Malcolm Turnbull has again told power companies urgent action must be taken to help households save as much as $1500 a year on their electricity bills.
The prime minister brought the heads of the nation’s leading electricity retailers together for the second time in a month to outline further steps he wants them to take to ease the pressure on household budgets.
“We want you to write to them as well and explain to them that they could potentially save hundreds of dollars by switching to a cheaper rate,” Mr Turnbull said during opening remarks at Wednesday’s meeting in Sydney.
The gap between the best and worst offers could be as much as $1500 while the difference between the best deals and the median was $400, he said.
“These are very large sums of money for Australian families,” he said.
“We want to address that. We need to do it urgently and directly.”
The government also wants companies to make it easier and quicker for customers to switch retailers – a process Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg says at the moment can take a month or more.
“Complexity and inertia are the companies’ friends and they are the consumers’ enemy,” he told ABC TV ahead of the meeting.
About half of all households haven’t changed retailers or contracts in the past five years and about a million people are stuck on the more expensive “standing offers”.
Mr Frydenberg wants to follow the UK in adding a code to people’s power bills that can be scanned on a smart phone to take people to a website with information on other offers.
Labor energy spokesman Mark Butler says the government needs to do some “deeper thinking” about how electricity retailers operate.
“It’s increasingly clear that the lower costs and the higher competition that were promised from deregulation and privatisation haven’t come to pass,” he told ABC radio.
Mr Frydenberg said it wasn’t government ownership that led to lower prices, but better regulation.
He cited the example of the Queensland government-owned generators that had been pinged for gaming the market and pushing up prices for people living in that state.
The government is also expected to receive a report on Friday from the Australian Energy Market Operator on the likely gaps in baseload power into the future, which could impact on power prices and reliability.