Energy policy turns full circle: Roberts

POWERFUL MESSAGE: Former politician and electrician Ron Roberts stands beside the Bungama power sub-station on the outskirts of Port Pirie.
POWERFUL MESSAGE: Former politician and electrician Ron Roberts stands beside the Bungama power sub-station on the outskirts of Port Pirie.

As an electrician, Ron Roberts’ uppermost thought was not to get zapped. But the retired tradesman-turned-politician fears South Australia has many shocks ahead of it as the state struggles with power supply issues. Mr Roberts was based in Port Pirie during the 18 years that he was a Labor Member of the Legislative Council.

But he looks farther back to the era of legendary Liberal Premier Tom Playford. Seventy years ago, the pioneering Mr Playford set up the Electricity Trust of South Australia to provide power to businesses and residents. It replaced privateer electricity generators and guaranteed supplies at discounted rates for industry such as the Port Pirie lead smelter. Now the Weatherill Labor Government has unveiled a $550 million plan to build its own emergency gas-fired power station, encourage the development of a private power generator and create the nation’s biggest battery.

“We are back to where we started - it is electrical déjà vu,” Mr Roberts said.

He poured scorn on the Liberal Party for privatising ETSA in the 1990s, squandering the chance to enable new industry to open in the state with subsidised power supply rates.

“The privatisation then put us into a regulatory system in which we had no control over prices and it has been an absolute failure,” he said.

“The Liberals ‘robbed and looted South Australia’ of its independency relating to electricity and flexibility to develop our state. Imagine with the Arrium steelworks in Whyalla if the government stepped in and offered 20 percent off the price of power.”

On a brighter note, he said the power station and battery developments outlined by Premier Jay Weatherill could be built at Port Augusta and Port Bonython. He urged the government to appoint a Minister for Utilities to control electricity, gas and water.

“The world is power-hungry and I don’t know where we are going to finish up,” he said. He called for another Royal Commission into the national electricity scheme - just as one was held in the 1940s leading to the creation of ETSA.

Frome Liberal candidate, Kendall Jackson, said the real problem with the state’s electricity system was an over reliance on wind power that has given South Australia the most expensive and least reliable electricity in the country.

“Victoria and South Australia privatised their electricity systems in the 1990s yet today Victoria has the cheapest power in Australia and we have the most expensive,” she said.

She said the Liberals had privatised ETSA because Labor bankrupted the state with the State Bank collapse.

“Had the Weatherill Government not forced the Port Augusta power station to close we wouldn’t need to be spending $550 million to fix up the mess Labor has created. Weatherill’s $550 million patch-up job works out to be $775 for every household in South Australia, money that would have been far better spent on our hospitals, schools and roads

“We don’t need a Royal Commission to end our power crisis, we need a change of government.”