GOING UP: Joe Goni is unhappy fixed charges on his electricity bill have more than tripled in four years.
GOING UP: Joe Goni is unhappy fixed charges on his electricity bill have more than tripled in four years. Craig Warhurst

IN THE DARK: Pensioners switching off fridges, TVs, lights

AGE pensioners in Bundaberg are turning their fridges off at night to save power, Keith Pitt has told parliament.

One pensioner couple, who the NewsMail has chosen not to name, is no longer watching TV, only using one light a night and have taken to cooking outside on a gas burner.

"We have a single burner gas ring outside to save money, and burning one light of a night time,” the woman said.

"I also do the washing up outside on the stove after we've eaten dinner to save on electricity. I don't have to turn anything on that way.

"We cut corners as much as we can, but we shouldn't have to, not in this day and age.”

She and her husband have even taken to cooking outside.

"We should have the right to be comfortable in our own home.

"It seems like we are going back to a third world country.

"What I can't understand is that power should be an essential service that shouldn't be a money making scheme.”

North Bundaberg age pensioner Joe Goni isn't taking such drastic action - his frustration is with the fixed charges all electricity consumers are slogged with.

"The biggest bitch I have is the amount of money they charge to have the power at your house,” Mr Goni said.

He said four years ago his service charge was $28 and was now about $100 - and a $16 meter reading fee was added on to that.

Mr Pitt told parliament that while the issue of same-sex marriage - and presumably his own party's dual citizen woes - raged in the media there were more important issues being faced by people in his seat.

"I have pensioners - and these are real stories - who came in to my office and say that they turn their fridge off, trying to save energy at night-time, when it is cooler, at the risk of all sorts of health problems,” Mr Pitt said.

"These are simply unacceptable positions.”

The claim has been repeated by the LNP's candidate for Bundaberg, Councillor David Batt, in a letter to the NewsMail today.

Member for Burnett Stephen Bennett said he had met with an increasing number of struggling pensioners.

"I was sickened to hear pensioners are actually being forced to ask themselves - do I buy medication or do I switch on a light?” Mr Bennett said.

"That's just devastating to hear. It's the sad reality of the situation for many pensioners in the region who are really doing it tough.”

"It's affecting their quality of life and desperate pensioners are telling me that it's like living in a third world country,” he said.

"The cost of electricity is the biggest issue confronting us. Power prices have never been higher.”

Mr Bennett said he was appalled that pensioners were being forced to cut corners which is affecting their health and lifestyles.

"Enough is enough. We can't sit back and watch pensioners, families, farmers and businesses suffer.”

Member for Bundaberg Leanne Donaldson said the Palaszczuk Government was putting downward pressure on power prices.

Ms Donaldson said Labor's decision to can the LNP's sale of power assets meant it had been able to direct distributors to keep prices lower.

"Despite the LNP's inaction, we have done whatever we can to stabilise electricity prices,” she said.

"Since being in government, average retail prices for households have gone up just 1.9% compared with the 43% increase experienced over the term of the Newman-Nicholls government - an additional $436 for the average Queensland household.”

Ms Donaldson said the closure of coal power plants in Victoria and South Australia was driving up prices across the entire National Electricity Market, not just in Queensland, and the Federal Government was doing nothing about it.

"Our actions - including using the advantage we have in having retained ownership of our power assets - means Queensland has the lowest forecast electricity price increase for 2017-18 of 3.3% compared with 19% in South Australia and the ACT, 11% in New South Wales and nearly 10% in Victoria,” she said.

"Proof of our efforts to place downward pressure on prices is the fact that the wholesale price of electricity in Queensland in the National Electricity Market was $64.78/kWh on Monday morning, compared with $146.52 in NSW; $157.55 in SA; $148 in Victoria; and $133.81 in Tasmania.”

Ms Donaldson said the vast size and relatively low population density of regional Queensland made it less attractive to competitive power retailers.

"But our three State Budgets have all met our community service obligation by funding a subsidy - averaging around $700 a year - for those outside the south-east corner of our state,” she said.

The State Government pays $500 million a year - the Uniform Tariff Policy - so that regional customers pay similar prices for electricity to those in south-east Queensland.

She said through its Powering Queensland Plan the government had invested $770 million to halve a price rise recommended for regional consumers by the Queensland Competition Authority.

"That decision replaced a recommended 7.1% rise for regional household power prices with a 3.3% rise,” Ms Donaldson said.

"And for the average small business it means a rise of 4.1% instead of 8.2%.

"We're also supporting regional business customers by providing $10 million to help manage bill impacts through energy efficiency measures.”

Ms Donaldson said her government had extended the Electricity Rebate for Queensland Seniors and Veterans Card holders (Gold Card) to include Health Care Card Holders and asylum seekers.

"This provides around $340 in assistance for low-income households per year and I encourage households to check with their retailers to find out if they are eligible,” she said.

"The LNP always took the lazy way out by advocating the sale of our power industry assets.

"They had no plan to minimise price rises, and they still don't.”

Mr Pitt said the Federal Government was doing everything it could to drive down the cost of power.

"It is driving down gas prices through our export licensing regime and reforms to pipelines and have directed the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to forensically examine energy companies' behaviour,” he said.

"The Prime Minister met with retail providers to get a better deal for consumers, but unfortunately Ergon is regulated by the Queensland Government.

"The Queensland state budget for 2017-18 forecasts a $1.5 billion windfall from the government-owned generators, a 110% increase on the dividend contained in the 2015-16 budget.

"Is the Queensland Government budget in such a state of disrepair that it relying on this revenue to balance the books? All the while, families and businesses are the ones suffering?

"Queensland consumers paid the highest wholesale prices - 30% above the average - over the first five months of this year.

"Ever since the former Queensland Labor government merged three government-owned generation companies into two in 2011, there has been evidence that market concentration and late bidding practices have contributed, in the words of the Australian Energy Regulator, to 'spot market volatility', code for higher prices.

"With government-owned generators accounting for 65% of capacity in Queensland, from 2014 until today the wholesale prices in Queensland have exceeded $5000 megawatt an hour on 30 occasions.”

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