July 13th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Transgender birth certificates: No sex, please, we're Victorian

EDITORIAL Laws, sporting bodies, the AHRC: Abolishing women's rights in sport

CANBERRA OBSERVED Did Turnbull attempt the constitutional gambit?

FOREIGN AFFAIRS China kills prisoners on an industrial scale to obtain transplant organs

NATIONAL AFFAIRS A Q&A to clarify issues in Cardinal Pell's appeal

REFLECTION ON GENDER Male and female He created them: A teaching moment

HISTORY OF SCIENCE Faith and reason and Father Stanley Jaki, Part 5: The cosmos in the New Testament

CULTURE OF DEATH Melinda Gates and other wealthy lemmings lead the race to dusty death

EUTHANASIA Death comes to the Garden State: A blunt view

ASIAN HISTORY Dien Bien Phu: Curtain raiser to bigger conflict

HISTORY AND RELIGION Faith in reason alone gives more heat than light

BOOK REVIEW Roadmap to the law and transgenderism

HUMOUR The last act is bloody ...

MUSIC Dull Tune? Arrangements can be made

CINEMA Tolkien: Captures the storyteller but not the man

BOOK REVIEW We have nothing to fear but fear itself

BOOK REVIEW The days of calm before the storm

NATIONAL AFFAIRS High power prices lead to more deaths of elderly

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High power prices lead to more deaths of elderly

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, July 13, 2019

Soaring energy prices are leading to an increased number of hospital admissions of elderly Australians, with some dying of hypothermia, according to recent studies by NSW Health and the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne.

Information released by NSW Health in May revealed that more than 130 people were admitted to NSW emergency departments last winter with cold-related problems, including hypothermia.

This is a 34 per cent rise in 10 years.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) says that wholesale power prices have soared by more than 150 per cent in the last four years but, for many people, prices have gone even higher as a result of the introduction of service fees that are imposed regardless of usage.

Interestingly, the rising price of power comes at a time when base-load coal-fired power stations are being closed, and there is increased reliance on renewables (particularly solar and wind power) for electricity generation.

Poor worst affected

Rising power prices disproportionately affect those on fixed incomes, including the elderly who comprised most of those admitted to hospitals with hypothermia.

A study recently released by Alfred Health in Victoria revealed a similar trend. Dr Michelle Ananda-Rajah, a general medicine physician at the Alfred, said an influx of people suffering hypothermia during the winter of 2015 – the coldest experienced in Victoria in 26 years – alerted doctors to the problem.

As a result, research was conducted into the number of hypothermia cases in two large public hospitals in Melbourne, the Alfred and the Sandringham Hospital, which is part of the Alfred Health Network, and published in the Internal Medicine Journal.

In these two hospitals alone, 217 people presented to emergency departments with hypothermia between 2009 and 2016. Of those, 11 per cent died.

Dr Ananda-Rajah said: “Questions must be asked as to why these people are developing this condition, particularly the elderly who are indoors.

“The elderly seem to be particularly vulnerable. Do they have adequate heating and homes that are well insulated? Are they wearing adequate clothing? Are they able to afford heating?”

Striking confirmation of the effect of rising prices on the poor came recently, when Sydney radio talk-back host Steve Price opened the lines after expressing disbelief that people would be suffering hypothermia because they could not afford heating.

According to 2GB, he was “inundated” with calls telling him of the effect of soaring prices. One caller, an 89-year-old woman named Helen, said she could not afford to keep herself warm.

“I’m in bed,” she said, “I can’t get up to turn the heater on and if I could, I couldn’t pay the bill. I’m under two doonas, a dressing gown and I’m freezing.” She blamed the closure of coal-fired power stations for the price rise.

Data from AEMO, which administers the national electricity market, shows how dramatically electricity prices have risen over recent years.

In 2015, Victoria’s electricity was the cheapest in the country, averaging just $30.35 per megawatt/hour. Four years later, it had risen to become the most expensive in the country, at $109.81 per MWh. It was in this period that the 2,000-MW Hazelwood Power Station was closed.

South Australia, which in 2015 had an average power cost of $39.29 per MWh, had risen by 2019 to $109.80 per MWh. South Australia suffered from the closure of its last remaining coal-fired power station in that time, and became dependent on electricity imported from Victoria.

Queensland, where power in 2015 was $52.52 per MWh, had risen to $80.29 in 2019, the lowest in the country.

The rises in prices of electricity have been accompanied by substantial rises in gas prices.

The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) posts trends in wholesale and retail prices. It shows that, in Victoria, where prices had been around $3–4 per gigajoule until 2015, prices have soared to around $10 per GJ wholesale since then.

The underlying causes of the rapid rise in gas prices are the establishment of an integrated east-coast gas market on top of the large Queensland LNG export terminals, creating a situation where the domestic gas price is now heavily influenced by international natural gas prices.

Additionally, the Bass Strait gasfields owned by Esso-BHP are facing depletion, after 50 years of providing low-cost gas to south-eastern Australia.

Although the southern half of Victoria contains large shale gas reserves, the Victorian ALP Government has banned both conventional and unconventional (fracking) onshore gas exploration, exacer­bating the gas shortage.

In light of this, there is little prospect of a decline in electricity or gas prices unless the Federal Government takes
urgent steps to rebuild the declining level of base-load power. More deaths of poor and elderly Australians from hypothermia can be guaranteed.

All you need to know about
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Last Modified:
April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm