Interview with Deborah Knight, Afternoons, 2GB

Deborah Knight
National Cabinet on Energy Prices and Environmental Protection Agency

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And here they are. They join us every week. Our pollies, Ed Husic, the Minister for Industry and Science, and Angus Taylor, the Shadow Treasurer. Fellas, welcome for the last Question Time for the year. Good to have you both along.

ANGUS TAYLOR: G'day to you Deb.


DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yes. Let's see how we go, shall we? Because it is a big day on the energy front. The PM, of course, will be meeting with the State and Territory leaders at two this afternoon, trying to make it easier for households and businesses, because we're being crippled already by power prices that are set to go even higher. Now, Ed, the PM wants a price cap on gas and coal, but what's the government prepared to offer in return?

ED HUSIC: Look, I think the big thing is that as a federal government, we've been very focused on getting energy prices down for households and businesses. It's been a big priority for me, as Industry Minister, listening to a lot of manufacturers being under pressure from gas prices, and we've been working with the States and Territories on options to deliver that downward pressure on prices.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: So what are you prepared to offer them to?

ED HUSIC: The National Cabinet will be considering all those options today and I might just leave it to the PM to update the public on the finer details.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But you're confident a deal will be done?

ED HUSIC: The big thing has been that we've been working cooperatively with the States and Territories on getting those options together. And once that National Cabinet meets, I'm confident you'll get an outcome and the PM will deliver that. But I ain't stealing his thunder, that's a career limiting move on my part.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But you're confident it'll happen today, that we'll know that there's a deal being secured and it'll kick in sooner rather than later?

ED HUSIC: Well, I think you'll get all the details today after National Cabinet, I'm confident.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: All right, well, the New South Wales Treasurer, Matt Kean yesterday said that the state New South Wales will take a hit. He's prepared too, for the budget bottom line, to forego royalties. Angus, it sounds like New South Wales has negotiated some household bill relief. Is that a fair compromise, do you think? Or is it just going to make the problem of inflation even worse?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I have to say, I've got no idea what's been negotiated and Ed understandably hasn't clarified that, it's not his role to do that. But, you know, what was promised by Labor before the last election, over 90 times indeed, by Albanese was a $275 reduction compared to what we had before the election. The test will be is that what is going to be delivered here? I'm deeply sceptical. What we've seen is the government running around in circles on this with a new thought bubble coming out on an almost daily basis from different Ministers. But let's see what comes out, Deb, it's very hard to comment on this until you know what it is. I would say, by the way, that both Albanese and Jim Chalmers have said on many occasions that cash splashes will only make the Reserve Bank's job harder and interest rates go higher. And so let's see what they come out with.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: All right, but with the deal, I mean, it's all good and well to bring about some short term relief because God knows we need it with the power prices the way they are. But what about the long term picture, Ed, because we're not looking at reserving more domestic supply like WA does, surely that should be on the table?

ED HUSIC: I think there's some things that will potentially get announced. I'm fairly confident will get announced. We're looking at trying to have that longer-term view about bringing prices down to terms of the gas side. As we've previously chatted about on this programme, around gas supply, I've said, for instance, things like the Narrabri and Beetaloo projects and have talked about the value of getting those that have been ticked off. And particularly Narrabri has gone through a long process of the economic and environmental approval process. So that's supply that's right there. But the other thing has been, it takes a while to get supply up and running. We've got needs, as you've rightly pointed out now, for households and businesses. And while supply is one thing, price is the other. And that's been a big focus of our reforms and how we can deliver better prices for the supply that we have in the system right now is a very big deal. And just to give Angus confidence, he's rightly referred to PM's and Treasurer's comments about providing cash splashes and the like. We are going to design something and deliver something that's responsible economically. But in terms, from a budget perspective, from an inflation perspective, we've got to get those input costs down, and particularly for businesses that are under pressure. And we want to be able to grow manufacturing jobs, we want to strengthen onshore manufacturing, and we've got a great Australian resource available to us and we need to make sure it's available at a good price.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, we'll see what comes from the meeting. We do know, however, from the Energy Minister's meeting yesterday, that a deal was done to develop an energy capacity mechanism. So basically ways to guarantee the lights can be kept on. It doesn't, however, include coal and gas. Angus, to you. How is that even going to work?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I have no idea. It wasn't what the experts recommended. It's not what we have in WA, which has been an effective mechanism. It's not what we have through most countries in North America and Europe. And the result will be, I have no doubt, that electricity prices will be higher.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: The fact, though, that all governments unanimously signed up to this is a pretty clear indication that the nation is ready to move on from fossil fuel, though, isn't it?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, the real question is how much are people going to pay? That's what it comes down to and what this might do to reliability. And I'd be intrigued to know how much this is going to cost and how much consumers are going to have to pay. If you're not putting in place a mechanism that either retains the coal and gas until you've got replacement or replacing it with affordable, reliable capacity, then consumers will pay more. And it strikes me, that what's most likely here, is that you got state governments passing on the bill for this to consumers and sadly, Labor governments have been inclined to be happy to do that. But let's see, again, a little bit like the earlier one, there's a lot of detail here that hasn't been made clear yet.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And that's the big question, Ed, because absolutely renewables are the way of the future. But if it's not in place yet, which many argue, Tomago, the big aluminium producer, biggest user of electricity in the country, says that if you don't include coal and gas within that capacity mechanism in the here and now, they won't be able to operate. I mean, surely you've got to look at what's practical today rather than what's practical into the future.

ED HUSIC: If you look at the Energy Ministers' meeting, it's made up of representatives of all political colours. In New South Wales, you've got a government in the New South Wales, a Liberal government, that's been thinking this through and recognising the value of renewables, the fact that it'll be able to be scaled up, deliver cheaper in terms of putting downward pressure on prices, but generating energy a lot cleaner. The other thing that was considered yesterday by, again, governments of all political colours represented at that Energy Ministers' meeting, is how do we firm up the grid as well and looking at what we can do around the use of energy storage systems, largely batteries. And we've been saying, as a new government, we need to look at ways to - we mine a lot of the world's greatest store of critical minerals and rare earths that are used in batteries, but we don't manufacture them here at scale and we need to look at what we can do there. And that's something that Chris Bowen and I are collectively looking at, how we get that happening, along with Madeleine King, the Resources Minister. So there are a number of things that can be done and we are working on that. And there are other things too for example. Like for example, Kurri Kurri that the Coalition in government announced when you mentioned Tomago. And it was something that I was very conscious of as well as an Industry Minister making sure that big energy users like Tomago have got access to energy. And we're looking at delivering on those initiatives as well to provide the supply that's needed by industry.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Okay, but there's still that question mark about whether or not it's practical to guarantee energy for a lot of the producers, a lot of households, a lot of businesses, when you're just having capacity for renewables, if you're excluding coal and gas, that's what's going to happen in the future, no doubt about it. But the here and now, there's a lot of question marks over that. I want to cover off on the other big announcement happened yesterday too, from the Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, this overhaul of the environmental laws included in the new Federal Environmental Protection Agency. But there's no climate trigger involved in this. If climate change is the big issue, shouldn't that be included?

ED HUSIC: I don't think so, because it would run counter to some other stuff that we're doing around reforming the State Safeguards Mechanism, which is targeting about 200 of the largest emissions emitters in the country. And we're working through that process.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But doesn't protecting the environment and reducing climate change go hand in hand?

ED HUSIC: Well hold on, you've got a government here that's introduced targets, taken climate change seriously, brought in climate statements, doing the reform that Tanya has kicked off around the Environmental Protection Act as well. You've seen that being announced. You're talking about one aspect that is already the lion's share of that work is being done through other reforms that are going to happen. But the reforms that Tanya has announced yesterday are designed to ensure that we do the preservation work that's necessary, but also give certainty to business. And it's responding to a review that was provided to the former government two years ago and they did nothing on it and we're acting on it. So I think you need to take into context. You're picking one thread out of a bigger fabric of work that's being done and where we've got other stuff to deal just with that.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: It's a pretty big thread, though. You'd argue that climate change, if you can tackle that problem, then a lot of the environmental issues go away. But it's a valid point, Angus, that the Samuel review was handed down two years ago under your government, but you never formally responded. Why not?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, because Labor wouldn't support us with a sensible pathway forward. Look, I actually agree with Ed on the climate trigger. It shouldn't be there, but I disagree on where Labor is wanting to go with this. So I think this is just another bit of red tape they're wrapping around our small to medium sized businesses in this country. This is just a continuing assault on businesses, investment and jobs under the Albanese government and they are making it unbelievably difficult for someone to be in business. All our kids will end up being public servants if we keep creating these disincentives. Nothing wrong with being a public servant, but we don't need everyone there. We need good business people out there wanting to have a go, have a crack, build businesses, drive investment and create jobs. And this is exactly the kind of change that is just going to make that less attractive and much harder.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: All right, now, I want to end on a high because it is our last Question Time for the year. What was the highlight of 2022 for each of you guys? There's been a lot of low lights, that's for sure, but let's look at the positive. What's the best thing that happened this year? Ed? Well, apart from you winning government? Don't tell us that's your answer.

ED HUSIC: Well it was winning government, that was part of it, but if I may say, at a personal level, being able to - Dad came through a health scare this year, which was really great. And then after that, being able to ring him and Mum and say that I have the chance to be able to serve in the Cabinet for them. They came out in the late 60s with literally nothing, and it's been such a terrific country, given us opportunity, and to be able to contribute in public life that way and making that call to them was a special moment. And yeah, so I think out of 2022, it's not just 2022, to be honest, it's a thing for our family to be able to share and very grateful for a country like Australia to give people a chance. If you want to contribute, you've got a way to do it. So it's been a a big deal to us.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, well said. And I'm glad that your Dad's on the mend, that is good news. And Angus, for you?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, there's quite a lot of work based highlights, but I'd rather focus on a really personal one. As our kids have got older, we've had two new members of the family come in, two young pups, Frankie and Violet. And that's been one of those personal things which has been really lovely for us to have something of a replacement for kids growing up and leaving.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: They're always happy when you come home, the dogs, aren't they?


DEBORAH KNIGHT: They always greet you with a smile.

ANGUS TAYLOR: It's been very nice.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, it's lovely to have you both part of Question Time. We'll continue it into the new year, and I wish both of you and your families a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

ANGUS TAYLOR: You too, Deb.

ED HUSIC: Likewise. Likewise. For you both.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Thanks, fellas. Angus Taylor and Ed Husic joining us for Question Time.