I believe keeping a promise is a sign of integrity. Those who are elected members in this House hold positions of privilege, and it is incumbent upon each of us to fulfil our promises—much more so from a Prime Minister. When he breaks his promise, the nation has a right to hold him to account. The Prime Minister and the Labor government had failed to deliver their promise of a $275 cut in power bills. They made that promise 97 times before the election, a promise that was reiterated even after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Honesty should motivate the Prime Minister to stop using this as an excuse for energy prices rising.
Alarmingly, today we find that households across the eastern seaboard are about to be hit by a further 25 per cent hike in energy by 1 July. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out the damage this will cause to family budgets and businesses. Labor’s budget relief is a bandaid solution for a gaping wound experienced by middle Australia. Families already struggling with skyrocketing mortgage repayments and rents will be put under more financial pressure as they struggle to make ends meet. Mallee families are trying to work out whether they will be heating or eating this winter; keeping their kids warm or putting food on the table. Businesses are reducing their productivity because energy bills are making it impossible to grow and manufacture at full capacity. This is disgraceful, and the blame lies squarely at the feet of this Labor government and this Prime Minister.
I have spoken about two Mallee businesses in this chamber recently. Mildura Fruit Juices Australia is a big manufacturer and exporter in my electorate, Australia’s largest independent processor of fruit juices. I recently toured the plant with the general manager, Hugh Baird, who 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 following a $500,000 price hike in electricity. That is before today’s announced price hike. They are continually investigating energy options with little to no commercial alternatives and very little government support. These options include biofuel production, solar energy and other renewables, but to no avail, as there are very few commercial alternatives to the energy required for steam generation and freezing. They would need the equivalent of nine soccer fields worth of solar panels to meet their needs.
When I raised the plight of Mildura Fruit Juices Australia in this chamber, I got a political response from the Prime Minister and his energy minister. While the Prime Minister blamed the coalition for voting against Labor’s energy policy, the fact is that Labor’s energy legislation actually passed this parliament and has not made one jot of difference. In case he is unaware, businesses are still hurting. The energy minister is completely disrespectful to all those businesses who are drowning in energy costs, claiming an average energy price saving of $1,670 for Victorian small businesses while ignoring the real $500,000 hike that I raised in my question about Mildura Fruit Juices’ experience.
While Labor play politics, their policies are closing businesses—policies such as this government’s market intervention into gas. In the south of my electorate, Mortlock Hydroponics has been a tomato grower near Carisbrook for more than 20 years. They supply tomatoes all year round to the major supermarkets, as well as markets in Sydney and Melbourne. Ian Mortlock has told me the only gas contract he could get last June was for $40 a gigajoule, a 400 per cent rise on his previous contract—400 per cent. If Ian had continued with the same gas usage after June last year, his bill would have equated to $1.7 million. To avoid closure and laying off 35 to 40 staff, Ian’s operation just used less gas. He reduced his productivity by 40 per cent. How is that helpful to businesses in Australia? It is a crying shame that this government needs to take full responsibility for.