Remarks at the launch of Business Energy Advice Program, Cicada Innovations, Sydney


26 August 2019

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thank you to Cicada Innovations for having us here today. It's fantastic to be back here. I first came here almost 20 years ago which, and I'm told, you reminded me that it was about 20 years this place came into existence and I was working with a couple of the very, very early businesses that were located here. It's extraordinary to see how it's evolved over the years and how this whole area has evolved. It's absolutely fantastic to see. I came here a number of times when I had the role in Government as Minister for Digital and it's fantastic to see the work that's going on here on data and digital. I'll come back to that in a moment.

Thank you also to the New South Wales Business Chamber. Stephen, it's fantastic to be partnering with you on this and I think this is a great example of business and Government working together in the way that they should around innovation. I am a firm believer that technology and R&D are absolutely at the centre of solving our energy and emissions problems. We understate the importance of technology constantly in this space and we need to be focusing on it all the time. There are short-term innovations that we can use from the technology sector, and there's going to have to be lots of longer term innovation as well - and hopefully some of that will come from right here. I know there's a number of people involved in energy tech here at the moment.

As well as Sally-Anne and Stephen, can I also thank Andrew Charlton and Trent Innes from AlphaBeta and Xero for the work they've done. Absolutely fantastic to see both of you here - I know you're a great believers in the power of data innovation as well.

Kate Carnell great to see you here from the Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, a great champion of small business.

And Anthony Nehme from Yenda Producers as well.

So, great to see all of you. I'm sure I've missed someone, but it's wonderful to have all of you here.

Not only am I a great champion of data and innovation as an important source of improvement, of incomes, of prosperity in our economy - I also see that small business plays an enormously important role. Small businesses are at the centre of the Australian economy and at the centre of our political culture, and the latter is often forgotten - both matter, both matter.

Aspiration, entrepreneurship, innovation - much of it comes from the small business sector because you have to be to survive.

I'm from a fifth generation farming family and I tell you what, if we don't keep innovating every generation, including with data, then we simply can't survive. That's true with every small business in Australia.

We need to remember that around two-thirds of Australian workers are employed by small businesses and increasingly large businesses outsource a lot of their employment intensive activities to those smaller businesses.

We know for small businesses energy is a huge challenge. In a recent survey by the New South Wales Business Chamber found that for 90 per cent of these businesses, energy is the largest cost they face beyond their own [inaudible]. For small businesses it's a fixed cost that needs to be dealt with, so we know that small changes can have big impacts, but the challenge is that small business people are time poor - and you know, a company like Xero understands this well by making it simpler to do your bookkeeping and accounting, they've stormed the market - they're time poor and things need to be simpler, and when things are simple and can be done in a timely way, small businesses adapt and adopt.

The Business Energy Advice Program is designed to help small businesses solve this problem, giving them the resources and the expert advice they need to be able to get the best value out of their energy plan, and to navigate what is a difficult market with confidence. It essentially has two elements.

The first is the advisory services delivered by the New South Wales Business chamber, and that is a one-to-one personalised energy advice service provided by the chamber and its partners. These are free and independent energy consultations providing small businesses with a wide range of services and identifying behavioural changes that they can make to save on energy bills, save them money on their energy bills, right through to recommendations on grants and equipment that can support them to become more energy efficient.

We know one of the ways that we've been achieving our Kyoto targets in 2012, and as we look through to 2020, we're confident we will meet those targets easily, only a year away from now. Energy efficiency has been an enormously important part of it and particularly energy efficiency from businesses like the small businesses we're talking about. Now, those consultations I talked about from the chamber will be based on areas of need identified by each individual business.

The second part of the program is the Small Business Energy Check benchmarking tool. This is a piece that's been supported by Xero and AlphaBeta. It will help small businesses to get a quick sense check of their energy spend and a benchmark against what it should be.

In my time involved in business, I've seen it again and again, it's clever, insightful granular benchmarking that really makes an enormous difference. When you can see that your neighbour down the road in a similar business, a dry cleaner or a café or a farmer, is doing better than you on their energy - whether it's their costs or the usage - all of a sudden you start asking yourself questions.

Small business people are competitive by nature and when they see those benchmarks, they know to ask the right questions, and they do and we see change.

I'm very excited about the Small Business Energy Check benchmarking tool and the role that it will play alongside of the one-to-one consultations. It's built on that very simple idea that a business in central Sydney can have a very different profile to a small business in a regional area. So a café in Goulburn, where I live, will be very different from a cafe in this area of Sydney, and it recognises that in the granularity of the benchmarking. So well done - I think this is an enormously important contribution to solving what is a difficult program.

Now, on top of this program, the Government is absolutely committed to energy efficiency more generally. We've launched a $50-million-dollar program providing grants to assist businesses and community organisations to improve their energy efficiency. We certainly hope that the BEAP will give advice to businesses to get involved in this program.

From 2020, under the energy efficiency communities program, small businesses will be eligible for grants to upgrade equipment, invest in energy monitoring systems or to conduct energy system assessments. This is part of a broader set of reforms many of which were recommended by the ACCC in their electricity price inquiry some time back. Those reforms are also focused on driving prices down independent of the work that small businesses are doing. So from the 1 July, the Government introduced the Default Market Offer. This imposes a price cap on the amount retailers can charge for standing offer customers, that's the customers who haven't got round yet to negotiating a better offer.

Now our hope, as a result of the work here and the reference price that was introduced recently on 1 July as well, then the advice that we get through this program will help them to negotiate a better offer - but if they're not in a position to do that, for whatever reason, or they don't get round to doing it in time, the DMO acts as a means of ensuring that they are getting a fair price.

We've also proposed changes to the rules to stop what's been some pretty dodgy discounting practices and charging practices more generally from the energy retailers, and they include sneaky late payment fees and they have been extraordinary - up to 25 or even 30 per cent increase in the prices paid for even paying an hour late. Some of those rules simply had to change.

There's one final reform that I did want to mention. Last time I was here I was talking to businesses here about the consumer data right. This is an enormously important reform that the Government is pursuing. It's been estimated that there's a $64 billion per year benefit up for grabs from data driven innovation. That includes energy, also includes telecommunications, and financial services, and other utilities as well. Currently energy use data is held across many data holders. It's often inaccessible or not correct, and that creates challenges in fully understanding the energy market and fully understanding how a small business or any business for that matter, can get a better deal.

The introduction of the consumer data right for the energy sector, which is a real priority and focus for the Government now, is designed to allow consumers to share their energy data with the service providers, the service providers of their choice. They may choose to help them find a better deal. We certainly hope that as that is introduced, the sort of advice we are talking about here will include application to the consumer data right. Now collectively all of these initiatives, as well as the work we're doing on wholesale prices, and of course the program we're here to talk about today, the Business Energy Advice Program, are paving the way for an energy market that is fair and accessible for all customers, whilst we drive down emissions but also achieve a better deal for all customers in the energy sector.

I'm absolutely delighted to see the BEAP come to life in the trusted hands of the New South Wales Business Chamber, AlphaBeta and Xero. Thank you and well done. I'm looking forward to applying it myself and seeing lots of my constituents and others right across Australia applying this absolutely fantastic program.

Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction