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Territorians warned of surge in power bills -

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Territorians warned of surge in power bills

The World Today - Wednesday, 8 April , 2009 12:26:00

Reporter: Margie Smithurst

ELEANOR HALL: Northern Territory residents have just been told that they're going to be slugged
with a huge increase in their power and water bills.

It's estimated some households will have to pay an extra $800 a year.

But the extra costs are only half the increase recommended by a recent review into the Territory's
utilities provider; as Margie Smithurst reports.

MARGIE SMITHURST: Living in the Northern Territory can be a very expensive business.

Rents in Darwin are the highest in the country - a humble two bedroom flat will set you back an
average of $450 a week. Great news if you're a landlord, but if you're not, tough luck.

It's not much better in Alice Springs, where rent prices reflect the severe housing shortage there.

Fruit and veggie prices at the big supermarkets can make you gasp, and for a takeaway coffee in the
Darwin mall, prepare to hand over almost five bucks.

Now, Territorians have to prepare to dig even deeper for the privilege of living far away from
anywhere as power and water prices are going up.

The Treasurer Delia Lawrie broke the news yesterday.

DELIA LAWRIE: The power pass on in terms of prices to residences, large residences are looking at a
$9 a week increase on their existing power bill. They are looking at a $5 a week increase on their
existing water bill. They are looking at a $1 a week increase on their existing sewerage bill. A
total $15 increase.

MARGIE SMITHURST: It's an initial 18 per cent hike on current power and water charges, and starting
in July, will cost large households about $800 extra a year.

It brings the utilities charges in line with the rest of the country's but it's still a big hit on
family and small business budgets.

The Government cushioned the blow by saying the increases were barely half of what it was advised
to charge to make the utilities system sustainable.

An independent report by Australian Energy Regulator board member Andrew Reeves recommended the
Government charge 40 per cent more for power and 60 per cent more for water and sewerage over three

DELIA LAWRIE: The Northern Territory Government will not, in full, implement the recommendations in
relation to the price increases. We recognise that the price increases have a impact on our
households and our small businesses.

MARGIE SMITHURST: Successive Territory governments have historically underinvested in the
Territory's utilities provider.

Last year another independent report found a series of sub-station blowouts that caused regular
blackouts in suburban Darwin were due to entrenched lax maintenance standards and ageing

Andrew Reeves says someone has to pay to bring the services up to scratch.

ANDREW REEVES: My recommendation was for customers to be paying more of their way to bring the
organisation to financial sustainability over a period of three years. The Government response has
been to take something less than my recommendations but heading in the same direction.

MARGIE SMITHURST: The Government says the rot set in under the Country Liberals leadership and was
entrenched well before Labor came to power more than eight years ago.

But the Territory Opposition leader Terry Mills says Labor has simply ignored the problems, and
could have sorted them out a while ago by reinvesting more customer revenue.

TERRY MILLS: They have been implored for the last eight years to make adequate use of the
$1.2-billion unexpected revenue that has flowed into the Territory.

MARGIE SMITHURST: For households and businesses already doing it tough in shaky economic times,
these extra costs will undoubtedly make things that much harder.

The Territory's Council of Social Services Wendy Morton says the increases couldn't come at a worse

WENDY MORTON: We're already hearing that families are really struggling to meet the costs of rent
or mortgages in the Territory. They are not going to be able to cope with other increases in
electricity and water.

We are going to find an increased number of people accessing emergency relief from community
organisations just to make ends meet.

ELEANOR HALL: That is Wendy Morton from the Territory Council of Social Services ending that report
from Margie Smithurst.