Big stick stuck for five months

The Australian - - THE NATION - GREG BROWN

Scott Mor­ri­son’s “big stick” leg­is­la­tion aimed at forc­ing price­goug­ing en­ergy com­pa­nies to sell as­sets will be stuck in par­lia­ment un­til April, a month be­fore a likely May elec­tion, af­ter La­bor suc­cess­fully re­ferred the laws to a Se­nate in­quiry.

The Prime Min­is­ter, who has in­di­cated that his laws would help bring down en­ergy prices, suf­fered a blow in his bid to se­cure pas­sage of the con­tro­ver­sial re­form be­cause it can­not come to a Se­nate vote for an­other five months.

The bill was re­ferred to the Se­nate stand­ing com­mit­tee on eco­nom­ics when the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives ad­journed yes­ter­day.

The com­mit­tee’s re­port will be handed down on March 18, mean­ing the bill will be stalled in par­lia­ment un­til at least bud­get week, the first week in April.

The mo­tion was put for­ward by La­bor sen­a­tor Anne Urquhart and the sup­port for it was so over­whelm­ing that a divi­sion to vote on it was can­celled.

The bill was de­bated in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives but did not go to a fi­nal vote.

Op­po­si­tion Trea­sury spokesman Chris Bowen said the gov­ern­ment’s han­dling of the process of the bill was “ap­palling”.

“The gov­ern­ment tried to rush this through the house with­out scru­tiny and with min­i­mal de­bate, de­spite this hav­ing no chance of pass­ing the Se­nate be­fore April,” Mr Bowen said.

Mr Mor­ri­son was forced to de­fend his record of putting en­ergy as­sets into pub­lic own­er­ship as La­bor ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of want­ing to use the di­vesti­ture pow­ers to pri­va­tise elec­tric­ity com­pa­nies.

Bill Shorten used ques­tion time to ac­cuse the gov­ern­ment of want­ing to pri­va­tise en­ergy as­sets in Queens­land.

Mr Mor­ri­son said the bill would not al­low for a state-owned as­set to be sold to pri­vate com­pa­nies.

“The only elec­tric­ity as­sets that the com­mon­wealth gov­ern­ment has had a di­rect en­gage­ment with was that we ar­ranged for the full pur­chase of the Snowy Hy­dro scheme,” Mr Mor­ri­son said.

“So the form and track record as Prime Min­is­ter and Trea­surer is to put those types of as­sets into pub­lic own­er­ship.”

The gov­ern­ment was also go­ing to ac­cept an amend­ment pushed by in­de­pen­dent MP Bob Kat­ter that would pre­vent state as­sets be­ing pri­va­tised un­der the leg­is­la­tion.

Mr Mor­ri­son caused con­ster­na­tion in Lib­eral-Na­tion­als ranks on Wed­nes­day when he de­clared that state-owned elec­tric­ity com­pa­nies could be among the first tar­gets of the divest­ment pow­ers.

He sin­gled out Queens­land for its “goug­ing” of cus­tomers, warn­ing that the gov­ern­ment could force the break-up of big state power com­pa­nies into smaller state-owned com­peti­tors.

“As the Queens­land gov­ern­ment has been div­i­dend-strip­ping out of the Queens­land elec­tric­ity in­dus­try to prop up their fi­nan­cial mis­man­age­ment, do you know who’s been pay­ing for it?’’ Mr Mor­ri­son said on Wed­nes­day.

“Queens­lan­ders. They’ve been jack­ing up power prices to strip that money away from mums and dads and pen­sion­ers.”

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