News Parliament

MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE - ENERGY

Mr GEE (Calare) (15:50): This MPI debate has made it very clear where we all stand in this House on this issue. On this side of the House, we stand for consumers—

Mr Buchholz interjecting

Mr GEE: Yes, we do. We stand for the consumers. On that side of the House, they stand with the big power companies on this issue. Everyone on this side of the House has been contacted by families who are doing it tough, struggling to make ends meet because of these skyrocketing power prices. They've had enough of it. We all know the stories of the pensioners who have contacted our offices and said: 'We are struggling to keep the heaters on in the wintertime, because we just can't cope with these sky-high power prices.' Something has to be done. The families, the pensioners and the businesspeople have been crying out for bold and decisive action—and this is what has been delivered with this new policy. All around us on this side of the chamber we've heard stories of the small businesses who have contacted our offices—for example, Appledale fruit processers in Orange. They are a community-run co-op, run by the processors, and their power bill has been going up by tens of thousands of dollars every year. They just can't keep going with these sky-high power prices.

Those on that side of the House think that small businesses, medium-sized businesses and even the bigger businesses are just going to keep on going forever and a day, producing the prosperity, wealth and opportunity that this country was built on. But it's not like that. We can't take them for granted. We can't just keep hammering them and hammering them with ever-increasing taxes and ever-increasing prices, which those on that side of the House advocate for through their opposition to this policy. If we want regional economies to grow, and if we want regional communities to prosper, then we need to be doing something about these power prices—because sky-high power prices are a regional jobs killer. I've been to enterprises in our part of the world where they've told me that they won't be able to continue. There's a commercial laundry in Blayney that I visited. They employ 25 people in a small country town. They rang the alarm bells early and said something needs to be done about these skyrocketing power prices and gas prices. If that business closes, 25 people in a small country town lose their jobs. It's not easy—

Mr Hartsuyker: And they don't care.

Mr GEE: They don't care on that side of the House, as the member next to me attests to. They just don't care—because they are standing with the big end of town and the big power companies, who have been price-gouging consumers for far too long. Everyone out there knows what's been happening. Everyone out there in the real Australia knows that this has been going on—because they've been copping the bills. This whole power argument which the coalition are seeking to prosecute is just a continuation of the Canberra bubble and a continuation of this introspective, political-class debate that is going on on the opposition benches. What is wrong with the principle that, if power companies get a discount on their wholesale price for electricity, that should be passed on to consumers? What is so terribly wrong about that? What is so hard to grasp about a concept like that? We stand with the consumers. If the power companies are getting discounts and price reductions on the wholesale price of electricity, that should be passed on to consumers. It's a very simple thing.

Government members interjecting

Mr GEE: That's exactly right, as my colleagues here point out: that's what this legislation does. We are standing up for those most vulnerable people in our communities, unlike those opposite, who are not only seeking to impose higher power prices on people in our communities like pensioners but also have that great new retiree tax which they're seeking to slug retirees with! It's a double whammy. In the electorate of Calare, there are 6,500 retirees who are affected by Labor's retiree tax. You've got to explain yourselves, through your candidates, to these electorates as to why you are doing that to the most vulnerable people in our society, in our communities around Australia. You're hitting them with a retiree tax and you are hitting them with higher power prices. It is not sustainable.

That's why the government has brought in this legislation. If you're not going to play by the rules, if you're going to engage in anticompetitive conduct, then why shouldn't you run the risk of being broken up if you're a price-gouging power company? We are standing with consumers on this, and we will do it proudly and we will do it right through to the next election. We will fight for consumers.