Interview with Steve Price, Triple M

Steve Price
Bureau of Meteorology style guide change; Factory of the Future, Gas prices and profits

STEVE PRICE: We’ll get to your feedback in a moment. I do note this controversy over the rebranding of the Bureau of Meteorology as the BOM. They don’t want to be called that anymore. Steve sends me an email saying, “The reason the BOM don’t want to be called BOM anymore is because Natarsha Belling keeps talking about rain bombs”, so you’re in the gun there, I’ve got to say. 

NATARSHA BELLING: I’m happy to come on as a consultant for $200,000 and change that. Thank you. Lovely, Steve. It’s actually unbelievable. It’s unbelievable. 

STEVE PRICE: Two hundred thousand of wasted money. Thank you very much, Natarsha. Natarsha back with a news update. 

Ed Husic is the Industry and Science Minister, joins us. He’s been on the road around the country. He’s been in Adelaide, I think, yesterday. Minister, good morning. 


STEVE PRICE: Are you in charge of the BOM? 

ED HUSIC: No, I am not, so I might definitely side-step any questions that you throw my way. 

STEVE PRICE: Well, no, your colleague, Tanya Plibersek – the lovely Tanya, who I know very well – she is not available today, but she sent us a statement and she says, “The rebranding was undertaken during the previous Government.” So, you’re right, Minister; you can blame the Morrison Government. They asked for – Tanya’s now asked for urgent information on the cost and contracts. I mean, mate, for example, I know you hate this stuff as much as I do. $220,000 to rebrand yourself from the BOM to the Bureau of Meteorology; seriously, Ed. 

ED HUSIC: I’d be very interested to know what the rationale was as well. It’s good – I have no doubt that Tanya would be on the case, and I don’t think anyone in the general public had an issue with making that reference. I don’t think anyone was making wrong suggestions about what that meant for the Bureau of Meteorology being called the BOM, but there you go. They figured that was the money they’d put up. Yes, interesting. 

STEVE PRICE: What were you doing in my old hometown of Adelaide yesterday? 

ED HUSIC: I was asking people about you, and they all miss you horribly, terribly. 

STEVE PRICE: No; official lie. 

ED HUSIC: But, you know, well, I’m a politician. If I can’t stick one of those statements in an interview, what worth am I? 

No, I was there because we’d made a commitment through the campaign, talking about fulfilling promises, to back in an idea that’s called the “Factory of the Future”, designed to skill businesses and workers up on advanced manufacturing. You and I have spoken quite a bit about our desire to try and lift our ability in that space and this is a good idea. It’s been done with Flinders University, and they’ve got a lot of TAFE students out there, and Adelaide is obviously very focused with a number of Defence contracts up and about, so this is good stuff to see, and so we’re in the Budget next week committing to deliver funds, $10 million, to back in the commitment we made through the election. 

STEVE PRICE: That’s good news – delivering on promises. We like to see that. One of the other promises obviously that the Government, the Albanese Government, made in the election campaign was to bring down the price of electricity and energy in general. It seems that you’re not going to be able to do that. Inflation is galloping out of control and much of it is out of the control of Australian Governments to do anything about it because of what’s going on in Ukraine and around the rest of the world. What do you say to people who are dreading getting that next electricity or gas bill, Ed, in the letterbox? 

ED HUSIC: Well, our intention with the commitments that we made prior to the election was a reflection of the fact that the cheapest form of energy is renewable. You can get it built up quickly and it costs way less than traditional methods to get that energy produced. And so even though we’ve – 

STEVE PRICE: That’s not going to help us in the next 12 months though, is it? 

ED HUSIC: Well, even though we’ve focused on making sure that happens and working in the face of those challenges, as you said, in terms of inflation; we’re working very hard on that. The other thing, is too, is that there have been some instances where there are, I think, ways we can bring down prices particularly in terms of gas. And that’s why I’ve said, for example, that we need to make sure that we bring down the price of gas and that those gas companies that I think have been pricing well and above what we would normally expect, we’ve been saying, can do better, should do better. 

STEVE PRICE: Origin Energy’s made a statement to the Stock Exchange yesterday. They are a major gas provider, producer. They say their underlying profit from their energy division is going to be somewhere between $500 and $600 million, up $365 million in a year. 

ED HUSIC: Yep, and those figures don’t lie. They and many others in many of those gas companies are making record profits and they’re doing so at a time when gas is in high demand because of the war in Ukraine and they’ve decided that they will ramp up the price and go hell for leather, and they’re doing so in a way that’s putting massive pressure on local manufacturers, and, obviously, households feel that price hit that you mentioned to me in your question, and, frankly, I think we’re on to them. We’re calling this out and we think that they do need to for – using an Australian resource, be pricing it much better for manufacturers and households, and they can’t think that we’re just going to sit quiet and cop this. 

The other thing I’m getting, Steve, is suggestions out of manufacturers that the contract price that’s being offered is up to $60 a gigajoule, which is, if you can imagine, four to six dollars is where it used to be, and it’s gone up to $60. Huge pressure, despite the fact that we’re being told by them that they’re bringing – that they are working hard to bring prices down. It’s just not – the reality is not matching, or the promises aren’t matching reality, that’s for sure. 

STEVE PRICE: And there’s no legislation in place that can prevent them from charging those inflated prices. I mean, we all understand we live in a free market, but, you know, to look at that as an uninformed observer from outside, it looks like gouging to me, and if I was running a big business that needed to purchase lots of gas, I’d be saying to myself, “Look, you know, I like Ed Husic. He’s the new Industry Minister, but I can’t afford as a company to stay open here anymore.” 

ED HUSIC: I think the profits that these gas companies are making would make the Mint blush. They are pricing extraordinarily high. It’s obscenely high what they are doing. They know what they’re doing right now. I think that in terms of your question about, or the points you were making to me around legislation, Governments have got a responsibility to step in when the market is behaving in a way that is against national and community interest, and we are looking at ways in which we can have a much fairer reflection of costs within the price. We understand that there’s a cost of producing and delivering gas, but we also understand that they need to make a reasonable rate of return, and it’s up to the gas companies to say whether or not right now, in their view, the amount of money that they’re making off the back of those exorbitant prices is reflective of a reasonable rate of return, and I don’t think most common-sense people would think that’s the case at all. 

STEVE PRICE: Next time you drive down New South Head Road, don’t drop into Cranbrook, okay. They’re looking for you. 

ED HUSIC: You say one thing, right? 

STEVE PRICE: [Laughs]. Well, it’s a cute line, but you knew it was going to get you in trouble. 

ED HUSIC: Yes, I know. I know, but sometimes you know you’ve got to clap the hands to make a bit of noise, and I think my bigger more substantive point is I’m not – you know, they’re good folk at Cranbrook; I’d like to see more people from Cranebrook involved in tech because there’ll be long, long term, higher paying jobs and I think with all the work that we’ve got and the skill shortages around particularly in terms of tech and the fact that every business, large and small, needs to have that level of talent around to help them out, we do need to find ways to call up people from the outer suburbs and the regions, train them up, get them into these jobs, and do a good thing for those businesses and, ultimately, the country. 

STEVE PRICE: Can’t wait till you bump into Mike Cannon Brookes next time. He went there, you know. 

ED HUSIC: Yes, I know. I’m expecting – look, he’ll take it well. I mean, he’s known for making his views known and I don’t shy away from it. I figure if you’re in politics, you might as well tell people what’s on your mind. 

STEVE PRICE: We always like you to tell us what’s on your mind because we love chatting with you. Thanks a lot. Have a great day. 

ED HUSIC: Likewise. Appreciate your time. Thank you. 

STEVE PRICE: Good on you. Ed Husic there, Industry and Science Minister.