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Interview with Tom Elliott, 3AW

2 April 2020

Interviewer: 
Tom Elliott

Subject: Energy bills

E&OE

TOM ELLIOTT: Let's go back to energy prices now. A lot of energy companies say they stand ready to help customers, businesses, households, and so forth who are struggling at the moment with reduced energy costs. Although, I have a bill in front of me from Tango Energy which is about to increase its energy prices 33.7 per cent. Our next guest is the Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor. Mr Taylor, good afternoon.

ANGUS TAYLOR:  Good afternoon, Tom.

TOM ELLIOTT: So what exactly has been announced today? Is it like network and transmission fees that are going to be cut for struggling customers?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah. Look, there's two things that we announced with the retailers last week and the network companies have backed them in. The first is that hardship provisions will be extended to those impacted by the virus including small businesses. So that means if you're in financial distress, then the hardship provisions follow - that means no debt collectors, no interest and late payment charges, and of course, ensuring that they are in a position where they can pay what they can, not what they can't.

TOM ELLIOTT: And if people are struggling to pay, they will not be disconnected?

ANGUS TAYLOR:  They will not be disconnected. Correct. Exactly right. The second piece is what we're calling the hibernation provisions, and this allows a small business that has seen its revenues drop to nothing or not very much, they will be able to virtually disconnect and avoid electricity charges as a result of that. And that's critical. If you look at a pub or a restaurant or a cafe, a hairdresser that's had to close, it'll mean that they can take those costs out. There's other costs the state governments are working on, like obviously tenancies, and landlord rental payments, and so on that I know the state governments are very focused on. But the whole idea is we want to put these businesses in a position where they can hibernate and then they can come out of hibernation on the other side of this, get back, dust themselves off and go again, with their employees getting the wage subsidy in the interim, of course, and that's a big part of the policy here. Energy is part of that mix, and that's why we've been very focused on the hibernation provisions. The network companies are backing this in and that's a very, very important development.

TOM ELLIOTT: Right. So, does that mean - let's say you're a pub and your business has been shut obviously by the social distancing laws, if as a proprietor, you just want to go in and flick on the lights and make sure everything's alright - the power will still be on?

ANGUS TAYLOR:  Yeah. So what the network companies have said is that they will avoid passing through their charges, which have an element of a fixed charge, to anyone who has fallen to not zero, but they can still use up to 15 per cent of what they would normally use. So if you flick on the switch or you've had to keep a fridge on to keep something cold, it's still allowing for that.

TOM ELLIOTT: Okay.

ANGUS TAYLOR:  That's the reality of the situation. But it is ensuring that if you're down at that very low level, you can hibernate.

TOM ELLIOTT: Righto. What about the per kilowatt hour charges?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah.

TOM ELLIOTT: Now, as I said, I've got a, and I'm sure the people at Tango Energy won't like me saying this, but this was sent to me by a listener who I happen to know. And he's with Tango Energy. This is his household. And Tango sent him a bill saying: ‘We think under your new plan, you'll pay over $1000 more this year’. And in fact, they're putting up their kilowatt hour price from 19.25 cents to 25.75 cents, which I've calculated, it is a 33.7 per cent increase. Like, it's up more than a third. How do they get away with that in the current environment?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, that's just extraordinary and I'm very happy to, I'd like to see those details, Tom, if you could, we'll follow up afterwards and get those details from you. Look, let me give you some facts here. The wholesale price of energy right now is about half of what it was in Victoria.

TOM ELLIOTT: You see, that's what I thought. I mean, the cost of electricity is much cheaper.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely it is. And even before the virus came along, we were substantially down on the same time last year because we've seen more supply coming into the market. We've got challenges with keeping the lights on, having enough dispatchable power, and particularly keeping prices down as the sun goes down. But the truth is that the overall wholesale price is well down. Now, if you have got a retailer really gouging, I mean, that's something, I'm very happy to call them out. I think you'd done the right thing by saying their name because that is absolutely unacceptable. Very happy to take a look at it, by the way. And every bill is different and every plan is different, so we'll take a very good look at that. Look, we're saying to the retailers right now: ‘You've got a lot of customers who are hurting’. Wholesale prices are down. Those wholesale price reductions need to be passed on to their customers. Any idea that you should be raising prices right now is, I think, going to be unacceptable out in the public, out in the community. And we need them to do the right thing, not just on this hibernation and hardship, but also more generally across the market.

TOM ELLIOTT: Alright. Appreciate your time.

ANGUS TAYLOR:  Thanks Tom.

ENDS