Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE (16:13:24): I wish to ask the Minister for Resources, Energy and Utilities a question without notice. I appreciate the information the Minister gave on helping families, but my question is: what urgent action is the Government taking to reduce electricity prices, which have risen to alarming levels? In my personal experience, when my electricity bill arrived yesterday I found that my account had almost doubled from $745.18 to $1337.12. I can handle this increase but many working class families would struggle to pay their bills.
What is the Government doing to reduce electricity prices?
The Hon. DON HARWIN (Minister for Resources, Minister for Energy and Utilities, and Minister for the Arts) (16:14:15): I thank Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile for his question. As he mentioned, I have already addressed this earlier in question time in some measure, but I will add some additional matters. We are doing everything in our power to put downward pressure on electricity prices.
The Hon. Daniel Mookhey: No, you are not. You went to court to sue to raise them.
The Hon. DON HARWIN: My goodness gracious, the honourable member has walked right into that because if he had bothered to do his research, he would know that network prices are lower by 3 per cent in 2017‑2018 than they were last year. He is wrong, absolutely wrong. As I said earlier, we all know that price rises are due to two main factors: a closure of generation interstate in South Australia and Victoria, and higher gas prices due to Queensland liquefied natural gas [LNG] exports which raise the cost of gas generation. Gas is the marginal fuel cost now and there are a lot of theories about why prices are going up, including some we have just heard by way of interjection. These theories are mostly incorrect. The only way to improve this equation is sensible national reform through the Finkel review. We have already made great progress on this. This should attract new investment to boost competition and thus put downward pressure on prices.
The PRESIDENT: I remind the Hon. Penny Sharpe and Mr Jeremy Buckingham that they have been called to order once.
The Hon. DON HARWIN: A 2016 Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal [IPART] review on the performance and competitiveness of the retail electricity market in New South Wales found competition is delivering customers greater choice, service innovations and prices that are consistent with a competitive market. I want to make sure that people get access to the best deal, which is why I took action in chairing the energy retailer roundtable earlier this year. The roundtable resulted in a number of positive actions from industry.
The Hon. Scott Farlow: Mr President, I am sure you can guess what my point of order is. My point of order is with respect to the disorderly interjections from those members opposite. The Hon. Reverend Fred Nile asked the question wanting to hear the answer from a Minister and not from those members opposite. I ask that you call them to order.
The Hon. Adam Searle: To the point of order, if only the Minister would answer the question asked by the Hon. Reverend Fred Nile. Instead, he is going on with a diatribe which is not to the point.
The PRESIDENT: I know this our first day back after a break but this behaviour is getting out of hand. I remind all honourable members that this is the Legislative Council, not the Legislative Assembly. I had the opportunity last week to sit in the other place and watch the outrageous behaviour of members there. That will not occur in this Chamber. Members will not speak when I am giving a ruling. So far, I have allowed the interjections to continue. I could have thrown out two members by this stage but I have not. I remind the Minister of a ruling of President Harwin that it is out of order for a Minister to respond to interjections when answering a question.
The Hon. DON HARWIN: I have already spoken in large part about the overall structural issues and I had gone on to speak about the roundtable I engaged in earlier which brought all the retailers together and resulted in a number of positive actions by the industry.
Retailers have committed to help their customers experiencing financial hardship. Individual retailers have since responded with price smoothing, additional investment in hardship programs and commitments to helping customers in difficulty get on the best market offer. This will make a meaningful difference. Fortunately, around 77 per cent of electricity customers have taken up a market contract. Customers can make great savings by switching to the best market offer.
I am pleased to report that this Government’s networks are continuing to put downward pressure as a result. I have spoken already about what we have done in terms of network prices and there will also be further scrutiny on competition. At the Council of Australian Governments [COAG] Energy Council meetings, Ministers discussed the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission being given the task of conducting an inquiry into electricity prices and supply. This is now underway. [Time expired.]
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE (16:20:00): I ask a supplementary question. Will the Minister complete his answer?
The PRESIDENT: That is not a supplementary question.
For Media Interviews contact:
Rev Fred Nile (02) 9230 2478
Pic Credit: NSW Government