Alister Henskens portrait
Alister Henskens portrait

Gas And Electricity (Consumer Safety) Bill 2017

Rusty Gas Bottles

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS ( Ku-ring-gai ) ( 10:17 :38 ): I speak in support of the Gas and Electricity (Consumer Safety) Bill 2017 and I thank the member for Swansea for indicating that the Labor Party is supporting this bill. I must confess that she is right: it would be a stretch to find me on a hoverboard, although in my youth I was known to go around the streets of Newcastle on a skateboard.

I commend the Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation for bringing this bill to the House and implementing these important reforms. When I was about the age when I was riding a skateboard, the greatest competition in the home was to see who could select the programs on the television, but of course, in the modern world in which we live, electrical devices have never been more important. Indeed, the competition in the domestic home is now over who can get their phone and their iPod on the recharger first as opposed to who can control the television channel.

Gas, with which this bill is also concerned, is also highly important. Those of us who are old enough to remember will recall when the Bass Strait oil fields were opened up to supply natural gas to our homes. Electricity and gas are important for the safety and wellbeing of people's everyday lives.

I am confident that the reforms in the bill will deliver a more consistent administrative compliance and enforcement approach to gas and electricity safety, and a perusal of the bill supports that statement. Part 2 imposes restrictions on the sale of electrical articles while part 3 imposes restrictions on the sale of gas appliances. Part 4 deals with unsafe electrical and gas appliances. Part 5 deals with the safe installation of electrical, gas and autogas appliances. Part 6 introduces a regime for the reporting of serious electrical or gas incidents and part 7 provides for enforcement of the regulatory regime. Part 8 contains the usual miscellaneous provisions.

The reforms will especially ensure that gas and electrical consumer safety legislation keeps up with marketplace products and equipment as part of everyday life. These reforms will allow the Department of Fair Trading to regulate new and emerging technology such as the hoverboards to which the member for Swansea made reference, but also mobile phones, electric vehicle batteries and similar articles that use certain rechargeable batteries. Certain batteries such as lithium-ion are not captured by the existing laws. Some of these batteries are low voltage but still have the potential to cause injury to a person or potential harm by misuse.

Currently there are no standards or requirements for some of these high-risk rechargeable batteries and associated items to be met before they can be sold. Given recent incidents with hoverboards and phone chargers, the inclusion of certain battery types being able to be declared as an electrical article will assist in regulating these types of products. In March 2016 the Commonwealth issued a national interim ban on the supply of hoverboards that do not meet safety standards after advice from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that unsafe hoverboards create an imminent risk of death or serious injury. The interim ban was extended and maintained until 16 June 2016.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has advised that six house fires in Australia have been directly linked to a hoverboard. Three of the six houses were destroyed. The most recent fire occurred in April 2016 in Bankstown of this State. It was reported that the hoverboard exploded while being charged in a child's bedroom. Another fire was sparked by a hoverboard in Tasmania in February 2016. Clearly there are fire safety risks from defective charging devices, electrical circuitry and substandard lithium-ion batteries in hoverboards.

The New South Wales Government wants to ensure that all further sales of these potentially high-risk products are safe and meet stringent safety standards otherwise they cannot be sold in New South Wales. Electrical appliances and articles must be designed and manufactured so that they will not cause electric shock, injury, death or fire damage during normal use and must comply with mandatory or other relevant Australian safety standards. Retailers, suppliers and importers of these types of high-risk electrical goods must confirm that the article meets the safety standards before being sold. If an article does not meet the required standards, a retailer would be unable to sell the product.

Consumers have the right to expect that goods they buy are safe and there are no risks of fires associated with electrical or battery parts overheating while charging, lessening the risk of injury or death to consumers. Retailers must ensure all products they supply or sell are not substandard and must be free from defects that could harm consumers. Furthermore, anyone who sells, imports, hires or exchanges any declared high-risk battery articles must ensure they are safe and comply with the relevant safety standards or have been tested and approved as conforming before sale. As members have already heard, these reforms will modernise and future proof the Act to deal with new and emerging technologies. I am heartened that the bill does not contain any draconian enforcement measures. They are reasonable and proportionate to the matters at hand. The powers to be imposed are not heavy-handed investigative powers; they are adequate to meet what is a serious issue.

I agree with the member for Swansea that this Parliament should bring forward legislation that deals with everyday issues that are important to members of the community. As I have said, today our electrically powered technology linkages are of the utmost importance to us. These linkages are providing opportunities for people in regional areas, such as the area represented by the member for Swansea, and these opportunities help to open up our society. Connectivity provides a possibility for businesses in regional areas to compete equally with those in the cities. Hopefully this will lead to this State benefiting from greater decentralisation, which will provide opportunities for people living outside metropolitan Sydney and therefore ease some of the pressures on housing affordability in metropolitan Sydney.

I commend the Minister for bringing forward this substantial piece of legislation. The bill consists of 46 pages of amendments for the reformulation of the regulatory environment for gas and electricity. It should not be forgotten that the other important energy source is gas. Gas is an important energy source that is environmentally sustainable. Gas energy does not produce carbon in the way that coal-fired electricity generation produces carbon.

Mr Michael Johnsen: Thirty per cent less emissions.

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS: The member for Upper Hunter says that gas energy produces 30 per cent less emissions, and I accept that. Gas is a clean energy source that is environmentally sustainable, but it must be used in homes in a safe way. We must ensure that the appliances are safe and that the installation of those appliances is safe. Under the terms of this bill there is a mechanism for dealing with serious electrical or gas accidents. Such accidents must be reported, so that the regulatory authorities can respond in an appropriate way.

We know that when a computer is bought, the technology it contains is already redundant, such is the pace of change in technology today. Electrical and gas appliances are regularly updated and renewed, and that is why there is an ongoing need to report any problems associated with new technology to keep our communities safe. We are greatly concerned that these appliances have the capacity to spark fires in domestic properties. It is therefore very important that the Government provide proper protection of the community in this regard. I understand that the Department of Fair Trading will provide educational material for industry ahead of the reforms being implemented, and I am confident that the outcome will be positive both for industry and for consumers. I note that the responsible Minister represents an electorate adjoining mine, Hornsby, and I commend the Minister for his strong work in bringing forward this bill. I commend the bill to the House.