Energy Royal Commission push is more about Government than consumers
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Energy Royal Commission push is more about Government than consumers

Why was the Coalition so keen, on the one hand,  to back a Royal Commission into unions of doubtful value and utility, while, on the other, it fought a series of fierce rearguard actions to try and prevent another into banking from taking place despite the strong public support for it?

History seems about to repeat with key Government figures, including the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, coming out in favour of a Royal Commission into energy.

Both men had previously opposed the proposition which was given a new lease of life by Peter Dutton during the leadership challenge.

McCormack went so far as to say "politicians of various persuasions over the last 10 or 15 years have set the ground to get us in the position we are in" and said Dutton's call "smacks of populism".

Why, given this didn't seem a good idea when it was being touted by a right wing leadership challenger a couple of weeks ago, have Morrison, McCormack and company changed their minds?

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Has new evidence come to light? Is this a case of political opportunism and expediency? Populism perhaps?

Inquiries, reviews and Royal Commissions are all excellent ways for flailing governments to create the impression they are doing something when, in fact, they are doing nothing at all. They can also be used to defer the hard decisions "until the Commissioner finalises the report".

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The energy companies have been thumped from all sides in recent months as concern grows over how much higher electricity costs can go.

Malcolm Turnbull said the firms were involved in "rampant price gouging". Then Energy Minister, now Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, said they had "made out like bandits". They are, in short, an easy target for a troubled Government looking for distractions to deflect attention away from its own recent history.

While there is no doubt big energy, which has profited mightily from the privatisation of state energy assets, has much to answer for, could this have as much or more to do with saving LNP seats as it does with protecting consumers?

The Government has already said it wants a base energy supply contract that will set a maximum price consumers have to pay. It has also said this will bring energy prices down.

Would an energy Royal Commission be allowed to test these claims? Would it be authorised to investigate what impact the failure of a succession of Governments to set coherent and cohesive energy policies for well over a decade has had on prices and industry planning?

Unless these questions are addressed an energy Royal Commission would appear to be more about about perception than reality.

We know what the problems are. What we really need is leadership that links energy policy to sustainability and climate change.

Can the Morrison Government be sure a truly free and independent inquiry would exonerate it from any of the blame for the mess we are working through?

Morrison, McCormack, Dutton and their colleagues may need to be careful about what they wish for.