Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News Afternoon Agenda

Kieran Gilbert
Power prices, gas supply, gas reservation, coal-fired power

KIERAN GILBERT: Resources Minister, Madeleine King, thanks very much for your time. Let's start with a broad question as the energy ministers are meeting here in Canberra today. How are we one of the world's - or the world's largest gas exporter and yet we're paying some of the world's highest prices for gas?

MADELEINE KING: Well, it's a confluence of the events over many, many years. The prices we're seeing aren't - we're not seeing them because something's happened overnight. There's international events but also the design of the markets, and also some of our gas supplies cannot be moved around the country as easily. You can imagine the gas supplies off the coast of the Pilbara and the Kimberley are about the furthest place away from Victoria and New South Wales. As there is no import infrastructure at this time, and it will come online and that will be a very positive step, that amount of gas, of which is substantial, goes to our north Asian neighbours and cannot come down to Victoria or New South Wales. So that's part of the story. The other part of the story is, of course, the Queensland Gladstone LNG hub is, you know, built principally for export but also does supply a lot of local energy and as required and we've seen the domestic gas guarantee come into play. So that, combined with the lack of electricity being produced through coal-fired power - existing coal-fired power stations going offline due to planned and unplanned outages - have all combined to see this extraordinary price. 

KIERAN GILBERT: On that guarantee that you referred to, from my understanding, that pipeline from Queensland's south is at 100% capacity right now, so the companies have stepped up to that extent. Is that fair to say? 

MADELEINE KING: They've absolutely stepped up and it has been very close to capacity and therefore safe operating measures. It has come down a bit in its capacity, which goes to show that the gas has gone and is going to where it needs to be and that it should flow through the system. And I'm not saying we're going to see a massive reduction in prices overnight, we're certainly not, because we still need those existing coal-fired power stations to come on line. But more gas is moving around, more gas has been supplied by the suppliers in the north in Queensland, but equally by those in Victoria and New South Wales. 

KIERAN GILBERT: So that should take the severity out? I know you've called it a perfect storm, as has the Energy Minister, so that should take the severity of that storm out? 

MADELEINE KING: We're seeing the average price of gas has fallen below the cap so that's a positive sign that the AEMO regulations are working as well as the extra supply. But it still is higher than usual, it's just under the cap. So I don't want to be misleading anyone on that.

KIERAN GILBERT: I totally understand that, but from the crisis levels, it's good to see at least it heading in the right direction. As a major gas producing nation, we are the only one, from my understanding, that doesn't have a nation-wide domestic gas reservation. You're from WA. WA does. It seems to make a lot of sense for a national domestic reservation given every other major gas producer in the world has it?

MADELEINE KING: It's a very good point, and the situation in Western Australia has worked out very well and great for the community, for manufacturers, for those users of a lot of gas. 

KIERAN GILBERT: It's been nearly two decades  - 

MADELEINE KING: Absolutely. 

KIERAN GILBERT: - In place and paying a lot less for gas right now than the eastern sea board. 

MADELEINE KING: That's right. And we also didn't privatise our power system in Western Australia, so that's a part of the story as well. But I want to make it clear when Alan Carpenter, a Labor leader, brought that in it was very hard work and very controversial. So it wasn't an easy path then and it wouldn't be an easy path now to do it either. The issue is it's a very difficult thing to reverse engineer this after the export industry has been established, but that doesn't mean it's off the table. I also want to reiterate that we really have to be mindful of who our gas supplies. Importantly it supplies Australians and Australian manufacturers. But equally Australian gas is a force for regional stability and energy security and I mean into South Korea, into Japan and into China. So these are important things to think about when we think about exports and potential restraint of our exports. 

KIERAN GILBERT: And I guess that sovereign risk question. 

MADELEINE KING: That's right, and we want to encourage investment. These gas hubs and plants around the country have been built because of international investment, we depend upon it. 

KIERAN GILBERT: I know Alan Carpenter was told 20 years ago, oh, these investments won't happen here.

MADELEINE KING: Because of the reservation. 

KIERAN GILBERT: Because of the reservation.

MADELEINE KING: Yes, that's right. 

KIERAN GILBERT: But those investments happened.

MADELEINE KING: They did happen because they had an open discussion and the government of the day was very strong on the need for the domestic gas reservation policy, remembering the distances involved as well from the Pilbara to the south and having the Dampier to Bunbury pipeline. 

KIERAN GILBERT: But domestic gas trigger has been made clear that that won't come into force, if you were to pull the trigger until January 1. For our viewers who aren't aware of what this is, it's basically a mechanism by which gas that would otherwise be exported would be kept for domestic use. 


KIERAN GILBERT: Are you still considering pulling that trigger and, if so, could that be engineered into a type of reservation set up if you introduce legislation appropriate to that?

MADELEINE KING: Everything is on the table because it is a crisis. So there's no time for the - it's not a time for the Government to rule anything in or out, I think. We need to make sure the tools that are available to government right now are made use of, which we are through the AEMO regulations. But you're quite right to point out the gas - domestic gas security mechanism, can't take effect until January. That doesn't mean we're not looking at it right now. In fact, it expires at the end of the year so we have to move quickly to even extend the ability to even use it. 

KIERAN GILBERT: Can it be amended to the extent that it would then serve as a reservation type policy?

MADELEINE KING: Look, that's something that we have to look into. We're not making drastic steps quickly without talking to industry and consumers and manufacturers. So whilst I totally appreciate the extraordinary pressure on people through the increased prices, intervening in a market without thinking it through and without consultation is risky as well, right?

KIERAN GILBERT: The impact as you alluded to earlier on, our allies -

MADELEINE KING: Absolutely. 

KIERAN GILBERT:  - countries like Japan, Korea and so on?

MADELEINE KING: Yeah, and the mechanism, as you said, works to decrease what we export, therefore leads us to have difficulties fulfilling contracts with our international partners. So it's a very big deal. It's not - people talk about a trigger like it's switching a light on and off. It really isn't. It's a really serious, very serious issue to discuss.

KIERAN GILBERT: It's interesting that you campaigned, and Labor, on boosting renewables in the system, 80% renewables by 2030. Yet, we're talking about keeping the coal-fired power stations up and going. That's quite an anomaly, isn't it right? Why are we at that point? Why are we at that point?

MADELEINE KING: Why are we at that point?

KIERAN GILBERT: Is it again going back to where we started, that confluence of issues? 

MADELEINE KING: Confluence of issues, but also nine years of - well more than that. There's been climate wars for more than nine years. But, you know, added into the inertia and lack of energy policy. But what we've seen, because of the lack of pricing in the market is a decline in the investment in the existing coal-fired operators which is not matched by an increase in investment in renewable energies and battery storage. So renewables haven't taken the place they could have taken to have averted this crisis. You know, what we would have hoped to have happen. 

KIERAN GILBERT: How quickly can that happen?

MADELEINE KING: Well, it will take time. And the good news is the gas can be there to support that. Which is, I accept, that there's a power and price problem now, but part of the story is that there are gas fields in New South Wales and Victoria that are going through approvals processes now. And if they - if those companies and the governments, and I know they're all working together so I wouldn't want to say anything else or be negative about that, there is potential for that gas, proximate to the biggest populations in the country, to be online for next winter.

KIERAN GILBERT: Now, finally, you didn't appreciate some of the advice you were given by the former government saying you should pick up the phone and so on to executives of the companies when that's exactly what you were doing over recent days?

MADELEINE KING: Yeah, absolutely. And for the Leader of the Nationals and I think others to dismiss my efforts or pretend like I don't exist is a little bit offensive, a little bit childish. I do exist, I am the Minister for Resources of Australia and I will and have always had good relations with gas companies as well as all the other resources industries. 

KIERAN GILBERT: Well, we appreciate your time and we'll talk to you over many occasions, I'm sure, over the next term of government. Appreciate it.

MADELEINE KING: Look forward to it, Kieran. Thanks.