Govern like grown-ups and pay the $275 for power bills

Cameron Milner The Australian December 8, 2022

Wednesday was going to be the day Australians finally had an Albanese government response to the energy crisis that’s engulfing family budgets and bringing businesses to their knees. Instead on Monday, moments before the plan was to be released to the premiers, “Covid ate my homework” came the message from the Prime Minister’s office.

National cabinet now is going to meet online on Friday. Albanese’s response on radio from his couch to the public facing crippling energy bills was: “What’s a few days?” Obviously we all wish Albanese well for another week with Toto as he recovers from a mild bout of Covid – but the response to the energy crisis and increased cost of living being suffered by Australians already has taken too long to be delivered.

The Albanese opposition campaigned relentlessly on cost of living and a $275 cut to power bills. Six months and a federal budget later, Australians still wonder what the plan will be.

What has been briefed out is a coal price cap. Sounds simple until you realise the plan is to ask Queensland and NSW to use their constitutional rights to intervene in their own markets and disrupt their resource sectors to deem a lower than market price for their coal. It’s another Treasury-inspired brain fart that could have been brought to you by the team responsible for ghostwriting the Ken Henry tax review under Wayne Swan.

Who on earth thought asking Queensland and NSW to punish their own resource sectors while seeking to avoid the federal provision to compensate “on just terms” was a smart idea?

Clearly the wet-behind-the-ears government advisers wouldn’t know of Lawrence Hammill QC from The Castle, but how did such an incompetent plan make it through to being promulgated by Albo? It reads like something Dennis Denuto might have written. However, this now has the Prime Minister’s imprimatur.

Annastacia Palaszczuk should be congratulated for standing up for her state. Queenslanders still own their generating assets and earn significant royalties from the sale of coal. This has meant Queensland has been able to invest in renewable energy but also help householders each year with a direct payment of $175 towards their power bills. The payment is the dividend of public ownership of our assets.

Albanese should let Queenslander Jim Chalmers stand up for his home state. The federal Treasurer should stare down the appalling attack on the state’s energy security and public ownership of generating assets. After all, he’s the most senior voice among Labor’s five lower house MPs from the Sunshine State. Instead, he’s siding with Canberra.

It’s ironic that in the week Queensland is being chastised by Albanese for somehow being the cause of the energy crisis, Labor has released its review into this year’s federal election, which says the party should’ve done better in Queensland. One of the report’s findings was the state needed a dedicated campaign unit.

What the report fails to cover is that Labor had that. Departing ALP president Swan oversaw the campaign strategy group in Queensland that saw Labor go backwards to five seats out of 30 and deliver three times as many Greens seats as in Victoria.

So, a federal energy plan that punishes Queenslanders for keeping the lights on, for keeping gas supplies flowing, hardly seems like a great way to win electoral support in the must-win state.

Swan is also the deputy chair of Queensland’s largest coal-fired state-owned generator, Stanwell Energy. It would be great to see whether he backs Palaszczuk or the PM. Of Swan’s usually prolific tweeting, on this matter he’s been conveniently silent.

Labor federally has shown clarity of purpose on issues such as the National Anti-Corruption Commission and industrial relations changes, and many ministers are delivering across their portfolios, yet when it comes to landing on key election commitments to ease the cost of living, Labor looks like policy stumblebums. Why is it so hard to pay up the $275 promised? After all, in Queensland a Labor government is paying $175 a year for every household energy consumer.

Why doesn’t the federal government do as the British government has done, with support from Keir Starmer’s Labour opposition, and cap domestic power bills for each household as well as businesses? Britain’s Energy Price Guarantee applies to households and businesses and recognises government’s role to insulate those who use energy above a certain level with a guaranteed maximum annual bill.

It’s a simple, transparent plan that doesn’t require complex constitutional meanderings. It doesn’t punish prudent, resource-rich states such as Queensland or reward southern states that celebrate the closing of cheap, reliable coal-fired power stations and then wonder why their energy bill has gone up. Such a plan doesn’t harm international investment in our resource sector or Australia honouring its long-term supply contracts with allies.

Sure, it means the federal government has to step up and make a contribution, but what else was expected by Albo and his team when they made cost of living their central pledge and promised voters $275 off their power bill? Did they imagine they could ask people in Queensland and NSW to pay for these commitments rather than taking on the responsibility of governing like adults?

1/ The Palaszczuk government is helping Queensland householders each year with a direct payment of $175 towards their power bills. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled

Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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