In March, I asked a question without notice of the Leader of the Government about an increase in the tariff under the remote areas electricity scheme significantly affecting the price of electricity to residents of Coober Pedy. Yesterday, I finally received a response to this question. I am not bitter or twisted; however, I am aware that it is called question time and not answer time.
The minister confirmed my concern that the district council and residents were not consulted prior to the increase. The Leader of the Government stated on 22 March that domestic customers were paying less than the equivalent on-grid consumers and that essentially this increase was to correct this discrepancy. If this were true, then surely this new scheme should not have been that tough to sell, because even the locals agree that it costs more to supply electricity in remote areas.
Rather than inform residents that it was in fact an initiative of the government via the Department for Transport, Energy and Infrastructure, the minister advised me that the independent operators were informed of the increase and provided with a suggested letter for their use in communicating with their customers regarding the tariff changes, essentially trying to shift the blame from themselves and onto the local power operators, perhaps to prevent voter backlash in the Labor electorate of Giles.
However, it seems that the tariff increase was not as simple as just correcting the discrepancy. Instead, it goes way beyond that, so much so that it threatens the viability of Coober Pedy as a township and not just a few businesses within its limits, as the government seems to think. Minister O’Brien has advised that the increase will only lead to a 4 per cent rise in electricity costs for domestic customers, yet high consumption customers, such as supermarkets and the desalination plant, will be expected to pick up much more of the cost of its energy.
As a result of these increases, water will now be $6.38 per kilolitre, compared with $1.29 in Adelaide. The businesses will, of course, have no choice but to try to pass this added cost onto customers, which then effectively hits residents twice. How will this extreme spike in living costs attract others to live, work or travel to Coober Pedy? It will not. The impact on tourism cannot be understated, and Coober Pedy relies on tourism to ensure its long-term future.
The minister stated that the government will be looking into alternatives to the scheme, including connecting Coober Pedy to the national grid. I suggest that the government should be looking into all alternatives that lower the cost of electricity in the town and create equity between Adelaide and regional areas such as Coober Pedy. I for one would like to see equity in energy prices between Coober Pedy and Adelaide. I know a number of my Liberal Party colleagues share the same view. I know the member for MacKillop, our shadow minister for energy, is working on a policy in this area, and I know that it will actually assist people of Coober Pedy and other parts of regional South Australia, unlike the current government’s policy.
The government has recently announced that it would phase in the changes over three years for larger consumers. This has the effect of delaying the devastation, not stopping it. However, the Premier was happy to congratulate himself, the government and the member for Giles on stepping in and saving the people of Coober Pedy. I am sure that the people of Coober Pedy do not see it this way. The government is so aloof on this issue that the locals are having to turn to the commonwealth in order to get assistance and action on this. A former honourable member of this place, now Senator Nick Xenophon, attended a town meeting on the weekend—something the minister should have done. It seems this government is making brutal budget cuts without any thought for the implications of its decisions.
Regional South Australians have been sold down the river by this government and its budget. I recently met with locals Yanni Athanasiadis and Robert Coro of Umoona Opal Mine and Desert Cave Hotel respectively. These gentlemen are extremely concerned about the viability of not only their own businesses but the town in general, and I commend them for their courageous efforts in speaking out against the extortion this government is committing. Their campaign, along with that of the Mayor, Steve Baines, has led to significant attention being drawn to this issue in Adelaide. Too often has this government ignored the interests of regional South Australia.
The minister and the government have really lost it on this issue. They have failed to grasp the concerns of the community and the impact of their decisions. I call on the minister to meet with locals in Coober Pedy and see the real impact of his flawed decision-making. That way he may come close to reversing his decision and relieve the good people of Coober Pedy, whose livelihoods and wellbeing are certainly at stake.