Hon. A. Koutsantonis substituted for Ms Hildyard.
Hon. D.C. van Holst Pellekaan, Minister for Energy and Mining.
Dr P. Heithersay, Chief Executive, Department for Energy and Mining.
Mr V. Duffy, Executive Director, Energy and Technical Regulation, Department for Energy and Mining.
Ms A. Blood, Executive Director, Mineral Resources, Department for Energy and Mining.
Mr N. Smith, Executive Director, Growth State and Low Carbon Transition, Department for Energy and Mining.
Mr N. Panagopoulos, Deputy Executive Director, Energy Resources, Department for Energy and Mining.
Mr S. Oster, Director, Growth State and Low Carbon Transition, Department for Energy and Mining.
Mr B. Adams, Manager, Financial Services, Department for Energy and Mining.
The CHAIR: Welcome back to Estimates Committee A. I advise the committee that the member for Reynell has been replaced on the committee by the member for West Torrens. The portfolio to be examined this afternoon is the Department for Energy and Mining. The minister appearing is the Minister for Energy and Mining. I declare the proposed payments open for examination. I call on the minister to make a statement, if he wishes, and certainly introduce his advisers.
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: I will make a very short statement but, first of all, let me introduce Mr Ben Adams, Manager, Financial Services, on my left, and over my left shoulder, CE Dr Paul Heithersay. Next to him is Vince Duffy, Executive Director, Energy and Technical Regulation. Behind him is Ms Alexandra Blood, Executive Director, Mineral Resources, and beside her is Mr Nick Smith, Executive Director, Growth State and Low Carbon Transition. Behind him is Mr Nick Panagopoulos, Deputy Executive Director, Energy Resources, and next to him is Mr Scott Oster, Director, Growth State and Low Carbon Transition.
Chair, I would like to put a few short comments on the record. This has been a very tough year, as we all know. There is no need to go over that, but I have to say that our Department for Energy and Mining and the industry participants with whom we engage have done an absolutely extraordinary job through this calendar year. Industry has pulled together in energy and mining in a way that it never has before.
It has always been a competitive world where competitors do still try to work in a sensible fashion together. I would like to acknowledge SACOME and their efforts in coordinating industry, particularly with regard to drive-in drive-out workers within South Australia and across state borders. Certainly, AMEC and APIA and others have worked very hard on that.
I will not go on any longer, other than to say that people have lifted in a way that they have never lifted before. Cooperation has been absolutely outstanding and that has, perhaps to the surprise of some observers, also contributed to the fact that we have had record sales income in energy and mining over the last financial year and record royalties coming into our state as well.
Let me say that I have not arranged any government questions. If any member has a burning issue that he or she wishes to ask, of course, so be it, but as far as I am concerned I am happy to hand over to the shadow minister.
The CHAIR: Member for West Torrens, do you have a statement you would like to make?
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: No, sir, other than to say that the minister is blessed with the best department in government. He is very lucky to have it. If I can refer the minister to Agency Statement, Budget Paper 4, Volume 2, page 116, sub-program 1.3, highlights 2019-20, the fourth dot point on the page is the continued support and implementation of the 10-year Targeted Lead Abatement Program with a focus on contaminated land clean-up and management of legacy lead within Port Pirie. Can I just confirm that the minister is the lead on the TLAP program?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: That is correct.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Is the minister aware of reports published by the government yesterday that record levels of lead are being found in children in Port Pirie, the highest since testing began.
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Chair, I can share a piece of information from the Department for Health and Wellbeing, which published its third-quarter analysis of Port Pirie children's blood lead levels, which shows blood lead levels measured have plateaued. Director of Scientific Services, Dr David Simon, said the report provides detailed analyses of the blood lead levels of Port Pirie children aged up to five years of age. I quote:
There has been an improvement observed in some blood lead indicators—for instance the reduction in the number of children with high blood lead levels equal to and above 20 micrograms per decilitre…has continued, Dr Simon said.
Dr Simon also said:
However, the improvements or deteriorations in all other reported measures were slight—indicating that blood lead trends have generally stalled over the past 12 months.
There is more of that, which I am sure the shadow minister can find if he does not have it right in front of him, but just let me add that this is a very serious issue. There is no level of lead in blood above what health experts say is acceptable that is acceptable to our government.
The previous government worked incredibly hard to try to address this issue as we are continuing to work incredibly hard to address this issue. We have had an independent review done on behalf of the government into the Targeted Lead Abatement Program (TLAP), which is still being worked through in a very serious fashion. It has not been released yet.
Certainly, not all of that report will be released because some of it may well be deemed confidential. A lot of it, or perhaps most of it, will be released in the not too distant future. This is a problem that has been in Port Pirie and the surrounding district for over 150 years now in many ways, and certainly in the last few decades successive governments have tried incredibly hard to deal with this. I say again that the last government did exactly that, and we are doing exactly that.
I am sure that, regardless, whoever is in government is going to do the very best they can for the people of Port Pirie and the surrounding region. The advice from Health that the lead in blood levels has plateaued, perhaps on the one hand is welcome but it is actually not good enough: we need the lead in the blood of young children in Port Pirie to decrease.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Minister, you referenced a review, which is being conducted I understand at the halfway point of the 10-year program. I think that is right. I have a few questions I would like to ask you about this. I am happy for you to take them on notice if you do not have the answers with you, or you could ask your advisers who are here.
When did this review commence? Did you consult on the terms of reference for the review? Who was involved in the consultation over this review? Was the local mayor consulted? Was the local state member of parliament or the federal member of parliament consulted? Was anyone from the community consulted, and have you received a draft report? I will start with those questions, and we will see how we go from there.
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: I might seek a bit of detailed information in a minute and, as you said, perhaps take some of that on notice. I do not remember the exact date when it started, but essentially it has been through this calendar year. The report was undertaken by Mr Lew Owens, somebody who I think everybody in this place is familiar and comfortable with.
How the terms of reference were developed, I will take on notice. With regard to consultation, I do not have specific answers to each of those categories of potential person or organisation other than to say that it is my understanding that most, if not all, were consulted. It was certainly the government's intention when commissioning the independent report that there be very wide consultation with the local community particularly. I know that happened. Whether every, single person that you have just mentioned was consulted, I will take that on notice, but certainly this was meant to be a 'no stone unturned' and 'give us fearless and frank advice' independent report.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Have you received it?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Yes. In fact, I have received the final report.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: You have received the final report?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Yes.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Could you inform the committee whether you will be making that public?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: As I mentioned in my first answer on this topic, it will be soon.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Will you be tabling it in parliament, or will you be just releasing it on a website? Can you give us a time frame? Is it one month, is it this year, is it next year?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: No. The answer is the same as it was before. In fact, I am quite sure there will be some things in that report that should be kept confidential; so, the majority, if possible, but whatever is fair and reasonable to be made public will be made public, and it will be done very soon, but this is not something that we want to rush. We are not dawdling, but this is very serious business.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Yes, it is.
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: We are doing our very best to get this information out as quickly as we can. But perhaps even more important is the response, the actions that would be taken in response to this report. It is something I have discussed with the member for Frome on quite a few occasions, so he is as informed as I can possibly make him on this topic. I take this very seriously, I accept that he takes it very seriously and I am sure that everybody in government and in opposition takes this issue very seriously.
The Hon. G.G. BROCK: Minister, you indicated that the review has started, and I know we have had some discussion on this, but I need to clarify something. The original terms of reference were for a review to be done halfway through the 10-year term. You indicated that that has been going on for six years now, and your indication was that the review started this year, which is over six years in the making. You indicated you have the final report. As the local member, I have had no involvement in the draft that was sent out; I have not seen it, nor has the local mayor. Can you give an indication whether the local mayor and the local member will be involved before the final report is published?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: My response to the member for Frome is identical to the response I gave him when he asked me exactly this question in private. This is a serious issue. There is no difference in my answer to this question in private or here in estimates in front of this committee and with Hansard recording it. The report, or what of it is appropriate to be made public, will be made public soon—the sooner the better, from my perspective—but no sooner than a very appropriate government, Nyrstar and TLAP response is determined.
With regard to when the local member, who is interested in this and whom I certainly respect, and when the mayor, who is interested in this and whom I also certainly respect, would get to see it and could say they see it early, again my answer is exactly the same as I gave face to face to the member for Frome in private, and that was that I would try to make sure that he received a copy of what was going to be made public in advance of it being made public.
The Hon. G.G. BROCK: Minister, you indicated that parts of the report may not be made public because of confidentiality. From the terms of reference of the original TLAP, I am confused as to what could be confidential. I am led to believe that TLAP is separate to the environmental health services, which have the names of people and young children who have lead in blood issues, so can you explain to me and to this committee why any parts of the TLAP review should be kept confidential?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: I can explain very clearly by giving an example. As I mentioned, this was deliberately a broadly consulted, essentially a warts and all type request from the government to Mr Lew Owens. We wanted his frank and fearless advice. In the report he, I am sure faithfully, reports some of the information that was provided to him. That information has not been censored. That information has not been distilled or cleaned up in any way, and Mr Owens has done an outstanding job of providing this information to the government the very best that he possibly could.
I am sure that the member for Frome and the member for West Torrens, both having been former ministers, would understand that there are some times when it is very appropriate not to release every detail that is in a report, hypothetically, if a person has shared a personal view in consultation, provided some statements to the independent reviewer which, if they were released publicly, might get that person into a little bit of hot water.
That is not to say that the person's opinion is not valid; it is what it is. We are all aware of situations where it would not be appropriate to make every detail that is in the report public because doing so might get the person who shared an opinion into some difficulty in a legal capacity, if not in a social or a community capacity. It might be for a range of other reasons that it may not be appropriate to release the report in full. But, as I have said, it is my intention that we will release as much as is appropriate as soon as is appropriate.
The CHAIR: Just for the sake of the committee, I assume, member for Frome, you were referencing the same budget line: the bottom dot point on page 116.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: On the same budget reference, without wishing to start a quarrel in the committee—
The CHAIR: Indeed. A rather obscure standing order refers to that, member for West Torrens.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: You know how averse I am to quarrels in parliament. Minister, I have to say that I am not satisfied with that last answer, and I will give you my reasons. The reason we have parliament and independent reports and the tabling of provisions of parliamentary reports in this place is to apply privilege to those documents so people can speak freely to government without fear of retribution.
The fact that a government minister would sit in this chamber and say that people who have spoken fearlessly and frankly to the government may fear that they may have some sort of legal jeopardy because they have spoken to the government betrays that we have privilege in this house for a reason. The reason the government conducts inquiries and tables them in this place is to afford those people privilege, so I dismiss that completely out of hand. It is not a criticism of you; I am just simply stating and reasserting the privileges that we all enjoy in this place. That is point 1.
Point 2 is that Mr Lew Owens, as credentialed as he is, is not a medical expert. He is a business expert. He was an independent regulator in the past. He has run massive utilities. He is very, very skilled at business. We are talking about a health outcome that, for whatever reason, including in my time, has been assigned to the Minister for Energy. Perhaps it would have been better assigned to the Minister for Health, and there are criticisms on both sides for that. Perhaps it might have been better to have done that when we were in office as well.
My point here is that thus far you have given this committee no justifiable reason for not releasing that report in full, other than not identifying individual private medical advice of individuals. Any other advice given to that committee or that review can be published without fear of legal retribution or jeopardy because we are parliament. So I will again ask you: will you give the committee a commitment that you will table this document in the parliament, protecting everyone who has given that review their frank and fearless opinions, to protect them from any legal jeopardy? Of course, every member would support private medical information being redacted but, other than that, I can see no reason why that report should not be made public in full.
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: It might be that the member for West Torrens can see no reason that it should not be provided in full because he has not seen the report. He can have his opinion. He is welcome to his opinion. His opinion, as just expressed, certainly is different from the number of reports that were not released publicly, and many of them not even partially released, when the member for West Torrens was a minister in the previous government. Many reports were treated exactly the same way. I am not suggesting that was irresponsible. I am suggesting that it is irresponsible to think that I should do things differently from the way he did things.
This information was not provided to the government. This information, by the people who were consulted with, was provided directly to Mr Owens. This is absolutely no different from parliamentary standing committees that take evidence from private people, and very often some of that evidence is not made public, not tabled in parliament and not provided under parliamentary privilege, as the member suggests should be the case. It is quite normal practice.
There is nothing about what needs to be done to try to address the lead and blood levels that will be not made public. I have given a reason why I think it would be sensible to keep some information, but I assure the committee that the information that is actually relevant to trying to make sure that we have less lead in the blood of young children in Port Pirie will be made public.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: I refer to the same budget line again. If I could ask you respectfully, do you think you are conflicted in this because you are a candidate for the seat that encompasses Port Pirie?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: I am not sure what budget line that addresses but let me be really plain.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: I am not trying to offend you; I am just asking—
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: I am not sure that is true. Let me be really plain: (1) technically I am not a candidate for the seat of Port Pirie, and (2) this is work that has been going on in a very sensible, very genuine way under the previous government and under the current government. I am a member of parliament who currently represents people who live extremely close to Port Pirie, who would be considered to be in the catchment area for these risks.
As you allude to, it might well be that I become a candidate for this seat, so let me just finish by saying that if you suggest for a second—for a millisecond—that the way I would deal with this issue as a minister would be affected in any way by my proximity to Port Pirie, as a person living in Wilmington or any other proximity, then you would direct exactly the same thing to the current member for Frome. I do not accept that that is true. I do not accept that that is relevant to me or to the current member for Frome, but if you want to suggest anything along those lines, that would be absolutely disgraceful.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: The member for Frome does not have access to this report.
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Your suggestion was that dealing with this issue might be impacted in some way. It is just not true. I do not accept that you are not trying to start a quarrel, I do not accept that you are asking that question respectfully, and I do not accept any of the premise that is to do with those most recent remarks by you.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: I think that is a bigger reflection on you than me.
The CHAIR: Sorry, member for West Torrens, I missed that.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: It is a reflection on him, not me, sir.
The CHAIR: On who?
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: The minister. His statement is a reflection on him, not me. Are you going to ask me to withdraw it, are you?
The CHAIR: No, I am not.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Good. If we can move on, who is currently on the TLAP Committee?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: I do not have that specific information with me but I am happy to take that question on notice.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: I understand that Nyrstar makes a contribution of $3.5 million per year to that committee. Is that accurate?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Yes, I am advised that that is accurate. I am also advised that it is not anywhere in the Department for Energy and Mining's budget papers. Understanding that you are asking about TLAP contributions, the only budget connection to Energy and Mining is Associate Professor Rob Thomas, who participates.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Excellent. An excellent individual. So the 10-year Targeted Lead Abatement Program, administered out of your office, does not in any way oversee how any of that money is spent; is that right?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Is that a question or a statement?
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: I am asking. Again, I will take you back to page 116, which states, 'Continued to support the implementation of the 10-year Targeted Lead Abatement Program.' I understand that Nyrstar makes a contribution to that program of $3.5 million per year. I understand that the council makes an allocation to that program as well, as does the state government. What I want to know is: do you have any oversight of how that money is spent or is that done by Health?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Nobody in the Department for Energy and Mining or I have any oversight of how that is spent.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Given your support of the implementation of the 10-year Targeted Lead Abatement Program, at any stage has that $3.5 million from Nyrstar gone unspent? Do you have a line of sight to that or is that another minister?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: I am advised that we get to see the budget. We get to see whether it is spent or not, but we have no influence on whether it is spent or not.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Who decides how that money is spent?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: The Nyrstar TLAP money?
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Yes.
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: The TLAP Committee does.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Is there a government representative on that committee?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Yes.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: He is your delegate on that committee?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Correct. You might have appointed him.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: I might have. He is very, very talented. Is he your delegate?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Yes.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: If I am to take this correctly, you get to appoint a delegate to this committee; you see the budget every year. What happens to unspent money from Nyrstar? Is it carried over or is it returned to Nyrstar?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: As I suspect the member for West Torrens knows—and as I know that the member for Frome knows because he has asked me about this in previous situations, and my answer is the same in private as it is in estimates—yes, the unspent money is returned to the company.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Again, despite your reservations, I am not trying to make a criticism of you. Nyrstar are represented on this committee as well, aren't they?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Yes.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Your representative, a council representative, and who else?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: This is the same question that I said I would take on notice before.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Sorry, I apologise. Given the lead level results that were published yesterday by the Department for Health—
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: The plateauing of lead levels?
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Well, no. To be fair, minister, the media reports on the ABC in Port Pirie say:
SA Health data shows lead levels in Port Pirie two-year-olds are the highest recorded since the South Australian regional city's current testing regime began in 2011.
Is that inaccurate?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Then it would be important for the Department for Health and Wellbeing and the ABC to get their heads together to determine why there is a difference in the information that has been put out by the two.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: My point, though, is that if Nyrstar is required to make this $3½ million payment, and if they do not make it, if they do not spend it, they get it back, how do we compel Nyrstar to spend that $3½ million on lead abatement measures if the committee decides not to spend it and they simply get it back? Over a 10-year period, they are contributing $3.5 million per year. If it is not spent they get it back. I think that is probably an unfortunate situation that may be leading to some poor outcomes, and I just wonder whether or not you think it can be remedied in any way.
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Well, that is the question that I suggest you would be far better positioned to answer than me because the make-up of the committee, this system of putting money in per year but not rolling it over, was actually put in place under the previous government. You may or may not have been involved in actually setting up this TLAP Committee but, either way, the way it works now was something that you and your cabinet colleagues were very involved in.
It might be that the member for Frome, as one of your cabinet colleagues over a period of time, has been involved in it or had an opportunity to look at it over time. You are in a far better place to answer the question about why it is so because you were there when it was made so. With regard to what we are doing now, we are looking very seriously at how we try to improve what we inherited from you, as a former minister, and from the member for Frome, as a former minister, in the previous government.
We are doing the very best we can with what we inherited. We are looking to make changes. I have no doubt the previous government did its very best in this work. We are doing our very best and we will improve in this work. We are dealing with the way the committee works, the way the committee is structured, including how the money is rolled over or not rolled over, which we inherited from the cabinet that you and the member for Frome were both members of.
The Hon. G.G. BROCK: Can I—
The CHAIR: Do you have a question, member for Frome?
The Hon. G.G. BROCK: No, I want to get a clarification here, Mr Chairman. As the local member and as a cabinet minister, whenever anything came up regarding my electorate, I have a conflict of interest, and I made that conflict interest and declaration at all discussions about anything to do with my electorate.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Can the money that Nyrstar contribute to TLAP be spent on capital within Nyrstar itself? That is, can the committee that oversees the management of this budget, including your delegate, take that money and rather than spending it on lead abatement or lead clean-up in the city or other measures, for example, use it for capital improvements on the plant itself?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Let me take that on notice, but let me say very clearly that the way they can spend the money now is identical to the way they could spend the money under the previous government.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: But it is a committee that meets and makes regular announcements, and the delegate now is under your instruction rather than mine. The reason I say that is that if your delegate on this committee—
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Rob Thomas.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: —is making decisions, are they decisions that require approval from an executive director or higher, or is he completely independent on that committee?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: I do not believe that is the case. I will check in just a minute. My understanding is that this committee has a life of its own and it has a responsibility of its own. I am not aware of anybody in the previous government or the current government interfering with those decisions, other than, as I have said, we are looking to improve the way this committee works. Let me just check.
I am advised that the TLAP Committee up until about a year and a half ago reported to an executive committee that my CE was on, but they reported that the executive committee in no way influenced the decisions of the TLAP Committee.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: So the TLAP Committee reports to your CE, but the CE does not exert any influence over them?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: That used to be the case, and now the reporting does not happen and the CE still does not exert any influence over them.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Since becoming minister, have you written to the commonwealth government at any stage seeking extra funds or written any memos or made any requests through a COAG process or the new intergovernment agency process to have commonwealth funds added to the TLAP process to help lead abatement and clean-up in Port Pirie?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: That is the type of consideration that will come out of the full and thorough assessment of the independent report we have received.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: So that is, no, you have not?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Not previously.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Are there any current or previous Nyrstar employees on the TLAP Committee?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: I am advised no.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: When the financial contributions are made to the committee, is the department responsible for the contribution or does that come out of SA Health?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: SA Health.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Does SA Health have a representative on the committee?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Yes, they do, the local—I might not get this term quite right—regional director or regional manager for Health.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: So there are two government officials on that committee?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Yes, correct.
The Hon. G.G. BROCK: On the same budget line, minister (and we have had this discussion before, but I need to ask the question here), and the issue with the communication of the hotspots that are happening and identified through the Environmental Health Centre—which is separate from the TLAP funding—are any funds being expended or transferred from TLAP to the Environmental Health Centre, which manages the counselling and the testing of children's blood lead levels in Port Pirie? Are there any funds from TLAP itself, which is the Nyrstar contribution, being transferred on an annual basis to the Environmental Health Centre?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Member for Frome, I do not think so and my CE does not think so, but we will take that on notice for you just to be absolutely sure.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: If I can refer the minister to Budget Paper 4, Volume 2, page 109, you detail the support package of reforms to construct an interconnector called Project EnergyConnect to New South Wales. I have asked you in previous estimates committees if there is a $200 million contingency held by the Treasurer for that interconnector. Is that still the case today?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: You have asked me a similar question in two previous years, and it is a fair question. I have answered in previous years that it is in the Treasurer's contingency. I have told you in both the last two years that there is not a specific $200 million contingency. It is part of a much larger Treasurer's contingency at the Treasurer's discretion; in fact, we have been drawing on that.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: When you say you have been drawing on that $200 million contingency, is that for the advance works you announced recently, the $13 million?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: And others.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Do government press releases and media reports say that those advance works are on top of a $200 million contingency or as part of that $200 million interconnector fund that was announced in 2018?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: I would have to take that on notice. I do not recall any recent press releases referring to a $200 million contingency. It might well be the case, but the reality is that what really counts is we have said all along that there is money available to support this project if it would be sensible to do so, and we are doing exactly that.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: The Premier and you put out a press release on 8 October, when you said that this was an SA to New South Wales interconnector to deliver even bigger savings for SA households and businesses. You say here, and I quote, that 'households are set to save $100 per year on their electricity bills' as a consequence of the interconnector; is that accurate?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: That is the most accurate information that I have available.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Is that a wholesale number or a retail number?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Wholesale or retail?
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Is that a wholesale electricity saving or a retail one?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Residential.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: So it is retail?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Yes.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Are you aware that in a report to the AER by ElectraNet they state that these savings are wholesale?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: No, I am not aware of that, but let me just make it very clear that the number is an average per year residential household saving.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: How about we leave that for a moment and I will come back to it in a minute. Just so we are clear, your advice to the committee and the parliament is that that number is a residential retail saving per year on a household as a consequence of the interconnector?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: That is the advice I have received, so it is my advice to the committee.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Can I ask who gave you that advice?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: It came from the ElectraNet report.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: The ElectraNet report that was given to the AER as part of their submission?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: And other places.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: In Budget Paper 4, Volume 2, you have some discussion about the rollout of your new regulations regarding solar panels. I am just wondering if, at any stage in the consultation process with these regulations, a moratorium on the installation of new solar panels was flagged with solar panel retailers.
The CHAIR: Member for West Torrens, can you just direct me to the line?
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Yes, I can. Sorry, I am just getting used to using glasses for the first time in my life. Every time I take them off, my eyes go blurry. It is on page 108:
The department's role is to deliver the government's commitment to reduce energy costs, improve energy reliability and secure energy supplies as part of an orderly transition to lower emissions generation.
Is that good enough?
The CHAIR: And you are going to talk about solar panels?
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Well, his new regulations. I am just asking: at any stage did your agency say that, as an alternative to these regulations, a moratorium on the installation of solar panels was an option'?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: It depends on what you mean by, 'Did we ever say it?' Certainly, as many options as possible were considered. The 'do nothing' option was considered, but that was unacceptable, and a moratorium option was considered, but that was unacceptable. We considered a range of options, and we landed where we landed. It was one of the things that was an option, that was considered, but almost immediately removed from the table because it was not something we were going to do.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Some retailers have approached the opposition and said that during the consultation process they were told that if they did not accept these regulations then the other option was always going to be a moratorium. That never occurred? Obviously you were not there, you would not know, but do you think that is an appropriate way to deal with stakeholders?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: I will not automatically accept what someone said to someone said to someone, that you are now repeating. I will say that we engaged incredibly deeply with individual companies, with representative bodies, with householders, with suppliers, with manufacturers, with a wide range of people, and, of course, with SAPN and AEMO and others.
The advice to implement this measure actually came from AEMO to government very soon after the last election. We actually went to AEMO and said, 'We've been looking at this looming net negative demand problem coming under the previous government for a very long time. We are not prepared to sit on our hands, like they did. We need some advice, please.'
AEMO came back to us with some advice, which included that under the most rapid scenario we could see net negative demand—or, in fact, even unacceptably low levels of net demand—on the grid, after netting off all the electricity that goes in and all the electricity that goes out, as soon as spring this year. That was their early scenario. Their mid-range scenario was later.
We—in fact, I—took a decision to say that we were not prepared to risk it, we were not prepared to do what the previous government did and ignore expert advice and we were not prepared to just pretend these risks were not real. These risks are real, so if AEMO tells us that this could happen in spring this year, then we will do what is necessary to make sure that it does not happen in spring this year.
We had a lot of discussion through the consultation process—some of it was smooth, some of it was not smooth—but there were certainly no threats or anything like that at any stage. I do not doubt that some of my representatives would have made very clear the whole range of options that were available. Essentially, they were the range of options AEMO put to the government. AEMO said, 'Here are our options,' and I am sure government representatives would have canvassed all those options that AEMO put forward.
We never intended—in fact, we deliberately excluded—the 'do nothing' option. We deliberately excluded the moratorium on future solar installations option. Where we landed was that as rapidly as possible, certainly by spring this year, we would make sure that all new solar rooftop residential installations from that point onward were installed with the capacity to turn them off, which is what we did. Essentially, what 'turn them off' means is make sure that they cannot feed into the grid, if absolutely necessary.
This was made abundantly clear at the time, and it remains the case that this is an absolutely last resort option. When we are faced with unacceptably low net demand on the grid we, through SAPN and others, can turn off wind farms, can turn off solar farms, we can curtail them. We can do the same with gas generators.
There is one chunk of aggregated generation in this state, approximately 1.5 gigawatts accumulatively, which actually could not be managed. Hundreds of thousands of rooftop solar installations needed to be addressed. We will never use—and I use that broad 'we' again—this option unless it is absolutely necessary to avoid a blackout. It applies to only new installations from that point in time onwards, or existing installations over time, as they might have retrofits or something like that that would give them some sort of an upgrade.
We will do as we have always done and as the previous government did: curtail other generators first, but if absolutely necessary, then we will need to use this tool. What is interesting is that while this is not something that anybody wanted to do, including the government, the industry and AEMO—nobody really wanted to do that and there were concerns about what this action might have upon the installation industry—installations of new rooftop solar across South Australia have not slowed down at all.
There are agents providing this mandatory service to new installations charging zero fees. There are installers out there who have not increased the cost of new solar installation at all, even though it includes this new equipment. We have done this as sensibly as we possibly can. We have done this as responsibly as we possibly can. We looked at all of the options and we landed on the option that we thought we needed to do and in fact was recommended to us by AEMO.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Thank you, minister. You said there that agents are offering their services free of charge through some installation arrangements. These are the agents that control the inverters that allow you to curtail dispatch into the grid; is that correct?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: There is a system that essentially everybody must be signed up with an agent and that agent then engages with SAPN. There are agents out there who are offering to do that at no cost.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: For free? Are there other agents who are offering this service for a fee?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: I would have to take that on notice.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: What is the average fee per year? Do you know that?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: I would have to take that on notice. But again this is something that is a tool that is not expected to be used, not wanted to be used. In fact, as some of our other energy policies roll out and are implemented—the interconnector with New South Wales; grid-scale storage projects; as more and more household batteries roll out; as demand management rolls out and as these things all roll out, the things we are already doing and we have started doing but we still have more work to do—the likelihood of needing to use this tool diminishes very significantly over time. There was a point in time at which it was deemed and recommended to government by AEMO that it was necessary to put that in place, and that is what we have done.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Have you received any advice on the agency, the technical regulator or any other service provider that the process of inhibiting the dispatch into the grid through this new regulation that you have introduced will make people who have batteries installed in their homes unable to work during that period when they are not dispatching in? Is that accurate, or is that not true?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: That is a first and early phase. Where we are heading in fairly quick time is that only the dispatch, the feed-in into the grid, will be curtailed. Today, it is more than that, but we are working very quickly and very rapidly to get to that stage where the batteries can still work—the solar can still put power into the batteries, the batteries can still put power into the home—but it was not possible to have that capacity available in the very short time frame that we had.
Let me say again that this will only be used if absolutely necessary to avoid a blackout. The default position is not, 'Everything would be working okay if SAPN didn't use this tool for the new installations.' The default position is actually having a blackout. For a household, if this tool is ever used, then it will be used in preference to having a blackout. If we had not done this, then by definition, there would have been a blackout.
To come back to the main point of your question, we are working very hard to get that capacity installed as quickly as possible for all of these new installations so that it is only the feed-in that is curtailed and no other part of the system's serviceability.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: When were you told that your regulatory changes would impact home batteries as well—before you proposed the regulation or after?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: I would have to take that on notice and check it.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: When you proposed this regulation, were you advised by the agency that the regulations would have an impact on home battery use
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