Celebrating 21 Years of EWON

Yesterday EWON celebrated 21 years of providing free, fair and independent services to NSW energy and water customers. Members, staff and distinguished guests were welcomed to country by Uncle Allen Madden from the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, followed by speakers, NSW Energy Minister, Matt Keane, EWON Chair, Tony Crawford, former Ombudsman, Clare Petre and current Ombudsman, Janine Young.

Read more from Janine’s address from the night

Celebrating a 21st anniversary / birthday in today’s world could be considered a bit old hat – the traditional ‘coming of age’.

But for EWON, established in 1998 with the objective of providing free, fair, and independent advice and dispute resolution to all NSW energy customers, its 21st year saw that original objective reinstated. 

Over the preceding 20 years, the evolution of embedded networks saw many energy consumers fall outside jurisdiction – our work with the Energy & Water Ombudsman South Australia (EWOSA), the Energy & Water Ombudsman Queensland (EWOQ), the Energy & Water Ombudsman Victoria (EWOV), the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) and the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) since 2015 has closed that gap; an initiative well worth celebrating tonight.

EWON has achieved many milestones since those first days – some Clare mentioned; others can be viewed on our slide show – all of them have contributed to the key strengths of EWON today.  There are many I could talk about - one of them, EWON’s community outreach and engagement program, especially its involvement in aboriginal communities, was a major factor in me seeking out this role.  Our community engagement – that is, effectively taking EWON out to regional, rural and remote communities is second to none!

In May 2014, at the Aust & New Zealand Ombudsman Association Conference Professor John McMillan, enjoying a break after completing 10 years as Commonwealth Ombudsman, presented his paper about Future Directions for Ombudsman Offices.

One of his reflections focused on the key role of the Ombudsman – which in John’s words, was to customise the office in a constructive way.  He talked about the fact that two of Australia’s high-profile Ombudsman, were on the move: Bruce Barbour the New South Wales Ombudsman and Clare Petre.  John actually said that he would not like to follow in the footsteps of either of them as both had been towering figures who had placed their personal, enduring and distinctive stamp on their offices. 

Little did John, or I, know at that time, that he would follow in Bruce’s footsteps and I would follow in Clare’s.    

I draw on John’s words tonight as he went on to say that over time, the influence and durability of an ombudsman office, draws from the fact that each ombudsman is different; and the capacity and flexibility of the ombudsman institution to accommodate different styles, embraces this difference as a strength.   Given the changes the energy and water sectors are currently undertaking, and the confusion many consumers are experiencing, the capacity and flexibility of EWON today, is indeed a strength.

I view the role of Ombudsman as being a custodian role; with the responsibility to build on its strengths, prepare it for the future and ensure that all we do is aligned with the benchmarks that underpin our role - independence, accessibility, fairness, accountability, efficiency and effectiveness.  Of course, I can only do that through having the support of a great Board, and great team – and I am very fortunate at EWON to have both.

Through strong governance, the EWON Board ensures we meet our strategic objectives.   And the EWON Team, our Investigations, Policy, Community Engagement, Communications, Quality Assurance, Member Services and Corporate Services Staff, all strive for service excellence – day in, day out!  They are very inspirational.

EWON though, is much bigger than the sum of all of us.

EWON’s overarching strength is generated by the partnerships, collaboration, relationships and the energy, pardon the pun, of everyone we work with:

  • the consumer peak bodies
  • our energy & water members – long term and the newer ones
  • regulators
  • government departments
  • financial counsellors
  • and of course, the consumers who trust us to achieve a fair and reasonable outcome for their complaint.

I thank you all for coming tonight, representing your organisations, and celebrating your contribution to EWON’s success.

In closing, it is therefore fitting that I call upon Craig Memery and Richard Gross to join me in cutting this beautiful cake:

Craig is representing the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and therefore NSW consumer interests.  PIAC was one of the organisations which contributed to the establishment of EWON as a Working Party member, and of course today, PIAC is the leading organisation for tackling the difficult social problems experienced by NSW consumers, including many who seek out EWON’s assistance.

Richard, as CEO of Ausgrid, is representing all of EWON’s members. Ausgrid’s prior life was the distribution arm of the original EnergyAustralia, which was also part of that original EWON Working Party. While EnergyAustralia has morphed over the years, it is the only energy provider name listed as an EWON member across the years; and Ausgrid today, supplies energy to the largest share of NSW consumers!

Let’s celebrate EWON: its past, present and of course, its future!