Anthony Albanese has told business leaders he is “confident” the Queensland and New South Wales premiers will assist his government with a plan to reduce power prices for households and businesses.
The prime minister used a speech to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry to provide an assurance that the government was “working around the clock to deliver a solution” and to flag collaboration with the states.
“Just as we brought state and territory governments together to take urgent action to keep the lights on in our first month in office, I’m confident we will be able to reach agreement on a plan that delivers for every part of Australia,” Albanese said on Wednesday night.
Guardian Australia revealed on Monday the Albanese government may struggle to provide comprehensive energy price relief unless NSW and Queensland cooperate with a plan to temporarily cap the wholesale price of coal. The government is looking at price cap options to assist industrial users of gas and households battling a surge in their power bills.
The federal energy minister, Chris Bowen, briefed cabinet on the components of the proposed intervention on Monday, including possible price caps for gas and coal. The Albanese government is confident it has the regulatory levers to reduce gas prices for industrial users, but there is concern a replica intervention in the coal market might be more complex for Canberra to execute, and could open the possibility of legal challenges given producers will resist.
Gas price relief can be achieved through tweaking existing federal mechanisms, such as the industry code of conduct, but interventions in the coal market are normally driven by the states.
Reporting of the deliberation in Canberra prompted the Queensland premier to fire a public warning shot at Albanese. On Tuesday, she used an answer in state parliament to declare the federal government needed to keep “hands off our generators”.
The energy package is still the subject of internal deliberations. Albanese is looking to land the long telegraphed regulatory intervention around the time of a looming national cabinet meeting in early December.
Asked on ABC’s 7:30 about a gas price cap of $11 to $13 a gigajoule, Albanese said the government would “take action” by Christmas but he “won’t speculate on the figures that are floating around”.
“What we’re determined to do is to undertake measures that put downward pressure on costs, whether that be for business or for households.”
Albanese said the speculation of government intervention had already caused “some downward pressure”.
In question time on Wednesday, the deputy Liberal leader, Sussan Ley, labelled the energy policy “half baked”, and accused the industry minister, Ed Husic, of not being able to explain its details in a morning interview.
Ley questioned if the government was “giving false hope to Australians about lowering power prices”. Albanese responded that her question was based on a “range of false premises” and defended Husic’s refusal to discuss detail by explaining he could not reveal cabinet discussions.
“The second point I will make is: I love Queensland as well,” Albanese said, echoing Husic’s interview.
“The cabinet is dealing with these issues. The minister for industry is diligently consulting with the manufacturing sector in particular.”
Before his election in May Albanese promised to be pro-entrepreneurship and to listen, if not always agree, with business. Albanese’s relationship with the business sector has been tested by Labor’s ambitious secure jobs, better pay bill, and the inclusion of options for multi-employer pay deals.
The bill prompted revolt from employer groups over a lack of safeguards preventing all but the smallest businesses being drawn into pay deals without their consent. Further safeguards for small and medium businesses were added as part of a deal with Senator David Pocock that was expected to guarantee the bill’s passage this week.
Albanese told Acci on Wednesday evening he was “aware that there are elements of our plan with which you disagree”.
“No significant economic reform has ever enjoyed 100% support.”
Albanese argued that “one point of disagreement” on industrial relations need not “define our every interaction”.
“Our relationship is bigger than that, more important than that. Consensus, in the end, depends on a common goal.”
Albanese cited the common goals of “strong employment growth, higher incomes growth, improved productivity and enhanced social inclusion” agreed at the jobs and skills summit.
He said government and business had made “substantial progress” in areas including vocational education, cheaper childcare, manufacturing, trade, and cleaner, cheaper energy.
“We will continue to seek your cooperation, your insights and your expertise as we confront emerging challenges.”
Albanese signalled greater cooperation to “guard against cybersecurity threats”. “Clearly, our national capacity isn’t where it needs to be – and that’s a serious issue for any business or government that holds people’s private information.
“Whether it’s cybersecurity or energy or skills or infrastructure or international trade, I know there is so much we can achieve if we work together.
“I’m proud of what we’ve delivered over the past six months – and I’m looking forward to what the future holds.”