Affecting the lives of many
‘I like to think it’s beneficial,’ says Pete Newman. ‘I meet nice, interesting people, it provides me with mental stimulation, and it keeps me active and engaged. It’s good for my health and good for my brain.’
Pete is talking about his role as an advocate for older people on Ausgrid’s Consumer Consultative Committee. Ausgrid is the largest distributor of electricity on Australia’s east coast, with a network of substations, powerlines, underground cables and power poles throughout Sydney, the Central Coast and the Hunter Valley.
Organisations like Ausgrid are constantly making decisions that affect our way of life, and they may affect older people differently to other groups. That’s why it’s really important for older people to have input into those decisions. Many organisations have similar consultation mechanisms and are looking for older people to contribute.
Pete first got involved with COTA NSW after he retired from a career in the health industry. He had started work as a nurse and rose to become a senior nursing unit manager. Although he still had a part-time role on the Tribunal of the Australian Health Professionals Regulatory Agency and another on the board of his credit union, he was looking for other opportunities to remain active.
Pete initially took part in COTA NSW’s peer education program which operated in 2016-18, conducting programs for community groups about wellness and wellbeing, and navigating the aged care system. ‘Then they were looking for energy advocates, so thought I’d give that a try,’ he says.
I know that seniors can struggle to understand their bills, and struggle with the internet. There is that nightmare scenario of old people sitting around freezing because they are too scared to turn their heaters on because of the cost. So there needs to be a lot more done about energy literacy in general, and for older people in particular.’
After advocacy training, Pete joined the Ausgrid committee. ‘At first when I was meeting all these engineers and financiers I thought I might not be up to it,’ he says. ‘But the people at COTA NSW encouraged me, and the other advocates on the committee were very supportive too. I realised that my experience in customer relations and financial management stood me in good stead. Any well-trained advocate with good support can make a fist of it.’
Asked for an example of the kind of matters the committee deals with, Pete says they have just given input on Ausgrid’s submission to the Australian Energy Regulator on their capital investment and operating programs.
Another recent topic was the best way to address the increasing need for complex distribution arrangements with the expansion of medium and high-density living, such as retirement villages. Yet another concerned Ausgrid’s need to change its arrangements for working on live wires for safety reasons, which might lead to longer restoration times during outages.
‘In each case I think, how is this in the interests of the consumer, and in particular the older consumer,’ Pete says. ‘Overall, reliability and sustainability are the key issues, and how to deal with climate change. There needs to be more long-term planning.’
As well as his work with COTA NSW and Ausgrid, Pete takes part in a mentoring program at his local high school. ‘I give the students whatever help they need,’ he says. ‘How to find a job, write a resume, interview skills, that sort of thing. Often it’s just about building their confidence.’
Pete says the program is particularly valuable for boys who don’t have other male role models. ‘There aren’t many male mentors, so I am a scarce commodity,’ he said. ‘It provides a nice balance with Ausgrid, as there is that more immediate personal reward.’
‘But the advocacy work is just as important. As a mentor I can have a direct effect on one’s person’s life, and as an advocate I can affect the lives of many people in a less direct way. It’s very satisfying.’