House of Assembly: Thursday, March 09, 2023


Energy Concessions

Mr PATTERSON (Morphett) (14:49): My question is to the Minister for Human Services. Have electricity bills for 60,000 South Australian concession holders increased? If so, does the minister accept responsibility for this? With your leave, sir, and that of the house, I will explain.

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Hurtle Vale is on two warnings.

Leave granted.

Mr PATTERSON: Sixty thousand South Australians who benefit from the South Australian Concessions Energy Discount Offer were told last week that their discount would be cut from 21 per cent to just 17 per cent, the lowest on record.

The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS (West Torrens—Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Minister for Energy and Mining) (14:50): What the shadow minister is not saying is that those same people are also getting a discount on their gas bills for the first time—conveniently forgotten, conveniently ignored.

Of course, what he is also ignoring is what the commonwealth government have said in the most recent federal budget about their offer to Australians. As part of this national energy crisis that we are all facing across the country, the commonwealth government is using every tool in its arsenal to attempt to do its very best to lower power prices for South Australians, indeed all Australians.

The unfortunate reality for the member opposite is that, while to compare and contrast is appropriate, for every single year that they were in office, from 2018 to 2022, power prices were higher during that period than they were under the previous Weatherill government, despite having made a promise—

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER: Member for Hammond, order!

The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: —to reduce power prices by $301. They weren't even close to getting to that.

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER: Member for Morialta!

The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: They weren't even close to those decreases.

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER: The member for Badcoe is on three warnings.

The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: We are waiting on the Australian Energy Regulator to release its default market offer. We have seen projections from the most recent federal budget, where the federal Treasurer announced that wholesale power prices in Australia could increase by as much as 50 per cent due to the war in Ukraine and the crunch on commodity prices that fuel our electricity generation across the nation.

Coal prices have increased dramatically, gas prices have increased dramatically, but the commonwealth government has acted, and remembering that the federal Treasury were predicting a 50 per cent increase in wholesale power prices, which would be potentially a 100 per cent increase in retail prices. We will see very, very soon what that default market has and what it is in South Australia compared to other jurisdictions.

What the state government has negotiated with Origin is these very concession cardholders that the member says he cares so deeply about are also getting for the first time a concession on their gas bills, on their heating bills. Gas has gone up more than any other commodity. It has gone up dramatically. We have seen prices on the wholesale market, before the government's cap of $12 a gigajoule, reaching up to $46 a gigajoule. The impact on families trying to heat their homes during winter would have been dramatic. This government has acted to now offer a concession on gas prices for those most vulnerable people to make sure they can heat their homes, and the member decries it. He should be celebrating it.

Mr PATTERSON: Point of order, sir: I ask that he withdraw and apologise.

The SPEAKER: There is a point of order from the member for Morphett. I'm going to give the member for West Torrens the opportunity to resolve the matter immediately.

The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: As a gentleman, I withdraw the accusation of my good friend the shadow minister for energy.

The SPEAKER: Very well; the matter is resolved.

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Flinders is called to order. Member for Hammond, your contribution is not required.

The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: I also apologise because I know how fragile he is, and I wish to offer that apology.

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER: Order! Member for Badcoe!

The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: I am pleased that the South Australian government has done its very best to negotiate with this private operator to not only for the first time get a concession on gas but also get a concession on energy prices. We will wait and see what a default market offer is for all South Australians, to see whether or not those massive price increases that members opposite have said are a reality and what commentators are saying could be very, very large—hopefully, the commonwealth government's interventions have had an impact. We will see what that impact is, but we hope it is dramatic. We are supporting them in their efforts to make sure that they can keep power prices lower.