Energy Emergency

L to R: ICAN Operations Manager – Jillian Williams, Weipa Community Care CEO – Josephine Tait and NILS Officer – Lucy Waugh

ICAN Connect partner, Weipa Community Care are tackling energy inequities in surrounding Indigenous Powercard communities through the establishment of a Powercard emergency relief program. The community driven program was made possible through ICAN Connect with funding from donors, the Ecstra Foundation and the Queensland Government’s financial resilience program. Napranum is the first community to benefit from the initiative, with support from the local IBIS supermarket.

Weipa Community Care CEO, Josephine Tait spoke about the program’s development. “Through the ICAN Connect partnership we now have access to Emergency Relief funds that can address identified need in the community,” said Mrs Tait. “We asked Napranum residents what their priorities were, and they said in order of preference, powercard credit, food supplies and phone credit. So, we knew that if we targeted either one of the first two items it would provide much needed household budget relief.” 

“The program has been streamlined since commencement, a client now just has to come to our outreach office in Napranum or our home base in Weipa,” said Mrs Tait. “The arrangement we have with the IBIS Supermarket means we don’t have to hand out cash, or vouchers and auditing records are being kept at both the store and our organisation. The offer of Emergency Powercard Relief is the carrot in being able to offer budgeting support, or access to ICAN’s counselling services.”

ICAN Operations Manager, Jillian Williams, highlighted that the local solution partly addresses the lack of access to the Queensland Government’s, Home Energy Emergency Assistance Scheme (HEEAS) in Napranum. “For many years now, the Queensland Council of Social Services (QCOSS) and consumer advocacy groups like ICAN have pointed out the inequities in Queensland’s energy hardship provisions,” said Ms Williams. “What Weipa Community Care have achieved through the ICAN Connect Partnership is an immediate practical solution in addressing an ongoing inequality for other powercard communities.”

The HEEAS scheme was introduced in 2008 to provide relief for households struggling financially to maintain an electricity supply. The HEEAS program currently offers up to $720 every two years to struggling households. Unfortunately, thirteen years after the commencement of HEEAS, households in Powercard communities are still unable to apply. 

ICAN Financial Counsellor, Sharon Edwards, explained why Weipa Community Care’s initiative is so critical, “Our experience says, Powercard community residents are extremely conscious of the direct correlation between energy usage and expenses,” said Ms Edwards. “This doesn’t however stop households from experiencing financial hardship in maintaining their electricity. Low incomes, overcrowding and higher food and fuel costs, also negatively impact the household budget.” 

“As energy is paid upfront in Powercard communities, you won’t see astronomical bills like in other parts of Queensland,” said Ms Edwards. “This doesn’t mean that hardship isn’t being felt, just displaced. In simple terms, it’s often the choice between keeping the fridge on or having food to put in it.” 

“There is still very much a reliance on bush tucker to get by up here, Napranum is a very resilient community,” said Mrs Tait. “We would love to see HEEAS in Powercard communities, this would free up emergency relief dollars for the other areas of identified need.”