Shocking Report Into Electricity Pricing: Centre Alliance Calls For Both Compensation And Divestiture

11 July 2018

Centre Alliance welcomes the ACCC's final report into the rip-off of Australian consumers by energy companies, but notes that two necessary responses were lacking in the report: compensation and divestiture.

"Significant reform of the national energy market is essential to bringing down costs for residential and business consumers in the future. But any policy and regulatory 'reset' will only be fair if it addresses the costs that have already been imposed on consumers by what the ACCC rightly described as “unacceptable and unsustainable” market operations," said Senator Rex Patrick.

"It's all good for the Government to say that they will act to bring down energy prices in the future, but what about the billions that have been already gouged from consumers with every household power bill over the past decade?

"The ACCC has described what has happened as "unacceptable".  It should not have been accepted, and should not be accepted now. There has to be some real claw back for consumers.  

"As such, National Electricity Market reform must include direct returns of money unfairly gouged from consumers. The ACCC is duty bound to further investigate any abuses of market power that have taken place."

In this regard, the ACCC can seek compensation orders for consumers from the Federal Court if it is established that there has been a contravention of, for example, the restrictive trade practices provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. This includes the misuse of market power provisions.  

Centre Alliance will also be pressing for the Government to make it easier for the ACCC to pursue compensation for customers in future circumstances. As the ACCC has noted, overseas markets like Great Britain better allow for the ability to pursue compensation for customers. 

Centre Alliance is also calling on the Government to provide the courts with divestiture powers for market abuse situations. This would allow for judicial officers to order the break up of a company that has been found to have broken the law. The mere existence of these powers would act as a significant deterrent for any companies that may be thinking about ripping off their consumers.

Former Senator Nick Xenophon had previously recommended these laws be introduced when the Parliament was considering the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Misuse of Market Power) Bill 2016.

"These changes proposed by Centre Alliance are absolutely essential," said Rebekha Sharkie, candidate for Mayo.

"As the ACCC observes, high energy prices and bills have placed enormous strain on household budgets and business viability, with residential consumers enduring a real increase of 35 per cent in their bills and a price increase of around 56 per cent in real terms over the period from 2007–08 to 2017–18.

“High electricity prices have been a key issue for my constituents. There hasn't been a day out on the hustings where it hasn't been raised. The Government must get this right."

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