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‘Big stick’ energy proposal left hanging

The coalition’s “big stick” legislation to deal with misconduct by large power corporations won’t be debated in parliament until February.

Labor succeeded in thwarting the government’s attempts to pass the bill through the lower house in the final sitting week of parliament for the year.

The opposition forced the government to debate the draft laws clause-by-clause, with the coalition choosing not to extend sitting hours on Thursday after time-wasting tactics began in the Senate over a refugee transfer bill.

As they stand, the draft energy laws include penalties and the potential forced break-up of power companies.

The government argues these powers are needed to ensure power retailers and generators do not make decisions which deliberately jack up the price of electricity.

After Treasurer Josh Frydenberg introduced the draft laws to the House of Representatives on Wednesday it became clear the government had its sights on state-owned energy assets.

A concerned Bob Katter approached the treasurer for a guarantee that Snowy Hydro and the Queensland state government’s electricity industry wouldn’t be sold off.

Despite being given Mr Frydenberg’s assurances it would not happen, the independent Queensland MP chose to introduce his own amendments to the bill on Thursday to prevent privatisation.

The treasurer assured parliament privatisation won’t happen.

“If there is a divestment as last resort of a government asset, then it will be as another government entity,” Mr Frydenberg said on Thursday.

The proposed legislation creates three kinds of prohibited conduct for energy giants, which if breached, will see them hit with the “big stick”.

The three areas under watch are retail pricing, the electricity contract market and wholesale market.

If found to be withholding savings to customers or preventing competition in the market, the draft laws give the ACCC the power to fine a company, apply for an injunction to stop the behaviour or alert the treasurer.

The treasurer could then apply to the Federal Court to see that energy company sell off or separate its assets.

Crossbench MPs Rebekha Sharkie and Andrew Wilkie have flagged their support for the bill, which could see it pass when parliament resumes in February.

Business groups and energy companies have joined Labor to speak out against the proposal, saying it will stall investment and push up power prices.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the increased powers, which would ease pressure on prices through greater competition, are necessary as 80 per cent of the market is dominated by three major players.

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