Energy reform needs courage: minister

Energy market reform will only be achieved with political courage from state governments, Energy Minister Martin Ferguson says.

Mr Ferguson released the federal government's energy white paper in Melbourne on Thursday, calling it a roadmap for transformation of the sector.

The minister was upstaged when two protesters took to the podium, one holding a mask and impersonating Mr Ferguson.

It took several minutes to get the protesters off the stage so he could continue.

Mr Ferguson said competitive pricing, efficient resource allocation and innovation were key elements of Labor's commitments to open and transparent markets.

"This is what will drive Australia's economic and income growth, while ensuring we protect those who are most vulnerable in our society," he told a business lunch in Melbourne.

The pipeline of investment in the energy resources sector was phenomenal but keeping costs down remained a continuing challenge, Mr Ferguson said.

A critical reform in the paper is the need for price deregulation.

Mr Ferguson said the key to delivering reform and locking in benefits to consumers would depend on agreement by the Standing Council on Energy and Resources and the Council of Australian Governments.

"This willingness of other state governments (other than Victoria) to take on these hard reforms will be essential," he said.

"It will take political courage where others have failed."

Average retail prices had risen 40 per cent nationally in the last four years and more than 50 per cent in some states, which was unsustainable and hurting consumers.

Mr Ferguson said high prices were the result of a range of factors, many outside the control of the government and regulators, but the impact of carbon pricing was minimal.

Among the white paper's recommendations are price signalling for peak demand and tools like smart meters to influence consumer decisions about their power use.

The role of the paper was not about spending measures in response to the immediate political debate but to articulate the government's position on the full range of energy policy issues, Mr Ferguson said.

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