Ergon Energy has apologised to customers in the Barcaldine area for an email that incorrectly advised them they were no longer eligible for a drought relief subsidy because their drought status had been revoked.
The Barcaldine Regional Council was one of 23 in Queensland that remained drought declared when Agriculture Minister, Mark Furner announced the deliberations of local drought committees in mid-May.
Ergon Energy wouldn’t say how many of its customers had received the email but according to local MP, Lachlan Millar, it resulted in a number of concerned residents contacting his office.
The opposition claimed it was a major bureaucratic stuff-up, saying whether it was the fault of the Agriculture department or the government-owned Ergon Energy, it was clear they had no idea what was going on outside Brisbane.
Opposition agriculture spokesman, Tony Perrett, said that more than an administrative blunder, it showed “the clear disconnect between inner city Brisbane bureaucrats and rural and regional Queensland”.
“It’s clear the government sees the rest of Queensland as just one big confusing group of dots on a map rather than real functioning communities,” he said. “It’s simply not good enough the government can’t tell the difference between Bundaberg, Blackall and Barcaldine, especially on an issue as important as drought support.”
Both Mr Perrett and the Member for Gregory, Lachlan Millar, said the error had caused unnecessary stress for graziers under pressure from ongoing drought.
“The Ergon price relief is essential for graziers to keep the property going during long dry spells,” Mr Millar said. “The minister needs to take responsibility for this mess, apologise to western Queensland graziers and fix this immediately. We deserve better than this.”
In the last financial year, Ergon Energy Retail had around 2890 customers on drought relief arrangements, and the assistance given in 2016-17 came to about $6.9 million.
Energy Queensland’s senior corporate communications advisor, Rod Rehbein, said the email advice was drafted because the drought status of some parts of the state had recently been revoked and the majority of recipients of the email were in those areas.
“However, the email was inadvertently sent to additional customers in areas that remain drought-declared and, once again, we apologise for this,” he said.
“This affected only those customers who have opted to receive correspondence by email.
“We are confident only those customers in areas where drought declarations have been revoked will receive the advice by mail.
“These customers should now have received a follow-up email apologising for the error and assuring them they will continue to receive the drought subsidy.”
Mr Millar said any grazier in receipt of the email should contact Ergon Energy to rectify the issue.
The business customer service team can be contacted on 1300 135 210, or by emailing BusinessCustomerService@ergon.com.au