"Politically correct zealots penning new national energy laws have pulled the plug on the word "disconnection". The word is being replaced with the bizarre term "de-energisation". Angry consumer groups have accused the boffins behind the draft of making it easier for power companies to hide harsh treatment of customers struggling to pay their bills.
Consumer Action Law Centre policy director Nicole Rich said the bureaucrats were out of touch and should go back to the drawing board. "This is more than political correctness gone mad," she said. "It's worse, because it could have the effect of keeping the community in the dark about hardship problems by lumping in records of these disconnections with power being cut for maintenance and safety reasons."
The warning comes as households and businesses brace for higher electricity bills because of policies to combat climate change.
A team of state and territory bureaucrats wrote the draft of the National Energy Customer Framework, which notes: "De-energisation of premises means the deactivating or closing of a connection in order to prevent the flow of energy from a distribution system at the supply point".
Ms Rich said there was a distinct difference between power shutdowns for maintenance, or when customers moved house, and supply cuts to those battling with bills. Critics fear the national laws will also strip Victorians of protections such as bans on late payment fees, security deposit restrictions and compensation of $250 a day for wrongful disconnections. But the Herald Sun believes Victoria will not sign the laws unless key consumer protections are retained.
Ms Rich said the number of Victorians disconnected for not paying had dropped to the nation's lowest rate, about 6500 a year, since a renewed focus on repayment plans and hardship policies from 2004. Federal Energy Minister Martin Ferguson's office said the document was an early draft, and more consultations would be held.
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