Tasmania's Energy Minister accused of misleading pensioners over energy bonus
Summary: The Tasmanian Government has been accused of misleading pensioners, concession card holders and potentially a parliamentary committee, over special energy bonus cheques.....
The $125 cheques from Aurora Energy were due to be delivered by Christmas.
They were promised to Pensioner Concession Card holders in October last year to offer power bill relief for low-income households during the festive season.
However, many people did not receive their cheques in the mail until this month, and there are reports of others who are still waiting.
Westpac has accepted responsibility and apologised for the delay in processing the payments.
Today the State Opposition released a letter from the chair of Aurora Energy, Caryle Demarte, on November 30, warning the Treasurer Peter Gutwein and Energy Minister Guy Barnett that pre-Christmas payments could not be guaranteed.
"It must be noted that there is a reliance on external parties Centrelink and banking partner Westpac to ensure timely distribution of the bonus," the letter said
"As such, we are unable to bind these parties to ensuring the payments will be made by December 20, 2017."
Labor Elwick MLC Josh Willie said it was concerning that several days later Mr Barnett told Aurora's government business scrutiny hearing the cheques would be in the mail before Christmas.
"If he was warned on November 30 and continued to maintain that they would all be distributed before Christmas, knowing that there could be problems, then ultimately he may have misled that committee," Mr Willie said.
Minister accuses Labor of 'carping'
Mr Barnett said it was "offensive" to suggest he knowingly made a promise the Government could not keep.
PHOTO: Energy Minister Guy Barnett has rejected suggestions he mislead anyone. (ABC News)
"For the Labor party to suggest such a thing it confirms that their criticisms is simply carping at the sidelines," he said.
"The Government was repeatedly advised that cheques would be, and had been sent before Christmas."
He said Westpac had agreed to waive cheque processing and postage costs in acknowledgement of its error.
"Aurora's administration of the scheme, previously estimated to cost up to $100,000, has now been reduced to only $10,000, or less than 0.1 per cent of the total scheme value."
Kingston pensioner Chris Neilson, speaking today alongside Mr Willie, said she was hoping to use her cheque to help pay for Christmas lunch with her 11 grandchildren, but it only arrived last Friday.
"If you're on a pension you know how important $125 is to you," she said.
"I just think it built people's thoughts up and excitement up and then let us all down."
PHOTO: Kingston pensioner Chris Neilson says $125 is an important amount to pensioners (ABC TV)
Greens leader Cassy O'Connor said the Minister's knowledge in November that the cheques might not be deliverable before Christmas proved that the special energy bonus was a politically motivated bribe gone wrong.
"It's been exposed as that and there's been a deliberate attempt by Guy Barnett and the Treasurer to mislead disadvantaged Tasmanians who were looking forward to that boost before Christmas."