ACOSS welcomes COAG’s plan, and calls for swift action on independent consumer body

7 December 2012

ACOSS has welcomed today’s COAG agreement on tackling rising energy prices, including better resourcing of the Australian Energy Regulator, and a stronger consumer voice to challenge decisions in the energy market.

“We now call on Governments to take swift action to turn this in-principle agreement into real action to address electricity prices,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Goldie,

“Consumers have been hurt by rapid price rises over recent years, and it’s pretty clear that our current system isn’t working. Action is now needed to bring consumer interests front and centre in all energy market processes.

COAG has agreed to the formation of two new consumer bodies – a Consumer Challenge Panel, located in the Australian Energy Regulator, and a separate national advocacy body for energy consumers.

“ACOSS welcomes this recognition that consumers need a stronger voice in how decisions are made in our energy market. However, while we’re pleased to see a consumer challenge panel entrenched within the Australian Energy Regulator, we regard it as crucial that COAG move quickly to establish a stable, independent consumer body to ensure that consumer interests are represented across all areas of the energy market, not just on decisions made by the Regulator.

“The reality is that energy businesses already have a powerful voice in the system – a national consumer advocacy body can balance that voice and contribute to more responsible, effective, sustainable and fair energy markets, and ensure that consumers aren’t being short-changed, for example by unnecessary spending on poles and wires.

“ACOSS also strongly supports increasing the Australian Energy Regulator’s funding and stronger rules to reduce ‘gold plating’ of electricity networks. The Regulator is the key controller of network prices, and it is important that it have the strongest rules and sufficient staffing to prevent the explosion in network expenditure seen in recent years.

“While we agree that time-of-use pricing strategies can lead to cost savings for many consumers, not all consumers are going to be winners. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that low income households are sufficiently protected and are also given every opportunity to participate.

“The introduction of cost-reflective pricing is a massive change for consumers in terms of how they manage their energy use. A change of this magnitude must be accompanied by a comprehensive consumer information and education campaign, funded by governments. Such a campaign will need to target vulnerable consumers. A national consumer advocacy body can monitor the impacts of these changes, and make sure that Governments are adequately protecting and informing consumers.’

“The telecommunications industry has its own, independent consumer advocacy centre – it is about time that energy consumers received representation as well.

“We’re looking forward to working with all Governments on this important reform process,” Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155