Australia has gone from having a competitive advantage in energy costs to being one of the most expensive countries in the world. The price of electricity has increased about 10 times the rate of inflation over the past 10 years for Queensland farmers. As a result, many irrigated and intensified farm businesses are losing their ability to compete globally, risking significant job losses and lower levels of production. Additionally, many regional customers face further bill increases when they are forced on to standard business demand-based tariffs on June 30, 2021. While the Queensland Competition Authority's draft determination on 2020-201 regulated retail electricity prices for regional Queensland last week included some good news for regional households, farming businesses on transitional and obsolete tariffs could expect no price relief.
Time is now quickly running out for the state government develop a suite of suitable tariffs and a genuine transition program for farmers required to move to standard business demand-based tariffs before mid-2021. With the Australian Energy Regulator's final determination on Energex and Ergon Energy's Regulatory Proposals anticipated later this month and potential changes after the Queensland government election in October, farmers will be against the clock to assess the new retail tariffs, work out what was best for their business and if any structural change or new equipment is needed. While the finalisation of the suite of tariffs for irrigation and farming cannot happen until the AER concludes its important work, is it not acceptable for the process to be delayed another 12 months.
The Queensland government must set out a clear path for affordable energy for intensive, semi-intensive and irrigated agriculture by lowering fixed and variable charges on all existing tariffs and introducing new tariffs, in particular a specific food, fibre and manufacturing tariff. We call on the Queensland government to empower the QCA to establish the structure and pricing of these tariffs so they can be implemented in the 2020-21 year to ensure the viability of Queensland's farmers into the future.