Interview with Steve Price, Australia Today

Steve Price
Interview discusses the national energy market and industry.

STEVE PRICE: The Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is in Canberra at the moment taking media questions on the crisis around energy. Ed Husic is his senior minister for Industry and Science joins us on the line. I guess, Ed, you're going to be very busy because industry's going to be on the blower wanting to know what the hell is going on? 

ED HUSIC: Yeah, well they understandably want some sort of certainty, want to make sure that the power's running and the steps that were taken yesterday, which we've welcomed, by the main regulator, by the market operator, they're designed to make sure that we can get a line of sight on what the picture is on supply so that we don't have the market bouncing around at this point in time and that we can make sure that supply is there.  

STEVE PRICE: Why couldn't we have seen this coming? I mean this would be happening - it wouldn't matter if Scott Morrison was still in power or in new government, why couldn't we see that this was going to happen or are we just beset here with a series of coincidences including the snap of cold weather? 

ED HUSIC: Some of it can be explained by the snap of cold weather driving up energy usage. Normally, I mean we had this happen nearly about 20 years ago where the spike in power use used to be in winter and then it crossed over to summer as people got air conditioners at their place and power, you could see power use increase in households. So that's been a historical thing. 

But what's happening now is largely a reflection, and I'm always careful in talking about this stuff, Steve, not just going oh well, it was the other mob, but there is a lot to be said about the fact that we didn't get our act together on being able to develop alternate sources of supply, largely renewable, one; being able to get our act together, two, on storage which means that that also, like what you've seen in South Australia now, the success of the big battery project down there, that's been an important start in terms of dealing with issues like storage; and, finally, transmission, being able to move power around the country in a system that is fit for purpose where if one part of the country is generating energy in a much cleaner, more efficient way, we can move it.  

The Coalition spent most of its time arguing in its party room against this type of move. It means that we're behind the eight ball on investment and getting the structures in place to make this happen and now we are effectively paying the price of that accumulation of nine years, 22 failed energy policy and no real movement on this stuff.

STEVE PRICE: And, look, throwing rocks is easy and I'm pleased that you don't just do that because this needs to be fixed. But there's no short-term silver bullet fix here. I mean, if you're talking about having a grid that can cope with increased renewables, which we haven't even started building, I mean that's a decades-long project. So in the short term, industry must be saying to the new minister, "Minister Husic, I mean, I want to reinvest in Australia, I've got the money, I want to do it. I like doing business here, it's a stable country. The politics are stable and I feel it's a good place for people to come and work but I'm not going to invest here if you can't tell me that when I come into the factory next week I can turn my lights on." 

ED HUSIC: So I've been speaking with industry and manufacturers for ages and have understood for quite some time their concern around energy. So that's definitely been on my radar, it's what I communicate and we can come to the separate issue of gas in a minute, right? 

There is an element of, yeah, it does take time to stand up this type of supply but when you look at the alternatives, for example, this is the quickest way, renewables will be and generally are the quickest and cheapest way to get power supply boosted into the grid and there are a lot of governments that are thinking about it and framing up the whole approvals process to make that happen so that is there and it's generally seen world over as the quickest way to do it. I don't think it will take as long as what you're suggesting but at the same time, too, I'm not about, you know, suggesting a different reality. Some of these things do take time but it is coming on faster.  

On things like, for example, gas, my - I take a much more pointed view in terms of the way that the gas companies are going at the moment. They're on a good wicket because there's high demand globally for their product but they also operate in a system where - in an economy where the price of their product and the way that they're structuring that price and the availability of the product itself has a broader impact on the economy and they do, I think, need to be a lot more mindful of their social licence on that. It's not all just making the best price at the best point in time but acknowledging, too, that, you know, we all are connected within this economy and they have to be conscious of that. To be frank, I don't think they have necessarily thought that through. I think gas companies have got to play a much fairer game here and they've got to be a lot more conscious of their actions and the impact on the broader economy. 

STEVE PRICE: You and I talked a lot during the election campaign. You're a grounded person, you've got a seat in Western Sydney, real people talk to you about real things. Real Australians are telling us today, are saying, well, hang on, we don't want the politics involved in all of this. We are a resource-rich country, how possibly can we get to this point? Can someone just fix the problem, and you had Victoria at one point, under a Labor government, banned offshore and onshore exploration for gas. They've permanently banned fracking for gas and now the companies are going, well, we know there's lots of gas in Victoria, we're just simply not going to work down there and we're not going to get it. This is the frustration, I think, that many people have because gas is clearly the easiest bridge between the end of coal-fired power and the beginning of renewable, isn't it? 

ED HUSIC: I absolutely do have a view about the role of gas and that is that it does play that part in providing energy supply to companies that are waiting for the technology to speed up. Hydrogen, for example, that will be a big deal and I was up in Gladstone yesterday with the PM visiting Rio Tinto's aluminum refinery there. But they've got big plans to use hydrogen to drive their processes but it will take time and it will also, importantly, is not just about the technology but the cost at which you have to get that energy once you develop it. So that's going to take some time in the system. But for now, people need gas, one, in terms of industry.  

Two, you're absolutely right, using an Australian resource, and I absolutely share that view with a lot of constituents and others in the broader community. I think it's a point that's well made to the gas companies as well. This is why I'm also making the point, as I said a few moments ago, that they've got to be conscious of these companies, that this is a social licence, it's not just businesses that are using gas, importantly for the way they operate, but consumers as well to heat themselves up through the cold snaps and they shouldn't have to be forking out huge amounts of money for that when we've got an abundance of the resource. 

And, finally, just on your point about State Governments as well, I have this annoying habit of trying to answer your questions directly, unlike others in the political realm, but you made that point about State Governments, right? State Governments, they do reflect what their constituencies are thinking and they think that, you know, they've made that call based on what people have taken a view about gas extraction in certain States. However, at a federal level, Labor has supported, for example, projects like Beetaloo and the exploration there. We do need to find sources of gas. We do need to look at how that gets priced and supplied that's why we've said we're looking at all options on that and we also have said that we're going to reform the trigger that the Turnbull Government set up that allows us to intervene in the market if we think - and the way it's structured at the moment is around supply but there is an issue around price and we are looking at that and we also think State and Territory governments need to work with us on it, too.

STEVE PRICE: Thanks for being up-front. I'll let you go. I know how busy you are. Good on you.

ED HUSIC: Thanks, mate. Bye.