Cost-of-living crisis: Electricity industry ‘riddled’ with questionable prices while insurance customers ‘treated like second-grade citizens’

Cost-of-living crisis: Electricity industry ‘riddled’ with questionable prices while insurance customers ‘treated like second-grade citizens’
  • PublishedFebruary 8, 2024

Millions of Australians face mounting monthly and yearly bills and, increasingly, they are related to services many deem necessary.

But like a lot of people, Ben, in Melbourne’s north-east, is fed up with his car insurance.

“We’re just treated like second-grade citizens,” he told the ABC’s PM.

“We’ve never missed a beat.

“Probably paid $6,000 in premiums every year.

“Go to make a claim and you’re treated like you’re nothing.”

Ben made a claim but the process, he says, became too costly.

“I ended up fixing the car myself,” he said.

“[And] I haven’t renewed [the policy].

“Not on this car.”

New figures from the Bureau of Statistics show the cost of insurance — including home and contents and motor vehicles — rose 17 per cent in the year to the December quarter — a record price hike.

Professor Allan Fels wearing a navy suit and blue tie.
Professor Allan Fels addressed the National Press Club on Wednesday.(ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

Former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chair Allan Fels included another insurance horror story in his National Press Club Address.

“I met Danielle,” he told the gathering in Canberra.

“She was one of 750 submissions to the inquiry.

“She’s a nurse and she was looking at getting a second job to pay her bills, which had sky-rocketed.

“She’s had a 40 per cent increase in insurance.

“Not unusual these days.”

Professor Fels said Danielle’s yearly insurance bill came in at $8,700 — an amount she couldn’t pay.

“She has to make spending compromises everyday,” he said.

“She told me there have been times where she’s skipped meals, lived off toast.”

Professor Fels was tasked by the peak union body, the ACTU, to investigate how big corporations set their prices for shoppers.

His 80-page report found millions of Australian consumers are being overcharged.

“My conclusion is that Australians are paying prices that are too high, too often.”

He canvassed pricing activity among the banks, supermarkets, and airlines.

He said so-called “profit push” inflation — where firms hike their prices well above their costs to boost their profits — was a significant driver of inflation.

“The cause is weak and ineffective competition in too many sectors of the economy.”

Professor Fels stopped short of recommending price controls or regulating limits on how much companies can charge for their products.

But he does think there’s an “urgent” need to boost competition laws, and he singled out the power sector.

“The electricity industry is riddled with questionable prices,” Professor Fels said. 

“This is not surprising.

“It’s concentrated at all levels and includes also a high degree of vertical integration between generators and retailers.

“There is regular price gouging according to the regulators themselves.”

Professor Fels noted that companies use a range of strategies to over-charge customers, including increasing prices rapidly in times of high inflation, and discounting slowly on the other side.

But one leading economist criticised the report’s findings as too simplistic.

AMP’s deputy chief economist Diana Mousina said there was no conclusive evidence of profit-driven inflation or price-gouging by major Australian corporations.

A woman with long brown hair, wearing a cream jacket over a brown top, has her arms folded and smiles to the camera.
AMP deputy chief economist Diana Mousina says the increase in prices has been so broad it’s hard to pin-point one reason for it.( ABC News: John Gunn )

“There are so many inputs into the cost of providing goods and groceries in particular and there’s quite a long supply chain, so you really have to look at where the price rises are coming along the supply chain and I think the issue has been that in recent years we’ve had increases in many different parts of the supply chain,” Ms Mousina said.

“It again goes to the point that the increased prices that we’ve had, or the very high inflation we’ve had, has been so broad based that it’s hard to pin-point one exact reason.”

The government has appointed former Labor cabinet minister Craig Emerson to review the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct, which will involving analysing cost increases all through the supply chain.

While the bureaucratic cogs keep turning, car owners like Ben remain frustrated about the cost of life’s essentials.

“I’m lucky I’ve got the time to fight and to do stuff on principle,” he said. 

“A lot of people haven’t. How do they get on?

“It just causes family stress and tension.”

The Albanese government has also now formally issued a direction to the ACCC to investigate pricing and competition in the supermarket sector to ensure Australians are paying a fair price for their groceries.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *