Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (15:49): I thank those opposite for bringing forward this debate. In this technology fuelled world, access to cheap and reliable electricity is one of the fundamental needs of our homes. Power prices are a key part of the cost of living and greatly affect my constituents and local businesses. We know that power prices have risen 56 per cent over the past 10 years. We understand Australian families are struggling with the cost of living, and rising power prices are impacting on their household budgets. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and are amongst the biggest employers in Bennelong. They’re also struggling with rising power prices, and every cent that small businesses puts into their energy bills is one they can’t put into employing a new person, lifting wages or taking advantage of new opportunities. That is why this government is absolutely committed to reducing power prices while keeping on the lights. We cannot afford to be distracted from our goal of lowering power prices for Australian households and small businesses, and we will not be.
The electricity sector has lost the trust of our community. It desperately needs to re-establish its credibility, and the coalition government will keep it to this task and ensure that the interests of customers come first. We’re taking practical action to lower power prices. We’re stopping the price gouging by energy companies, providing customers with a price safety net, backing investment in reliable generation, and encouraging more competition in the market. We have turned the corner on power prices, with reductions announced in Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia from 1 July 2018.
We have some achievements in this sector that are making a real difference to homes in my electorate. We have secured more gas for Australians and gas prices are down by up to 50 per cent. We’re introducing the Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism, securing an agreement with LNG exporters to offer gas to the domestic market and committing $90 million in the 2017-18 budget to expand gas supply and increase competition in the market. Let us not forget that 18 months ago gas prices were close to $20 per gigajoule. They now sit at between $8 and $11 per gigajoule. This is real progress. We’ve done this by engagement with the sector and, frankly, by standing up to the big energy companies. The coalition government is not afraid to use a big stick on the big energy companies to stop the big rip-offs. Through this, we are getting customers a better deal. Following meetings with the government, retailers have simplified their offerings and written to around 1.6 million households to tell them better deals are available. We’ve set up a website which helps people compare offers. Over one million people have been online to check this out and get a better deal. We are changing the rules to get retailers to lift their game, including banning dodgy discounting practices; getting retailers to notify customers about price rises more quickly, so customers can shop around; and speeding up metering installations. We’ve reined in the power of the networks, because past overinvestment in networks is the biggest contributor to increases in electricity prices over the past 10 years. What does this mean? It means prices will come down.
As I said, we have already seen prices come down in Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales on 1 July. We are taking practical action to lower power prices: stopping the price gouging by energy companies, providing customers with a price safety net, backing investment in reliable generation, and encouraging more competition in the market. We have turned the corner on power prices. This will put more money in the pockets of families and small businesses in Bennelong, while the lights remain on.