On 18 December 2009, Queenslander's were greeted with yet more bad news by Brisbane's Courier-Mail newspaper in the story "Monster power price hike" (in 19 December printed edition):
The Queensland Competition Authority (QCA) has just announced a draft decision that would see prices rise by 13.83 per cent between 2009-10 and 2010-11.
The decision would add an additional $276 to the average annual household bill of $2000.
It is the fourth successive jump in electricity costs since the State Government claimed deregulation of the industry would put downward pressure on prices.
The heavy price, already paid Queenslanders for former Premier Peter Beattie's decision, made without their consent or any electoral mandate, to privatise the retail arm of the state owned electricity utility, continues to climb.
The Courier-Mail's editorial of 18 Dec 09 attempted to rationalise this. It's title "Using less power is key to beat price rise" gave a clue as to what its tack would be.
It began by appearing to empathise with, but at the same time diminishing the grounds for outrage against this decision.
PRICE rises, particularly when the hand of government is involved in some way, are always going to be politically contentious.
As such, yesterday's draft decision by the Queensland Competition Authority ... sparked the predictable howls of protest from consumers and the Opposition, and grumblings from the Government.
Then it immediately proceeded to provide its own wholely predictable justification for the increases.
With the massive investment required to maintain and expand Queensland's electricity network to cater for a growing and increasingly power-hungry population, rises such as this were always inevitable -- ...
If price rises were 'inevitable' as a result of population growth actively pursued by both the Queensland and Federal Governments, then why weren't the people who are now being made to pay the costs, first asked?
As we have shown in other earlier articles, the Courier-Mail newspaper like the state Government has been playing a double game with the Queensland public on this issue.
For years both have been shifting between the outright encouragement of population growth and then, when the detrimental consequences have become too obvious to deny, a pretence that it is beyond our own contol. This has been described elsewhere in the articles "Exposing Queensland Government population growth duplicity" of 1 Apr 09 and "How Government and the Murdoch press deceive Australian public on immigration" of 27 Oct 09.
Whilst, in more recent years, Courier-Mail avoids explicitly stating its support for population growth, the same is not true of the national daily newspaper the Australian also owned by Rupert Murdoch. Examples of promotion of population growth and high immigration are listed in the abovementioned article. Another is the editorial with the lofty and pretentious title "Population is destiny" of 19 Sep 09 which enthusiastically endorsed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's stated goal of increasing Australia's population to 35 million by 2050.
The editorial makes sweeping claims about how such population increases will be of enormous indisputable benefit to all, but, of course, no-where does it mention the environmental, social and economic costs that Queenslanders are now being made to pay for population growth. No-where does it warn that charges for services such as electricity, gas and water will rise as a consequence.
For their part, the Courier-Mail's reporters and editors write of the effects of population growth as if unaware of the role played by the Australian in bringing it about.
If it chose the Courier-Mail could use, very effectively, its voice towards stopping population growth and the consequent harm, only one example of which that this editorial addresses. I have demonstrated that it has shown that it is able to on other political questions in the article "Courier Mail spins news of 79% opposition to fire sale to reveal its privatisation colours" of 11 Dec 09, but in regard to population growth, it chooses not to.
It lets off the hook the politicians whose undemocratic unpopular decisions have so harmed the public interest and continue to do so. In regard to former Queensland Premier Beattie, the editorial Courier-Mail's editorial contines:
... and former premier Peter Beattie was foolhardy at the time of the Energex retail sell-off to talk up the prospect of cheaper power.
The possibility that Beattie's long since discredited promise of cheaper power, rather than having been 'foolhardy' may have been judged necessary to achieve his goal of bludgeoning public opinion into accepting the deregulation and privatisation of the retail arm of the state's electricity utilities sector, is not considered.
Beattie's claim is only one of many examples of similarly baseless claims of the benefits of privatisation made by politicians. The possibility that claims made by Premier Anna Bligh and Andrew Fraser today in support of their current bid to flog off $15 billion worth of public assets may be similarly groundless is, of course, never raised by the Courier-Mail with its readership.
The editorial argues against aginst any direct Government intervention to reject or curtail the price risese approved by the QCA:
Not only would this undermine the authority of the QCA itself, it would also be a recipe for disaster for commercial entities in Queensland's power sector, many of whom are operating on very thin and competitive margins as it is.
In fact, such a move would likely drive away participants from the sector, resulting in less competition and ultimately even higher prices.
So, the fabulous competitive energy market is apparently economically unviable, that is unless it is allowed to charge massively more than what the previous Government owned electricity retail arm charged for the same service!
Instead, the editorial argues that the Government act to modify consumer behaviour:
As was demonstrated during the water crisis, a concerted public information campaign can result in an enduring behavioural shift when it comes to consumption patterns.
Our love affair with airconditioners and other power-hungry appliances has resulted in average household consumption rising from about 6400 kilowatt hours to 11,000kWh in the past decade. And in the past five years the network has been expanded to cater for an extra 4200 megawatts of electricity at times of peak demand -- enough to power South Australia and Tasmania combined.
This additional capacity does not come cheap, and the costs must ultimately be passed on to the end user – and these are consumers who, on average, have increased their electricity consumption by 70 per cent in only 10 years.
Of course, the Courier-Mail now conveniently forgets its own past role in encouraging ever greater per capita consumption of energy and other resources.
One of the principle reasons for "our love affair with airconditioners" as the editorial puts it, is the shoddy designs of housing crammed together on sprawling suburban developments with little tree cover in between the concrete, the often black-coloured tiled rooves, guaranteed to absorb the maximum possible amount of heat and bitumen roads. Whilst the Courier-Mail clamoured to expand the housing development industry and the importation of customers for it, the Courier-Mail showed little leadership of which I am aware, towards at least ensuring that what was built would not be so energy inefficient.
Now people who paid so dearly to buy these dwellings may have be forced to swelter without air-conditioning in the summer heat or pay probibitively for it.
Before the Global Financial crisis, the Courier-Mail fed to Queenslanders expectations that the economic boom would last forever and, not that long ago it was considerably less circumspect in its support for population growth. It openly clamoured for ever greater numbers of people to move to Queensland to fill what it insisted were critical labor shortages as I described in the article "The Courier Mail beats the drum for more Queensland population growth" of Jan 07.
Now we have discovered, to our cost, that this state never had the unlimited capacity to cater for new arrivals and ever higher per-capita levels of consumption that the Courier-Mail insisted that we did have, the Courier-Mail's own past consumerist propaganda, at least in some respects, is turned around 180 degrees.
The editorial concludes:
Without altering our behaviour, the only way to keep a lid on electricity prices is via government subsidies. And then we all end up paying more -- no matter what our individual usage -- through higher taxes.
Of course, we know better than to expect of the Courier-Mail to argue to end reckless Government policies of population growth and privatisation that created the shambles that the electricity secore has been turned into.
Instead, we are expected to fix the mess by reducing our consumption whether through smart means or by brutal means which will reduce our livng standards.
But even if we achieve this, it can only provided a temporary reprieve until we achieve population stability.
What you can do: Queensland citizens can sign the e-petition calling for the resignation of the Queensland Government and new elections. See "Anti-privatisation e-petition calls on Queensland government to resign" for further information.