Uniting Communities has cautiously welcomed the Government’s new Energy White Paper, released today, but says that there is not much short-term gain for households and small businesses hoping for energy price reductions, after a number of years of rapidly rising electricity and gas prices.

The White Paper’s vision includes the following statement:
“The Australian Government’s goal is to foster robust and efficient energy markets that benefit consumers and encourage investment by being responsive to inevitable changes in energy demand and supply, and the energy market environment generally.”

The paper focuses on three main areas for action:

1.       Increasing competition to keep prices down

2.       Increasing energy productivity to promote growth

3.       Investing in Australia’s energy future.

While these are all reasonable foci, they lack the vision that the White Paper could have provided for longer term policy development – a missed opportunity.

“Much of the focus of the Energy White Paper is on increasing Australia’s exports of energy, specifically coal, gas (as LNG) with some oil and uranium; which is understandable, but the reliance on ‘increasing competition’ in domestic electricity and gas markets to reduce prices for domestic and small business customers is inadequate,” said Mark Henley, Manager for Advocacy with Uniting Communities.

There is a real need for ‘direct action’ on energy affordability both now and into the future; inadequate consideration of this priority is a missed opportunity for the White Paper. People need more than market contestability and information to make informed decisions.

“There is no consideration of improving consumer protections despite more complex energy markets,” says Mr Henley. “There is no proposal to regulate for more energy-efficient housing; no planned requirements for disclosure of housing energy efficiency at point of renting or sale or regulating for better energy efficiency appliances. These are the areas where many families experiencing energy stress could be assisted.

“Nor does the White Paper include discussion about energy concessions or funding for programs to directly assist disadvantaged households to cope with persistently high energy costs, since ‘the market’ alone will not address these issues.”

Uniting Communities says that there needs to be a new Inquiry to follow on from the Energy White Paper, focusing on energy affordability for household and small business customers and including policy and ‘direct action’ responses that the governments can implement. This would pick up on the missed opportunity to deal with energy affordability concerns that are widespread throughout Australian communities.

For information or comment
Mark Henley
Mobile: 0404 067 011