The government has a laser-like focus to reduce power prices. The No. 1 focus of the Minister for Energy is to reduce prices. Some successes have been made in the past year.
Senator MARTIN (Tasmania) (14:25):
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Energy, Senator Canavan. Can the minister please update the Senate on how the coalition government is focused on driving power prices down and how our resource sectors can contribute?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:25):
I thank Senator Martin for his very relevant and timely question. The government has a laser-like focus to reduce power prices. The No. 1 focus of the Minister for Energy is to reduce prices. Some successes have been made in the past year. Electricity prices in the wholesale market are down by 25 per cent. Gas spot prices are also down by around 20 to 25 per cent in the past year and a half. We have seen that flow through to the retail level in some contracts in different states across Australia.
Those reductions have come about from actions the government has taken. We have removed the ability of electricity companies to review regulatory decisions through the limited merits review process. That has helped save consumers $6½ billion on their electricity bills. We have, for the first time, introduced a control framework for gas exports to make sure that there is first sufficient gas for Australians before it is exported overseas. That has clearly helped relieve pressure in gas markets and contributed to that reduction in prices by around a quarter. This morning I met with gas producers to recommit to the heads of agreement we signed last year to ensure that uncontracted gas is first offered to Australian businesses to protect Australian jobs. That is a key focus of this government—to support Australian jobs in our manufacturing sector.
There is more to do in response to the ACCC report that we commissioned last year. We are committing to introducing a safety net on prices for consumers. We are committing to ensuring that we have stronger competition laws, including the ability to break up electricity companies that continue to act in an anticompetitive way. And of course we support the investment in reliable full-time power, including coal and gas power. We don't shy away from using all our resources to bring people's power bills down.
Senator Martin, a supplementary question.
Senator MARTIN (Tasmania) (14:28):
Can the minister explain or advise of what more can be done to ensure a long-term solution to gas supply and prices?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:28):
As I was outlining, we have taken significant action in the past year and a half to ensure that Australian gas can be used for Australian jobs first and foremost, and we remain committed to that. But in the long term we need to make sure that we continue to develop the gas supplies of our nation.
Senator Kim Carr interjecting—
I want to support and make sure, as I know Senator Carr over there wants to ensure, that we have a strong manufacturing sector in Victoria. But his party in Victoria are not supporting the development of the gas resources that could help underpin our production. Respected energy and resource columnist Matt Stevens, in theFinancialReview, I think summed it up very well the other day. He said:
So the withering of Victoria's offshore gas estate means and the state's refusal to allow onshore drilling of any kind means Victoria will rely ever more on gas that travels a long way, by either real or virtual pipeline. And suddenly a 50-year energy advantage will disappear.
Well, I don't want to see that happen, and to make sure it doesn't happen we need to use and develop our gas resources. (Timeexpired)
Senator Martin, a final supplementary question.
Senator MARTIN (Tasmania) (14:29):
Can the minister advise what would be the consequences of the government not taking action to reduce power prices?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:29):
There are thousands of jobs on the line here for our country. Over the last year, around 15 per cent of the jobs created in Australia were in the manufacturing sector—nearly 50,000 jobs. We're very proud of the fact that we have supported a strong employment market that is also helping to support a strong manufacturing sector. If we cannot turn around this energy situation, if we do not develop our resources and if we do not back the use of coal-fired power, gas-fired power and renewable power—all types of power—we will put those thousands of jobs at risk. We will put our heritage and tradition as a strong manufacturing nation at risk. We cannot conduct heavy manufacturing in this nation unless we use the fossil fuels of this nation to do that. Those on the other side are turning their backs on the workers in our coal-fired power stations and our gas-fired power stations. You'll never hear a word from them in defence of the hard work, effort and contribution that our electricity workers make in gas- and coal-fired power stations. We support them; they don't.