Press conference at Infrabuild Steel, Rooty Hill, NSW
ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: Thanks so much for joining us here today in Rooty Hill at the InfraBuild site. We are joined with a number of people who are behind us who at work here at InfraBuild, but the other great thing is to have my Cabinet colleague Chris Bowen here.
We are neighbouring MPs, but for us as Cabinet Ministers in a week, where the Parliament agreed to the Australian Government’s energy reforms, we are very conscious, Chris and I, that manufacturing matters to so many of our communities here in Western Sydney, in the outer suburbs, in the regions. It provides secure full time work and helps fulfil a vision, which is that Australia should be a country that makes things.
But to be able to do that you need to ensure that the input costs are right – that is, that energy is priced fairly. And given what we’ve got at the moment, where energy costs are predicted to soar in the coming year, we needed to take definite action in the Australian national economic interests, which is what we did to bring prices down.
And it’s terrific to be able to work with a colleague and friend like Chris, both of us very much focused on the impact of our decisions in terms of industry, but particularly with respect to manufacturing. We need to get the balance right.
Gas companies will still make their profits. They’ll still be able to make their investments, but we need to as the Australian Government do what’s in the national economic interests – protecting households, protecting businesses and protecting jobs.
The people that are behind us, they are a big motivation for getting energy policy right, making sure that they can hold on to their jobs and contribute to manufacturing in this nation. And, as I said, Chris and I, being very familiar with the role of manufacturing in Western Sydney, this is something that is close to our hearts, representing our communities, making sure we get national policy right and seeing how it delivers in the areas that we represent.
And I might hand over to Chris Bowen, Energy Minister, to make a few more comments. Thanks, Chris.
CHRIS BOWEN, MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY: Well, thanks very much, Ed. This is what it’s all about. These guys are what it’s all about. This is why the Government worked so hard yesterday to pass our energy package. And, yesterday, members and Senators who voted for the energy relief bill voted to shield Australian industry and Australian workers from the impacts of that Vladimir Putin’s war.
And those who voted against it, voted to let those high energy prices roll on next year without Government response. Yesterday, the Government, working across the Parliament, delivered a substantial package – capping coal and gas prices, gas prices in particular, at the federal level, and providing direct energy relief to Australians.
We know that Australians did not cause the war in Ukraine and Australians should not pay the energy price of Vladimir Putin’s war. Peter Dutton has a different view. He doesn’t want the country to succeed. He’s always got an excuse and alibi to do nothing. Well, he’s got to justify that to the Australian people. We voted yesterday for jobs. We voted yesterday for industry. We voted yesterday for households.
As Ed said, gas companies will continue to make a profit. Ninety-six per cent of gas sold last year was sold for under the cap. It is not the fault of Australians that gas prices have skyrocketed around the world and the Albanese Government will not allow those prices just to flow throughout without a response. We said we’d have a response before Christmas and that’s exactly what we’ve done, just as we have, since May, working across the Parliament to deliver, to get things done, working with people in good faith and goodwill.
I want to pay tribute to Ed’s leadership as Industry Minister, who has been highlighting the pressures on industry of energy prices. He knows as an MP for this wonderful facility, as I know as the MP representing Smithfield Wetherill Park Industrial Estate, just what an impact it would have if energy prices weren’t dealt with. This place spends literally millions of dollars a month on energy – millions of dollars a month. They could not face the sorts of 40 and 50 per cent increases that would have happened next year in the absence of government intervention. The Government responded and Australians will be protected as a result of that response.
I’m sure Ed and I are happy to take questions. Ursula.
JOURNALIST: The CEO of Santos has referred to this as Soviet style intervention and they said they put this on par with Nigeria when it comes to investment. That’s pretty harsh rhetoric; are they just banging the drum?
CHRIS BOWEN: It’s laughable. That sort of shrill response is just laughable. You know, governments around the world, whether they’re right-wing governments or left wing governments, governments around the developed world are acting and responding.
I understand chief executives’ desire to maximise their profits. That’s their job. We have a different job. Our job is to act in the national interest, not in Santos’ or anybody else’s, any other company’s interest, in the national interest, to protect Australian industries, to protect Australians. Mr Gallagher has a different job. It’s his job to maximise his profits. It’s our job to maximise the national interest. That sort of shrill – that sort of shrill commentary is just water off a duck’s back. We’ll just get on with the job.
JOURNALIST: Is it correct when he says stability agreements will be needed with Government going forward after the reforms passed yesterday for new investment?
CHRIS BOWEN: He’s entitled to his views and, look, people can talk down the gas industry if they want. We talk up Australian prospects. We talk up Australian industry prospects. We talk up Australia’s opportunities as a renewable energy superpower. We are optimistic about the future. As I said, I understand gas companies want to maximise their profits, fine. Our job is to step in and respond on behalf of all Australians. It’s Australian gas under Australian soil and Australian seas, and Santos and somebody else can charge as much as they want as far as we’re concerned for their exports. They can charge the rest of the world as much as they want. They will charge Australians fair prices for Australian gas. We insist on nothing more and nothing less.
CHRIS BOWEN: I understand gas companies want to maximise their profits, fine. Our job is to step in and respond on behalf of all Australians. It’s Australian gas under Australian soil and Australian seas, and Santos and somebody else can charge as much as they want as far as we’re concerned for their exports. They can charge the rest of the world as much as they want. They will charge Australians fair prices for Australian gas. We insist on nothing more and nothing less.
JOURNALIST: How confident are you that Santos or one of the other big energy companies won’t challenge your legislation in the High Court or in the courts, and whether, if they do that, it will stand up to the challenge? Have you had legal advice to that effect?
CHRIS BOWEN: Of course, we get legal advice on all steps we take. Of course, we do, and we have taken action both in response to the economic advice we receive and the legal advice.
JOURNALIST: In relation to the decision to allow councils to hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day or not, in their choosing, why is this necessary when we have seen this become a political football in previous years? We’ve seen councils threatened that they will have repercussions if they don’t hold these citizenship ceremonies. Why should it be up to councils?
CHRIS BOWEN: Why shouldn’t it be? Why shouldn’t communities be trusted to make their own decisions? I mean, the days of citizenship being used as a culture war are over under this Government. We trust communities to consult, make their own decisions. Councils in our own areas will make their own decisions. They’re perfectly mature and sensible enough, in consultation with their communities, to make the decision. They don’t need the Ministers in Canberra telling them how to do their job or to celebrate on Australia Day or any other day. Communities can make those decisions
JOURNALIST: You have said that the reforms passed yesterday will help households, the average household, keep an extra $230 they otherwise wouldn’t have. How come you haven’t released the modelling that that’s based on?
CHRIS BOWEN: Well, the Treasurer made it clear yesterday that he would provide the Parliament and the people with all the relevant ACCC analysis and advice that could be released. We have nothing to hide.
CHRIS BOWEN: Well, we’ve made it very clear, and I point to the comments of the Australian Energy Regulator, Clare Savage, who’s pointed out that even the expectation of the Government intervention yesterday has seen futures prices fall, quite dramatically. They would have spiked again if the Parliament hadn’t passed our legislation. I mean, you don’t need to look at economic modelling. Look at what’s happened already when it comes to the impact on energy prices. Before, I’m sure the Governor General’s even signed off the laws we passed yesterday, they’re having an impact.
JOURNALIST: Minister Husic, if I can ask you, well, firstly, in relation to industry.
ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: Yep.
JOURNALIST: How many jobs do you think are at risk if we hadn’t seen this reform passed?
ED HUSIC: Manufacturing delivers around 900,000 jobs to the nation. It’s a big part of the economy, and the ability to make things across sectors is going to be very vital for our longer-term economic growth, so we were very conscious of that in designing an energy reform package that would get the balance right and ensure that businesses like these and others can keep the doors open and secure jobs, so that was really important.
There are a lot of executives, a lot of lippy executives out there at the moment, making all sorts of claims in the aftermath of the Parliament joining to get these laws through. They weren’t really there with a lot of suggestions beforehand about how to rein in prices that were basically, proposing to skyrocket. And my issue all along was that there are some gas executives that propose nothing and oppose everything.
Now, some of those executives might want to hold on to every single dollar of their Putin profits, but we are making what’s right in the national economic interest. We are happy for gas companies to make a profit.
We want them to make their investments and we respect the contribution of their workforce, but you’ve got to have balance across the economy so that a lot of businesses are making a profit, not just some businesses making a profit and a lot of businesses are creating or securing work. We will get that balance absolutely right.
JOURNALIST: Just in relation to the Australian Republic Movement. We’ve seen a lot of drama overnight with the royals. Do you think it is time that Australia seriously looks at becomes a republic. There’s enough time passed now [indistinct]?
ED HUSIC: I think there are a lot of people, particularly in the Labor Party, that have got a great ambition for the nation which is that we should have our own head of state, we should be able to have an Australian republic.
We should be able to be mature enough to have the debate and be able to stand on our two feet as a country. There’s a lot of stuff that has been happening and, clearly, we’re very respectful following the passing of Her Majesty, but I think Australians also do have a belief that in the longer term we can become a republic, and in due course we’ll sort that out.
JOURNALIST: There seems to be an argument that’s coming up more and more that Australia needs to stand on its own two feet rather than being tied to a monarchy that not only might be imploding but is nothing to do with a lot of Australians these days. You’re from Western Sydney. Do they represent Western Sydney?
ED HUSIC: Well, the decision about how we make the republic won’t be made on the basis of a Netflix special, but what I can say is, we’ve got a longer-term ambition. I think we’ll go through that step properly. Our priority is to ensure that we get, in 2023, we’re very keen to see a referendum successfully supported by the Australian public that delivers a voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. That is our immediate focus, and it is the proper and just one in terms of correcting something that has gone on for many years where we really haven’t involved decisions affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, we haven’t really taken the step of providing a mechanism to make that happen. We think the Voice is the right way to go, so in the interim that will be where our minds are turned.
JOURNALIST: Just on the package with Adam Bandt and the Greens. He’s championed that as the beginning of the end of gas; would you agree with that characterisation?
CHRIS BOWEN: I characterise it as a sensible step. The Government was already working on the National Energy Performance Strategy. We’ve agreed that the first dividend of that will be a substantial package up in the lead up to the May Budget to help Australian households and small businesses in particular move to the form of energy which is the cheapest, which is renewable powered electricity and, often in the case of households, the healthiest. Everybody can characterise it their own way. I characterise it as that – a sensible plan to help Australian households make choices.
I saw Bridget McKenzie say I was going to be, I think she said, knocking on the back door, or ramming down a back door with a spanner taking out people’s gas cook tops. I’m not technically up to it. I’m not qualified. I’m not that good a handyman, and that’s just the sort of shrill sort of ridiculous nonsense we’ve come to expect from the National Party. Earlier in the year, apparently, we were ending the barbecue. We’ve ended the weekend previously. Now, I’m conducting breaking and entering to take out people’s gas cook tops.
ED HUSIC: It’s a heck of a to-do list!
CHRIS BOWEN: There’s just this laughable shrill rhetoric that you see from the conservatives in the Parliament today. They’re a rump. They’ve made themselves an irrelevant rump. In relation to Mr Bandt, we work in good faith where we can agree. Plenty of areas of disagreement. Where we can agree, we work in good faith to get things done. That’s what a sensible mature Government of grown-ups does.
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] loans and subsidies and that sort of stuff?
CHRIS BOWEN: Yeah, I’ve already said we’re looking at a range of options. I use the example of the CFC a couple of weeks ago, I announced we’ll provide concessional low interest loans to help people buy electric cars who want to – $100 million, which will take a substantial amount off the interest bill for people looking to make the transition to EVs. There’re many people who want to do it and can’t afford it.