Not sure what’s better, the forehead or the laughter.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - The Weeping Song
In the past few years, our electricity prices have doubled. While the media has feasted on the likes of pink batts, Peter Slipper and Craig Thomson, the astonishing story behind these price hikes has been all but ignored. And yet, it may be one of the greatest rorts in Australia’s history.
Since 2009, the electricity networks that own and manage our “poles and wires” have quietly spent $45 billion on the most expensive project this country has ever seen. Allowed to run virtually unchecked, they’ve spent vast sums on infrastructure we don’t need, and have charged it all to us, with an additional fee attached. The spending was approved by a federal regulator, and yet the federal government didn’t even note it until it was well underway.
Let’s be clear: this is the single biggest reason power prices have skyrocketed. According to the federal treasury, 51% of your electricity bill goes towards “network charges”. The carbon tax, despite relentless propaganda to the contrary, is small beer, comprising just 9%. The rest of your bill is carved up between those companies that actually generate your electricity (20%) and the retailers who package it up and sell it to you (20%). The Renewable Energy Target is such a small cost impost, the treasury’s analysis doesn’t even include it; the Australian Energy Market Commission says it makes up around 5%.
Thanks to the networks’ infrastructure binge, we now pay some of the highest prices in the developed world. The impact has been felt most keenly in New South Wales and Queensland, where the networks are government owned and network charges have accounted for two thirds of the price increases.
For a Coalition intent on destroying the carbon tax, the price hikes have been a gift – “proof” that the carbon tax is as ruinous as they predicted. Chris Dunstan, from the Institute for Sustainable Futures, thinks that what the networks have done over the past five years may actually be the secret to Tony Abbott’s success. “If electricity prices hadn’t doubled,” he says, “the carbon tax would not have been anything like the issue it was.”