CANBERRA, AAP – Australians can still expect support from power giants if they are struggling to pay bills because of the coronavirus pandemic, with the government putting energy companies on notice.
Energy Minister Angus Taylor has told power companies to keep offering struggling households and small businesses payment plans or hardship arrangements.
The expectations were put in place for energy giants last March and have been extended for another three months until the end of June.
“Keeping the lights on isn’t something the government wants people to be worried about,” Mr Taylor said.
“I urge anyone facing difficulties in paying their bills to contact their retailer as soon as possible to discuss the support that is available.”
The expectations also include not disconnecting residential customers in financial distress who have reached out, and doing the same for small businesses who are on payment plans.
It comes as competition watchdog boss Rod Sims told an industry forum gas companies need to do more work to establish a voluntary code, to even the playing field between suppliers and buyers.
“Our gas inquiry continues to find the gas market is not a functional, competitive market,” he said on Wednesday.
“We can see no end to the increasingly complex and difficult environment we are in, unless LNG producers and other gas suppliers, pipeline operators and governments all work together.”
On the orders of the federal government the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has been looking into the pricing and supply of the gas market.
Its inquiry looks at competition issues but does not consider emissions or climate policies.
Locals are still paying more for Australian gas than export customers, leaving Mr Sims displeased.
He again warned of the risk of a shortfall in supply for southern states by 2024 and for the east coast from 2026.
“New sources of supply and related infrastructure will be required to avoid a potential shortfall,” he said.
“Adding to this problem is the limited degree of competition at the producer and retailer level, which results in higher prices and a reduction in competitive outcomes for commercial and industrial users.”
The federal government is pressing on with its “gas-fired” economic recovery from coronavirus, to the dismay of environmental groups.