Leader of the Liberal Party
Leader of the Opposition

Portfolio Speeches

Energy and Resources Legislation Amendment Bill 2010

Mr O'BRIEN (Malvern) -- The opposition supports the amendments that have been made in the Council. As the minister points out, some of these amendments were initiatives of the government and some of them were initiatives of the opposition. I acknowledge the fact that the minister was prepared to see the opposition's point of view in relation to the wording of some of our amendments, and I am pleased that an agreement was able to be struck.

These amendments provide for better regulation in respect of inspection, auditing and training in relation to electrical installations and the prevention of bushfires, including provisions for the identification of hazard trees and the reporting of hazard trees to responsible authorities via municipal councils through their municipal fire prevention plans.

On that point, I note that that amendment is a reflection of the recommendations in the final report of the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission. However, a number of resource issues arise with some of these amendments. To the extent that municipalities will bear an increased resource burden as a result of some of the requirements that are being imposed on them through this amendment I think it is absolutely essential that the government take stock of what those burdens are and not cost-shift in an unfair way onto municipal councils.

I would also like to refer to amendments 5 and 6 before the house, which were moved by the opposition in the other place and accepted by that chamber. In particular these refer to recommendation 34 of the bushfires royal commission, which states:
The state amend the regulatory framework for electricity safety to strengthen Energy Safe Victoria's mandate in relation to the prevention and mitigation of electricity-caused bushfires and to require it to fulfil that mandate.
This is absolutely essential, because the findings of the bushfires royal commission in relation to Energy Safe Victoria were fairly scathing. ESV was described in very blunt terms by the royal commission as a weak regulator. ESV was criticised for its lack of influence over distribution businesses, and the royal commission also noted that out of ESV's 90 staff the equivalent of two full-time staff are devoted to matters relating to bushfire mitigation. Certainly the failures of ESV in relation to the safe regulation of electricity assets have been identified by the bushfires royal commission, and it is essential that recommendation 34 be implemented in full.
In our view the government's original proposal fell short of what the royal commission recommended. Our amendments were intended to alter the functions of ESV, and as a consequence of amendment 6 ESV will have a function 'to regulate, monitor and enforce the prevention and mitigation of bushfires that arise out of incidents involving electric lines or electrical installations'.

It is important, indeed essential, to ensure that ESV as a regulator has the right statutory functions to undertake the sort of job the royal commission has identified as being necessary to try to reduce, mitigate and prevent bushfires caused by electricity assets, but it is equally essential that it has the money, has the capital to discharge those functions.

The government cannot think it has discharged its responsibility to implement the royal commission's recommendation by simply changing the law that says what ESV must do; it must ensure ESV has the resources, the expertise and the personnel to implement those obligations. That is the challenge for the government.

As I said, I acknowledge that the government was prepared to accept the opposition's amendments, and I thank the minister for that, but the job is not done. The job cannot be done until ESV not only has the remit but has the means to do its job properly. With those few words, the opposition supports these amendments and wishes the bill a speedy passage.

Contact Michael
Michael O'Brien MP

313 Waverley Road

Phone: (03) 9576 1850
Fax: (03) 9576 1849

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