The government’s plans to curb energy bills are looking shakier after the Greens refused to rule out sinking a deal to cut power bills they said would include giving money to fossil fuel producers.
Gas and coal companies are enraged by the bill, which seeks to cap the prices of both in a bid to put a ceiling on prices rising since the war in Ukraine.
Could it derail the government’s plans? That is less clear, but Greens leader Adam Bandt doubled down on earlier criticism on Monday afternoon when he refused to rule out the possibility.
The Greens say the intervention is too generous to fossil fuel companies – a point the government disputes.
Nine newspapers reported that the deal would include $500 million in compensation for coal producers in Queensland and NSW.
Mr Bandt seized on the reports and raised the prospect the parliamentary year might end on a sour note when legislators are called back from a break on Thursday for a vote on the plan.
“They’ve been taking this country for a ride,” Mr Bandt said on Monday.
“Power bills have been going up and these coal and gas corporations have been profiteering off people’s pain and off the back of the war in Ukraine.”
The plan involves a deal with the states to cap the price of coal to $125 per tonne on coal and about $12 per gigajoule on gas or half their current prices.
But Prime Minister Anthony Albanese questioned the validity of the Nine reports.
“That’s just a figure made up, frankly. I don’t know where they quoted it from, I’ll note there was no minister attached to it,” Mr Albanese said. “There is nothing in the legislation to provide any compensation. The legislation is very simple.”
Mr Albanese did not rule out the possibility that payments would be made as part of the government’s long-promised power price plan.
The Greens, Mr Bandt said, are yet to see the legislation and will consider the issue when the party room meets in Canberra on Tuesday.
He would not say definitively whether the party would block the intervention into a market he has long been critical of, but did not rule out the possibility in an interview with Sky News.
“There’s no case for compensating coal corporations, the public should not be giving money to coal and gas corporations it should be the other way around,” Mr Bandt said.
At their peak, gas prices rose to more than three times their long-term levels following Russia’s disconnection from the global energy market and the onset of war.
The lobby for gas exporters, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) is seeking a meeting with Mr Albanese to discuss what it says is the plan’s potential to “damage investment confidence across the entire energy market”.
“The powers provided through the Bill are extraordinary, providing for the government to control the entirety of the market and intervene in an essentially unlimited way,” said the lobby’s CEO, Samantha McCulloch.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton labelled the plan a “witch’s brew of disaster”.
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