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Morning doorstop

20 March 2017

Subject: energy policy; East Coast domestic gas supplies; child care reform; same-sex marriage


MINISTER CANAVAN: Last week showed that the Government is focused on finding solutions to our nation's energy needs. We are solutions-focused Government. We are not interested in ideology, or prejudices about different forms of energy. We're clearly focused on delivering energy which can lower prices for consumers and businesses, provide reliable power supplies and also lower emissions over time and have a greater environmental benefit for all Australians. They are clear objectives that we are very focused on achieving, and that is why last week we took two important decisions - clear actions to help deliver those outcomes. First, in meeting the gas industry and making it clear to them that the gas resources under all of our feet are the Australian people's resource, and we must secure our nation's domestic energy supplies first.

We have a proud history of exporting energy resources to the world. But every nation in the world looks after its self first, and we as Australians and the Australian Government will make sure we have sufficient gas supplies in this country to maintain job security to keep downward pressure on people's gas bills. I think the gas industry heard that message loud and clear. They understand that message. It's not an unusual message. It's not something they wouldn't hear in other countries as well. They made clear commitments to bring more gas to the domestic market which will bring downward pressure on gas prices. But if that does not happen, the Government remains committed to ensuring that gas supplies in domestic markets increase.

Of course we also made another commitment, not far from here in Canberra, to reinvest in the iconic Snowy Hydro Scheme. A process, a scheme, an investment, which will allow us to provide more energy at peak times in the market. That will bring average prices down and it will also improve the reliability of our electricity supplies and try and avoid circumstances we've seen over summer where some industries have had their electricity supplies cut for the purposes of energy security. That puts jobs at risk. So we are focused on solutions as a Government. We're focused on providing more energy to Australians, because more energy means more jobs. The more we can supply reliable and affordable electricity, reliable and affordable gas, the greater people’s job security will be, the greater business confidence will be in our manufacturing sector, and that's so important for the thousands of people who are employed in manufacturing in Australia.

REPORTER: Alan Finkel has already indicated in his draft report that an emissions intensity scheme could be a path forward. If he reiterates that view in the final report, will it be on the table? Will there be discussion?

MINISTER CANAVAN: Well the Government’s made it clear that we don't support an emissions intensity scheme, a price on carbon, or a carbon tax. That's not been our position at the last two elections that we've been elected at. May I say, it wasn't the position of the Labor Party in 2010 either when Julia Gillard said there would not be a carbon tax under the Government she led. So the Australian people, for the last three elections, have elected Governments that were against a carbon tax or a carbon price. I think the Australian people deserve to be heard and respected. We are here to represent them. We are here to reflect their views, so we won't be ignoring their views. Now it's a matter for the Labor Party to explain to the Australian people why they continue to ignore that position, that clearly stated view that the Australian people don't want a carbon tax.

But time and time again, the Australian Labor Party, in hock with the Australian Greens, bring forward that same position back to the Australian people. I don't think it's got any more support than it had in 2010 and the Australian Government will be listening to Australian people, listening to Australian businesses, and not imposing a tax on carbon.

REPORTER: Just on the gas talks last week. It sounds like the Government’s just taking the word of the gas companies that they will free up more domestic supplies.

MINISTER CANAVAN: Well as I said last week, I'm happy to give peace a chance. I’ve had these commitments provided to me both privately, and in that meeting last week. They have been firm commitments, so we'll see if they are delivered. Certainly the best outcome here, obviously, would be that the market responds to these needs, that the industry itself takes upon itself to respond to the pressures in our gas markets to supply more gas to domestic markets. But the Prime Minister made very clear, made very clear, that if these commitments that have been given are not delivered, well we reserve the right to use our constitutional powers to regulate the export of our resources in our nation's interests. And a clear interest of our nation is to secure our own domestic energy supplies.

REPORTER: Obviously this week is all about the omnibus bill. It sounds like the Government still doesn't have the numbers in the Senate. Do you think the Coalition should consider splitting up the child care bill to get it through?

MINISTER CANAVAN: Well look, I'll leave that to my ministerial colleagues with responsibility for those areas, but except to say we've got to find a way to pay for extra spending. We've got a very clear, one of the most detailed plans to reform our child care sector. It will mean that a family with two kids in part time child care on $90,000 a year will be about $1700 better off. It's a big plus for our child care system, to make sure the assistance we provide is targeted to those families that need it, targeted at those families that are both in the workforce, to help them contribute to our economy and also provide for their own families. It's a very important policy. But of course, we need to be able to pay for that increase in spending. It is irresponsible for Australian families and for Australian children who will grow up and have to pay back the debt that we accumulate to provide any assistance without having a means to pay for it.

So, of course we remain open to other suggestions from the Australian Labor Party, other crossbenchers, about ways and means to pay for this important package. But there has to be that pathway. And may I say, really the accountability must come to the Australian Labor Party here. They haven't got a plan to reform our child care system. It's not enough for them to say the crossbenchers don't support it. They've got a much bigger bloc of votes in the Senate than the crossbenchers. They could today join us in delivering child care reform to Australian families if they supported this bill.

REPORTER: So is that a no to splitting them up?

MINISTER CANAVAN: Well I'll leave that to my colleagues, except to say we've got to find the means to pay for it.

REPORTER: Just jumping back to Snowy Hydro. How does the new scheme fit into a national solution and vision for energy policy?

MINISTER CANAVAN: Well it's a very important addition to our energy security. As the Prime Minister said last week, this proposal has been suggested by Snowy Hydro for some years. I met with them a few years ago myself to discuss it. They have been in the past capital constrained as a Government-owned entity. They have been very keen on this proposal. So, I think it's a big plus that we now have one of the shareholders, a minority shareholder though, in the Australian Government, getting behind these schemes. We do need to do some more work now given time has progressed since the proposal was first made, to update the business case.

But this is about providing a need in the marketplace. This is not a grant or a subsidy. It's about recognising that at peak times in our system right now, there are very high prices and we've seen that over the summer on very hot days, the electricity market is stressed, prices are very high and that sometimes means businesses have their power cut as well. So by providing an ability here in the Snowy Hydro, in the centre of our National Electricity Market almost, to be able to bring on line power at those peak times means that we will bring average prices down and will hopefully alleviate those circumstances where power has to be cut. And also, because it's a need in the marketplace, there'll be money to be made from Snowy Hydro for providing this. That's how capitalism works, and capitalism is usually the best way to solve these things. Snowy Hydro will be providing a service to the people that need power. They'll be getting paid for it and if the business case stacks up, we expect it to be a net plus for the Australian Government's balance sheet as well.

REPORTER: There's a new ReachTel poll out showing more than 50 per cent of Australian's support marriage equality. So is marriage equality, the issue of it, being resolved?

MINISTER CANAVAN: Well it's another indication that why don't we have a vote? Those that support marriage equality, if they believe these polls and they think they are right, they should not be afraid in any way of having the Australian people have a say to vote. Of course, if we passed the plebiscite bill last year, we would have already had a vote right now. And perhaps that would come back in favor, I don't know. But I do think I'd prefer to rely on a full and considered vote of the Australian people than simply phone polls which have had a pretty patchy record let's say in the last year.