Partisan fight over power

THE outbreak of hostilities between the federal Labor government and its conservative state counterparts over the issue of power prices has a partisan look about it.

While it might appear the war began in earnest only yesterday when prime minister Julia Gillard gave the states a four-month deadline to demonstrate how they planned to stem the rising prices, it had really been raging long before.

Indeed, the latest fusillades are no more than a noisy aftermath to the federal political argument over carbon pricing.

Having declared that Labor’s new tax would send power prices sharply up, the Coalition may be understandably anxious that this prediction should appear to be fulfilled. This might, perhaps, lie behind the controversial inclusion on some recent power bills of messages suggesting that the carbon tax and green energy schemes were driving higher prices.

The letters pages of this newspaper have reflected some indignation at this assertion, which some correspondents have accused of being biased.

By way of reply, the federal government has invested heavily in colourful glossy brochures, to be posted with future power bills, that will put the alternative case. They reportedly argue that, while the carbon tax accounts for $9 in every $100 on a typical power bill, upgrades to poles and wires make up $51 and just $20 represents the real cost of electricity generation.

It will be hard for the states to deny this. Last week NSW energy minister Chris Hartcher conceded it might be worth curtailing some possibly excessive spending on power infrastructure in return for a marginal reduction in system reliability.

And, perhaps even more significantly, the Australian Energy Regulator also declared last week that it was monitoring the activities of generating companies because of suspicions that they were withholding capacity in order to artificially inflate wholesale prices.

The truth, it seems, is that the carbon tax is one factor in recent power price rises. It may not be the biggest factor.

It remains, however, an important partisan political football in the electricity price blame game and in the bigger game of jockeying for advantage ahead of the next federal election.

The Regal reborn

NEWCASTLE City Council deserves congratulations for working with the community to bring about the rebirth of the sadly missed Regal Cinema at Birmingham Gardens.

The little cinema’s closure in 2006 was cause for much unhappiness, especially as it eliminated one of very few remaining Novocastrian venues showing alternative and arthouse films.

It will now be refurbished and plans are afoot for movies to again be screened at the cinema from early next year.

The self-styled ‘‘Friends of the Regal’’ have fought and won an exemplary campaign, characterised as much by diplomacy as by forcefulness. It is chiefly thanks to their efforts, and their encouragement of other, more powerful organisations, that the community stands to benefit from the reinstatement of an important asset.

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