Power prices keep rising

POWER prices for households and businesses alike are set to soar by an average of 16per cent across NSW, if the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal formalises the price rises contained in a draft determination released for discussion yesterday.

Hunter consumers are likely to be the hardest hit, with EnergyAustralia set to be granted an average price rise of 19.2per cent on July 1.

While a final tribunal report will not be handed down until mid-June after a public hearing later this month, little change is expected, going on past determinations.

Justifying its impending price rise, the tribunal says half of the increase is due to growing network costs, and half to accommodate the impost of the federal carbon tax.

The state government and the federal opposition have accused Labor of taking a wrecking ball to the economy with its carbon tax, but the Gillard government says its carbon tax compensation plan will more than offset burgeoning power prices through a combination of family tax cuts and pension increases. Even so, the other half of the power price rise – the 8per cent or so attributed to network costs – is sizeable enough.

In the Hunter, a typical household power bill is set to rise by $338 from $1763 this year to $2101 next year. The same 19per cent rise for business customers will take a typical bill from $2290 to $2729.

If these amounts look sizeable, they are.

Back in 2007, according to the tribunal’s price-setting report of the day, the same Hunter household would have paid about $800 a year for its electricity, while the business bill would have been about $1800.

Such increases are well above the inflation rate and the tribunal warned yesterday that ‘‘inappropriate policy settings’’ from state and federal governments were making electricity prices ‘‘higher than necessary’’. It remains to be seen whether governments heed the tribunal’s call. Such hip-pocket impacts are one reason why a number of Australians remain wary of deregulatory policies that have made a relatively simple business – the generation and supply of electricity – increasingly complicated.

AROUND Australia, government-run after-hours GP services have been set up to help take the load off busy hospital emergency departments. The services are based on a prototype established in Maitland in 1999 that expanded to other Hunter hospitals in 2003. Today, the Hunter service handles the treatment of about 10,000 patients a year who would have otherwise gone to an emergency department.

After a request from Canberra, the doctors’ body that runs the after-hours program – Hunter Urban Medical Local, formerly GP Access – is undertaking an online survey of after-hour care needs.

The federal government needs to know it is getting value for its money – most of the service cost goes in wages for doctors on the volunteer roster – and the survey will hopefully help the organisers better tailor their service to the needs of the public.

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