Climate control – the ACCC’s carbon hotline is more than hot air
Parliament hasn’t given the ACCC any new powers to perform its role as “carbon cop”, but the Commission’s early track record suggests it’s keeping energy retailers (and others) on their toes.
ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said that the ACCC’s new carbon claims hotline “will make it easier for consumers and small business to alert the ACCC if what they’re seeing [on their power bills] doesn’t look quite right”. He’s not wrong. Since the introduction of the carbon tax on July 1, the ACCC has received over 630 complaints through the hotline, mostly about false or misleading claims by energy retailers seeking to increase prices owing to the tax.
But energy retailers aren’t the only ones who’ve been caught by the carbon cop’s watchful eye. The ACCC recently challenged two solar panel firms who had falsely advertised in promotional leaflets that the carbon tax would increase electricity prices by 20% and, if continued, by 400% by 2019. There have also been reports of a funeral parlour increasing the cost of cremations owing to the carbon tax, but that’s another story…. In response, the firms gave undertakings to the ACCC promising not to engage in similar conduct again and to ensure all of their directors attend training on the Australian Consumer Law.
Still, quantifying the impact of the carbon tax on power bills is no easy task. It’s definitely more complicated than in 2000, when Parliament gave the ACCC specific powers to investigate and penalise firms charging unreasonably high prices by reference only to the introduction of the 10% GST.
But, in the end, the ACCC’s early record in monitoring the impact of the carbon tax should encourage common sense to prevail: if you can’t really justify increasing your prices due to the carbon tax, don’t do it.