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Interview with ABC Illawarra, with Melinda James

29 May 2020

Melinda James

Subject: COVID-19, JobKeeper, gas, gas prices, Snowy 2.0.


MELINDA JAMES: I'm joined now by Angus Taylor who's the Member for Hume and the Federal Energy Minister. Angus Taylor, good morning, thanks for joining us.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks for having me, Mel.

MELINDA JAMES: What did you make of what Philip Lowe had to say firstly, about being pretty unequivocal about saying it'll be a mistake to withdraw fiscal stimulus too quickly?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, I heard that. I mean, obviously we've got to make a decision and a review is being done in June, and as you pointed out we're at June now, or just about, so that'll be done in short order, Mel. We'll make a decision about where we go with JobKeeper - it's been an important program, make no mistake about it - I think we all understand that. There's many people, many of your listeners out there who will be on it, and it's been very important particularly in some industries to keep people going. On the other hand, we do have to move back to making ends meet and ensuring that we don't burden future generations with excessive debt. So that's an important consideration as well. These things are always trade-offs and the review in June will work its way through that.

MELINDA JAMES: I know you and your federal colleagues have said we should wait for the review in June but do you concede that maybe the review in June should be more about how JobKeeper should possibly be tapered off or applied to specific industries into the future beyond September, rather than whether it should be?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it's just got to look at where JobKeeper goes from here. I mean this is not a sustainable proposition for the long term - let's be very clear about that. We just can't make ends meet by continuing down this track but it has been very important. Look, the other point I'd make, Mel, is yes there are people who are going to and industries that are going to continue to struggle for a period of time but the economy is opening up faster than I think any of us expected, certainly faster than I expected - and that's good news. That's not to say there aren't going to be parts of our economy that really struggle for an extended period of time, that's particularly in areas like tourism, I think it's going to take some real time to get back to anything like normality. But we do seem to be getting back towards normality faster than anyone expected and that's a good thing. So, the review has to take these things into consideration.

MELINDA JAMES: When people are getting off JobKeeper - I mean, people will obviously hold onto the payments until they have to get off them in September - how is that going to be assessed when people need to actually get off them? How does it work?

ANGUS TAYLOR: It just depends when JobKeeper finishes up, and of course there's a plan for when it finishes up now, and there's a review that will take place in June. So I mean look, remember JobKeeper is driven by the employers situation so it is the reduction in revenues for the employer that drives and helps a business to qualify for JobKeeper. So it's really about the status of that business. Now, as businesses move back towards normal, those conditions are no longer there. So you know, this is this is what we've got to look at, we've got to go deep into the data and really understand how it's moving. None of us have experienced anything quite like this before. We're all in unknown territory and that's why we've got to be watching the data, watching the situations, and most importantly, seeing how people are coping on the ground which every local member is doing every day to really understand where we are at and where we have to go from here. But you know this review will be very important.

MELINDA JAMES: There's an interesting story on the front page of The Australian Financial Review. I know that you've been talking up gas as being a big part of refuelling the economy and a big part of Australia's energy future. But it does seem that there's been this manufacturing taskforce led by Andrew Liveris about the future of manufacturing and gas supply here and it looks like it's recommending things like public ownership of new gas pipelines, the government underwriting our gas supply projects, a national gas reservation policy. Are you in favour of the government becoming much more heavily involved in the gas industry to the extent of possibly owning the pipelines and investing in the projects itself?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well couple of points about this, Mel. First of all I would say this is a draft report - and there's been lots of versions of this running around - to government. We haven't even got a final report and it's not a report from government. So this is really a panel that's been looking at the situation. It has, I think, rightly identified that gas is an important fuel source as we have more renewables in our system because it's flexible - as is pumped hydro like the Snowy 2.0 initiative. You know, these are very, very important means of ensuring that when people, and as people put more solar cells on their roofs, we've got a system that's robust and resilient, and that Australian manufacturing takes advantage of what we're seeing now which is lower gas prices and lower electricity prices in Australia - and that's even pre-COVID. So these are great opportunities. We need to take advantage of them. Look, they will report to Government in due course and we'll consider their recommendations and come to our own view on that. There's no doubt that gas is part of the solution, but the point I make time and time again, you know, that one of the problems with the energy debate is everyone thinks there's a silver bullet - there's one fuel source that's the answer to everything. The right answer is a mix, gas needs to be part of that mix - it has been in almost every country in the world that is doing well on bringing down emissions. Hydrogen needs to be part of that solution as well and hydrogen and gas can mix over time. But this will be a report to government, and we'll consider it in due course.

MELINDA JAMES: Okay. Angus Taylor, thanks very much for your time.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks for having me, Mel.