Northern Rivers residents pay higher than average electricity costs.
Northern Rivers residents pay higher than average electricity costs. Donna Jones

Nthn Rivers electricity prices unacceptable: Ballina MP

BALLINA MP Tamara Smith has spoken out against higher than average electricity bills for residents in the Northern Rivers.

"It is not acceptable that people in the Northern Rivers should have to pay more than average for their electricity, particularly when we have higher rates of disadvantage.

"This is the result of government policies and allowing private interests to prevail over the best interests of the community.  

"Households struggling with high electricity bills can access support to negotiate with energy retailers - contact the Energy and Water Ombudsman to get help."

The comments came in response to revelations by The Northern Star last week that Northern Rivers' residents were paying $500 more than the state average for electricity.

Last month AustralianSuper and multinational company IFM Investors joined to pay $16.189 billion for 50.4% of a 99-year lease in state-owned poles and wires operator Ausgrid.

Premier Mike Baird said the sale would unlock "billions of dollars to fund new schools, hospitals, public transport and roads that will make a real difference to peoples' lives" and Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis later said $6 billion was allocated to regional NSW.

"I certainly hope and look forward to state funding for new schools, hospitals, public transport and roads in this regional electorate where there is demand for all of these services and infrastructure," said Ms Smith in response.

"That would indeed make a real difference in the lives of many in this electorate.

"However this has yet to happen and we have yet to see how much of the money will come to this region."

During preliminary government discussions of electricity privatisation, National Party members successfully negotiated for the exemption of major regional provider Essential Energy.

"It is interesting that even the Nationals recognise that privatisation is not always best for consumers," said Ms Smith,

"The Greens feel Australia's major publicly-owned power assets should not be privatised.

"Major public assets should be retained by the government, so that any income from electricity supply can be utilised for the public good indefinitely, not sold for short term gains."

Ms Smith said it was important for public assets to remain in the control of the public "and be responsive to the communities they serve".

"My constituents are concerned at the high prices of energy, and fears of a lack of competition in a regional area such as the Northern Rivers.

"They have expressed concerns that energy privatisation will mean crucial public assets pass into the hands of private interests (whether Australian or foreign owned) concerned only with making a profit, not with sustainability or customer service.

"If Ausgrid is successful in campaigning for higher prices it is possible that prices would rise, I hope for Northern Rivers consumers that is not the case."

Ms Smith said her constituents had shown "high interest" in solar power thanks to the Northern Rivers' climate.

"The Australian Bureau of Statistics lists 4,219 small scale solar panel system installations and 4,404 solar water heater installations in the Ballina electorate in 2014 (latest figures available)" she said.

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