Doorstop Adelaide 11/07/2018

July 11, 2018




MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY: This morning we’ve seen the release of the latest in a series of reports that have confirmed that the electricity system is fundamentally broken.

It’s a system that is no longer delivering for consumers who are seeing their power bills sky-rocket over the last couple of years but instead delivering mega-profits to the companies that now run our electricity system, companies that were handed control over electricity for a series of disastrous privatisation decisions made by Liberal State Governments over the past couple of decades. We welcome the report from the ACCC, we thank the chairman, Rod Simms and his staff for their deliberations over the last sixteen months or so in delivering this very important report. We look forward to studying it and talking with stakeholders about it.

I am concerned though that the sensible recommendations we hope to read in this report may again be lost in the fog of the civil war that is being waged in the Coalition party room over energy policy. Already we are seeing Matt Canavan, a Cabinet Minister no less, seek to use this report as an endorsement of the National Party’s policy for the Government to throw $5 billon of taxpayer funds at building new coal-fired power stations. If this is the way the Coalition party room is going to use this important report, then it’s unlikely to see any relief to consumers.

Malcolm Turnbull in his speech today needs to start to stamp his authority on this civil war. He needs to make very clear that the talk-fest, the internal divisions are going to stop and that consumers, whether they are households or Australian businesses, are finally going see some action from this Government to give them power prices relief.

JOURNALIST: Are the remedies suggested by the ACCC going to be effective in bringing down prices by as much as they suggest?

BUTLER: Well we’ve only had the release of this report over the last couple of hours we’re going to study it carefully over coming days and talk to stakeholders but the media coverage that I’ve seen of this report indicates that many of the sensible reforms that have started to be discussed within our community, like having a benchmark rate against which consumers can properly asses the discounts being offered by retailers, taking action to stop gaming the system, this is the sort of thing that we’ve been calling for now for some years because we’ve been saying the system needs a thorough overhaul to put consumers first again, rather than putting the energy companies first.

JOURNALIST: Which one of the recommendations are most urgent do you think?

BUTLER: Well we’re going to study this report, it was literally only released in the last hour or two. I’m going to read it over the rest of the course of today and start to make our response over time, you’d expect that of a responsible opposition. We think the time for talkfests and internal division within the Coalition party room is well overdue. Australian households and businesses have been suffering power prices that have skyrocketed over the last couple of years and they need some action from their Government.

JOURNALIST: Does this report increase the case for the NEG?

BUTLER: Well we’re going to read the report and we’ve said for some time, since the idea of the National Energy Guarantee was first floated, that we want to take a responsible view to trying to find a bi-partisan solution to this deep energy crisis. We’ve done that with previous iterations of energy policy proposed by the Turnbull Government. I’m looking forward to reading the ACCC report, including its treatment of the National Energy Guarantee.

JOURNALIST: How much blame does Labor accept given that it was in power for a lot of the time these problems arose?

BUTLER: Look, I’m going to read the ACCC report and look at their diagnosis of the problems in the system but there is no question that the energy prices confronting households and businesses today has largely emerged under the Prime Ministership of Malcolm Turnbull. When Tony Abbott became Prime Minister he dismantled the energy policy, the investment signals that were in place under our term in government. Since then we’ve seen no investment, for example, in gas-fired generation while at the same time coal-fired power station after coal-fired power station has shut-down. This is an energy crisis very much of Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott’s making. Instead of coming up with solutions, they’ve been bogged down in this civil war plaguing the Coalition party room.

Today is an opportunity for Malcolm Turnbull to stamp his authority on his party room and say that the ACCC recommendations will be treated on their merit, not abused and used by Coalition MPs that have this coal agenda.

JOURNALIST: This market failure seems to be brewing for the last 20 years, how much responsibility does Labor take for allowing the gold-plating of infrastructure assets?

BUTLER: The so-called gold-plating of network infrastructure assets is something we’ve talked about for some years. These are decisions taken largely at state levels and I think with the benefit of hindsight involved the over-investment of money to transmission and distribution networks that are being paid for now by consumers. We’ve been making this case now for some time, I look forward to reading the recommendations from the ACCC about how the impact on consumers might be relieved or alleviated and look forward to engaging with stakeholders as well.

JOURNALIST: You say that the decision was more made at a state level. Do you think that state governments need to start bearing more of the costs of subsidy schemes to benefit consumers?

BUTLER: I’m looking forward to reading the report that the ACCC has released over the last hour or two including some suggestions about the way, particularly, low and fixed income households might have some relief delivered to them over the skyrocketing power prices over the last couple of years.

JOURNALIST: So do you think that consumers should be compensated for the cost of gold-plating that they’ve had to bear in recent years?

BUTLER: I don’t want to jump at recommendations that no-one has had a chance to read yet. It has literally only been released over the last hour or two. We’ll take our time, I think the community would expect a responsible, alternative government to read and consider the recommendations before making a response to it.

JOURNALIST: So it is too early for you to say that you’d endorse all 56 recommendations?

BUTLER: Absolutely. It is too early, the report was only released in the last hour or two. I’ve not had a chance to read it, I’ll do that over the course of the rest of today and within Labor we’ll start to formulate a response. I think that is what the government will do but I do make the point that further talk-fests, further debate over ideological indulgences is over. Households and businesses are suffering deeply through this energy crisis, they need some action from their government, principally but also from the Australian Parliament more broadly.

JOURNALIST: What about the companies, these so-called gentailers, like Origin and AGL. What’s the message to them?

BUTLER: Well I think we’ve seen a series of reports over the last couple of weeks. The first retail report from the market’s commission, a report by the energy regulator about the very substantial rates of return being enjoyed by some of these companies and the ACCC report today finally confirmed what a number of have been saying for a while, that the electricity system is no longer working in the interests of consumers, households and businesses but instead is delivering mega-profits to these companies who are handed control over our system over the last couple of decades. That has to end. This is a system that has a very deep public interest and should be working in the interests of consumers, not providers like these big power companies.

JOURNALIST: Do you really think that this time households are actually going to see the energy price relief that is spelt out in this report?

BUTLER: I certainly hope so. I’m not going to respond to recommendations I haven’t yet had a chance to read but I think the ACCC is a very widely respected body, it has worked on this area now for the last sixteen months, engaged very broadly with the community and other stakeholders and I want to thank Rod Simms and his commission for the work that they’ve done. I look forward to reading this report, I think it is an important one and I hope that it is going to deliver a change of direction in this country, particularly within the Coalition party room, over the treatment of a very deep energy crisis.

JOURNALIST: On another matter, when will you find out what your future holds in regards to the election?

BUTLER: My focus has been to make sure the Labor Party here in South Australia works through this in the best interests of the party and the best interests of South Australia rather than putting some artificial time-limit on making a decision. I’m confident and other members of the branch are confident that that’s what we’re doing. So I’m not going to fix a particular time-limit on this, obviously we need to get a bit of a move on. The possibility of a federal election this year is being discussed in the commentariat and we need to be prepared for that. We need to get the decision right rather than work to an artificial time-frame.