POLITICS

Malcolm Turnbull Announces 'Immediate Action' On Power Prices That Is Not So Immediate

It is just ahead of expected imminent power price hikes across much of Australia.

20/06/2017 3:04 PM AEST | Updated 20/06/2017 3:06 PM AEST
Andrew Meares/Fairfax
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg

CANBERRA -- Remember the extraordinary export regulations that were flagged by the Turnbull Government a few months ago?

Well just ahead of expected imminent power price hikes across much of Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced the Government will be implementing gas regulations, to apply from January 1, that affect exports in a bid to lower Australian power prices and ease the current domestic gas shortage.

"It is unsustainable for our country to be the world's largest exporter, but to be paying some of the largest prices for gas," Resources Minister Matthew Canavan told reporters in Canberra.

Energy prices in much of the nation are expected to rise shortly. In NSW, South Australia and the ACT, there are expectations power prices will rise by up to 20 percent on July 1. In Queensland, the rise is more constrained.

"We realise that electricity prices and energy prices generally are absolutely a top priority issue for all Australian families and businesses,"Turnbull said. "We absolutely understand that."

"That's why we're taking strong action. In fact, unprecedentedly strong action to address it and we are dealing with the consequence and going there."

The Government is also moving to abolish the limited merits review, which allows electricity companies to contest the prices they are allowed to charge. Turnbull said consumers have been charged a collective extra $6.5 billion by gas companies "taking advantage" of the review.

And in a new review of power stations by the Australian Energy Market Operator, the Prime Minister also flagged possible government/taxpayer investment in potentially upgraded coal and gas-fired generators.

Some generators are expected to close over the next few decades, but they could be revived and ensure "new continuous dispatchable power" with new investment.

The intervention in the gas market -- imposing an Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism -- was first announced in April as a 'Australia-first" policy with the promise of cheaper local gas that was needed to protect "Australia's national interest".

The package was announced in an urgent flurry on Wednesday.

"We are taking immediate action to put downward pressure on power prices and ensure reliable and secure energy for all Australians."

Malcolm Turnbull

But the export controls will not be implemented until January 1, more than six months away.

It was initially flagged as starting on July 1 but more consultations with the sector are needed.

And the limited merits review?

"That's a few years off," conceded Turnbull.

Abolishing the limited merits review will require legislation, which the Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said could be "a moment of truth for the Labor Party".

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