Cost of living brunch; energy; power prices; Bayswater coal plant; Eraring; energy rebate take-up; breakdown in RTBU-NIF negotiation; Opal fare increases; asbestos in Castle Hill school

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CHRIS MINNS, NSW LABOR LEADER: It’s Chris Minns in New South Wales Labor leader. Thanks for coming to a windy afternoon in Kogarah this afternoon. A few things on the agenda. First up, the cost of living and electricity crisis in New South Wales has really come to a head. We are looking at for many consumers and increasing their electricity bills: $360 for households, and over $1,100 for small businesses in New South Wales.

The Government’s announcement of $1.2 billion for a renewable energy fund will be spread out over the next 10 years and won’t do much to deal with the cost of living crisis hitting New South Wales families particularly hard as it stretched out over that 10 year period.

I think for many people who are freezing in their homes tonight are facing a double digit increase in their electricity bill, they’ll be asking has the privatization of electricity really works for them and work for their family?

I think a lot of people facing a freezing night and double digit increase in their electricity bills will be asking themselves has the Liberal party’s policy when it comes to energy actually worked for them?

Were very concerned about the halving of the capacity of Bayswater to pump out electricity over the coming months. Bayswater’s responsible for the electricity needs of 2 million people in New South Wales. Reducing supply on that scale could see a significant increase in the wholesale price of electricity, right at the moment when electricity prices are going through the roof.

Of course that’s in addition to an increase in interest rates, tolls, an increase in fresh food, energy prices, and of course petrol is going through the roof as well to say nothing about housing costs. So we know that because of the privatization of the Bayswater plant in 2013, the energy minister is really reduced to just yelling at the private owners of the company to schedule their maintenance and services of facilities in a fast-up or fast tracked manner.

That’s about as much as he can do to deal with the electricity constraints and wholesale supply of baseload power to the people of New South Wales.

This, of course, is in addition to the disaster of Eraring, we now know that the New South Wales Government and the Minister responsible Mr Kean was aware that Eraring was going to close down in July 2021. This would mean an increase of 33% in electricity costs for the taxpayers and consumers of electricity in New South Wales.

But at the same time, he was telling all of us that we could expect to see a $130 drop in our energy bills and a $330 drop in the energy bills for small businesses. So power prices were about to go through the roof. When the New South Wales Government was telling everybody we could expect a reduction in power prices. I think that’s cynical politics from the Minister for Energy, Mr Kean.

We of course now know that in addition to the $600 million dollar privatisation of Eraring a decade ago, Mr Kean was attempting to give them $250 million worth of taxpayer money just a couple of months ago. I mean, this is the opposite of what we would expect from privatisation.

And if you look at the energy portfolio, and Mr Kean’s handling of it over the last few years, I think it’s a crisis point. And we start we need to start hearing some answers from the Treasurer and the Minister for Energy. As we head into the Budget week, we’ve got a cost of living crisis, energy prices are going through the roof, privatisation has meant the government’s ability to do much about it has completely been negated, and I’d like to hear some answers from Mr Kean about what he’s going to do about it.

Happy to take questions.

 

JOURNALIST: This is such a highly volatile situation in terms of electricity prices with you know, internal factor international factors as well. What do we do here for those short term fixes? You know, the Government has these vouchers or rebate system, which we know is not being accessed by a lot of people. How do we help the household in the meantime?

 

MINNS: Well, there’s a couple of things here. Firstly, the input costs for wholesale prices are related to international affairs as well as domestic affairs but because of the volatility on international energy markets, we need to make sure that we’re doing everything possible here in New South Wales to drive down the cost of energy.

The Government’s rebate schemes more often than not are undersubscribed for families. It’s something like 50% of families in New South Wales have absolutely no idea that they’re eligible for a rebate on their energy. For self funded retirees we know that 77,000 people who are eligible for a rebate have an access to it and don’t know they’re entitled to it. So the Government’s got a bit of form here.

They announce an energy rebate, a cost of living measure, they put it on a media release, they stand in front of the TV cameras, and then they hope people don’t access it. We need to make sure that that rebate that help is in the community driving the economy and reducing the cost of living for the consumers of New South Wales.

 

JOURNALIST: On the trade union – so the government won’t rule ougoing out and Opal fare increase on July 1, what do you make of that?

 

MINNS: Yeah, look, I’m very concerned about increases in Opal fares for two reasons. The first one is there’s a cost of living crisis in New South Wales. Everything is going through the roof. We don’t need to see public transport fares increase at the same time.

The second reason is the government is desperately trying to lift up the CBD economy. And the best way to do that is to get commuters onto public transport and using the city again. If they jack up public transport fears at the moment, we’ll see a decrease in patronage and that will hurt the broader economy.

So I’m asking the New South Wales Government to show some common sense, think about the economy. And please, please stop adding to the burden of the families in New South Wales.

 

JOURNALIST: And so train union negotiations and they are meeting today to discuss strike action, so what do you make of that?

 

MINNS: Yeah, look, I understand and I understood that the New South Wales Government, the Transport Minister himself was close to a deal with representatives of transport workers. Now I don’t understand why that deal has collapsed. I’d hate to think that it’s been shrouded in politics.

We need to see a deal soon in relation to the rollout of the intercity fleet, in relation to any changes to conditions and wages for frontline workers.

All we’re hearing from the New South Wales Government is politics. And I guess what I what I regard is crazy conspiracy theories from the New South Wales Premier that there’s some kind of conspiracy against the Liberal Party in New South Wales. It is the case that frontline workers faced with the cost of living crisis, inflation through the roof and stagnant or low wages are finding it impossible to pay off their mortgage and meet their financial obligations.

The government has to understand that. Gladys Berejiklian understood it. The new Premier doesn’t seem to have a clue.

 

JOURNALIST: Chris, what do you make of the new Opal Card app that the government announced today. It’s gonna cost half a billion dollars. I mean, obviously, a quarter of people use their mobile phones to pay for transport as it is. Do you think that this is this will be worth it?

 

MINNS: Yeah, look, I’m all for ways of making it easier to use the Opal card but if they’re going to jack up fares on public transport, I think people would say doesn’t matter to me how I pay for it. If fares are about to go up. I’m concerned about it. The Government has to understand there’s a cost of living crisis in New South Wales.
JOURNALIST: I’ve just got something on the Castle Hill High School asbestos case. So should the minister be directly involved in investigating the apparent cover up?

 

MINNS: I have to admit I don’t have full knowledge of the details in relation to asbestos at Castle Hill High School, obviously, that’s a concern of the parent community, the students and the teachers that have to work in that workplace. I call on the Education Minister to get briefed up and be open and transparent with the school community. Everybody has a right to go to school and work in a safe environment. If there’s questions in relation to that. We need to get to the bottom of it.

 

JOURNALIST: So you don’t have any concerns that the Education Department might have got it wrong with other schools?

 

MINNS: Yeah, it’d be difficult for me to comment given I don’t understand don’t have knowledge of the actual details in relation to asbestos. But obviously, when it comes to matters related to school safety, the safety of the workforce and the safety of our student population, we need full transparency from the New South Wales Government. Frankly, it’s simply not under any circumstances acceptable to shut the doors and not provide information to the school community. These are taxpayer funded schools. Children are in them, and the parent community has every right to know what’s going on.

Great, thanks, everybody.

CHRIS MINNS MP
NSW LABOR LEADER

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