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Social Sector Calls For Urgent Action on ‘Harrowing’ Energy Crisis

31 July 2017 at 12:52 pm
Rachel McFadden
Australia’s social sector is calling for “urgent action” to relieve skyrocketing energy prices after a report reveals thousands of Australians are living without electricity and gas during cold winter months.

Rachel McFadden | 31 July 2017 at 12:52 pm


Social Sector Calls For Urgent Action on ‘Harrowing’ Energy Crisis
31 July 2017 at 12:52 pm

Australia’s social sector is calling for “urgent action” to relieve skyrocketing energy prices after a report reveals thousands of Australians are living without electricity and gas during cold winter months.

The joint report from ACOSS, The Climate Institute and the Brotherhood of St Lawrence, released on Monday, revealed some of the three million Australians living under the poverty line were “forced” to go without their basic needs in the face of skyrocketing energy bills.

The Brotherhood of St Laurence’s head of energy and climate change, Damian Sullivan said the three month consultation conducted between March to June this year revealed a “harrowing” state of affairs.

“We hear harrowing accounts of the impacts of higher energy costs,” Sullivan said.

“We’ve had people in our programs who don’t have hot water because they can’t afford to get it fixed.

“Others report going to bed early so as not to put the heater on. Some families are already having their electricity or gas disconnected.”

Sullivan said action to address Australia’s energy crisis was “long overdue”.

He said the empowering disadvantaged households to access affordable, clean energy report outlined a blueprint to “put people experiencing disadvantage at the centre of energy transformation.”

“Some of the measures recommended in this report can give immediate relief for families as well as help reduce power bills long-term through energy efficiency, installing rooftop solar, and well-targeted concessions,” Sullivan said.

Foodbank CEO Brianna Casey said hunger relief organisations around the country were experiencing unprecedented demand for food relief, as the rapid increase in electricity and gas prices forced households to choose between heating and eating.

“As the largest food relief organisation in the country, we see first-hand the impact that ‘bill shock’ and increased electricity prices have on vulnerable Australians,” Casey said.

“Unexpected expenses or large bills are one of the most common reasons why people find themselves with not enough food. The sad reality is that in times of crisis, food becomes a discretionary item for many families.

“Between skyrocketing utility costs, record slow wages growth and household budgets under strain, it’s not taking much to tip a person or family into food insecurity”.

The report outlined five urgent reforms and called for a “people-centred” national action plan.

“Unless there is a nationally coordinated plan that is fair and inclusive – and far better integration between climate, energy and social policy – vulnerable households will be left behind.

“Australia can do better. Energy is an essential service, so we must make clean energy available and affordable for all.”

Speaking at the launch of the report  ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said state and federal governments faced a “ historic opportunity” to “get ahead of the game and make Australia a better country for all.”

“It’s clear we need to transition to modern clean energy in line with our Paris commitment. We must also urgently relieve pressure on people who cannot cope with rising energy prices,” Goldie said.

“We need a mechanism to end uncertainty and incentivise the transition to clean energy, and the allocation of costs for this must be equitable.

“Governments must listen to people’s very deep concerns about energy prices and make the transition to clean energy equitable and affordable for everyone.

“Federal and state governments must work together now on one of the most pressing issues of our times, by better aligning climate, energy and social policy,” Goldie said.

The report’s “blueprint” called for “urgent reforms” which included non-energy market solutions which would immediately impact on people on low incomes. It called on the government to:

  • increase Newstart, youth allowances, student allowances, and other social security payments so that everybody has the capacity to pay their energy bills;
  • improve access to energy concessions, and increase the amount of energy concessions, including shifting to a percentage-based concession to support people who are most vulnerable;
  • increase support for energy efficiency upgrades and installation of rooftop solar for low income households;
  • implement minimum energy efficiency standards on rental properties; and
  • support local place-based support services to inform and enable vulnerable households to engage with the energy market.

The report also outlined energy market reforms and called on the government to:

  • incentivise the transition to large scale clean energy (such as a clean energy target, emissions intensity scheme etc);
  • develop a plan to manage coal generator retirement and replacement in the interests of the workers, affected communities and energy consumers;
  • ensure everyone pays their fair share for clean affordable electricity by addressing the inequitable allocation of clean energy policies and other energy costs;
  • deliver more efficient, cleaner, accessible and affordable electricity for all by implementing inclusive and equitable network policies that support a greater use of demand management and distributive energy, alongside large scale generation; and
  • review harmful disconnection laws and scope of hardship programs, and expand and improve energy consumer protections.

The full report can be accessed here.

Rachel McFadden  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Rachel is a journalist specialising in the social sector.

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