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Energy bills the focus as govt eyes cost-of-living relief

Wholesale power prices have continued to soften as renewables pick up.

Wholesale power prices have continued to soften as renewables pick up. Photo: TND

Australians are holding out hope for hip-pocket relief as politicians rush to Canberra to discuss cost-of-living proposals and inflation appears to cool.

Since the end of the COVID-19 lockdowns, prices have surged for everything from rents to the weekly grocery shop as a confluence of domestic and international events fuel inflation.

In response, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has summoned his colleagues to Canberra for a caucus meeting on Wednesday, about two weeks before parliament resumes in February.

“We’ve always said that we’ll continue to look for ways to assist people,” Albanese told Sky News on Monday.

“If we can find ways to put extra dollars in people’s pockets, particularly those lower-middle-income earners who are doing it tough, [then] we’re prepared to do so.”

Energy bills are believed to be the focus of the most immediate cost-of-living relief plans.

The government said on Monday it had entered two enforceable supply commitments with gas giants Esso and Woodside through the Gas Code of Conduct exemptions framework. It will deliver gas-fired stations enough fuel to power the east coast for 2½ years, as the nation moves away from coal.

Energy Minister Chris Bowen said the additional gas would help address demand in areas at particular risk of seasonal shortfalls and ensure there was enough domestic supply to keep gas prices down.

Though some critics have accused the government of charging taxpayers hundreds of thousands to ferry politicians to Canberra, Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth rebuffed the claims.

“[It is] important that MPs do get together and actually put their views forward,” she told Nine’s Today show on Monday.

“Labor MPs didn’t get elected to sit home and twiddle their thumbs, we want to contribute to the national debate.”

But her Coalition colleague, Senator Dave Sharma, blasted the Canberra caucus as a costly “stunt”.

“This government has had 18 months to deal with these issues and Albanese decides in the dying days of summer to pull all Labor MPs back to Canberra at significant expense,” he told Sky News.

“I hope something substantial comes out of it rather than a headline and a media opportunity.

“They need to be taking serious decisions on the fiscal policy front to rein in inflation; they need to commit to stage three tax cuts.”

Albanese has repeatedly committed to pushing ahead with the controversial cuts in July, including as recently as last week.

He has also commissioned Treasury and the Department of Finance to put together further proposals for cost-of-living relief. Albanese said the government would “take whatever advice is given to us”.

To the relief of many, recent economic data has pointed to softening inflation.

Earlier in January, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported the monthly consumer price index for November had slowed to 4.3 per cent, its lowest level since January 2022.

Meanwhile, the ABS’s jobs data released last Thursday revealed the labour market had also begun to cool off.

Monthly business turnover data, expected to come out on Tuesday, will also provide another indicator of the economy’s strength.

If the data remains promising, borrowers can hold out hope when the Reserve Bank of Australia delivers its first interest rate decision of 2024 in early February.

-with AAP

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