Interview with Deborah Knight, Afternoons, 2GB

Deborah Knight
Energy prices; Voice to Parliament

DEBORAH KNIGHT: It’s been a big final week of federal parliament for the year and, as always, Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic joins us along with the shadow Treasurer Angus Taylor. Fellas, welcome to you both. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: G’day, Deb, thanks for having me. 


DEBORAH KNIGHT: We’ve had big morning – two key laws have passed this week. In fact, today the industrial relation bill and the National Anti-Corruption Commission legislation and, Ed, you’ve also introduced legislation for the National Reconstruction Fund to try to give a boost to manufacturing. The issue, though, that is top of mind for most Australians right now is the cost of living and specifically the rising cost of energy. Now, Ed, the PM has flagged the government will intervene in the energy market with coal and gas, things like price caps and domestic reserves. But we know that the states, like New South Wales and Queensland, want compensation for this to go through. Will the government deliver it? 

ED HUSIC: I think everyone knows we’ve got to be able to see movement on energy prices in a downward way. Based on what Treasury’s predicting with prices expected to go up next year, we do need to take action. We’ve been working as a cabinet to deliver it. And the states and territories, having spoken to a number of their ministers, they get that people in their states and territories want to see prices go down and we do need to work together to make that happen. 

So I think you can be pretty confident that we are very focused on this. We are looking at a range of options and we are determined to see those prices go down. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: So that’s a yes, you are prepared to deliver compensation for the states to get this done? 

ED HUSIC: No, I’m saying that we’re going to work with them to address – you know, they obviously had the opportunity this week to raise issues. We have been working with them. But I’m not saying by virtue of my answer in response to your question, you know, I’m not giving you those points because we are working through with states about what needs to be done. But they – 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, the states are saying they’re not going to let it happen unless they get compensation. Simple as that. 

ED HUSIC: A lot of things get said and there are a lot of points that are made, and we do take the opportunity to listen. I think that is important. We’re not interested in having public brawls like what we’ve seen happen in times past. We are going to, you know, work through those issues with them. And I think there’s a sense of national unity on the need to get prices down. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, there’s no debate there – something does need to give here for businesses and for households. And, Angus, the Coalition and the mining sector have been very vocal in opposing price caps here. But something does have to be done, doesn’t it? If it helps households and businesses pay the soaring energy bills, why not cap prices? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, for a starting point, can I just say, Deb, that Chris Bowen and the Prime Minister have 90 times in the lead-up to the election promised a $275 reduction in electricity prices. They’ve walked away from it, and now what we’re seeing is just chaos with every day another leak. We had consumer subsidies a few days ago then they were going to do something on gas then something on coal and today it’s subsidies to the states or compensation to the states. It’s impossible to know where they’re going. 

What we know has worked in the past, though, is getting more supply in the domestic network. There’s no question about that. It has worked. We’ve seen it. And, you know, that is the obvious thing to do. The problem Labor’s got is they demonise coal and gas and so to help the coal and gas producers get more out from under the ground which is – and then ensure that they put more into the domestic network is just something that Chris Bowen and others within Labor cannot support. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And what impact, Ed, would price caps have on future investment in that sector? Because the industry says it will be an absolute disaster. 

ED HUSIC: Well, I’m not going through individual elements of what are being considered, but I will make the point – and we’ve covered this off previously – supply and this argument about pumping more supply into the system, if it leads to the gas companies just hiving that off to export markets and flogging that off at high prices and then expecting us to pay the same amount gets us nowhere. Supply is one thing, price is another. I mean, there are opportunities for additional supply to come in. And I’ve said previously, Santos can get moving on Narrabri. They can work with the New South Wales government to make that happen. But we do need to see those type of projects move ahead. 

And Angus telling me and the rest of my colleagues, “Well, don’t demonise the gas companies,” I mean, it seems like there’s a short memory because Angus and others were, going around threatening to wave at companies the big stick. They took on some of these companies themselves. I mean, Angus knows that for a fact because he was on the frontline. And there is a point at which you do try to work with them, but the reality is what the gas companies want to do is they want to propose nothing, oppose everything and have an ability to get extraordinary profits off an Australian resource at prices that’s putting massive pressure on Australian businesses and households. And for once it would be nice if the Coalition recognised that they should be on the side of businesses and households and not cheering on the gas companies and giving them comfort by virtue of some of the things they say publicly. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Is that what you’re doing, Angus? Cheering on the gas companies at the expense of the public? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, can I respond to that. Look, the starting point is I said very clearly we’ve got to get more gas into the domestic network. We’ve done it before. It’s worked. It will work again. The demonisation I was talking about was demonisation of gas and coal as fuel sources. That’s what some in Labor have consistently done – Chris Bowen very clearly has done it. He called gas a fraud. It’s not about the companies; it’s about the fuel. 

I understand that companies have got to do the right thing by customers, and as you rightly pointed out, I’ve been very strong on that in the past, and that is important. 

ED HUSIC: Hear, hear. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: But you cannot get more supply to get prices down if you demonise the fuel source. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Okay, all right. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: And that’s the problem with that. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Okay. Now, another big issue I want to cover off on – the move to introduce an Indigenous voice to parliament. It has hit a major roadblock, though, with the Nationals formally opposing it, although there is division within the Nationals ranks about this at the state and at the federal level, too. Angus, did the Liberals know that this was coming from the Nats? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, the Nats are talking about it in their party room and that’s a good thing. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: I understand, though, that David Littleproud only gave Peter Dutton a phone call just before the press conference. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, you know, I was well aware that there were discussions going on inside the National Party. But they have said – and I’ll say this every day – there are just an endless list of unanswered questions in relation to the voice – who’s eligible to serve on this body, what are the prerequisites for nomination, will the government clarify the definition of Aboriginality, how will members be elected, what’s the tenure of members, how many people will make up the model? And I can just keep going for most of the day, Deb. I won’t do that to you. 

But the point here that the Nationals make and that I make is that there are just a long list of questions. We’ve heard none of the answers to that from the government. And it’s – the reality is it’s very hard to support something you simply don’t understand. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And, Ed, it’s a valid point. Why not provide more detail? How can you expect people to vote on something in a referendum that they don’t really have much detail on? 

ED HUSIC: Because I’m very confident that as we get closer to the referendum that detail will be made available. And if there are people in the Coalition that want the additional detail, go and talk to someone who’s been involved, like Marcia Langton who says there’s stacks of detail around that people can get their heads around. And we are – 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But it’s a very vague thing to do, to say you’re very confident that there will be more detail. I mean, why not outline that detail? You’re the government pushing for this? 

ED HUSIC: There is no – well, Deb, there might be vagueness, Deb with the greatest of respect to yourself, but the stuff is out there. There are – as we have shown, as the Prime Minister showed the other day in the Closing the Gap report, the detail is there for people to start going through and start thinking through those things. 

The biggest thing I was going to make, the point, Deb, is I do respect that Peter Dutton is trying to think this stuff through and he is trying to work that through, and there are a number of people in the Liberal Party in particular that are saying, “Well, you know, let’s go through, see where we get to on a position.” And I do respect that and I think that’s where we need to get to. I think the Nationals reacting the way that they did this week, it would be terribly embarrassing if at some point through 2023 they have a rethink and then go, “Oh, well, we had to – we’re going to have to change our mind.” If it does get to that point, well, good on them and we’ll see what happens. But I think it’s a bit early to be calling shots and taking positions. Let’s work through it together as a country, because it is important. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: You are a coalition, though, Angus, and with the Nats coming out so strongly are your hands tied now? Will you join them and campaign against the voice to parliament? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I’ll just keep saying what I’ve just said. And Ed has tried to say that there is detail. The only detail that matters is what’s the government’s policy on the answer to those questions that I just gave and a whole list of other questions. And we do not have that. 


ANGUS TAYLOR: The government has not said what the answers are. And, frankly, I don’t know how any Australian can reasonably support something they simply don’t understand. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: All right. I want to end on this: now, early this year both of you sat down with me for Polly Waffle, the series where we get to know the person behind the political spin. And both of you had pretty good choices for waffles, in fact. We actually have a real life waffle that we talk about and you tuck into. I’ll be bringing it back next year for the New South Wales election. So I’ve been sitting down with some state MPs this week to get it all ready. But Chris Minns, who wants to be Premier, the Labor leader in New South Wales, revealed for the first time that one of his sons mocks him and stirs him up by fanboying his political opponent Premier Dominic Perrottet. He even wears a Dom Perrottet T-shirt to bed. He pauses Dom Perrottet at press conferences and says to his dad Chris Minns, “Gee, that fella’s doing okay.” It’s the ultimate stir. How do your kids stir you up? Ed? 

ED HUSIC: Okay, that’s pretty impressive. Look, my boy isn’t old enough yet to get to that point. But what he has said to me, he’s looked me in the eye and said, “I just want you to do one thing – do not do TikTok dances.” 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: I think that’s a wise choice, wise advice. 

ED HUSIC: I can deliver on the commitment. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yes, good call. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Oh, dear. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: What about you, Angus? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, look, they’re not wearing Ed T-shirts, yet. Don’t tempt them, Ed, so that’s good news. But, you know, surprisingly close to Ed, my kids taunt me, take photos of me and take film of me saying, “Hey, Dad, we can make you TikTok famous.” As yet they haven’t done it, but it’s a very valid threat. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: They could catch you out at your most embarrassing. Well, that’s the job of parents – to embarrass the kids. I guess they can turn the tables on us, and that’s what they’re doing. 

Fellas, good to talk. Thanks so much for joining us. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good on you. Thanks, Ed and Deb. 


DEBORAH KNIGHT: Angus Taylor and Ed Husic there for our weekly dose of Question Time.