Monday, September 16, 2019

Today by Elle Hardy

Big stick, no carrot
The Coalition’s fixation on energy prices distracts from wage stagnation

Source: Flickr

The federal government is expected to introduce its “big stick” legislation to parliament this week, setting the stage for a fresh debate about energy prices. The legislation reportedly [$] includes powers for the government to compel energy companies to supply electricity on certain terms, and could even force them to sell off assets if they’re found to be “engaging in anti-competitive conduct”.

The looming legislation comes as today the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission released its latest report into the National Electricity Market. Its initial analysis found that the government’s price safety net had resulted in savings of between $130 and $430 a year for those on default contracts since it was introduced in July.

The report also found that the average electricity bill for a residential customer in 2017–18 was $1549. Of that figure, network costs were the largest component of a retail bill, making up 42 per cent, followed by wholesale costs (33 per cent), retail costs and margin (17 per cent) and environmental schemes (8 per cent).

In a joint statement on the release of the report, Energy Minister Angus Taylor and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that “the government has long warned that energy companies must put their customers first”.

Over the weekend, Labor’s shadow climate change spokesperson, Mark Butler, attempted to get on the front foot, telling the ABC’s Insiders that “big stick” energy legislation to break up power companies is the “back door to privatisation” of publicly owned electricity assets in Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania.

Today, he responded to the ACCC’s report into energy affordability, saying that while Labor welcomes the “slim reductions”, these default offers will “only apply to less than 10 per cent of households”.

“What the ACCC have specifically called out is the government’s lack of national energy policy which would reduce power prices, ensure reliability and bring down emissions,” he added.

The Coalition’s fixation on energy prices is no doubt politically effective, as it both appeals to people’s hip pockets and works as a scare campaign against taking action on climate change. But it also obscures another significant, and not unrelated, economic reality.

Australians are earning on average around $2.50 per week more than they did seven years ago. As former Labor MP Craig Emerson wrote [$] in The Australian Financial Review earlier this year: “It is not good enough for successive federal budgets simply to assume wages will rise, with no strategy to achieve it … Full-time job creation has begun going backwards and almost 1.1 million workers are looking for extra hours of work. The current underemployment rate easily exceeds that of the last recession 28 years ago.”

By some measures, this represents the lowest wages growth since the Great Depression and World War Two. Much of the current stagnation can be attributed to a number of changes to the way we work, including a reduction in collective bargaining, casualisation of the workforce and outsourcing of tasks.

When he was treasurer, Scott Morrison rejected any suggestion that the government could tie company tax cuts to wage growth. As prime minister, it seems that he is trying to deflect fears of ongoing stagnation. His government’s estimates for future wage growth have been labelled “wildly optimistic”, with their numbers sitting well above the Reserve Bank’s forecasts.

By framing household economic concerns primarily in terms of what we spend, the Coalition is helping business to put the brakes on what we earn. If the government genuinely wants to do something about the cost of living, then wage stagnation deserves its own inquiry and “big stick” legislation too.

“We call on the prime minister and Gladys Liu to come clean on these donations and these affiliations. The best place for Gladys Liu to do that is in the parliament. She needs to make a full, complete statement about what’s gone on here.”

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers calls on embattled MP Gladys Liu to address, in parliament, questions about reported links to the Chinese Communist Party.

“You’ll always get some environmentalist who will find a frog or something to roadblock a dam or a road.”

Deputy PM Michael McCormack tells ABC Radio that environmental impact studies get in the way of building dams and other infrastructure projects.

Inside the meat disco
When the impresario behind Earthcore died last year, he left behind a legacy of paranoia, intimidation and financial mismanagement.


The duration of proposed fixed parliamentary terms, to be discussed by a constitutional roundtable in November.

“I will deliver Australia’s national statement and advance Australia’s interests in the protection of the oceans and preventing terrorist use of the internet.”

The prime minister formally announces that he will be visiting the United States from September 9 to 27, meeting with US President Donald Trump and attending the 74th regular session of the General Assembly at the United Nations.

The list

“The debate is no longer about what Liu may or may not have done; it is about whether her interrogators are xenophobic, even racist. They are not, and even some of Morrison’s closest allies – think Andrew Bolt – believe that Liu still faces questions that should be answered. But they won’t be: Morrison has the numbers. How good is that?”

“Three days before the end of the festival, I arrived early in the morning to find a long queue of restless attendees and a level of security more suited to an El Al flight. My bag was searched, and my badge scrutinised. Was the person in the photo me? Really? Then why did I suddenly have hair, when in the photo my head was shaved? ... It was annoying, sure, but also several orders of magnitude more exciting than most of what we were seeing onscreen.”

“Despite tens of millions of dollars in funding, there are still major technology issues facing the cashless welfare card. For example, a new phone application that allows people to check how much money they have available is giving users out-of-date information. In more than one case, a person has checked their balance, which showed they had money to spend, only to have the card declined while trying to pay for groceries.” 

Elle Hardy

Elle Hardy is an Australian journalist based in the United States. She can be found at



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