Our Say: Action, not hot air, needed on power prices

Any increases in energy costs are controversial and the size of the hikes to be imposed from July 1 will be no different.

For Dubbo residents, electricity charges from one major supplier will increase by an average of $282 a year or 16.1 per cent. Gas prices will go up by 8.5 per cent. Other suppliers will raise their prices by different dollar amounts and percentages but the overall impact does not vary greatly.

Businesses also face increases. But, they can pass those on to customers. Household budgets are stuck with the extra cost. 

Lights, heating and cooking are about to become more expensive just as winter gets its icy grip on us all.

And worst hit will be the most vulnerable – low-income earners, those on social welfare, pensions and the like. Many are already struggling to pay utility bills. The increases will add to the burden.

The hikes had barely been announced when potential negative impacts were being listed: some families already cannot afford to put food on the table and also pay for gas for cooking and heating; older people were choosing to not use heaters; consumers of all ages in a survey said they would not switch on heaters; and more people would battle to pay for what are basic needs.

The plight of the less advantaged is not exaggerated … you only have to ask aid organisations, like the Salvation Army, which deal with the battlers.

Parkes Federal MP Mark Coulton was quick to pinpoint the problems on-going increases in energy costs would cause in his electorate.

At least some relief is available to some of the most needy through a one-off , tax-free payment of up to $75 to help pensioners with energy bills.  Energy companies also have “hardship programs”.

The Salvos said the programs “often flew under the radar” but could make a world of difference and urged families and individuals to seek help early on if bill payment could become a problem.

Pricing has been part of a debate in Canberra in the past week after the government received a report on energy policy and the future of the energy sector.

As usual conflicting ideologies – solar versus coal, climate change, reliability of supply, pricing etc – delay matters.

What is needed is action to ensure grandparents aren’t shivering under a blanket because they can’t afford heating – and quick action, not a lot of hot air.