Power bill prices: Albanese energy package to pass with Greens backing

Home Politics Power bill prices: Albanese energy package to pass with Greens backing
Power bill prices: Albanese energy package to pass with Greens backing

Labor’s emergency energy relief package is set to become law after Energy Minister Chris Bowen confirmed he had secured the support of The Greens.

Both houses of federal parliament have been recalled on Thursday to deal with the legislation, following a deal struck with states and territories at national cabinet last Friday.

The laws will give the federal government the power to intervene in the energy market in an effort to put downward pressure on soaring electricity prices.

Labor doesn’t have a majority in the upper house, meaning it needs the support of either the Coalition or The Greens and one crossbench senator in order to pass any legislation.

Speaking to reporters at Parliament House on Wednesday, Mr Bowen said Labor and The Greens had had a “good conversation” that had resulted in government funding to assist Australians to switch-out gas appliances.

“We have agreed we will develop in the lead-up to the May budget a package to assist Australian households and businesses deal with the move to electrification and support them on their journey,” Mr Bowen said.

“These are unprecedented and difficult times and this is decisive action.

“It is our job to act in the national interest. I understand it is the job of CEOs and companies to protect their profits, it is our job to protect the people in the country.”

Labor’s emergency energy law will introduce a mandatory code of conduct for the gas industry and cap the wholesale price of gas at $12 a gigajoule for 12 months.

It will contain provisions for the commonwealth to give $1.5bn to states to spend on power bill rebates for small businesses and vulnerable residents, which aren’t expected to be provided until April next year.

The federal government will also work with NSW and Queensland to assist those states in imposing a temporary coal price cap of $125 a tonne.

Mr Bowen said the legislation would ensure the “sting is taken out of the tail” of power price increases in Australia.

But he said the interventions wouldn’t be “a magic bullet” to counter skyrocketing electricity prices, which he stressed were “90 per cent” a result of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine and the havoc it has wreaked on global energy supplies.

“Nobody can point to anywhere where we will say we are reducing energy prices magically in the next six months,” he said.

“Australians understand the international pressures, there are some network costs which are there as well.”

The government has said its gas and coal measures will reduce the forecast electricity price increases of 36 per cent in 2023-24 to 23 per cent, preventing a $230 power bill increase which the average Australian household would have seen if these actions were not taken.

Greens leader Adam Bandt revealed earlier on Wednesday his party would support Labor’s legislation in exchange for commonwealth funding for households and businesses to switch from “dirty and expensive” gas appliances to electric ones.

The funding will be targeted towards low and middle income earners, people who live in public housing, renters and people “traditionally cut out” from accessing energy savings which come with switching to electric.

The Greens had also wanted to see a freeze on power bills for two years and the imposition of a windfall tax on coal and gas companies’ profits.

Peter Dutton, on the other hand, slammed the government for trying to get the rest of parliament on side without releasing the legislation it plans to pass in a one-day sitting on Thursday.

The Opposition Leader said the cost of recalling parliament for the day would be about $1 million.

“There’s no time for consideration of what’s being put before us – not just for the Liberal party or the Coalition, but the Greens and independent members as well,” Mr Dutton said.

“If the government had a plan, they should have presented it in the October budget. They had five months between the election and the budget to put together a plan.

“Now we’re a day away from parliament being recalled, a week before Christmas, and the government has not released its legislation.

Mr Dutton said the Coalition supported providing financial assistance to families struggling with their power bills, but would prefer this provision to be contained in separate legislation, because the opposition does not support capping the prices of gas and coal.

However, now that the Albanese government has secured support of the Greens, it does not need the support the Coalition to turn the Bill into law.

Independent senators Jacqui Lambie, Tammy Tyrrell and David Pocock have all said they will support the legislation.

Senator Pocock said he wanted the federal government to do more to support “electrification” in the future.

“I have made it clear to the government that this Bill, while importantly will provide some relief to households and small businesses, doesn’t go far enough,” he said.

“The solution is electrification, the solution is getting on with this transition and ensuring that households benefit, that our small businesses benefit from this and that no one is left behind.”

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