Big stick stuck for five months
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.”