Press conference - Sydney Commonwealth Parliament Offices

press conference
Topics include the National energy market and Capacity Mechanism.

CHRIS BOWEN: We believe we're through the worst of the pressures on the energy system. The national energy market continues to function under pressure but nevertheless we are in a situation where more generation has come back on board and the system has avoided any blackouts and any load shedding. 

I said late last week that AEMO advised me that 2,000 megawatts had come back online and 1,500 were expected in coming days and that remains on track today.

This is a testament to everybody who has worked very, very hard over recent weeks. I want to particularly thank on behalf of the Government, Daniel Westerman, the Chief Executive of AEMO and his team, Clare Savage, the Australian Energy Regulator, working hand in glove with Government, with me, with State and Territory Ministers who have responded very, very well. This is the system working. 

We have some way to go. There's no complacency. We're very alive to the risks that remain in the system. We remain very vigilant about what can go wrong from here. The system does remain under pressure but, as I said, the fact that we have withstood a situation where load shedding was, indeed, looking likely, where blackouts were possible and we've managed to avoid all of the above and that there has been no impact on the reliability for consumers is a very good thing and the people who work so hard to achieve this I want to particularly thank today. 

This is a situation in which the new Government has had to deal with the legacy, of course, of the last Government. Ten years of denial and delay. This is a Taylor-made crisis made by a former Minister and a Government which wasn't up to the job, didn't ensure the investment, didn't ensure the framework. This is a crisis written and authorised by Angus Taylor, Goulburn. This is a crisis which has been brought about by a Government which refused to make the difficult decisions to provide the framework to get investment in storage, in renewables, in transmission and that's exactly what the new Government is going to do and it's getting on with the job of doing. Already doing. Struck an agreement with the State and Territory Ministers very quickly after being sworn in on the next steps and proceeds. 

One of the things State and Territory Ministers agreed with me to do is to proceed at pace with the development of the capacity mechanism. I'm pleased today the next step in that process has been completed. The Energy Security Board releasing their latest information paper to inform State and Territory Ministers with me about the issues at stake and what needs to be worked through. 

The issues at stake are very high, are very strong. As AEMO has pointed out, they forecast the electricity demand could at least double by 2050. The Energy Security Board is today underlining the size of the task we have to undertake as a nation. That's a task the Albanese Government is up to and up for, working with our State and Territory colleagues. 

This latest paper today is the next step. It simply informs State and Territory Ministers and myself about the issues to be worked through. We'll be working through those in coming weeks and months. I'm very, very confident that the goodwill that has been displayed around the table between State and Territory Energy Ministers and myself will continue to be reflected and we will develop a capacity mechanism which works for the task at hand, which is to ensure reliability as we undertake this massive transformation in our energy grid to being much more renewably focused, to being focused on achieving our climate ambitions but also achieving so in a way which does in no sense undermine reliability for Australians. 

That's what a capacity mechanism must do. It's what under us it will do and it's what we'll be working for for the coming weeks and months to catch up on the decade of delay. We're working hard and fast to make sure we get it right and that's exactly what we'll continue to do but I welcome this next step today. Happy to take any questions.


SPEAKER: The Energy Security Board was saying that the best thing to do is to fix the generators that are broken, the coal-fired generators that are broken, keep the others going until the end of their life and include that in the capacity - 

CHRIS BOWEN: No, I don't think, to be fair, that's a fair reading of what the Energy Security Board is saying. The Energy Security Board is saying a mix of technology should be in the mix. Of course, existing coal-fired generators have to be repaired and they have been repaired and they are being repaired. It's the size of the challenge that we have that they're in such disrepair and that this has been a crisis primarily led by the failure of coal-fired power generators. And all of us have been working to fix it, private companies, the States and Territories and myself and AEMO, all of us. 

That's quite separate to a capacity mechanism going forward which will need to encourage new technologies and to encourage technologies which will need the capacity mechanism to support them. I'm thinking particularly there of pumped hydro which has a huge role to play but a capacity mechanism could very well underpin those sorts of investments. In the short term, yes, of course, we need every bit of existing technology firing. Can you say that again?


SPEAKER: How crucial are they in the short term? 

CHRIS BOWEN: In the short term they play a very important role, absolutely, and their failure has been, by and large, there's been many factors including geopolitical international factors, by and large what's been driving the challenges we've had in recent weeks. 

SPEAKER: Minister, you previously said that you'd rather this capacity mechanism for renewables. Are you comfortable with the payments going to coal and gas power generation? 

CHRIS BOWEN: What I've said is that the capacity mechanism, to be fair, to accurately reflect what I've said, is must emphasise new technology and the paper does reflect that. 

SPEAKER: And will all States doing that? Will you be encouraging them to do that? 

CHRIS BOWEN: Part of the design is that States can implement it in a way which is suitable for their particular purposes and need. So, Victoria, for example, has expressed strong views. I've had good discussions with Minister D'Ambrosio over the weekend. We've been in very, very regular contact, as you would expect, with all the State and Territory Ministers. That will continue. But all States can implement it in a way which is appropriate for their needs, but also, as the paper notes, it will be consistent with an emissions reduction trajectory and State and Territory Ministers with me will determine that emissions reduction trajectory. The Commonwealth's position is very clear, 43% by 2030. That's what we will be achieving on behalf of the nation. That's what we notified the UN of last week and anything we do will be consistent with that. 

SPEAKER: Minister, following on from that, won't that kind of State-by-State approach, won't that risk leading to even more policy fragmentation, the States doing what they like rather than a national level?


CHRIS BOWEN: No, because it's within the national approach. The capacity mechanism is the national framework. It's quite right - the grids are at different states of development. Queensland's coal-fired power stations are much younger than Victoria's, for example, there's a different mix of brown and black coal across the grid. It's appropriate that States be able to implement this in a way suitable for their needs but it will be within that national framework and it will complement our emissions reduction target, not contradict. It will absolutely complement and underpin that very significant transformation necessary to achieve those targets.


SPEAKER: Minister, you talk about States leading the way but the ESB concludes that Victoria will be in deficit in some conditions. Is the onus on the Federal Government to ensure that the Victorian State has enough power in capacity mechanism by driving coal to be part of that capacity? 

CHRIS BOWEN: No, I don't quite understand your question. I said the States are working very cooperatively with me, which they have been. I said the States would be able to implement this in a way suitable to them which they will be. And I've said that there's a different mix of energy in each State generation grid which is a statement of fact. 

What we will do is provide the framework through the capacity mechanism and that's exactly what we will do, as I said, in relation to the previous answer, so that there's a national framework for that action to occur in. That's what's been lacking in this country, a national framework is what we've been missing, national leadership. The previous Minister was out to lunch for his four years as Energy Minister not doing this work. We'll get on with it but we will be working hand in glove with States.


SPEAKER: Minister, you talked about national leadership but to the Victorian State you say will not have fossil fuel? 

CHRIS BOWEN: Yes, and they can implement the national framework in a way suitable to their needs, as can every State, as can every State, and as will every State and that's entirely consistent and appropriate.


SPEAKER: The Greens say that paying coal and gas generators to stay will prolonged the climate crisis; what's your response? 

CHRIS BOWEN: I will be working cooperatively with the State and Territory Ministers. It's not a matter that will need to go through a political process federally. What I'll be focused on is getting on with the job. The Greens can have their position but those of us who are charged with implementing this and delivering it are the ones who will get on with the job of delivering a capacity mechanism, which, as I said, to perhaps go directly to your question, will underpin emissions reduction, assist and complement emissions reduction, that's what we will do. Greens can have their position but we'll actually be getting on with the job of reducing emissions. 

SPEAKER: Minister, so just to confirm, is it a mechanism that will prioritise renewables or will the coal and gas still stay in the mix? 

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, as I've said - if you read the paper, it will run through the options available. It runs through, for example, potential to provide longer-term contracts to new technologies, which is not coal and gas, but to new technologies to provide them more certainty and stability to get more in the system. Everybody wants to see more renewables in the system - basically everybody except for, I guess, the Federal Opposition who just consistently show that they didn't get the memo from the electorate a few weeks ago. 

I mean, I saw the Leader of the Opposition on television yesterday. I mean, in the case of 33 seconds he supported an emissions reduction target higher than 43, 26 and 35. I got whiplash yesterday watching Insiders, watching Mr Dutton dance around issues clearly not understanding, say he didn't support legislation because it was undermined in Parliament. I'm not quite sure how the Parliament passing legislation empowers bureaucrats. But anyway, that's what they say. That's what he and his team say. 

The fact of the matter is, we'll get on with the job because everybody sensible and serious in the conversation wants to see more renewables in the system and that's what the capacity mechanism essentially will achieve. It will provide that underpinning so that we can ensure that the system remains reliable as we undertake this massive transformation, much more than a transition. This massive transformation, of more renewables into the grid. That's what we're elected to do, that's what we're doing. Any other questions?


SPEAKER: Just on Assange. Before the election Labor said enough was enough when it came to the detention of Julian Assange, what is the Government doing to stop the extradition? 

CHRIS BOWEN: I'm going to leave most of that commentary to the Foreign Minister other than to say, as you would expect, the actions and activities of Government occur in many ways and occur in many forms and I know that the Albanese Government, or within the powers that we have, ensure that all Australian citizens regardless of where they are in the world, receive our due care and attention.


SPEAKER: Can I ask about the ACCC noting generators withdrawing offers of capacity after the imposition of the price cap. What is your take on the behaviour of generators prior to the imposition of the cap? 

CHRIS BOWEN: Consumers come first. The regulator is - has actioned to ensure that consumers come first. As you know, the Australian Energy Regulator wrote to all generators, I think it was last week or late the week before, and also the Australian Energy Regulator, as is on the public record, made her expectation of generators clear and direct last week and she has my 100% support in doing so. Generators have always had the obligation under law and the Energy Regulator, with my full and complete support, will continue to ensure that's the case. Okay, thanks very much.