ACOSS calls for action to deal with rising energy prices

21 February 2011

Today’s report on energy prices from the Australian Industry Group highlights the urgency of a political consensus on Australia’s clean energy future, including a price on carbon and greater energy efficiency, but also adequate safeguards to prevent low-income households plunging further into poverty, according to the Australian Council of Social Service.

“The AIG report confirms that energy prices will continue to rise sharply, placing ever more strain on people already struggling to meet their day to day living expenses, including their electricity and gas bills,” ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said today.

“Only last week we saw figures from the Queensland Competition Authority showing the number of residential electricity disconnections on the way up, with almost 20 per cent of these disconnections for pensioners or concession card holders. These numbers confirm a national trend.

“Higher energy prices for industry inevitably flow through to consumers as higher prices for goods and services, and there is no doubt that low income households are hardest hit by these increases. People who live on fixed, low incomes just don’t have room to move. Something has to give.

“ACOSS has long argued that current levels of income support are inadequate and keep families and individuals well below the poverty line. For example, a person who is unemployed is currently living on $33 per day. And a single parent with two children is trying to make ends meet on about $70 per day. Neither of these groups currently receives the Utilities Allowance available to some others living on pensions, nor have their payments received a real increase in almost twenty years.

“The AIG report confirms that Australian industry and households have benefitted from relatively low energy prices. This report tells us that old fashioned energy from sources that cause carbon pollution will not stay cheap, regardless of whether we price carbon or not. ACOSS agrees with AIG that energy policy and climate policy need to be smart, coherent and aligned, which is not currently the case.

“Most households, like most businesses, will benefit from improvements in energy efficiency. Higher energy prices should encourage an investment in efficiency – house by house, business by business, across the grid. We need to begin that work now.

“We call on all parliamentarians to work together to develop a sensible energy plan for our nation. This should include a price on carbon, in order to provide the certainty that industry needs and lead the transition to a cleaner future.

“But critically it is essential that government action in the area of essential services includes measures that ensure disadvantaged groups, such as people who are unemployed, sole parents, people with disability and pensioners, are properly safeguarded,” Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155