In a move to help pensioners cover energy bills over the winter months, a one-off payment will hit the accounts of up to 3.5 million people.
Those on the Age Pension, Disability Support Pension or Parenting Payment will receive $75 for singles and $125 for couples before 30 June this year. The payment is part of a deal struck with crossbench senator Nick Xenophon in return for supporting company tax cuts.
Confirming the payment yesterday morning, Treasurer Scott Morrison told the Nine Network, “That’s there to support going into this winter electricity prices.”
“That will be paid out of this year, which means that next year’s budget will be starting without that as part of the schedule.”
The Treasurer also signalled changes to Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) but wouldn’t go into any detail.
“Hard working Australians haven’t had a pay rise for a long time,” he said.
“When your pay is not going up you’re far more sensitive, rightly so, to things like services like Medicare, you’re also sensitive to things like energy prices, you’re also sensitive to things like cost of childcare.
“We’re acting across all those issues to put downward pressure on the rising costs of living, because we understand that families and households and individuals are under a lot of stress because they haven’t seen the wages going up.”
Mr Morrison also signalled movement on the much-discussed issue of housing affordability. In a poll by the Australian national University (ANU), 84 per cent of respondents believed that housing prices will continue to increase. While this is an issue on which Cabinet ministers have promised action to help those locked out of the housing market, many believe that the Government simply won’t be able to deliver any significant change.
“I don’t agree with the cynics who say the Commonwealth Government can’t make a difference in this area, as I think it can,” Mr Morrison said.
In reference to Labor’s push for changes to negative gearing, which have already been ruled out by the Treasurer, Mr Morrison said, “I also don’t agree with the cynical opportunists who say that all you have to do is change one tax and then everyone will be able to buy a house where they want.”
He said his Budget approach would be comprehensive; reducing pressure on the rental market and making it easier for older Australians to downsize. “It will work with states and territories and address everything from the needs of those who don’t even have a roof over their head, to those who are trying to buy one to put over their heads,” he said.
“You can’t solve housing affordability, but you can do things that reduce the pressure and I think Australians expect governments to do that.”
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Anyone who has received an electricity or gas bill over the winter months will know that $75 will hardly make a dent in the bottom line but let’s be thankful for the gesture, right?
The short-term benefit will be just that, short term. Electricity and gas bills have risen and continue to rise at an alarming rate and despite all the opportunities to shop around for a better deal, or try to use less energy, the reality is that there is very little that can be done to reduce utility bills.
The underlying issue is the supply charge – rather than the rate you pay for the energy you consume. The supply charge is payable regardless of how much energy you use, or the time of day that you use it. This supply charge covers the cost of supplying the power to your home, which means that any maintenance, investment in new equipment or even an increase in staff costs could see this charge rise.
The deregulation of the power industry was supposed to give consumers more choice. While, in most states, you can choose the company that supplies your power, the growth of individual companies essentially means that they have become too powerful (pardon the pun) to hold to account on the charges that cannot be reduced or negotiated on by consumers.
And let’s wait to see the outcome of Malcolm Turnbull’s tough talk on gas supply. Will producers actually boost supply in order to cut the wholesale rate for local users rather than make big profits selling gas offshore?
The $75 will of course be welcomed by pensioners, but surely action on reducing the overall costs of energy bills would be a better long-term outcome?
What do you think? Will $75 make a dent in your energy bills this winter? Do you struggle to keep your bills down over winter? Do you think power companies have too much say in what is being charged for their services? Is the fundamental problem that privatisation replaced the previous state-owned power utilities with large profit-driven companies?