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Bid to put power ball in Turnbull’s court

Bid to put power ball in Turnbull’s court

Labor says Malcolm Turnbull and the major power companies must prove why a royal commission into energy retailers is unnecessary as the government prepares to release a key review of soaring electricity prices by the competition watchdog.

With the Greens and several Coalition MPs agitating for a wide-ranging inquiry into the behaviour of the major retailers, Opposition energy spokesman Mark Butler yesterday said calls for a royal commission were “understandable”.

“The Turnbull government and the big electricity giants need to show the Australian people that a royal commission into electricity prices isn’t necessary,” Mr Butler said.

“Right now, it’s understandable why people would think that it is. Australians have seen power prices skyrocket under Malcolm Turnbull’s government.”

Mr Butler would not say whether Labor would support a Greens push for a commission of inquiry into the “excessive profiteering” and the “failure” of deregulation and privatisation in the electricity market.

The Australian understands Labor has not ruled out supporting a royal commission into the sector and a senior shadow cabinet member said yesterday he would push for the inquiry.

Barnaby Joyce is among a handful of Coalition MPs who have urged the Prime Minister to consider threatening big companies such as AGL, Energy Australia and Origin Energy with a royal commission unless they act swiftly to reduce prices.

Mr Turnbull yesterday said an extensive inquiry into energy retail pricing had been completed by the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission and would be released this week.

“The ACCC has just very recently — literally in the past week — given us its report on the electricity sector and in particular on the retailers and we’ll be releasing that report this week,” Mr Turnbull said.

“It’s a very, very comprehensive report. It’ll bear a lot of careful consideration and discussion. But it has already conducted a very extensive inquiry. It will be a very, very illuminating report.”

He did not rule out a royal commission into the sector but promoted his government’s efforts in reducing electricity prices.

“We’ve turned the corner on electricity prices,” Mr Turnbull said. “You’ve seen price reductions across the east coast as a result of the policies of my government.”

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the government would look at the ACCC recommendations before considering a royal commission.

The royal commission push was played down by Nationals cabinet members Michael McCormack, Matt Canavan and David Littleproud.

Senator Canavan told The Australian: “I don’t think the default reaction to any policy problem should be a royal commission. They are very expensive and take a lot of time. We have immediate and pressing issues in the energy market and our focus should be on fixing those.”

The Australian reported yesterday several crossbenchers supported an inquiry into the retailers, including Stirling Griff, Fraser Anning, David Leyonhjelm and Tim Storer. Other crossbenchers Pauline Hanson, Cory Bernardi and Derryn Hinch are opposed to a royal commission or parliamentary inquiry into the sector.

A spokeswoman for Energy Australia said it was “very hard” to argue the market was working in favour of customers but blamed price rises on the closure of coal-fired power stations and a lack of policy certainty.

The Australian

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