Despite the hype, PM settles for low wattage price relief

The hype was interstellar, but the content …more terrestrial.


The resting face of Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg presaged the package’s modest scale.

His neutral expression, a visual bookend to the enthusiasm being tub-thumped into existence by his boss Malcolm Turnbull.

Fresh from their second pow-wow with electricity retailers this month, the pair fronted media where the Prime Minister dialled it up to eleven insisting his government stands for lower energy prices: “We believe, as many as two million Australian families, are paying more for their electricity than they ought to be paying … so I’m very pleased to announce that today we’ve secured the agreement of the energy retailers to write to more of their customers to inform them that a better deal is available.”

As the doughty Frydenberg waited his turn, the PM went on to explain that the lucky two million could save “hundreds of dollars on their electricity bills”.

Monthly billing would cut down on bill-shock, and there should also be an end to illusory discount rates that obscure higher base prices.

Frydenberg explained further that customers would also get better access to consumption information facilitating easier price comparisons.

“This is a very big breakthrough, and it’s happening here and now,” the PM enthused.

All good steps, but big? Timely?

Consider these increments against the historical context – a simmering 10-year shouting match over energy prices that had positively boiled over when Tony Abbott made it the No.1 issue in Julia Gillard’s time – remember the wrecking ball carbon “tax” and Barnaby Joyce’s $100-roasts?

It became the Coalition’s simplest and most oft-hammered promise: repeal would cure all manner of economic ills, not least guaranteeing price relief.

Instead after four years in office itself, and sans carbon “tax”, galloping power bills are again, by this government’s own declaration, the No.1 gripe of voters.

Putting aside the perverseness of a federal Liberal government diddling in free markets, the commitment wrung from the hands of retailers – to send letters to households advising that cheaper plans may be available – is hardly what one would call structural reform. Nor need it have waited until now.

Meanwhile the elephant in the room is the currently parked clean energy target – a reform recommended by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel and backed by Turnbull and Frydenberg.

The Prime Minister began 2017 declaring household energy would be his edge. So far, it’s been cutting both ways.

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