Mr McEACHAN (Redlands—LNP) (5.03 pm): I rise to contribute to the debate on the Electricity and Other Legislation Bill. I would like to begin by acknowledging the excellent work of the committee secretariat ably led by Kate McGuckin. I would also like to acknowledge my fellow committee members: our chair, the member for Kallangur; our deputy chair, the member for Southport; the member for Murrumba; the member for Logan; and, last but not least, the indomitable force from the north, the member for Whitsunday and shadow assistant minister for North Queensland.
This bill has two components. The first part of the bill concerns amendments to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities (Justice, Land and Other Matters) Act 1984. It is proposed to modernise provisions currently applying to the Island Industries Board, remove the current geographic limitations on the operations of the statutory body and change the name of the body to reflect this change. It also seeks to amend provisions relating to board governance, membership, operations and administration to modernise these provisions and to more readily facilitate operations of the statutory body. This is done to accommodate potential changes to its operations as a result of the removal of the geographical limitations. However, because this component of the bill is corrupted by the merger component of the bill it cannot be supported.
The second part of this bill concerns the merger of Ergon and Energex. It has been described as purely technical to facilitate the merger. This merger is one of the biggest—if not the biggest—in Queensland’s history and I am deeply concerned at the process and lack of scrutiny. The Energex response to the Queensland Productivity Commission Electricity Pricing inquiry outlined concerns in considering similar utility restructures. The Energex report outlined that up-front costs would be significant and may outweigh forecast savings. I table the report for the benefit of the House.
Tabled paper: Document, dated 16 November 2015, titled ‘Energex—Response to Queensland Productivity Commission (QPC) Issues Paper’ .
Due to the seriousness of concerns raised by Energex in this report, one would have thought further discussions with Energex and, indeed, Ergon senior managers made sense. However, the opposite is true. Rather than questioning experts in the field before the committee and hearing evidence, curiously, no submission was received from either Ergon or Energex. It is concerning that the committee had only one hearing to scrutinise this potential legislation. The committee spent less than an hour questioning public officials and other stakeholders to this bill. LNP members were lobbied by industry who wanted to extend the time frame for consideration of this bill.
As part of the 2015-16 Mid Year Fiscal and Economic Review, the Palaszczuk Labor government claimed savings of a very courageous $562 million. I note that the majority of these savings are associated with efficiency savings required due to the Australian Energy Regulator’s most recent determinations for these two businesses. The House should note that these cost reductions have absolutely nothing to do with the merger of these two entities. The real concern is that the Palaszczuk Labor government has not properly identified any savings from their proposed merger.
If we look a bit deeper into the background of the merger it gets more curious. The Electrical Trades Union is supportive of the bill in spite of the likelihood of at least 366 redundancies. In fact, they applaud the voluntary redundancies. Perhaps the establishment of the energy services retail business will have 366 budding solar power and alternative energy sparkies, an ETU-run business taking on the mum-and-dad private sector who have innovated, worked hard and created a vibrant emerging industry across Queensland.
The explanatory notes from this bill outline that a separate energy services business will be established under the parent company. The Treasurer spoke of it being established in his first reading of the bill. When LNP members of the committee asked about the detail, we were stunned to hear that Queenslanders will not get the opportunity to scrutinise this through the committee process. The establishment of Queensland’s largest energy services business will have no parliamentary oversight at all.
To better understand this approach, I considered the motivation for such a move. In a fit of fiscal adventurism, I researched the Queensland Labor Party State Policy Platform 2015. Like Alice in Wonderland down the rabbit hole, I went to a strange and magical place overflowing with motherhood statements and Brezhnev clichés. Here I discovered a passage optimistically titled ‘Economic Management’. There I found this edifying wisdom from our friendly socialists: ‘If our economy is to reach its full potential and Queenslanders are to be supported in good times and bad then there must be an ongoing role for the government as the doer in the economy, not just the enabler.’ Profound! Let us just recap on some of the most recent successful forays that the Palaszczuk Labor government has made into ‘doing’ private enterprise.
Mr Bailey: Are you going to come back to the bill sometime?
Mr McEACHAN: I appreciate your contribution, but I thought you were going to demonstrate some of the doing that you have done. I am still waiting. I am giving you time to think of a successful foray into private enterprise.
Mr POWER: I rise to a point of order. Is there any relevance to the bill?
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Elmes): Order! Sit down. Member for Redlands, through the chair.
Minister, it will be through the chair if you want to make any comments.
Mr McEACHAN: Those of us on this side of the House are not alone in our concern with this Labor proposal—not by any stretch of the imagination. Master Electricians Australia CEO Malcolm Richards has warned—
Emerging technologies are the bread and butter work for all electricians, whether they are based in the regions or in the city.
We believe the new entity can stimulate the market, actively enabling new emerging technologies to exceed by tweaking tariffs and incentives, and not competing with mum and dad contractors directly,
The Energy Retailers Association of Australia wrote to Dr Malcolm Roberts, the Chair of the Queensland Competition Authority.
Mr Power interjected.
Mr McEACHAN: Their correspondence raised concerns about this merger. Is that not relevant?
Is the member saying that that is not relevant?
Mr POWER: I rise to a point of order. It was made absolutely clear in the hearings that this is not relevant to the bill. If someone writes, scaremongering and fear mongering about this, that does not make it more relevant to the bill for someone who knows the facts.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Elmes): Order! The title of the bill gives people latitude in this particular instance. We will proceed with the member for Redlands.
Mr Power: There is no latitude to mislead the House.
Mr HART: I rise to a point of order. I find that the member up the back has disrespected the chair.
I suggest some action be taken.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! I suggest that the member for Logan resumes his seat and remains very quiet for the next little while.
Mr McEACHAN: For the benefit of the member for Logan, I will repeat what I was saying. The Energy Retailers Association of Australia wrote to Dr Malcolm Roberts, the Chair of the Queensland Competition Authority. The correspondence raised concerns about this merger and the consequent establishment of an energy retail business and states—
If this was to occur it would create a more onerous market that was significantly less attractive for retailer participation relative to other jurisdictions. The Energy Retailers Association of Australia is therefore seeking further information from the QCA as to what actions it may take should these government policies come into effect during this notified price period.
Aren’t we all? However, at every turn this parliament is denied an opportunity to scrutinise this proposal. What exactly are those opposite afraid of? Perhaps they are concerned that scrutiny will further reveal the absurdity of this proposal by the Palaszczuk Labor government.
The LNP committee members are gravely concerned about the low number of submissions received by this inquiry, perhaps as a result of a lack of engagement made by the committee. I note that the committee failed to travel to north and regional Queensland to conduct public hearings, that is, to the very areas where the impacts of this legislation will be most keenly felt. I acknowledge the tireless advocacy of the member for Whitsunday on this point. He continues to fight for his region and for the mum-and-dad sparkies who will be so affected by this proposal.
The concerns raised by the LNP have been echoed by Redlands sparkies, including Craig for Solarhart and Gavin from Goodhew Electrical. Mum-and-dad sparkies are worried about their future, their apprentices, and the clubs and community groups they sponsor and support. People from right across Queensland know what we on this side of the House know: Labor is not a friend of small business and private enterprise. Labor’s focus, to the exclusion of all others, is unashamedly on the unions that empower them. It is a marriage of mutual benefit, but with no benefit for the people of Queensland.
The story is the same across-the-board with this Palaszczuk Labor government. Union influence has clearly proven to be too great. Forced to make a decision between the best interests of Queenslanders and the best interests of union mates, this Palaszczuk Labor government continues to choose unions every time, clearly scared of union retaliation should they take a stand. Of course, that is what one would expect from a government that made deals with the unions to get into power and makes deal with the unions to stay in power. What is the result? Mum-and-dad sparkies are sold down the river. Those are people who built their small businesses from the ground up; people who put in many hours every day trying to make ends meet for their families. Many of us on this side of the chamber have run small businesses ourselves. We know of the blood, sweat and tears put in just to keep food on the table and to keep our employees paid. It beggars belief that this government would forsake small business owners.
I do not support this bill. I do not support this merger and the establishment of an electrical retail services business. I put it to the House that Labor and the ETU want to be the doers in the provision of retail energy services to the detriment of local businesses across Queensland and to the detriment of mum-and-dad sparkies. Labor clearly wants to do in private enterprise for the enrichment of union members.