Alister Henskens portrait
Alister Henskens portrait

Electricity Supply Amendment (Advanced Meters) Bill 2016

Image of an Electricity Meter

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS (Ku-ring-gai) [11.26 a.m.]: I support the Electricity Supply Amendment (Advanced Meters) Bill 2016. I have always been interested in supporting ways in which government can promote competition. Since 1999, when I was briefed in a leading competition case concerning the opening up of the Northern Territory electricity market to competition, I have been interested in competition issues around electricity generation, transmission, distribution and retail sub-markets. This bill will prepare industry and market participants to transition to broader structural changes that are occurring in the New South Wales electricity market.

Smart meters bring a number of enabling technologies. Under this bill, metering will no longer be the responsibility of distribution businesses or form part of their assets. The bill will facilitate a competitive rollout of smart meters in a competitive market for qualified meter installers. Smart meters are very important as they will provide a solution to some dubious meter reading or non-meter reading practices that have emerged. For example, most of the electricity bills received by my household have been marked with "unable to read due to dog"—this despite the fact that in the 14 years that my family have lived in our home there has never been a dog on the property. The regular electronic messages sent by smart meters will solve the current meter reading errors.

Safety is a key concern and priority under this bill. The bill clarifies that retailers and meter businesses must have in place a safety management system to guide the meter installation process. The safety management system obligation on retailers and metering businesses forms the backbone of the safeguards put in place by this bill. This is on top of existing requirements. The obligation will reduce risk and ensure the success of the competitive rollout of smart meters in New South Wales. The safety management system puts in place measures to ensure that retailers and meter providers provide adequate training to all qualified electricians engaged to install meters. It ensures that retailers and metering businesses have appropriate safety and compliance testing in place for every meter installed by a qualified electrician. It requires retailers and metering businesses to continue to adhere to the safety standards that have served the meter installation process so well to date. To be clear, this bill does not amend any of the existing safety standards, which I will discuss in detail shortly.

For completeness, the bill clarifies that all parties involved in the meter installation process are accountable for safety, not just the qualified electricians engaged to install the meters. In addition to these important safeguards, the amendment bill also includes a power to make regulation to impose minimum training requirements on qualified electricians engaged to install meters. This is a significant measure that sends a clear and unambiguous signal to all businesses involved in meter installation that the Government is prepared to take strong regulatory action to ensure that appropriate safety standards continue to be met. These measures squarely meet community expectations regarding electricity safety.

The existing prohibition on qualified electricians undertaking live electrical work will remain unchanged under this bill. If the removal or installation of a meter requires live electrical work then the electrical contractor will be required to engage an accredited service provider. Existing electrical safety standards for metering installation will remain unchanged under the new arrangements. These standards are set out in the Electricity (Consumer Safety) Regulations and include, first, the Australian-New Zealand Standard for Wiring Rules and, secondly, the Service and Installation Rules of New South Wales. These documents set the safety standard and are currently in use.

The measures set out in the bill ensure that safety standards are front and centre in the meter installation process, and give confidence to the industry and community that these will not be compromised. Electricity is a major and important industry. It is the very lifeblood through which modern society operates. If anything, as time has marched on, electrical devices have become more and more important to the community. Therefore, reforms that encourage the efficiency of the electricity market are very important reforms to the operation of modern society. This bill comprehensively addresses all safety issues and concerns raised by a competitive rollout of smart meters and, particularly, opens up meter installation to competition. I commend the bill to the House.