ANALYSIS

Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott

Now concedes the carbon tax is "certainly not the only thing" pushing up prices ... Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. Photo: Andrew Meares

Ever so slowly, Julia Gillard is making up ground in the great fight over electricity prices - the defining battle of this Parliament.

The Coalition leader, Tony Abbott, built his success on the pain of rising power bills, blame for which he has sheeted home entirely to the Prime Minister and the tax he variously claimed was bashing us like a ''toxic wrecking ball'', striking us like a cobra, squeezing us like a python and wiping whole towns off the map.

But - very belatedly - Labor began to fight back, highlighting the fact that in states such as NSW, power prices have risen 62 per cent over the past four years due to investment in wires and poles (for which no one has received compensation), with the carbon tax adding another 9 per cent this year (for which many households have received full recompense).

Labor is now putting to the states a package of reforms - price deregulation, time-of-use pricing, even payment to consumers who switch off in times of peak demand - to slow down the infrastructure investment and therefore the big poles-and-wires-driven price rises, to increase retail market competition and to give consumers some control over their bills.

Since this is exactly what the Howard government was trying to do, and exactly what an Abbott government would do if elected, they can't really criticise. And power price pain is now so acute that many state governments are slowly moving in this direction, too, particularly since the Prime Minister stopped making threats about using the ''big stick'' of federal regulation.

But agreeing with the government would involve Abbott acknowledging the carbon tax is not responsible for everything bad. And that would mean axing it would not in fact cure every household's budgeting woes.

He now concedes the carbon tax is ''certainly not the only thing'' pushing up prices but says it is the ''one thing the government could fix right now''. He also makes the valid point that Labor didn't do much about energy market reform for its first five years in office, possibly because that would have involved taking on Labor administrations in Queensland and NSW.

But since families have endured the introduction of the carbon tax - the only time in the foreseeable future it will drive noticeable rises in household electricity bills - and since both parties now have similar policies to deal with the issues that will push prices up in coming years, ''axing the tax'' may become a less ''cut through'' message.