Tēnā koutou katoa. 

Minister Clark, thank you for hosting us this evening.

To the newly appointed members of the Council - Jessica Wilson, Desiree Mahy, Nanette Moreau Hammond and Norman Evans, welcome. I look forward to working with you.

Welcome to MPS, Ricardo Menendez March and Andrew Bayly. And thank you all for attending.

Today is a significant milestone in the life of the Consumer Advocacy Council. As most of you would be aware the council was born out of the 2019 Electricity Price Review which found that the small electricity consumers struggle to be heard. I acknowledge the Chair of the Electricity Price Review, Miriam Dean. The work she and her colleagues undertook continues to guide us.

The job that we have is to be a voice for residential and small business electricity consumers - 5 million consumers and half a million businesses. These consumers currently experience a power imbalance, if you would pardon the pun.

We will be a strong advocate for small consumers when issues emerge and when decisions about electricity markets and regulation, that impact those consumers, are being made.

Very simply, we are committed to being the trusted, credible, authoritative voice for small electricity consumers, operating independently of industry players, regulators, and Government.

While we must be independent, we also need to collaborate as far as possible, with all – government, regulators, other consumer groups and the electricity sector.

Together, we can do so much more. It is our intention to leverage off some of the very good work that is being undertaken, like the work the Electricity Retailers Assoc of NZ is doing with Energy Mate. We want to amplify the effective strategies, lead projects that we identify as needing to be undertaken and work with others to make it happen.

While the Council has broad support – from consumers, Government, regulators and many of those in the electricity sector, I hear from a minority that we are unnecessary, as regulators and consumer groups already deal with electricity issues. I understand the concern, but given the extent of the problem identified by the Electricity Price Review and the fact that no organisation, other than the Council, has the laser focus on smaller consumers and their requirements of the electricity sector, we have a vital role to play. Maybe one day we will not be required. That would be a great day, but it is not this day.

For the first time in New Zealand, small consumers have a dedicated and independent advocate for the electricity issues that impact them and that can be only a good thing.

Consumers are not only the people who use the electricity product. They are central to an efficient and well-functioning electricity market and sector. It is an important distinction that has often been ignored.

Consumers want fair prices and affordable electricity, reliability of supply and a sustainable system into the future. They want easy to understand information, which will empower them. Again, excuse the pun.

But consumers haven’t the time or resources to navigate a complex environment. That’s where the Council comes in. We will, on their behalf, help to improve the regulatory framework, demystify the sector and improve service and satisfaction levels. All of that must be good for consumers and I believe it is good for the electricity sector as well.

Our first piece of work, in collaboration with Consumer NZ, is important as it keys into what consumers are telling us rather loudly. We want to develop a standardised power bill we hope retailers will adopt. If consumers are able to better understand their bills, they will be more confident to assess the best options and switch to another retailer if necessary. Good for them, good for a competitive market.

Watch out for the results of this work including some research into consumer attitudes in coming months.

We’re also taking a close look at pre-pay contracts. This is about ensuring the price of electricity is fair for all.

We have also been submitting on legislation and regulation that impacts small consumers.

And the media are increasingly finding us too– we certainly want to be heard on issues so thank you to journalists here tonight - please keep calling!

Our Council will now relook at our priorities and no doubt enhance the work we are already doing.

In the past year, we have established the Council and I want to acknowledge the hard work of secretariat members here – Jane Budge who heads the secretariat and Emma Sturmfels, our principal advisor. I also acknowledge Ron Beatty, our technical adviser and Mike Jaspers our communications specialist.

Deborah Hart and Minister Clark

Finally, a note of thanks.

Thank you, Minister Clark and your government, for understanding that consumers do need a strong voice and for our establishment. We thank all those who have welcomed us and worked with us – consumer groups, those in the electricity sector and regulators. We look forward to working with you all.

I want to close with a karakia for the work we need to do together:

Mauri oho
Mauri tū
Mauri ora
ki a tātou
Haumi e
Hui e
Tāiki e.

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