Ms VAGHELA (Western Metropolitan): I rise to speak on the National Energy Legislation Amendment Bill 2020. I have to admit that I cannot talk like Ms Garrett in her energetic contribution on this bill. This bill will change Victoria’s electricity and gas network regulatory periods from a calendar to a financial year basis. This is to avoid Victorian energy consumers experiencing energy bill increases over the Christmas and New Year period when cost-of-living pressures are high. It will facilitate changes in prices on 1 July rather than 1 January each year, when customers are more likely to engage with the market. This bill will align Victoria’s network regulatory periods with other jurisdictions, which are all on a financial year basis, as soon as possible. In short, this bill makes changes to the way electricity and gas are regulated in Victoria.
I agree with what Dr Kieu has just mentioned in his contribution—that the Andrews Labor government has a strong track record of making Victoria’s energy markets simpler and fairer for all Victorians, and we will continue to support small businesses and Victorian households to cut the cost of energy. Today Victoria is at the forefront of next-generation energy production. We have invested heavily in the next generation of energy, and in doing that we have created jobs while reducing energy bills. However, there is more to do. Energy prices are too high, and energy companies refuse to invest in the next generation of energy. I am glad to be part of a government which has taken a stand to support Victorians.
In Victoria we have legislated targets, and we are going to remain at the centre of the next generation of energy. Our energy fairness plan is a commitment to Victorians. It is a commitment to drive down energy costs and stop energy retailers from ripping off Victorians. The Andrews Labor government has taken both steps since 2014, and we are turning the Victorian energy sector upside down to deliver the biggest regulatory shake-up of the energy sector in Victorian history. To put it in simpler words: our plan will cut the cost of energy for families and businesses, make the market transparent, increase competition and hold companies accountable when they do the wrong thing.
The National Energy Legislation Amendment Bill 2020 is the 14th piece of legislation to reform our energy system since we have been in government. That is right—we have been doing a lot of work to bring a simpler and fairer energy market to Victoria to build on what those opposite destroyed. But now we are here, and all Victorians, including those opposite, will reap the benefits of our legislation.
Last year we delivered the Victorian default offer, which meant simple and trusted electricity prices that are set by the Essential Services Commission. This means that Victorian consumers get a fair electricity deal. This was the focal point of our government’s energy fairness plan. This enabled Victorian energy consumers to get rid of the costly, complex and complicated electricity offers for simpler, straightforward and fair prices. This has saved hundreds of dollars for Victorians. That means that Victorians living in retirement villages, apartments and caravan parks could save between $180 and $370 a year on energy bills, while small businesses in shopping centres could save up to $2200. This was our election commitment to Victorian households and small business owners to give them cheaper deals on energy, and we delivered.
Let me talk a little bit about Victorian Energy Compare. Victorian Energy Compare has been a big hit. It is an independent Victorian government energy price comparison site. It is a commonsense initiative to make sure that people can shop around for cheaper power rates while they receive a $50 power-saving bonus. Almost half a million Victorians have claimed the $50 power-saving bonus, which means they have saved hundreds of dollars on their energy bills.
We are also supporting Victorians through hardship assistance. We have created one of the strongest energy hardship protection programs in Australia. We guarantee the support and compassion Victorians deserve when they are going through difficult times. Hardship protection has become even more critical in these COVID-19 times. I am not sure if you know this, but debt to energy companies is one of the top three most common sources of financial difficulty raised with financial counsellors. Many Victorians saw high bills during winter, and with the hotter months coming bills might soar again. The government is rolling out a team of financial counsellors and community workers in partnership with community organisations to give targeted financial advice and support to Victorians. Financial counsellors have been recruited and trained to help people one on one to manage energy bills as well as broader household financial difficulties. Training is being provided to more than 1100 frontline community workers so that they can give targeted advice on dealing with energy bills, including how to get the best deal from energy companies and what existing support is available. The government is also running a new energy brokerage program to give one-on-one support to around 3000 households at risk of financial hardship to help them get the best value energy deal. The support is available online and over the phone so Victorians can access this support from home.
The government has also announced new support measures by the Essential Services Commission to strengthen protections for residential and small business energy customers impacted by coronavirus. These include requiring energy companies to offer assistance to small businesses experiencing financial stress, conducting tariff checks for residential customers receiving payment assistance and helping eligible customers complete utility relief grant applications over the phone so they can have access to $1300 in energy bill support. Data from the Essential Services Commission shows that each week in July around 9000 households called their energy company seeking assistance with managing their bills.
The $1.3 billion Solar Homes program is another milestone. The western suburbs have taken up this program with enormous enthusiasm. Residents of Tarneit, Point Cook, Truganina, Wyndham Vale and Werribee have loved this program. This program has been amazing for the more than 770 000 households that have installed solar panels, batteries and solar hot-water systems. This has helped renters to save on power bills and home owners to improve the value of their homes. This program has created thousands of jobs, and it is also saving our environment. This is the kind of support Victorians deserve, especially during this pandemic, which has hit families and small businesses really hard. Power prices are very important to my constituents, and we must do as much as possible to keep the prices down.
There is much more we will do, but coming back to the bill we are discussing today, this is an important cog in our energy plan. This legislation is paramount to bringing a fairer energy system. It brings some crucial technical amendments. This bill will help further reduce the pressure put on Victorians by the energy companies. Currently Victorians get a heftier bill during the Christmas and New Year period, when cost-of-living pressures are already high. If we shift to 1 July, we can enjoy the festival period of Christmas and New Year a bit more. Getting hit with increases in energy bills, especially during holidays, is not a great feeling. Cost pressures are already high during that time. Let us be honest here: nobody likes to see high energy prices. This is especially true right now. Many people have suddenly come under pressure due to COVID-19. Most people are spending more time at home, which will increase their bills, so we must support fairer, simpler energy systems. We are cutting the cost of energy for all Victorians. Let us support this bill. I commend the bill to the house.