Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 5059

Electricity Pricing


Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:19): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Resources and Energy, Senator Evans. Does the government agree with the coalition energy spokesperson, Mr Ian Macfarlane, but not its leader, Mr Abbott, that some state governments have been profiting from gold-plating electricity distribution systems, unnecessarily driving up electricity bills for ordinary Australians? If so, given COAG's slow and poor performance, and conflict of interest on electricity market reform to date, what confidence can the community have that anything other than talk will be done about it?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:20): I thank Senator Milne for her question. There is a great deal of community concern about the increases in household electricity prices that we have seen over the last three years. I understand that in many areas prices have increased by more than 40 per cent, and that is obviously concerning to people faced with those costs, particularly people on fixed incomes, pensioners and other low-income earners. In my own state of Western Australia there has been a huge debate about this. People are very concerned by those rising electricity prices.

On 7 August, the Prime Minister sought to bring attention to some of the issues that exist in the industry and to concern that things such as potential overinvestment in network infrastructure or the pricing around electricity by state governments may have seen consumers paying more than they needed to.

In terms of the carbon price, the federal government made sure that the household assistance was more than adequate to cover any increases driven by the carbon price. But the ongoing increases in electricity prices are concerning. The Prime Minister, in asking states to bring possible remedies to the next COAG meeting, is trying to seriously address what is a major concern for families and households in Australia. While the implication in the senator's question was rather negative, I think that is not a bad starting point to try to focus on what we can do better to try to keep electricity prices down while maintaining a sustainable system. And, hopefully, COAG will make a step in that direction. (Time expired)


Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:22): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given the Prime Minister's concern about the higher than necessary electricity bills because of the incentive to sell more electricity instead of helping energy efficiency, when can the community expect the implementation of a national energy savings initiative, which the government committed to investigate as part of the clean energy future agreement? When can we expect that?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:23): I think the senator is right to point to the need to target energy savings approaches as part of dealing with these issues. It is part of why we have implemented a carbon price as part of our encouragement of alternative energy sources. I think people accept that household usage, patterns of usage and behaviour are an important part of energy saving. My own partner is training us all to turn off the power source—something I am not very good at yet, but it is part of that practical response to the problem.

In terms of the specifics of the national energy savings initiative, I do not have a brief on that with me but I am happy to take that on notice for Senator Milne and get her an answer as soon as I can as to the status of and progress on the national energy savings initiative.


Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:24): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Finally, why did Minister Ferguson claim that the NEM objective is universally supported, when the evidence is to the contrary? Minister, can you tell me which of the ongoing inquiries address the question of whether the national electricity objective should be amended to incorporate sustainability and climate change? So what is the evidence for the statement and which review actually addresses the objectives of the NEM?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:24): While I am sure Minister Ferguson acted for exactly the right motives and was driven by sound public policy, I have not actually been briefed as to why—

Senator Brandis interjecting

Senator CHRIS EVANS: No, it does not hurt me at all. I am not sure exactly why the remarks in relation to the NEM were made, nor the particular review focus that the senator is seeking. As with the first supplementary, I will try to get the senator an answer on notice that deals with those issues.