Doorstop interview, Parliament House, Canberra
27 February 2020
Subject: Energy bills, late payment penalties, gas supply
ANGUS TAYLOR: Good news today for hardworking Australian households and small businesses. From 1 July there will be a new rule in place for the energy companies which will crack down on dodgy late payment penalties. We've seen hardworking small businesses and families being penalised up to 40 per cent for paying bills just a couple of hours late. This is inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour, and the new rules will ensure that that kind of dodgy practice that we've seen in the past is no longer. Now, the benefits for households will be up to $185, for a typical household, and close to $1000 for a small business. So this is a very substantial benefit and all part of our broader focus on ensuring Australians have affordable, reliable energy, that they get a fair deal from their energy companies, and then at the same time we're continuing to drive down our emissions and ensure we meet our international obligations on emissions.
Now in line with that it really has been Groundhog Day. In the last week or so, we saw Labor, day after day after day, refusing to rule out a carbon tax. They've committed to a target for emissions reduction with no plan - a target 30 years out, without a target for the next 10 years and with no plan. They're spruiking a CSIRO report which has embedded in it a carbon tax of over $270. It's time for Labor to come clean to the Australian people about what their real plan is. They right now are a party that is focused on a target without a plan.
JOURNALIST: Mr Taylor, we see the cost of electricity is again causing problems in industry like Rio Tinto now having problems with its aluminium smelters. It could have to close down if it continues to lose money on these. How can you reassure businesses, like Rio Tinto, when electricity prices are now having this sort of impact on business?
ANGUS TAYLOR: The good news is that wholesale electricity prices are coming down, as are wholesale gas prices. So in the last three months, we've seen wholesale electricity prices up to 35 per cent lower than the same time last year. We're seeing exactly the same with gas prices. This is crucially important. We're seeing it because more supply is coming in and we're not seeing loss of supply that we saw, for instance, with the loss of Hazelwood in Victoria. That needs to be sustained.
JOURNALIST: So why does-
ANGUS TAYLOR: Let me finish. Let me finish. That needs to be sustained and it needs to be passed through into contracts. Businesses will often be on long-term contracts. As those contracts roll over, these discounts need to be passed through. Now, the Big Stick legislation we passed through, we passed through the Parliament last year requires companies to pass on substantial and sustained savings in the wholesale price through to customers as contracts roll over. We will be expecting energy companies to do that. I know the ACCC will be watching this closely. I've spoken with the ACCC chairman about exactly this issue. It is crucial that as those savings continue they're passed through to customers, and customers get a fair deal - whether big industry, small businesses or households - they get a fair deal on energy in this country.
JOURNALIST: When you talk about long-term contracts, and some of these contracts with Rio Tinto could be being many months, many years-
ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah.
JOURNALIST: How can they be reassured now if they can't be guaranteed that there's going to be an impact on their product now? You could see, realistically, high prices of electricity in Australia having an impact on businesses in Australia forcing them to close.
ANGUS TAYLOR: We are very strongly committed to the aluminium industry, all downstream metal processing, food processing and they're all energy intensive businesses. And that's why we're putting downward pressure on the wholesale prices. The assurance I can give every customer of energy out there is this Government is working night and day to ensure we have downward pressure on electricity prices and gas prices and the key to that is more supply in. And on the gas side - which is crucial for electricity prices, not just for gas itself - just in recent weeks, we've agreed with New South Wales to a target of an extra 70 petajoules of gas coming into the New South Wales market, in a market of 120 - that is an enormous increase in domestic gas in New South Wales that will be available for industry, small businesses, for households, not just for their direct gas usage but importantly, we know gas has a very important role in ensuring that we've got affordable, reliable electricity.
JOURNALIST: Minister Taylor, just on what they're calling the “sports rorts saga” as it were - the ABC is reporting that there was $50,000 for a sports club in the Prime Minister's electorate for a building that had already been built. Does there need to be a review into how this money was spent?
ANGUS TAYLOR: You know, I'm a member in a regional electorate that's growing fast and one of the biggest points of pressure is making sure we have enough community infrastructure, supporting infrastructure for those families that send off their kids to sport or go with the kids to sport on a Saturday morning and all of our facilities are stretched. So, we've been focusing, and state governments have been focusing on investing in that infrastructure that is crucially, crucially important. There needs to be contestability in those processes - of course that's very, very important - but we need to keep investing in this infrastructure and that's right across Australia - whether it's in the cities, suburbs or the regions - these are crucial, crucial programs and we'll continue to focus on them.
JOURNALIST: But money for a building that's already been built seems like waste of money, doesn't it?
ANGUS TAYLOR: We've been through the whole eligibility issue and there's been much discussion on this in recent weeks. As I say, the important point here is that we need to keep investing in this crucial infrastructure for the community. There has been under-investment in the past and we need to address that.
JOURNALIST: Just back on the Rio Tinto issue, Minister?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah.
JOURNALIST: Will you look at financial support for businesses trying to deal with the current issue of high electricity prices?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, yeah, yeah, look, the crucial financial support for big energy users in industry is to get lower wholesale electricity prices - they pay something close to the wholesale price, a different position from small businesses and households, and that's why we need to continue to put downward pressure on the wholesale electricity price. Now we're doing that with a very strong focus on getting more supply into the market. The Underwriting New Generation Program is a good example of how the Government is driving more supply into the marketplace. The $1 billion Grid Reliability Fund, ensuring that our record levels of investment in solar and wind - $9 billion in the last 12 months and forecast to be a similar amount this year - is matched with investment in dispatchable generation. Snowy 2.0, just under $1.4 billion committed from the Government to get more supply into the market. All of that supply puts downward pressure on wholesale prices and that's the real financial outcome that these businesses want. I don't think business wants handouts from Government, they want a fair deal on energy and that's exactly what we'll continue to focus on, and business is right to want that.
JOURNALIST: Mr Taylor, were you interviewed by the AFP when it comes to the fraudulent document?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Two police forces have considered and closed this matter. I've made statements on it, I really don't have more to add.
JOURNALIST: Were you interviewed?
ANGUS TAYLOR: In terms of your specific question, the Commissioner gave a Press Club speech a couple of weeks ago where he answered that question. I've got nothing more to add to what he said.