Legislative Council: Wednesday, May 18, 2022


Planning, Development and Infrastructure (Gas Infrastructure) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 4 May 2022.)

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (17:15): I rise to make some remarks in relation to this bill. It is certainly not the first time this parliament has seen this particular piece of legislation. It was first moved by the Hon. Mark Parnell in 2018. The bill was not debated beyond, I understand, his second reading explanation and lapsed due to the proroguing of parliament. The bill was tabled again in parliament on 9 June 2021 by the Hon. Robert Simms, and my former colleague the Hon. Rob Lucas spoke to it on 1 December 2021.

The bill itself seeks to void any contractual arrangement requiring that a property be connected to gas, with the provision to take effect from 1 January 2023. In his second reading explanation, Mr Simms argues that, while we do not have mandated gas connection in South Australia, the decision around whether a new property is connected to gas or electricity is made by the developer, not the individual consumer, the argument being that this locks home owners into higher prices. In doing so, some developers have private encumbrance matters that they are seeking to enforce through the sale contract to recuperate costs. The bill voids such contractual arrangements.

While the sentiment of the bill is understood, that purchasers should not be locked into using a particular energy source or pay for an energy source they choose not to use, it could be argued that this type of legislative change should not be a matter dealt with under the Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act (PDI Act). Whilst in government, the former government sought advice from the Surveyor-General, who confirmed that advice. While these are private property dealings and therefore legislative intervention should be used with caution, further advice would be required to understand if it is possible to utilise other property-based legislation to address these matters.

The planning system has a limited role in the provision of gas or other utilities to consumers. This limited role includes the state planning policy on climate change, which promotes green technologies and industries, and provisions in the Planning and Design Code that ensure strict controls on development within close proximity to major gas pipelines and facilities. Additionally, the Australian Energy Regulator is also considering how future consumer choice will impact investment into domestic gas infrastructure.

Given the short notice in terms of calling this bill to a vote, the Liberal Party undertook due diligence with a range of stakeholders. Principally, we received advice from the UDIA, which I think was quite surprised that this bill was being called on.

The Hon. R.A. Simms: They will have to follow the Greens campaign more closely.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: The Hon. Mr Simms interjects in a disorderly manner and assumes that everybody is always reading our policies in great detail. The advice from the UDIA is that they are disappointed that—the development sector which was prepared to work with all parties and members of parliament—in only the first week of parliament the Greens would introduce legislation to regulate the development sector without even picking up the phone. They continue:

House prices are rapidly escalating—

which we are all aware of—

and the efficient delivery of broader network infrastructure in new and large developments is one key way to keep costs down for new homeowners.

The facts are that new home-owners want the choice of energy and a majority of them still want to connect to gas. Legislative changes need to be more carefully considered before putting that choice in jeopardy.

We also received similar advice from other stakeholders. I think the point that was made was that, particularly with greenfields developments, a lot of the infrastructure is done at the same time and that to try to take this position retrospectively by the parliament is something that should be avoided.

When I put this position to our party room this week I was unsure as to what the Labor government's position was—given I understand they had supported this bill in opposition—so I had an amendment drafted, which amends the start date from 1 January 2023 to a date prescribed by regulation. The effect of that is to enable greater stakeholder discussion with affected organisations, particularly those who understand how these things work in practice. That will enable the government to go off and do some consultation about this and, if they then decide they will continue to support this legislation, they can set their own start date. With those words, I conclude my remarks.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (17:20): I rise today in relation to the Planning, Development and Infrastructure (Gas Infrastructure) Amendment Bill and indicate I am the lead speaker for the government. The government thanks the honourable member for bringing this bill to the council. It does not seek to stop people using gas; rather, the aim is to provide the market with more options and give consumers choice.

Whilst we were in opposition we supported this bill, as we believed that by doing so we could assist in giving attention to this important issue and ensuring that in the future it could be addressed in a way suitable for three things: our energy needs, our environmental needs and our consumer needs. The intentions of the bill are absolutely sound.

The Minister for Energy and Mining in the other place has indicated that he also supports the concept and the intentions of the bill; however, the full implications of the bill are not currently clear, particularly the effects on existing developments, the effects on customers, and the effects on future availability of gas appliance options in new housing developments. In government, we are now afforded the privilege of the necessary means to undertake a full and proper consultation process about this. I imagine all members of this place would agree that it is important to understand all the implications of this proposed legislation.

While we are not aware of any developers who are currently mandating a reticulated natural gas connection in new residential developments in South Australia, consultation with key stakeholders should, of course, occur to confirm this, as well as a full investigation of consumer impacts on preferences, before legislation is passed. On this basis we cannot support the bill today, but we will commit to undertaking this consultation process and returning to parliament, if necessary, when a full process has occurred.

I would like to again commend the Hon. Robert Simms for bringing in this bill. It is an important step towards change and he deserves credit for this initiative, as does his predecessor in this place, the Hon. Mark Parnell. While we are not ready to progress this as legislation just yet, we do look forward to working in appropriate and consultative ways as we move forward.

The Hon. C. BONAROS (17:22): I am not listed down as speaking but I indicate, for the record, that SA-Best supported this bill the previous time it was introduced in this place, and we indicate our full support for the bill this time around. I hope, from the words the minister has just indicated, that 'if' means we will be reconsidering this on the part of the government. I suppose time will tell if that is the case or not. Our position is that we remain committed to supporting the passage of this legislation.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:23): I was not intending to speak but, listening to the government's speech, I am moved to do so. This is not a new issue, as was noted by the now Malinauskas government's speech. It was something the Hon. Mark Parnell put to this council and it was something that the Hon. Robert Simms has put to this council. This is not a new issue.

It might be an issue worthy of ventilation. That does not mean this bill should be killed off; in fact, I seek some guidance on the wording to move an amendment that, contingent upon the second reading of this bill, it be referred to a select committee.

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Ms Franks, a suggestion as a way to move forward: perhaps we could adjourn this debate and then you could give notice of your intention to move a motion to form a select committee with the ability to report before this particular bill is considered for a final vote.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: Thank you, Mr President.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.