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Doorstop Cooma, NSW

14 November 2018

Subject: Energy

E&OE

JOURNALIST: Minister, just to start a number of major energy companies have come out, most recently Woodside, in favour of a carbon price. Is the Government being left behind here? The energy sector wants carbon pricing now but the Government doesn't?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I'll tell you what the Government cares about: it's meeting our obligations and we're well on track to do it. I mean, we've met Kyoto 1, we've met Kyoto 2, we're well on track to reach Paris. In the national electricity market we're expecting to reach our targets, based on investments that are committed now, in the early 2020s - well ahead of 2030. So, it's the outcomes that matter and that's what we've focused on and that's what the Australian people expect us to focus on. Others will focus on a whole lot of other things. For us - no distractions. It's the outcomes that matter.

JOURNALIST: These companies are clearly interested in the means of getting there, though - why does the Government remain opposed to a carbon tax?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, companies will talk their own books and we would expect that. There's every reason for companies to talk their own books, but we'll talk one book, which is the book for the Australian people; for Australian families and businesses who want to see lower electricity prices, who want to make sure that the lights come on when they flick the switch. That's our focus, not the big companies. The big energy companies will talk their own books; we'll focus on the needs and interests of the Australian people. It's unfortunate that we've seen Labor siding with the energy companies in recent days. This is a Labor that's now decided that they're more interested in the interests of the energy companies than they are in the interests of hard working Australian businesses and families. We will side with Australian businesses and families.

JOURNALIST: What do you mean by talking their own books, though? What do these companies stand to gain from a carbon price?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, you know, there's all sorts of reasons why companies might gain from a carbon price. You know, if you're a hydro-aluminium smelter or if you're a gas producer, there's reasons why you might have an interest in it. But what matters to us is not the interests of the big companies, it's the interests of small businesses and Australian families, and that's what we're resolutely focused on. We're unapologetic in saying that is what we want to see - we want to see lower prices and reliable electricity for those small businesses and families that work hard, get out there every day, and know there's something wrong here, that they are, at times, being ripped off. There have been dodgy practices. There has been price gouging. It's got to stop.

JOURNALIST: Just on the divestment powers - Labor and the energy companies are on the same side there as well, opposed to those big stick divestment powers. How worried are you about a potential High Court challenge?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I'll tell you what: Labor should be worried about siding with the big energy companies and not siding with small businesses and Australian families. Labor has made a decision here to side with the big energy companies and these are companies that, when capacity, when supply's been withdrawn from the market, have decided to price gouge. We saw it when Hazelwood shut. We saw it when Hazelwood shut - the prices were hiked with no increase in costs. And Labor is siding with these companies under those circumstances. You know, they really need to decide whose side they're on. We're clear about whose side we're on - we're on the side of Australian small businesses and families.

JOURNALIST: How worried are you about a potential High Court challenge to those divestment powers?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we take advice on these things and we're confident in our position. We don't release that, but we are confident in our position. Look, divestment powers exist in legislation in the UK, in the US - we've seen major cases over the years in those countries. These should only be used in extenuating circumstances. Unfortunately we have seen very bad circumstances in recent times in the electricity market where supply was withdrawn, prices were hiked, and companies refused to replace that supply or to keep it going. Well, that's unacceptable and we are going to stand with Australian families and small businesses against those sorts of practices.

JOURNALIST: Given these laws are potentially so powerful, are you worried this could set a precedent and they could be misused by future governments down the track?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, they should only be used in extenuating circumstances. At the end of the day, the big stick is there only to be used if necessary. We want these companies to start stepping up to the plate and doing the right thing by Australians. If they don't, the big stick is there. And we've seen, as I say, in other countries these sorts of tools have been used effectively. But we need it there as a means of telling the energy companies: it's time to step up and focus on your customers - not on yourselves, not on the record profits we've seen in recent years. Record profits in recent years. It's time to focus on the customer, not just your profits.

JOURNALIST: Just quickly on Snowy Hydro - how confident are you this project is actually going to get up and will you put Commonwealth money on the table to ensure it does?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I'm very confident that the Snowy scheme will continue to play an extremely important role in our electric market - in fact, an increasingly important role in the coming years. We need the storage that it can provide - it's doing it today. It'll help us out this summer - as we go into a tough summer, Snowy will play a very, very important role and I know the team at Snowy are working hard to make sure that this summer we have the electricity we need, that we contain prices, and that we get a good outcome for Australians as we go into a tough summer. Snowy is playing that role now; it will continue to play that role. In fact, it's an increasingly important role and I strongly back that.

JOURNALIST: I was referring, sorry, to Snowy 2.0. How confident are you that the Snowy 2.0 project will eventually be [inaudible].

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I'm confident that pumped hydro will play an important role in the national electricity market in the coming years. Snowy 2.0's got to stack up for taxpayers, like any investment government makes. But Snowy is in a great position to help consumers, to sit on the side of the customer and make sure that we've got that affordable, reliable electricity every Australian wants to see.

JOURNALIST: You said in the speech just then the business case does need to stack up - what specific areas are you concerned about?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it's not about concerns; it's just- Australian taxpayers expect us to spend and invest their hard-earned cash based on hard-headed analysis of whether or not they're going to get a return - return as taxpayers, return as customers. And that's what I do every day - I bring into politics the business experience where I know that you've got to be hard-headed when you make big investment decisions. But, as I say, Snowy has a very, very important role to play in the region where we are here right today, in Cooma, and it has a very, very important role to play in making sure that Australians get the affordable, reliable, electricity they deserve.

JOURNALIST: Snowy Hydro's asking that it not be subjected to a regulatory investment test for some associated infrastructure works worth billions of dollars. Should they not have to undergo that test?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, hang on, let's be clear - that's not about Snowy, that's about transmissions; a different question. Snowy understands that this project, Snowy 2.0, needs to pass rigorous tests. It needs to deliver to taxpayers, it needs to deliver to electricity consumers. And we only invest on that basis. I mean, that is how we should approach it and Snowy understands that, we understand that, and it's important that we get a good result. But the crucial point here is that Snowy has a crucial role to play in the coming months and years in making sure we have competition in this marketplace, we have lower prices, and we have reliability and security to deliver electricity when it's needed - when people flick that light switch. And that role for Snowy is increasingly important and I want to make sure that the team at Snowy stay focused on it; the good news is they are.

JOURNALIST: You have described it as fundamental, though - is it so important that it should not have to be subjected to tests- the associated works, the transmission works, should not have to be subjected to tests?

ANGUS TAYLOR: No taxpayer money will be spent without proper process in place, without the right governance, without making sure that the taxpayers get a good deal. Look, my job as a minister, as a member of this Government, is to make sure that Australian consumers, Australian households, small businesses, and of course Australian taxpayers, get a fair deal. We haven't seen them getting a fair deal in the electricity market in recent years. We've seen record profits and we have seen some practices that are unacceptable. And I'll sit on the side of the taxpayer and Australian households and small businesses any day of the week.