The Turnbull government has vowed to take tough action if electricity retailers fail to give consumers greater control over their power bills.
But the electricity companies say the best way to bring down prices is increasing supply, something that won’t happen until the government adopts a long-term policy.
The government is still considering whether to adopt the clean energy target recommended by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel.
In the meantime, it’s taken several steps it hopes will cut household power bills in the short term, including hauling electricity retailers in to demand they give consumers better information about their power plans, especially when discounts expire.
“I don’t think the energy companies are in any doubt that should we wish to move here we have form,” Treasurer Scott Morrison told ABC radio on Thursday, alluding to measures the government imposed on the banking sector.
The treasurer says electricity retailers are not unlike the big banks on whom the government has imposed tougher consumer data, more stringent governance regulation including on senior executives, and a levy.
Energy Australia head Catherine Tanna called on the government to beef up its price comparison website, Energy Made Easy.
Retailers had made sure the government knew their position on the underlying cause of price rises, she said.
“Stable, long-term policy will drive down prices in the long term and we have to resolve this as a priority,” Ms Tanna told ABC radio.
“Prices have gone up because we haven’t had a stable, long-term energy policy and the market has not had the right signals to invest in new supply.”
While a clean energy target wasn’t necessarily her preferred option, “it’s the best answer we have of getting a clear plan for the future”.
AGL chief executive Andy Vesey supports a clean energy target, saying the reality is, increasing supply is the best way to bring down prices.
Labor says in requiring more and plain-language information on power bills, the government is “grasping the blindingly obvious” while ignoring bigger issues.
“We are very firmly of the view that this parliament cannot let the opportunity slip that was presented by the Finkel report,” energy spokesman Mark Butler said.
“We are in the throes of a deep energy crisis in this country and delivering an energy policy through the parliament that has the support of both major parties is critical to solving that.”