Media release: Government’s pre election energy statement a welcome addition to the debate

Consumer Action Law Centre has welcomed the State Government’s pre election energy statement, in particular the focus on making Victoria’s energy market easier to navigate, and keeping vulnerable members of our community from being disconnected.

Gerard Brody, CEO of Consumer Action, said the Government’s statement shows that it recognises the benefits of a competitive energy market, but isn’t blind to weaknesses in the market.

‘Having a choice of energy deals can help Victorians save money but, with around 120 offers in the market, finding the best deal can be a tough assignment. We’re encouraged that the Minister understands that to create effective competition in the market we need to make it easier for consumers to compare offers and find the right deal.’

‘Victoria is touted as the most contestable energy market in Australia but it is also where energy retailers make the biggest margins, which suggests competition isn’t driving down prices as it should. The Government’s proposed review of our energy retail market is a welcome initiative because it will focus on how we can make competition work for consumers not just the energy retailers.

‘The recent review of competition by the Australian Energy Market Commission didn’t consider things like retailer margins in any detail, so a review that actually focuses on consumers is welcome,’ said Mr Brody.

Consumer Action believes that a good first step to improve competition for consumers would be to fix problems with fixed-term contracts. Consumers need energy contracts that are fair, and that aren’t able to change after signing up, so that consumers can have confidence that their choices are in their best interests.

A recent Consumer Action report highlighted shortcomings in the way energy retailers assist low income and vulnerable customers. And with energy disconnections now at record levels, Consumer Action welcomes the Government’s plans to address these issues. ‘Electricity is an essential service—we need it to cook, clean, heat and cool. That some Victorians are being cut off because of payment problems is not good enough.

‘We need to go further in helping these people out through this review, but we also need to complement it with strong energy efficiency programs that help people with low incomes to get access to energy efficient appliances and advices to help them manage their bills.

‘We applauded the Minister when he announced an inquiry into the causes of disconnections, and we think a particular focus should be on whether the regulator, the Essential Services Commission, has the resources and tools to ensure compliance with consumer protections. We think the regulator needs more flexible enforcement powers, and the power to publicly name retailers involved in systemic misconduct’, said Mr Brody.

Consumer Action is encouraged that Victoria’s major political parties have foreshadowed their energy priorities before the election.  A priority for the next Government of Victoria is to ensure our energy market is fair and accessible, and to ensure all households have access to this essential service.

END

Media contact: Dan Simpson, 0413 299 567

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