Deputy Speaker, when people in my electorate of Mallee are worried about something, they frequently ask me to raise the issue in the Chamber to bring it to the attention of the Government.
I defy anyone here today to tell me that energy prices are not a significant concern for businesses in their electorates.
Mildura Fruit Juices Australia is a big manufacturer and exporter in my electorate and they are Australia’s largest independent processor of fruit juices.
General Manager Hugh Baird has told me his company has had to reduce its intake of grapes this season, due to the now unviable energy costs to evaporate the grapes into concentrate.
The company anticipates over 2023 that its energy costs will increase to a million dollars.
They are continually investigating energy efficiency options with little to no commercial alternatives and little Government support.
These options include Biofuel production, solar energy and other renewables, but to no avail as there are very few alternatives to energy required for steam generation and freezing.
Due to these high energy costs the viability of the business is currently under review by the company’s management and directors.
This could result in significant cutbacks or potential business closures – at a huge loss to the local community in terms of not only jobs but an iconic brand.
And Mildura Fruit Juices Australia is not on their own dealing with the pressures of high energy costs.
In the south of my electorate, Mortlock Hydroponics has been a tomato grower near Carisbrook for more than 20 years.
They supply tomatoes to the major supermarkets, as well as other markers in Sydney and Melbourne, all year round.
Growing Manager Ian Mortlock has told me in June last year the only gas contract he could get was for $40/GJ – a 400% rise on his previous contract.
If Ian had continued with his same gas usage after June last year his bill would have equated to $1.7 million.
To avoid closure and laying off his 35-40 staff, Ian’s operation just used less gas – which of course affected his yield.
Since his last contract expired in December, and post Labor introducing their $12/GJ price cap, Ian can’t get a more than a month to month contract from his gas retailers.
This uncertainty has raised doubts for Ian in planning for his next crop.
This was always the worry with the Labor Government interfering in markets, it has affected gas retailers’ confidence and in the end it’s the consumers who suffer.
These are just two businesses of the many across Australia doing it tough paying for energy to keep the lights on and their operations viable.
I will continue to fight for these businesses and ensure their Federal Government cannot continue to ignore their concerns.