Australia’s energy crisis is compounding the cost of living crisis in my electorate. Power costs make up a big chunk of household budgets, and by and large, my constituents are not wealthy. Our weekly median income is just $736, almost $70 less than the Australian average. On top of mortgage repayments and more expensive groceries, the forecasted 56% increase in energy prices has left people wondering how on earth they will keep the lights on when the cost of everything keeps going up.
My electorate of Indi is the highest-ranked regional electorate facing mortgage stress, according to a report from UNSW. Wodonga, the largest town in my electorate, is in the top 30 postcodes in the state for forced electricity disconnections. In fact, regional areas make up 40% of forced disconnections in Victoria, even though we make up only 25% of the population. And these statistics are from before the energy crisis began. I am very worried about what next year will bring.
We need a plan from this Government about how it will rein in energy prices. First, we need a solution for the hip-pocket pain that is coming our way next year. But more importantly, we need reforms that will safeguard household energy security and puts families and communities at the centre.
I believe that household-level support for low income and everyday Australians to secure cheap and reliable energy will have a game-changing impact on cost of living. Many people feel like this problem is too big. But we need to bring it right down to the local level. We should be exploring policy interventions that reduce barriers for families and households to tap into the cheapest source of power, the stuff that comes off our roofs.
There are two policies that I took to the last election which this Government should adopt in this current moment of crisis. They are not cash handouts that would drive up inflation. They would help households right now.
First, no interest loans for households to electrify their homes. Australians know that solar and batteries are cheaper over the long run but are more expensive to buy upfront. Most people don’t have the cash in hand to start. As it stands poorer Australians are stuck paying higher power bills because they are locked out of renewables for their home.
This is where the government can step in. A $10,000 loan for households to install solar and batteries, and low-energy usage appliances would unlock immediate savings for millions of households. It would help low-income households afford the upfront cost. This would address inequality, drive down power bills and tackle energy policy.
Secondly, this Government should be making it cheaper and easier for everyday Australians to buy a home battery. This would help them lower their power bills and take control of their energy usage. In the last Parliament I introduced the Cheaper Home Batteries Bill, which would expand the Howard Government’s Small-Scale Renewable Energy incentive scheme for household solar. Independent modelling showed it could lower the cost of household batteries by up to $3000, and which could triple the number of batteries in Australian households within three years.
I designed this policy under the former Coalition Government, and this Government might be reluctant to see a solution in a Howard-era policy mechanism. Perhaps there is a better way that fits in with this Government’s more ambitious climate agenda. But it is indisputable that this problem needs to be tackled if the Government is serious about energy equity. Over one-third of Australians have installed rooftop solar on their home, but just one percent have a home battery. That’s because batteries are just too expensive right now.
In the last ten years, the cost of solar has come down 80%. We need to do the same for batteries – drive down the price to put them in reach of millions of Australians.
The cost of living crisis is hitting us now and a fair chunk of it is due to power prices. The Government has the platform to act. We need to give households the opportunity to take practical steps that are the smart economic choice. We need a fairer system to make our energy more affordable, reliable and robust – not just a bandaid for the tough economic times of 2023, but an energy system for our future generations where everyone saves money.