiency target scheme, which aims to reduce greenhouse gases by making energy efficiency improvements much more affordable to consumers.

As I said previously, the review undertook pretty specific consultations with key stakeholders. It included the industry, government departments and agencies, and consumer agencies and organisations. This was really an opportunity to seek opinions and make sure that we have the right structures in place. This was also broadly supported by government, and all recommendations were accepted. There has been broad-based support and consultation to improve the Essential Services Commission, the regulator of Victoria’s energy, water and transport sectors, including local government and other agencies, and more importantly to provide good structural outcomes for all.

To conclude, I commend the minister for introducing this bill and making sure that the regulator has the appropriate mechanisms to keep the balances and checks for our essential services throughout Victoria. It will also ensure that the Fair Go Rates cap is monitored and assessed each year so that rates in our municipalities are not over the top but remain within the CPI and that local governments operate within their means and keep the rates down so that they are affordable for residents in the City of Brimbank, keeping in mind the cost-of-living pressures on families in my electorate. I commend the bill to the house and commend the work of the Essential Services Commission.

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