The suspension of the national energy market could remain in place indefinitely, with the federal government unable to say when the “extreme” action will end.
The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, claimed the current energy crisis that has hit eastern Australia should be a “source of incredible embarrassment” for the previous coalition government, as opposition leader Peter Dutton seeks to lay blame at the feet of Labor.
For the first time, the Australian Energy Market Operator suspended the entire wholesale electricity market on Wednesday to help prevent further supply shortfalls and risk of blackouts.
“The government will back the operator and regulators 100%, and this intervention will not be lifted one day earlier than it needs to be in [the operator’s] judgment,” energy minister Chris Bowen said.
Aemo said the market suspension was temporary and would be reviewed daily for each region, with normal market operations to resume “so as soon as practical.” Albanese and Bowen, in separate media interviews on Thursday, could give no timeline on when this would change.
“This intervention from the energy market operator will continue, let me be clear, for not a day more or day less than it needs to,” Bowen told ABC News Breakfast.
“I’ve been clear with that chief executive of the operator, he has my full support for any action he deems necessary.”
When asked if he believed the intervention could continue for “months”, Bowen responded “I don’t envisage that long”.
Albanese was also unable to give a timeline during an interview on Radio National.
“It’s a day-by-day decision by Aemo, they want the market to be able to operate,” he said.
The prime minister said the current situation had exposed “weaknesses” in electricity policy when asked about settings that could provide incentives for generators to price gouge.
“All the lessons of what’s happening will be examined, and if there need to be any policy adjustments, they’ll be made,” Albanese said.
Dutton on Wednesday claimed the current energy crisis was a “problem of Chris Bowen’s making”, criticizing the Labor government for negative comments around fossil fuels. Albanese hit back at Coalition critiques, claiming the energy situation should be a “source of incredible embarrassment” for the former government.
“This is a direct result of a failure to invest, of a failure to have an energy policy,” he said.
“A result of that we have the circumstances that Aemo are dealing with. What we’ve seen is a failure of policy that has lead to a market failure.”
New South Wales health staff in Sydney were asked to reduce electricity in non-clinical settings on Wednesday, according to the Daily Telegraph newspaper, with recommendations including lowering use of air conditioners, switching off unused equipment, and avoiding using printers. Other recommendations from the state government to the general population included not running dishwashers during expected peak periods on Wednesday night.
NSW energy minister Matt Kean gave a heated interview to 2GB radio on Thursday, blaming a “confluence of events” that led to the energy crisis gripping the nation.
“I always take responsibility, but let’s be very clear. I didn’t invade Ukraine. I didn’t make the generators (into) old equipment and I certainly didn’t make the weather cold,” Kean said.
Bowen told Sunrise that people should continue conserving power where possible.
“What Mr. Kean has said and what I am saying, what I say is if there’s something extra which you don’t need to do at that time, like maybe put the dishwasher on another time or anything between six and eight, that’s the key period tonight, then everybody can play a small role by doing that,” he said.
“But nobody should turn off anything that they need to do to stay warm or safe.”
Albanese, Bowen and assistant climate and energy minister Jenny McAllister will formalise one of the government’s key election promises, a 43% cut in emissions by 2030, at a signing ceremony on Thursday morning in Parliament House. The new government’s more ambitious mid-term target will be outlined in an updated nationally determined contribution (NDC) to be submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat.
Key industry stakeholders will also attend, but Bowen waved off previous media reports that the federal government was holding so-called crisis meetings with energy companies.
“There is no summit today, I saw that incorrectly reported,” he told ABC.
“I am in contact with industry and energy providers and state and territory ministers and the operators and regulators, that continues. Some meetings today but that is part of ongoing engagement and will continue for as long as necessary and that has been happening since literally the day the government was sworn in.”