Gillard, states strike power price deal

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has struck a deal with the state and territory leaders on a plan she says could save households $250 a year on their power bills.

As the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting wrapped up in Canberra on Friday, Ms Gillard also secured signed agreements with Victoria, South Australia, NSW, Tasmania and the ACT on launch sites for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Western Australia and Queensland signed a broader agreement to "learn" from the launch sites' development and implementation, but made no further commitments.

Ms Gillard said COAG had agreed to a package of electricity market measures which would help families and businesses.

"The agreement that we have reached will make a difference of $250 for Australian families on power pricing," she said, adding that some savings would start to flow through from 2014.

West Australian Liberal Premier Colin Barnett said he did not think the $250 would be delivered, but "hopefully future price increases will be less than they would have been".

NSW Liberal Premier Barry O'Farrell was hopeful the figure could be achieved, but said further steps were needed, including capping wages for power sector workers in NSW and axing expensive green power schemes.

Victorian Liberal Premier Ted Baillieu, who had sought more "teeth" for the Australian Energy Regulator, said the authority's "still a bit gummy" and needed to be separate from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Under the reforms to be rolled out by the states are rule changes to stop over-investment in networks, a new advocacy body to give consumers a voice on price determinations and an extra $23 million in federal funds over four years to beef up the energy regulator.

Energy retailers would offer a wide range of innovative products, such as smart metering and air-conditioner technology, so consumers had more choice on how they used power.

Big corporate energy users will be rewarded for moderating the power loads they put on the system during peak times.

South Australian Labor Premier Jay Weatherill said the reforms would ease the pain of power bills while ensuring reliable supply.

"We must have an electricity market that works not just for the big end of town, but for consumers," he said.

Energy Retailers Association chief Cameron O'Reilly said the package would ease regulation and "ultimately the consumer will win".

After signing a $6 billion funding deal with NSW on Thursday for the full rollout of the NDIS in the state from 2018, Ms Gillard said she did not expect other states to do the same immediately.

"We can now work through with other states and territories and reach long-term agreements about the NDIS," she said.

The leaders also had a "brief discussion" about schools funding and Ms Gillard said the Gonski reforms would be the centrepiece of the next COAG meeting in early 2013.

But talks on harmonising environmental approval processes for major projects collapsed.

Ms Gillard said the states had such divergent views on the matter that the issue was heading toward the "regulatory equivalent of a dalmatian dog".

But there was agreement on ensuring businesses only need to provide one set of documentation to state and federal environmental agencies and work on streamlining the system would continue into 2013.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said progress on the issue was "disappointing", while Mr Barnett said the approvals talks had gone "backwards".

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