Interview with Patricia Karvelas, ABC Radio National Breakfast

Patricia Karvelas
IPCC climate report, safeguard mechanism, manufacturing, Victorian gas fields.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Yesterday’s IPCC climate report showed urgent action to curb emissions is needed. The Government has come out saying it shows why their safeguards mechanism bill is so important. But Australia is also at risk of energy shortfalls come winter that will need to be plugged. Madeleine King is the Resources Minister and joins me this morning. Minister, welcome back to the program.

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Yeah, good morning, Patricia. How are you going?

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Yeah good, thank you. There are 116 coal and gas projects that are currently in the pipeline. You’re refusing the Greens’ demands of banning new projects, so how many are you predicting of those will be built?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, all of those projects, you know, they’re, as you say, in a pipeline and they have to go through more approvals internally by those proposing them, but, equally, by various levels of Government, so I wouldn’t speculate on what goes ahead out of that pipeline at all, because there is a long road to be travelled for many of them.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Right, but it does raise the question of how it all fits in, though. The Safeguards Mechanism allows for some room for emissions from new projects. How many, though, of those potential projects are you planning on approving and what impact does that have on the overall emissions?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, we don’t have figures on those because those projects are not approved yet so, there’s no – 

PATRICIA KARVELAS: But if they do get approved, they emit.

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: No, no. Hang on a second. They’re in a pipeline. They’ve got to go through rigorous approvals processes as well as still some of them have their other internal process. They have state government‑related processes, so for me to speculate on a figure would just be, quite frankly, kind of nonsense. So, there is proper processes. We have an approval process. We intend to implement reform to the safeguard mechanism so that all large emitters will be captured. New projects are new projects. They will have to meet certain guidelines, and I might add that these industries – and I accept, not every one of them – they have net zero emissions goals by 2050 and particularly in relation to gas, and that is their objective as well. And these are the same companies that will help Australia and the rest of the region, I might add, move to a hydrogen‑based economy.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Modelling by RepuTex, the same company that modelled your 43 per cent emissions reduction target, says the Safeguards Mechanism will have to increase the baseline reduction rate for existing emitters to account for more coal and gas production if more mines or fields are opened. So, is there a risk of crippling industries like steel by doing that?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, we’re working with industry, and Minister Bowen has been engaged in really extensive consultations on the Safeguard Mechanism. What we know is that the Business Council of Australia and much of industry supports it because it provides certainty on the pathway to get to net zero emissions by 2050 for heavy emitters. And that’s what industry needs, is certainty, so they can put positions in place to make sure they reduce emissions. So, the Safeguards Mechanism as proposed by the Government is an extremely positive move and it’s an important step, and I urge all members of Parliament to support it.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Could you make the total emissions cap legally binding? Is that a way of perhaps getting the Greens over the line?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, I’m not going to negotiate, as you’d appreciate, over this excellent radio program. That is a matter for Minister Bowen to raise with the Greens. But that is not for me.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay. But they’re obviously using the IPCC report, which is pretty dire warning, saying that their demands are not excessive, but, in fact, they’re needed. Your government is saying, “Hang on a minute, you have to go with our plan because there’s an emergency.” But isn’t your plan just not good enough to actually meet the reductions that we need to actually fulfil our obligations internationally?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, the IPCC report is a very important document. It sets out the urgent challenge ahead for both our country and the rest of the world. There’s no doubt about it, and I respect the work that the IPCC has done over many years, and it’s a dreadful shame that this country has not sought to take action before. And the wasted 10 years are very real, and now we have a government that is determined to act and indeed has acted with legislation we’ve brought in on emissions targets. But, ultimately, it’s the elected government of this nation that has to establish the response to dangerous climate change and that’s what we’re doing, and the Safeguard Mechanism is an important part of it.

As a government, we’ve got to balance many different calls to action with many other demands, and I respect those calls for action. And I know not everyone agrees with us, but I also know we want to get to the same destination, and we have disagreements about the pathway; but we all want to get to net zero emissions by 2050. So those things that a government has to balance include, what you mentioned before, that there needs to be a manufacturing industry that has to continue. There’s a hard‑to‑abate sector which needs to be considered. We need to provide energy security for all Australians, for our manufacturing and very importantly our mineral processing industry, because without critical minerals we won’t have net zero emissions technology. But we also have an international responsibility to provide energy security to the region. And those resources are an important force for regional stability. So, these are all the things a government has to balance as well as the absolutely urgent need to respond to dangerous climate change.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: US energy giant, ExxonMobil is warning their 50‑year gas fields off the Victorian coast are depleting and won’t be able to step in to provide gas, saying there needs to be alternative sources for gas supply. What are you looking at?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, they are right to say that the Bass Strait is depleting, and the southern states have enjoyed that gas for many years. It comes off the back of oil production. It’s why it was relatively inexpensive compared to other forms of gas that, say, is coming out onshore in Queensland. So, there is other possibilities in the Otway Basin that are extensions of current sites and that’s something we’ll work with the Victorian Government as to permitting and so forth. But – 

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Do you think they should lift their moratorium on gas fields?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, they’ve got a couple of moratoria on different gas fields, but that’s really a matter for the Victorian Government.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: What’s your view as Resources Minister?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, it’s really up to the Victorian government to decide how they will pursue energy security for manufacturing and domestic consumers. And I respect the efforts of the Victorian Government, which have been really superb to introduce offshore wind, onshore wind and solar. But they’ve clearly got a challenge, as has New South Wales. I mean, Victoria, yesterday, I think it was over 70 per cent powered by brown coal in its power generation system, so there’s a long journey for Victoria to move from a principally brown coal‑based power generation jurisdiction to renewables, and they’re working on that pathway and I really respect that.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: You’re also working on this code of conduct with the gas companies. Woodside says they’re optimistic the Government and industry can reach an agreement on that. What’s it currently looking like? What’s the time frame here?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Well, I agree with Woodside. It’s working together and extensive consultation can lead to very good results. And I am sure no matter what we arrive at, not everyone will be happy, but that’s the burden of government – you can’t please everyone. You know, negotiations are ongoing, and discussion is ongoing. The important thing about the code of conduct is that it needs to work for sort of both sides of the equation.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: But it needs to have teeth, doesn’t it, to ensure we keep gas supply here -


PATRICIA KARVELAS: And we don’t suffer from shortfalls?

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: We also need adequate gas supply. But it does need to work for both sides and it does need to have teeth. The producers need to be assured that they can produce adequately and that they’re being able to do what they have done in the very difficult work of gas extraction; and, equally, manufacturers need to be able to get reasonable pricing for the gas that they need to continue manufacturing.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay. Minister, thanks for your time.

MINISTER MADELEINE KING: Yeah, thanks, Patricia. Take care.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Madeleine King is the Resources Minister.