Interview - Today Show

Leila McKinnon
Minister Bowen discusses the Energy Ministers' meeting and the energy market

LEILA MCKINNON: Australians have been warned there’s no silver bullet and no magic answers to the country’s energy crisis, but the Minister in charge says steps are being taken and an 11 point action plan to tackle escalating power prices. And Energy Minister Chris Bowen joins us now from Smithfield in Sydney’s west. Minister, thank you for coming on the show. Now, before we move on to the long term solutions, we know there’s no magic answers in the short term, but it’s a hard thing to hear with the weather cold and people freezing in their homes. Do you have any short term plans? Let’s hear about them. 

CHRIS BOWEN: Yeah, good morning, Leila. Look, Energy Ministers yesterday did take steps forward. Some of them have very quick implementation times and some of them, as you said, are longer term plans. I think Australians understand that you don’t undo nine years of policy chaos in one meeting. But, you know, Labor, Liberal and Green Energy Ministers from across the country, state and territory, came together very cooperatively last night with me in a two hour meeting. 

We took steps, some of them immediate, and will be quick to implement – like giving AEMO, our Energy Market Operator, the power to buy gas and to store is it so it can help us through the current crisis and the crisis into the more immediate future. But we also agreed on plans that will take longer to work through, like a national integrated agreement to have all the investments that are needed for the transition to renewables across the board. That was very important, and states and territories agreed with me that we should do that. 

Look, there was a real spirit of cooperation. I think Australians around the country appreciate honesty. There’s no easy answers. But I can also be honest with them and say state and territory Ministers are working very well with the new Government, with me and the Albanese Labor Government, to get on with the job, and that’s regardless of whether they’re Labor, Liberal and Greens.

LEILA MCKINNON: This short-term solution to start storing gas, to have the capacity to start storing gas now, will that hit homes? Will that help prices this winter? How soon will we see that? 

CHRIS BOWEN: I’m not here to pretend, as I said, Leila, that there’s any magic answers that will have an impact overnight because they won’t. As you can imagine, this will take time and AEMO needs time to develop its plans. But we want to give all our regulators, whether it’s AEMO or the Australian Energy Regulator or the ACCC or whoever it is, we want to give them all the powers necessary. Again, we agreed on various things. We agreed to about 11 things last night in our two-hour meeting. We want the regulators to have the power to see if there’s anything fishy going on in the markets, particularly the gas market. We agreed to that. That’s important. We agreed to the longer term plans. 

We agreed to a capacity mechanism, to the next stage of that. Again, that sounds complicated, I know. Basically, that means ensuring we have enough power at all times to have some spare capacity so if we face the crisis we faced last week, we have the spare capacity to turn on and to pay for that. That was an important step forward. That’s been controversial in the past, but we managed to come to a good agreement to take that to the next level, and again there was a good spirit of cooperation around the table.

LEILA MCKINNON: The pressure is on. Would you say energy companies are cooperative or are they dragging their feet? 

CHRIS BOWEN: No, I’ve spent lots of time on the phone to energy companies, as you can imagine, since I was sworn in last Wednesday, Leila, and people have been very responsive and working with the Government and giving good ideas to me and working with us. I spent a lot of time on the phone to electricity companies, to gas companies, right across the board. I spent a lot of time on the phone, as you can imagine, to my state and territory colleagues, to the peak groups. And look, everybody’s coming together really well to deal with this crisis, and I’ve been very appreciative of the level of support that the new Government has received from the sector. There’s no easy answers, and people are working through difficult issues, but whenever I’ve been on the phone to a chief executive, they’ve responded and they’ve responded as well as I could hope.

LEILA MCKINNON: I guess you’ve got to keep your foot on the accelerator because you know how cold it is, don’t you? You look cold now. 

CHRIS BOWEN: Yeah, it’s pretty chilly in Smithfield in my hometown here this morning, as it is right across the country. And that’s a challenge right across the country at the moment. It’s one of the things where many events have come together. But what we need to do is accept that these events are going to happen. You know, there will be geopolitical events around the world. There will be cold snaps and our system is not robust enough to cope with it. There hasn’t been enough investment in transmission to get the electricity from where it’s produced to where it’s consumed. There hasn’t been enough investment in storage of renewable energy. We need more renewable energy, but we need to store it for cold periods. There’s nowhere near enough storage around the system. We need more energy online. We need that capacity. We need it all. We need to do all...

LEILA MCKINNON: We need it now. 

CHRIS BOWEN: The new Government is getting on with the job of getting it. Good on you Leila. Nice to chat.

LEILA MCKINNON: We’ll let you back to work. Thank you very much, Minister.