Matter of Public Importance, February 15 2023

For too long, debate around action on climate change in this country has focused on how much it would cost. Members of the coalition and the media have said time and time again that we can’t afford to take action on climate change, that we can’t afford to lower emissions. We know in fact that the opposite is true. As a society, as a country, as a planet, we cannot afford to allow climate change to continue unchecked. We also know actions that contribute to reducing emissions will also have a direct impact on reducing the cost of living for our households. It makes sense on every level to take action on climate change, especially when it comes to helping Australians cope with the rising cost of living.

Climate change is already affecting our lives and our household budgets in ways we didn’t realise at a glance. The floods we experienced in Australia last year had a significant impact on the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables both in the effect on farms and in the effect on logistics. Prices soared; we all saw $12 lettuces, and that was just the start. The Australia-wide average cost of fruit and vegetables spiked by four per cent over a three-month quarter, shifting $153 million in costs onto Australian households.

We also know that extreme weather events, which are becoming more frequent and more severe due to climate change, have an impact on our health. A study by the Climate and Health Alliance in 2020 found people who were poor, homeless or otherwise disadvantaged, people living in poor quality housing and people living in regional and remote areas were at more risk of health impacts from climate change. The costs of responding to and managing the health impacts of climate change are yet another squeeze on the cost of living.

The most obvious way in which climate change is affecting the cost of living is in our electricity and gas bills. Both have increased in the past 12 months, as we hear constantly from our constituents and in this place, but gas has increased much, much more. The rising cost of electricity and gas is one of the biggest contributors to the rising cost of electricity and the cost of living in my electorate of Indi. Wodonga is in the top 30 postcodes in the state for forced electricity disconnections; in fact, regional areas make up 40 per cent of forced disconnections in Victoria even though we only make up 25 per cent of the population. Costs are high and reliability is also a challenge, especially in rural areas at the edge of the grid—and I have several of them, in the towns of Corryong, Euroa and Mansfield. Brownouts and blackouts are regular and much more frequent than in major cities.

As we are faced with hotter days and nights and more extreme weather, the demand on the electricity grid is set to increase. But there are simple ways—the member for North Sydney has talked about some already—to address reliability and cost and to reduce emissions and stress on the grid at the same time. We have the technology and we also have policies that are ready to go. It’s simple! Well, it’s not particularly simple. But there are some straightforward things that the minister sitting here right now could do. The first step would be to get households off gas and switch to high-efficiency electric versions of appliances. No-interest loans are operating in many places around the world; they’re operating right here in the ACT. I encourage the government: make the switch and help low-income households get high-value electric appliances.

The government say they don’t want to mandate these changes. Then don’t. Incentivise them, through low-interest loans or no-interest loans.

We need our Australian families to install home batteries, but they’re mighty expensive. So I put to government last year—and I will put it you again—that a move which could unlock household savings is to make home batteries cheaper. In the last parliament, I introduced the cheaper home batteries bill to do exactly this. It’s a simple change that would extend the small-scale renewable energy scheme to include batteries as well as solar panels. I say to the minister: this is a really good idea, and you should do it. Australians have taken up solar like nowhere else in the world, and they would take up these batteries too. Household and community batteries are the next step to realise solar’s full potential, keep the cost of energy down, increase reliability and reduce stress on the grid.

We know the problem, we’ve got some solutions and we have ways to do it. I say to the minister, and I say to the government: I know you’re on board with these ideas—I know you are. We have people all over the nation just champing at the bit to do these things. Help us along; it’s an incentive, and I say that to you now. I say that to the members here on this side of the House, actually—people from rural and regional Australia. You should jump on this. This is a good one for us. Don’t hold back. The cost of living is the single most important thing we are trying to face right now, in addition to grappling with a climate emergency. We have many complex bills before the House. We’re dealing with them— (Time expired)

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