Interview - Sky News

Kieran Gilbert
Minister Bowen discusses the energy market

KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me now on the programme is the Climate Change and Energy Minister, Chris Bowen. Chris Bowen, thanks for your time. You described it as a perfect storm, the crisis facing our energy markets as we speak this Sunday morning. Has that storm, the severity of it eased it all?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, good morning, Kieran. Very pleased to join you. This is a very serious situation. It is a serious situation because it is a confluence of events, a perfect storm, and our country is ill-prepared for this because of the lack of a coherent energy policy we've had for the last nine years in relation to the situation. Today, of course, AEMO has activated the gas supply guarantee - that has seen more gas flow to the south-eastern States. I'm very pleased about that. The situation isn't over, but it's being managed. I do have confidence in our regulators, the Australian energy regulator in AEMO and the others. And I'm working very closely with state and territory Ministers. We'll be meeting on Wednesday to map out further steps. And I must say I've been very pleased with the response of my state and territory colleagues who are acting very cooperatively with me, Labor and Liberal, regardless of state, regardless of party affiliation. We're working very closely together because this is a joint responsibility going forward. We won't wash our hands of the federal government's responsibility and we'll be working very closely. I'll be working very closely with my state and territory energy colleagues in a very collaborative fashion to see us through the worst of this crisis.

KIERAN GILBERT: When you look at pulling the gas trigger that would see exports diverted for domestic use, you said last week that it wouldn't come into effect via legislation till January 1 of next year. Is there any way to expedite that to bring it forward?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, Kieran, of course, in relation to the gas trigger, the Australian domestic gas supply mechanism or security mechanism, to use its official term, it is something put in place by the previous government. It's about as blunt as a basketball in terms of its effectiveness. Minister King. Minister Madeleine King would have to go through a long series of consultations under law before it would apply. And it wouldn't apply until 1 January. And indeed, it actually expires on the 31 December anyway, so it would need to be renewed. So there's a lot of work there that Minister King will need to consider. We're not ruling anything in or out in terms of the gas supply and actions that may be necessary because we will do what is necessary. But in terms of I've seen some unnamed, anonymous criticism from members of the previous government saying just pull the trigger. I mean, the way they design the trigger, as I said, it's about as blunt as a basketball in terms of effectiveness in the short term. It is not the answer to this short term crisis.

KIERAN GILBERT: Between 2000 and 2015, our gas exports tripled in their scope, between 2015 and 2019 they tripled again. We have 85% of our gas being exported. Will you look at an East Coast or gas reservation for domestic use? There is one in WA, but not in the rest of the country. That seems an anomaly that should be fixed. Will you look at that?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, Kieran, as I said, we will look at any sensible measure in relation to energy supply. It's about gas. It's not just about gas. It's about the entire energy supply in relation to gas, of course, in opposition, I suggested we needed to be more active in this space. The then government said this was an outrageous intervention in market forces and we couldn't be trusted. They then had to bring down the gas trigger themselves. They ended up with egg on their face about that. But the way they designed the gas trigger, it's not particularly effective. It certainly is not in the short term, not for an immediate crisis. Minister King, Treasurer Chalmers and I are talking with Minister Husic basically many times a day about these issues. We're managing them very actively. As I said, the gas supply guarantee has already been activated and has already had an impact, and I'm working very closely with my state and territory Energy Minister colleagues. But advice from the previous government, which Angus Taylor has been happy to give out, and I noticed Peter Dutton has been giving out, is about as effective as advice from the captain of the Titanic, on navigation skills. I mean, their nine years of denial and delay has ill prepared our country for this crisis. I'm not blaming them for flooding and coal mines or for the Ukrainian situation or for coal supply issues. What I am blaming them for very clearly is a lack of a coherent policy framework. Renewable energy is the cheapest form of energy, with more storage and transmission we would have been very well placed to deal with this crises. But because the previous government's stop-start 23 energy policies and lack of embracing the technologies of the future our country is ill prepared, but will be in the circumstances we're in. We're managing it very actively. And as I said before, very pleased with the level of cooperation and responsiveness I've had from my state and territory colleagues.

KIERAN GILBERT: Boris Johnson's government implemented a super profits tax. I know your government won't do that. It said it won't. But I guess viewers watching this morning would be thinking at the very least, the energy companies making profits of our nation's resources should ensure at the very least that we have enough gas supply for domestic consumption to ease pressure on our domestic consumption and on the prices for industry and consumers. It doesn't seem like that as much to ask within a social licence of a company to operate. Are they doing enough?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, I agree with that sentiment, Kieran. I agree that that's what the company should be doing, and certainly that's been a message from the government. Minister King has spoken to all the gas companies and reinforced that. And as I said, AEMO in my Department has been working very closely to ensure gas supply has increased, and that has been a very necessary step. I made the point that you can't necessarily take the situation in the United Kingdom and just transplant it to Australia. It's a different set of circumstances, but we'll work through all those issues. But yes, there is an obligation not only on gas companies, but on all the energy companies. We're also seeing coal fire, power station outages. Some of them have been planned, some unplanned. I know that's something I've been talking to my state and territory colleagues about, dealing with that, ensuring that all the necessary energy supplies are coming through, whether they be coal, gas in the short term, in the longer term, the policies embraced by our Powering Australia plan, which we took the election and sought and received a mandate for, become even more important in this context.

KIERAN GILBERT: Peter Dutton, as you alluded to earlier, he says your inexperience is showing you don't know how to respond to the energy crisis. Angus Taylor had advice yesterday, a hot tip, as he put it, pick up the phone and speak to the people who can get more supply into the network. Labor is in government now. They're responsible for electricity prices. What's your response specifically to that hot tip from your predecessor?

CHRIS BOWEN: As I said, Kieran, a hot tip from Angus Taylor on energy policies, like advice from the captain of the Titanic on navigation skills. I mean, his mismanagement ill prepared our country for this mess. What we are doing is not, as they would do, simply wipe their hands and blame the States or blame somebody else and say it's not our job, that's what they would have done. What we're doing is bringing everybody together. I've spoken to every state Energy Minister this week, some of them on multiple occasions. I've been fully briefed by our regulators, Australian energy market operator, Australian energy regulator, the Australian Energy Market Commission, all of them about the current crisis and steps that governments can take. I have convened state and territory energy Ministers together, we'll meet on Wednesday in a very cooperative fashion. But advice from the last guys who put us into this situation. As I said, they're not responsible for war in Ukraine, which has impacted on global supply chains, or for particular flooding in particular coal mines. What they are responsible is for the lack of robustness of our system, which is really under prepared our country for this crisis so they can play politics and say, I was sworn in as Minister on Wednesday and this happened on Wednesday afternoon. Therefore, it's on my watch. It is on my watch. That's why we're dealing with it. That's why we're acting very cooperatively, very proactively with the regulators, with the States and territories, and will we take whatever action is necessary? Absolutely. Whatever action is necessary the Albanese Labor government will take to ensure reliable energy. And as I said before, Kieran, in the longer term, the policies we took to the people for more transmission, more storage, more renewables are even more important. This is in some senses an over-reliance on particular energy sources, particular energy sources that have led us to this situation because of the lack of foresight, the lack of vision that Peter Dutton, Angus Taylor and their cronies have given us over the last nine years as a new government, a new approach and it will make a difference.

KIERAN GILBERT: Mr. Bowen. Only about 30 seconds left. But on the options that you and your state colleagues, have you got anything in mind? Any other further options you can pursue to alleviate the pressures?

CHRIS BOWEN: Right now, as I made it clear from Wednesday, Kieran, we're looking at all the options but we're doing so in an evidence based methodical fashion. There will be no knee jerk, ad hoc reactions like Angus Taylor specialised in. We won't be blaming other people. What we'll be doing is working very cooperatively. That many will occur on Wednesday. There's a lot of work going on as you'd imagine in the lead-up, in constant contact with my state and territory colleagues, including yesterday and today. As we prepare for that meeting, we'll be making further statements on Wednesday. And of course, the Federal Government will be making further statements not only on Wednesday in the lead-up and after it about what actions are necessary. But the Albanese Labor government is fully focused. As I said, constant conversations with the Treasurer, with the Minister for Industry Minister Husic and with the Minister of Resources, Madeleine King. And we are taking whatever steps we'll take; whatever steps are necessary. Including supporting our regulators with whatever steps are necessary.

KIERAN GILBERT: Climate Change and Energy Minister, Chris Bowen, I appreciate your time as always. Thanks.

CHRIS BOWEN: Great pleasure.