/Senate crossbenchers want energy big stick laws to break up supermarkets

Senate crossbenchers want energy big stick laws to break up supermarkets

Posted

May 29, 2019 15:40:04

Crossbenchers crucial to the Coalition’s plans to pass legislation in the Senate want the Federal Government to extend proposed powers to break up energy companies to also be applied to the major supermarkets Coles and Woolworths.

Key points:

  • Federal Government wants ‘big stick’ energy laws passed as a top priority
  • Influential senate crossbenchers want the powers to break up energy companies extended to supermarkets
  • Centre Alliance says it should be applied to any company that repeatedly uses its monopoly powers

The Coalition, based on election results to date, looks like it will need the support of four or five of the expected six-person crossbench to pass laws in the Senate, if Labor and the Greens oppose the measures.

Centre Alliance holds two of those seats and the South Australians want the Coalition’s so-called “big stick” divestiture laws to apply to other major Australian companies, including the two supermarket chains.

“Once you accept that divestiture is an appropriate tool for dealing with egregious or repeated use of monopoly power, it stands to reason that it should be a power available in all sectors,” senator Rex Patrick said.

The Coalition has earmarked new laws to deal with energy companies as one of its top priorities when the Parliament resumes.

Senator Patrick said he would seek to amend the Coalition’s legislation to see the divestiture powers apply to all industries, not just the energy sector.

“Large companies view a fine as just the cost of business,” he said.

The Centre Alliance Senator insisted companies that hold a market monopoly should be given greater incentive to behave, but said his party would still be open to passing the legislation should the Senate not support his amendments.

The big stick legislation aims to pressure and punish energy generators and retailers for engaging in anti-competitive conduct.

At the pointy end, it has the power to force companies to guarantee supply and cut wholesale prices or risk being broken apart.

The legislation was put on the backburner earlier this year after the Morrison Government struggled to get the numbers in Parliament to pass it.

Energy Minister lists big stick as top priority

Energy Minister Angus Taylor said today it should come as no surprise it would be one of the Government’s top priorities in the 46th Parliament.

“We’ll be bringing it forward as soon as possible, but the key point here is we took this policy to the election,” he said.

“We won the election and now we’re going to implement our election commitment.”

Mr Taylor said the legislation’s focus was preventing market manipulation and price-gouging.

“It must stop. We hope we’ll never need to use the legislation but having it there is an important step forward in making sure future practices are in line with the interests of customers.”

Nationals MP Keith Pitt has warned that state-owned power companies could be among the first targets of the “big stick” powers.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese would not confirm if Labor would support the big stick legislation in the wake of Labor’s election defeat.

“We will have less seats in this parliament than the one before,” he said.

“We need to recognise that … We need sober and considered analysis of all the policies.”

The Coalition shelved the legislation earlier in the year, after Labor and the Greens indicated they would block it.

At the time there was fierce criticism from Labor and the energy industry about the potential consequences of the proposal, arguing it could damage investment in the sector and goes far beyond what the regulators recommended.

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