Press conference - Energy Renaissance, Tomago, NSW

National battery strategy

MERYL SWANSON: I acknowledge that today we meet on the land of our First Nations families of Warami. I pay my respects to our Warami people and all Indigenous people on this land. 

And it is really fabulous to welcome Australia’s Industry Minister and Science Minister Ed Husic, to Paterson, to Tomago this morning. Good morning, Ed, welcome. Thank you for being here at what I believe is the cutting edge of energy, skills, knowledge and jobs, not only here in the Hunter but also across our country. 

It’s also my pleasure to welcome my friend and colleague and neighbour Dan Repacholi, and, of course, my wonderful state colleague Kate Washington who joins us here today, as well as CEO and Founding Director of Renaissance Energy, Brian Craighead. Julie Crichen is also here, as is Sue McCluskey. They are the founders who believed that this could be a possibility for the Hunter. Thank you for that. Thank you for putting your money in the Hunter, putting your money in technology, in good, skilled jobs. There’ll be 750 skilled jobs out of this one plant. It is awesome, and we are leading the way here in the Hunter. 

And Ed has a great announcement today, and I’m just so delighted that he chose this part of the world to make it. Thanks, Industry Minister, and congratulations. 

ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: Good on you. Thank you, Meryl. Thanks to Meryl, Dan, Kate, Brian and the team for managing Renaissance. And I just want to recognise the land of the Warami and pay respects to elders past and present. 

It is terrific to be here today because what we are talking about really underpins a lot of jobs and a lot of economic growth longer term. We’ve got a big challenge right now in this country. We need to electrify as much of what we currently do as possible – electrify, electrify, electrify. And we need to be able to generate power through new, cleaner, renewable sources. But the other part of the equation is around storing the power that is generated. 

And in terms of the Albanese government, we were elected on a platform to cut emissions, to be able to grow jobs, revitalise manufacturing and, importantly, open up opportunity in our regions to make sure that everyone – or as much as possible everyone – is benefitting from city to rural to regional areas of the country. And so this is a really big deal for us. 

And this is a powerful fact: Australia has got access to some of the greatest sources of solar energy on the planet. We have some of the biggest uptake of rooftop solar on the planet. We have – and the world marvels at it – one of the largest stores of critical minerals and rare earths that are used in batteries. We also have, it’s worth pointing out, some of the leading researchers who are continually working on development around battery technology and the demand for batteries is expected over the course of 10 years to grow by tenfold. That’s a whopping amount of growth. 

So from our perspective, we’ve got all this working for us, and yet we do not have processing and cell manufacturing here. Although I do know Energy Renaissance is very much focused on claiming all parts of that value chain to create jobs. The bottom line should be if we mine it here, we should make it here. When it comes to batteries, that is a big part of what we are thinking about longer term. 

So during the election we announced an Australian Made Battery Plan. Included in that was a $100 million injection to create a battery precinct up in north central Queensland. Also, we want to create an industry growth centre, a Powering Australia Industry Growth Centre, to be able to work with firms like Energy Renaissance and others that want scale up battery manufacturing in Australia. We’re looking to create opportunities for 10,000 new energy apprenticeships, which is huge for jobs. 

But the other element is what I’m announcing today. We are kicking off the national consultations around the creation of a national battery strategy. We need to get our act together, and the way to do that is to bring everyone in the country that is focused on this to coordinate the action and activity. 

It is insane that we have not had a national game plan on maximising parts of the value chain when it comes to storage technology. Obviously people think about electric vehicles, but the big thing is energy storage systems for homes, for commercial premises and for industry. Being able to make our own batteries here, to be able to have them available here and to be able for them to be shipped out quickly instead of depending on supply chains that are strung out or concentrated in just one country, a lot of the world is thinking about this. 

Just this week I was in DC meeting with the US Secretary of Commerce, Gina Raimondo, who expressed a very keen appetite and interest in both the US and Australia working together on the developing of processing capability and manufacturing capability. I’ve seen, for example, what they’ve been able to do having toured a factory in both Reno and Austin, seeing facilities like what you’re seeing behind us go up. 

The rest of the world is getting their act together, but they want work with us, importantly. And if they want to work with us, we do need to have a strategy that brings all that together. It’s really important that we develop all of that. And if we do, there’s a lot of opportunities to get the value chain right in Australia – up to 35,000 jobs and over 7 billion in value if we get just capability processing, cell manufacture, the software systems integration and importantly work out how it can be used on batteries. That’s why we need a plan. 

It also links into some of our other work. The government is not just doing this but there’s a whole stack of other things that we’re linking this all into – the development of critical minerals strategy, the community batteries initiative that we’ve got to be able to have batteries out in the neighbourhoods capturing energy and being able to distribute lower cost energy. 

We’ve also got the capacity – sorry, the capacity investment structure which works with states and territories to make sure we’ve got more batteries to stabilise the grid and, importantly, our $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund has elements that will be dedicated to increase the value-add and resources. And obviously this is a big part of that. And 3 billion to make sure that we’re manufacturing energy-efficient equipment that can be used and distributed in the broader economy. Again, really important we get those manufacturing jobs in place. 

As energy Renaissance has observed, the big thing that has stopped us in this country around this issue is the mentality that we’re not good enough to do this. It’s just plain wrong. We need to value Australian know-how along with when you walk through and see what Energy Renaissance are doing, not just creating jobs for themselves but linking in with so many other companies, they bring in and involve them in the work, creating local supply chains – jobs, jobs, jobs. 

We’re saying that the crisis emergency is a massive jobs opportunity, but the big thing will be getting our act together, and that’s what the Albanese government’s national battery strategy is all about. 

Now, I might hand over to Dan who might like to say a few words and Kate. And I think Brian is going to have a contribution as well. To try and stop Brian talking about the great things that are happening here [indistinct]. Dan, over to you. 

DAN REPACHOLI: Good morning, all. Honestly, what an amazing thing that Energy Renaissance is doing here – creating 700 jobs, 700 or 750 jobs for this area is huge. We need this in the Hunter. We need this in many other parts of Australia as well. And it comes down to whatever we mine, we should be manufacturing here, processing here and using in our own products here and then giving their way from the port here going out from here, going all the way over into the overseas market. That’s we should be doing from here in Tomago. And that’s what this company is going to do. 

So we need to make sure if we manufacture it, we process it and then we have companies like Energy Renaissance here that can push through with over 750 jobs for this area that will continue to keep Australia running the way we need to do. We need to bring manufacturing back, and this is a great way to do it. Thank you. 

KATE WASHINGTON: Good morning. And a Minns Labor government will work plug in socket with the Albanese Labor government because we both have the same focus. We have the same focus on local jobs and local manufacturing. We know the importance of local manufacturing right here in Tomago. We’ve got hundreds and thousands of jobs here already, and we want so many more. It’s so welcome to have Energy Renaissance doing what it is doing here because a Labor government will value [indistinct]. We won’t be off-shoring the contracts for our trams, trains, buses overseas. We’ll be making things here in New South Wales. And to make this here in New South Wales we need to power it. And the big problem now we have is storage. So it’s really welcome to have the minister here today launching the consultation on this important national battery strategy and putting Tomago and Australia on this storage solution map worldwide. 

BRIAN CRAIGHEAD: This is humbling. I think what you’re seeing here, we’ve been saying for years that we could do something great here in Australia, the only country with all the resources [indistinct]. There’s so much [indistinct] crisis, every time we do one of these things we’re helping save the planet. So we’ve been saying for years wouldn’t it be great if we could do this together with all muscles pushing in the same direction. And it’s humbling to see the political leaders, ministers, local political leaders, they’re all in step saying let’s do something great together. 

I can tell you after eight years it is a wonderful thing to see this clear and coherent strategy. It will help us grow. We don’t want this to be the last factory built – we want it to be the first of many. Australia will be able to dominate thanks to this clear piece of thinking. I can’t thank you enough. 

ED HUSIC: Okay, any questions? 

JOURNALIST: Minister, we’re getting pretty damn close to some of those target dates that we’ve set as a country and also here in New South Wales as a state in terms of, you know, halving emissions by 2030 et cetera. Should we really – how quick is this consultation period going to take, because, you know, we’re up against the clock in terms of targets? 

ED HUSIC: Yeah, absolutely. And also if you don’t mind me saying, I’m probably one of the most impatient people in government, so I’m equally keen to make sure that happens. This will be a consultation period of about four weeks. There are a lot of people out there who think about this type of activity, not only Energy Renaissance but a lot of others that we want to tap into their minds very quickly. And they’ve been thinking about it and we can coordinate that in and then obviously develop it. 

So we do want to get moving. The National Reconstruction Fund supplies that huge capital platform. Now, again, I met on my tour of the states so many Australian businesses that had set up over there who largely felt they couldn’t get the capital support they needed. The US is a big market and that’s a big magnet for activity, but we should make sure that the firms that have got an ambition, like Brian spelt out about being a world dominator in this time of technology, that the capital is there which is why we’ve got the National Reconstruction Fund in place. 

And it’s not just about, you know, a strategy; it’s linking into a lot of thinking to try and build that momentum and build it at the speed that underpins your question to make sure this happens quickly. We’ve really got to get cracking on it. 

JOURNALIST: And so just to confirm that, so you’re saying it will be about a four-week period and then maybe a couple of days for obviously the paperwork and we should have a strategy out? 

ED HUSIC: I think there are – just to give some perspective, obviously Brian and the team at Energy Renaissance know having spent the time developing their own firm, this technology is a critical thing that will make it happen. It is tough, it is hard to get done. And the world has basically let one country dominate, for example, cell manufacture. So spreading that activity out takes some time. 

So we do want to get it right. I’m not going to nominate the development time frame for the strategy but we will be working closely with industry to make it happen. But just know we certainly get the sense of urgency around this. 

We’ve got a number of other things in terms of emissions reduction, for example, my colleague and friend the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen has created the safeguard mechanism that will do some of the big lifting in terms of cutting emissions. And that’s happening as well. But we’ve got all this stuff happening, but we don’t have a moment to lose because we’ve wasted so many of those moments over the last few years not recognising that a lot of this activity will create great jobs but especially in our regions that are hungry to get involved. 

JOURNALIST: And on that – I’ve lost my paperwork, the media release – but you mentioned obviously your line of if we mine it here we should make it here. 

ED HUSIC: Yeah. 

JOURNALIST: While it’s a national strategy, you know, from a Hunter perspective, a lot of the stuff we mine is things like thermal coal, which is going to wane in relevance aside from exporting. What sort of assurance can you give like communities here in Hunter will actually get a share of this pie? Obviously we’ve got Renaissance here, but in terms of, say, you know, developing firms in Muswellbrook, in Singleton where jobs are going to be lost at larger scale? 

ED HUSIC: I think that is a really good question. And that's part of the reason why we want to develop a national strategy – to involve a lot of parts of the country where this activity is occurring. We’ve obviously got a great shining light here in Energy Renaissance. But there are a lot of other parts of the country that are thinking deeply about how they can get involved in the battery manufacture supply chain. And we want to bring them altogether, to make sure we’ve got our act together, that we can include the regions and particularly regions going through that change we’re seeing and opening up jobs as well. 

And this is, like, good, solid work for blue-collar workers who are involved in manufacturing – massive. We’ve got to revitalise our capability. That’s why we’ve got the National Reconstruction Fund. That’s why we’ve nominated priority areas – because manufacturing capability is important to the economy but it generates full-time, secure work. New South Wales is a leader in manufacturing. It’s often overlooked in terms of the number of businesses and jobs it creates, followed by Victoria and Queensland on the eastern seaboard. We want to make sure that that productivity occurs, that everyone gets a slice of the action. And the national battery strategy is designed to make sure that the regions have got a seat at the table. 

JOURNALIST: We’ve got an election obviously in a little over a month here in New South Wales. If a Perrottet Coalition government continues in New South Wales, how confident do you believe that you’ll be able to work with the state government here in New South Wales compared to, say, you know, an easier time that you may have working on this with someone like Annastacia Palaszczuk say in Queensland? 

ED HUSIC: I think - look, obviously it’s important that we find ways – the Australian public are sick of a lot of the fighting that characterised the Morrison government. The only momentum they seemed to be able to get was a rolling door picking fights with states and territories. We want to work with people. We want to work with people who believe in the value of manufacturing. And I have to say, I mean, I was always gobsmacked when I heard former Premier Gladys Berejiklian say New South Wales and Australia aren’t good at making things. And we’ve seen people in that New South Wales government say that. They’ve had a last-minute conversion to this because they recognise that the regions are going to be casting their votes and recognise manufacturing is a big deal in Australia and they do want to make more stuff here. They want to buy Australian-made products. And so obviously it will be important to see what happens. 

But the big thing for us is we want a Labor government. We want Kate and her colleagues to get elected. They represent a plan that will create massive amounts of support for local and regional economies. They don’t need to be convinced about the value of manufacturing. And a Minns Labor government will just get it from day one. They’ll be great to work with. But obviously we’re at the table. We want to be able to work with anyone. It just makes it easier when the people at the table get it from the get-go. 

JOURNALIST: Dan, can I ask you in the Hunter and the Upper Hunter you’re obviously representing a lot of coal workers that would be looking down the barrel of losing a job. What sort of advocacy would you do on behalf of those people under this strategy to make sure these projects, these jobs, these ideas come into places like Muswellbrook and not just, you know – alongside places here like Tomago where there are manufacturing basis already? 

DAN REPACHOLI: So, we’ll be pushing extremely hard between myself, the state member and the local government, too, the local councils. We’re all pushing hard to make sure we have manufacturing up into the Hunter. But let’s not forget we’ve got many, many years until the coal industry has wrapped up. So most of our coal is exported out of this country. We have the best rail network in the world. We’ve got the best port in the world for these exports and we’ve got the best quality coal in the world. So let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here, because we will continue to export while there’s a market there. And that market will be dictated by boardrooms in Beijing, in Korea and also over in Japan. That’s where that will be dictated from. 

But whilst that’s happening, we’re going to make sure that we work together and all move in to where we know we want to go and make sure that we’re getting those manufacturing jobs up into the Hunter, up into areas like Tomago, into the whole of this region. Because we have so many skills here. We have the people here. We have what we need to make this area work, and that’s what we’ll continue to work on. 

JOURNALIST: And yourself, Meryl, for the community here in Tomago? 

MERYL SWANSON: Thank you. Yeah, look, I think the important point and what we’re demonstrating today is that as a region we are working together. We’ve seen it with our airport. We’ve seen it with the Port of Newcastle. When we all push together the outcome is better. So Dan and I and Ed and Kate are here today to say this is what cooperation and collaboration means for our region. We absolutely get it. We are 10 years behind the 8-ball, but we get it. And we know what the next steps are. 

The next steps are backing companies like Energy Renaissance that have done the R&D with the CSIRO. They are making modular batteries that can plug and play, and this is the future. The future is right here in our hands in the Hunter. And Dan and I and Sharon and Pat will not leave a stone unturned in Canberra. And that’s part of the reason why we’ve got people like Ed here today, the Minister, because we’re constantly talking together to the Prime Minister and saying the Hunter needs support. We have powered this country since European development, okay? We’ve drawn the coal. A lot of the coal that was drawn and extracted from our region built some pretty flash sandstone buildings in Sydney to be quite frank with you. 

We know that we’ve had good support from the people of the Hunter. Now it’s time to pay that back. And that’s what events like today are about. We’re coming into a space saying we see you, we know the pain, we understand the absolute priorities. But the big thing is that we know that there is so much promise as well. We’re on that, you know, and that’s important. 

So, yeah, I would say to anyone that’s worried that Dan’s right. We’ll be extracting coal to export for a long, long time. We just will. We’ve seen that with the construction of a new crane. The world still relies on our coal. And that’s a good thing because we mine it smartly. The people who use it use it with smart technology as well. But we’re stepping into the future, and that’s what people want us to do. We can do both things. We can. And this is a demonstration of it today. 

JOURNALIST: Another thing that the world is relying on at the moment is gas. And this morning and over the last few weeks it’s been revealed that a South Korean company has ditched plans to develop a gas dock at the Port of Newcastle. What’s your take on that, Minister? And do you think there needs to be – in terms of volatility, price, et cetera, intervention from a state or a federal government here? 

ED HUSIC: I think when you saw the way that gas prices were behaving over the cost of the last six months or so, you know, to be frank, I was making a nuisance of myself publicly on the issue, making the point that lower energy prices mean a lot to manufacturers, where industrial users make up half the domestic gas demand. That’s why we took decisive action and we brought the parliament back to pass our energy pricing reforms, to provide a lot more stability longer term for businesses and for households worried about the soaring costs of energy and the impact on the cost of living. So very pleased to say we’re seeing some early signs of that having an impact, but it’s going to build up over time as we get through – as more of those gas contracts open up. 

In reference to the facility you mentioned, obviously firms make – particularly import facility, which is what I understand that is, they will make their decisions based on a whole host of factors that they’re thinking about in their boardroom and their business, so I’ll leave it to them to explain. But we were very concerned more businesses would come under pressure, particularly ones that I’m aware of here in the Hunter, that were concerned about the direction of gas prices and energy prices. We’ve heard them. We have stood up for manufacturing workers and manufacturing businesses. 

The Coalition opposed what we were doing to protect jobs. Just remember that. They were more interested in siding with big gas multinationals, propping up profits of multinationals instead of looking after pensioners and for businesses. It should never be forgotten that when we needed to come together as a country to be able to get access to an Australian resource at an Australian price, the Coalition sided with international firms and not local ones. And I think that will be something that sticks with them for quite some time. 

Just on another point, I meant to say, too, talking about very innovative Hunter firms, MGA Thermal, I referenced in my visit to the US. 

MERYL SWANSON: It’s just down the road. 

ED HUSIC: I was meeting with a mob that are producing concentrated solar power. I mentioned MGA and they already knew about MGA’s capability. So there are opportunities for US firms to team up with locals. Again, don’t mind us, Meryl and I, having a convo and she introduced them in the middle of a press conference. But, again, they’re a great Hunter firm that are doing some smart work and are being recognised globally, just as we expect Energy Renaissance will do the same. 

JOURNALIST: This gas exporting port that was to be developed by this South Korean company, it was meant to supply up to 80 per cent of gas into the New South Wales market, which is extremely depleted at the moment. Does it concern you or is there a kind of argument to be had that arguably a switch could be flicked off that quickly in terms of a project like this that would make such a difference? Is government, state and federal, even relevant in the energy space? 

ED HUSIC: I think obviously action taken by the Albanese government is highly relevant to the concerns of manufacturers and other businesses that want to get access to an Australian resource at an Australian price. One. Firms will make their decisions. Now, from time to time – and I have to respect the decision-making process that some of them are making, and we’ll obviously get more detail in due course – there are firms as well like, for example, I’m very keen for Santos to get its act together. Apparently it is working with the New South Wales government to open up Narrabri. When that does open up the bulk of that gas we’re assured will be available for local use. 

So we need to see some of these developments come online. Some might not proceed, like what you referenced. Others will pick up. That’s just the nature of a dynamic market. We’ll just wait and see. I don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves just because of one import facility. We do have a lot of gas. We export 70 per cent of what we extract. Thirty per cent goes to the local economy. We’ve been trying to get the balance right. We think our reforms have done just that. 

If there’s nothing else, thanks for joining us today. Thanks again.