Minister for Energy, Hon Guy Barnett MP, has repeated several misleading claims in Budget Estimates hearings that demonstrate a lack of understanding of the severe impact that skyrocketing electricity prices are having on Tasmanian household budgets and energy debt.
TasCOSS CEO Adrienne Picone said Minister Barnett misled the Estimates Committees by repeating claims in both the Legislative Council and House of Assembly hearings that energy debt ‘has nearly halved.’*
“Retailer data reported to energy regulators clearly shows both the number of households in debt and the level of debt is increasing, yet Minister Barnett repeated the claim that debt levels have halved,” Ms Picone said.
“Tasmanian households are struggling under rising electricity prices and are currently burdened with $15 million of energy debt (an increase of 17% in the past year), while the number of households with an energy debt has also increased by 27% with an average debt of more than $1,000 per household.”
Ms Picone said the Minister also continues to mislead Tasmanians on concessions, claiming the Tasmanian Government provides the most generous concession scheme in the country.*
“If the Government wants to have the most generous concessions, we look forward to the discount increasing to $1,200 per year, the same level as for Northern Territory residents,” she said.
“The measure of the concession should be how well it supports Tasmanians to afford their energy bills, not a competition between jurisdictions. With the number of households in debt increasing, it’s reasonable to conclude the current concession is inadequate.”
Ms Picone said Tasmanians are also bracing themselves for another large increase in electricity prices next month, following the 11.8% increase in prices last year.
“Household budgets are already at breaking point and if prices increase by 20-27% as seen recently on the mainland, we can expect further debt, greater financial pressure and increased hardship for Tasmanian households,” she said.
“The Tasmanian Government’s drip-fed $250 energy bill relief payment over two years will be quickly absorbed by higher electricity bills.”
TasCOSS is calling for the Government to take more direct action to support households to manage their energy bills and help to prevent people entering energy debt by:
- Capping electricity prices (as it did in 2018 and said it would do again in the event of future volatility to protect Tasmanian household and businesses from future price hikes);
- Undertaking a review of the electricity concession scheme to ensure it is well targeted and appropriate; and
- Investing in a program of household energy efficiency initiatives to support low income and rental households to lower their energy bills.
* Tasmanian Parliament Hansard, Legislative Council Estimates: Committee B, 5 June 2023, the Hon Guy Barnett MP, Minister for Energy, p. 15.