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Electricity (Disconnection) Amendment Bill

Electricity (Disconnection and Low Fixed Charges) Amendment Bill
Hone Harawira, MP for Te Tai Tokerau
Thursday 10 April 2008

Mr Speaker, 22 cents is not a lot of money.

But 22 cents was the price put on the head of a Hastings woman, threatened recently with disconnection.

22 cents – the difference between life and death, for this woman needing an electronically powered nebuliser to breathe at night.

22 cents – the account sent out by Energy Online to this woman, who had just paid her electricity bill, with a threat to disconnect the power, if the 22 cents wasn’t paid within 24 hours.

22 cents – a pretty cheap price for life for anyone, and a particularly nasty threat from a power company, obviously interested more in corporate profit than providing a service.

And guess what – this nasty little piece of corporate greed and malevolence, came up more than two months AFTER, the country was shocked by the tragedy caused when another power company refused to acknowledge their social obligations, and Folole Muliaga died from their mean-spiritedness.

Mr Speaker, it’s sad that we’ve had to come to this through tragedy, but it’s good that this Bill to help sort out regulations around disconnection and low-charge options for domestic consumers, is before us now.

But the very necessity for this Bill, also highlights the other areas of our economy, that impact on a whanau’s ability to meet rising electricity costs, rising interest rates, rising petrol prices and rising food costs.

And we can’t help but shudder when we think of last week’s announcement that nearly 20,000 kids every week need to be fed at schools, because there’s just no kai at home.

20,000 !!! Mr Speaker. That’s a town the size of Thames, or Queenstown.

For those of us from the north, that’s the entire population of Dargaville, Wellsford, Kaikohe, Kerikeri, AND Kaitaia – having to be fed because there’s not enough kai in the cupboards at home – EVERY, single week.

Mr Speaker, 20,000 children living in poverty, is a national bloody disgrace.

This morning the Maori Party hosted Kate Green, Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group in Britain.

She told us about the perception that there is a deserving and an undeserving poor – sympathy for the disabled child living in poverty, but blame for others for poor parenting or for making bad lifestyle choices – implying that they are responsible for their fate, when often their economic background means they almost have no other choices.

And she challenged us to establish a child poverty target to help measure the impact of social and income gaps on our nation’s children.

Mr Speaker, in a similar vein, two months ago the Salvation Army issued a State of the Nation report asking the question “what priority have we given to families and to the poor?”

And just two weeks ago, church leaders called for an increase in benefits to help people cope … and what happened? Well, nothing actually.

With all the bellowing and bragging and backslapping and big noting about a Free Trade Agreement with China, it seems the call to help the poor here in Aotearoa, got completely ignored.

Mr Speaker, there’s a forest of reports highlighting the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots, and yet still the changes aren’t being made.

Take the submission of the Auckland Regional Public Health Service for example, detailing:

  • how living in damp, mouldy and unheated houses, makes illnesses like asthma and bronchitis worse, and causes massive family distress

  • how inadequate lighting increases the risk of injury, limits children’s educational achievement, and restricts a family’s options for family activity.

and how when the power gets cut off:
  • the fridge turns off, food spoils, milk curdles, and people get sick trying to eat kai they should have chucked out, and

  • families turn to dangerous ways of heating, cooking and lighting – starting fires in old cracked chimneys, bringing old gas-fired BBQ’s inside to cook, and putting candles in unsafe places for lighting.

What the Auckland Public Health submission highlighted, was the fact that cutting off power to poor homes, causes massive problems for the whole family, which society ends up paying a whole lot more for, later on.

Mr Speaker, the Maori Party is hugely disappointed that the guidelines provided by the Electricity Commissioner for electricity retailers in the past, have been ignored, leading to the crisis we face now.

We believe that every effort must be made to protect vulnerable consumers; and to give priority to families and to the poor, and accordingly we will be supporting this Bill to put guidelines in place to ensure that:

  • people having difficulty paying their bills, are not cut off;

  • people reliant on electricity for medical equipment, are not cut off;

  • power companies must deal properly with vulnerable consumers, whether they live in Kew, Aranui, Porirua, Flaxmere, Otara, or Otangarei; and that Government can step in to deal with power companies who refuse to play the game.
  • ENDS

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