Interview with Chris Kenny The Kenny Report, Sky News
22 May 2019
CHRIS KENNY: Congratulations on winning your way back into Government, Angus. You were sworn in as Energy Minister previously - I presume you're still acting that position now until we get word of any reshuffle?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, that's right. Of course, the choice of ministers is the choice of the Prime Minister, but look, it's been a real privilege to serve in that role, Chris, since August last year. It's a tough role, but a really important one. We now have a very clear mandate to get on with the job of getting electricity prices down, driving reliability, making sure we're getting more supply into the system, making sure we've got downward pressure on retail and wholesale electricity prices. This matters not just for household bills, but as we saw in the election, there's a real sense that industrial jobs, making sure those blue collar jobs continue to be strong here in Australia - that's absolutely crucial.
CHRIS KENNY: Well, Angus, you and I have talked about these issues so many times in the lead up to the election and we're both described by Bill Shorten and the ABC, and many others as some sort of ‘knuckle-draggers’ because we have both argued not only that Australia needs affordable, reliable energy and that climate change action must be curtailed to a degree in order to accommodate that, but also that Australian voters actually felt the same way themselves, that mainstream voters understood the importance of this issue and that Australian climate action shouldn't get ahead of the rest of the world to jeopardise all that. Hey, go figure - we were right and they were wrong.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, you know, the quiet Australians have spoken. I couldn't put it better myself. The Prime Minister said that on Saturday night and it's absolutely right. I saw it on polling booths in Penrith, in Launceston, and in my own electorate, in Camden and Goulburn. Time and time again I saw these quiet Australians. They want a government just to be sensible, for the action on emissions to be proportionate, but most importantly, to keep a focus on industrial jobs and household electricity bills – and that's exactly what we're doing.
CHRIS KENNY: Apparently, they're actually knuckle draggers, all these swinging voters and mainstream voters?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I think they're just sensible Australians who want the government to do the right thing by the country, and they've backed us. We have a very clear mandate now. It's up to Labor now, whoever is going to lead the Labor Party - and that's very unclear - it's up to them now to respect our mandate and allow us to get on with the job of pursuing the agenda which we laid out very clearly before the election: getting more supply into the market, caps on prices, making sure the energy companies are doing the right thing to ensure that supply that's coming into the market is 24/7 supply, Chris, that doesn't rely on the wind blowing or the sun shining. It's there when you need it to keep the wheels of industry turning and to keep electricity bills down.
CHRIS KENNY: You're right, the people have backed you, they've given you that chance. But in some ways, it might not seem like this after the last six months. That was probably the easy bit. It's a pretty difficult task you've set yourself, to actually get more generation into the system, dispatchable generation, and keep prices down. Do you believe you've got enough in your policy suite at the moment or are you looking to do more? Can you give us any more clarity on whether a new coal-fired generation plant is likely to be part of the mix?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it is a broad ranging agenda. From 1 July, Australians will see for the first time price caps and reference prices, which will mean those who don't negotiate a price, don’t have time for whatever reason, are going to get a fair price, and there will be a single reference price that you can negotiate against. So you're not getting confused by all the different offers coming from energy companies. So that's at the retail end. We've also said, during the election campaign, we set a target price for wholesale prices of 25 per cent reduction, and that means more supply and competition. We've got twelve projects, 4000 megawatts of capacity, as well as feasibility on a HELE coal plant at Collinsville. That extra supply and competition is absolutely crucial. We've sent a very clear signal to the energy companies, and that signal is - wholesale prices have got to come down to that price target we've set, or we'll just keep pushing more supply and competition into the marketplace. Now, that's a pretty sharp set of levers, Chris. It's now really time for the industry to work with Government to make that happen as quickly as possible.
CHRIS KENNY: What about the Liddell Power Station, coal fired power station - expected to shut in 2022. There's been a lot of toing and froing over that. Is that done and dusted, or now that you've won re-election, can you have another look at that and see if you can find a way to keep that in operation a little longer? Because the market operator has suggested when that drops out, we're going to see a bit of a crunch both in reliability and prices.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well in December last year, we managed to get through a major reform called the Reliability Obligation, Chris, and what this means is the retailers have an obligation now to meet the needs of their customers with enough dispatchable 24/7 power. Now in New South Wales where Liddell is, that will mean Liddell either needs to be replaced or extended, its life extended - one or the other - because if it doesn't, they'll be in breach of this obligation which was laid out, new set of rules came into place December last year and will be in place from 1 July. So, there is very hard work being done right now by the energy companies to sort this out. The Government will be looking very closely at it to make sure it's done right. There are serious penalties that will be incurred if they don't do it right and this is a very, very important reform. Liddell will need to be either extended or replaced. There's no in-between.
CHRIS KENNY: No doubt they would have been waiting - the energy companies, including AGL - would have been waiting to see the outcome of the Federal Election before they move on and that's fair enough. There was uncertainty there but now they're going to have to make those decisions. Someone else who was obviously waiting for the outcome of the Federal Election before deciding her next move was the Queensland Premier Anastacia Palaszczuk, who I was saying all along was deliberately delaying Adani approvals because of the elections. Suddenly, she's come out today and saying, cracking the whip, saying they need a new timeline in place by the end of the week to try and get a yay or nay on this mine. Does that surprise you? Does it frustrate you? Has she been honest with Queensland voters over the past couple of months?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I think the outcome of the election was very clear. Queenslanders are asking for jobs, and the question now is whether Palaszczuk is going to support those calls, whether it's going to listen to those very loud clear calls from the Queensland people. Now, we've got through those major approvals, Federal Government approvals, just before the election for Adani. It's now up to the State Government, Chris. They need to decide whether they're sitting on the side of the Queensland people who are calling for jobs, and we, of course, are watching very closely.
CHRIS KENNY: Now, there were a few smear campaigns around in the election. We've talked a lot about some of the ugly tactics that succeeded against Tony Abbott, that failed against Peter Dutton, and Nicolle Flint, and others. But you were subjected to a smear over - the so-called “Watergate” scandal. I put some of that to you during the election campaign. That was uncomfortable for you, but everything I read and dug out, including all the stuff that was put together by the ABC and Channel 10, amounted to a hill of beans. It amounted to nothing against you. Yet, they managed to smear you mercilessly, cheered on by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the taxpayers, media entity, and obviously, a political ploy. Obviously, this was all orchestrated to try and hurt the Government. So, let's not go over that old ground but just put up in lights for a Coalition government that they need to do something about the ABC. It's just completely running out of control. No one's in charge. It's obviously got a political bias and in a case like that goes out in a strategic political agenda.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Chris, the good news is that those smear campaigns, that smear campaign didn't work. I had a 3 per cent swing towards me - a very strong swing in my electorate - and the reason I think is simple is that the voters are smart. Never underestimate the voters of Hume, or Australia more generally. They are able to distinguish the wheat from the chaff, and I think it's very important for all media outlets to understand that the quiet Australians out there make up their own minds. They make their own calls.
CHRIS KENNY: I couldn't agree with you more. In fact, throughout the campaign, I had a couple of colleagues here saying: ‘They've got so much biased media - Nine media, and the ABC, and Channel 10 - and surely, it's killing off any chance of the Coalition getting re-elected’. And I said: ‘No, actually people overestimate the influence of the media. Voters see through it and they make up their own mind’, and I'm glad to have been vindicated in that belief I've always held.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah.
CHRIS KENNY: But that doesn't excuse the ABC. Just because the ABC doesn't influence the outcome, it doesn't excuse the way [inaudible] $1.2 billion worth of taxpayer's money running a Green left propaganda outfit. Isn't it time a Coalition government had the balls to do something about it?
ANGUS TAYLOR: I think what's very clear, Chris, is that the so-called Canberra bubble has to get out of Canberra. The Press Gallery - and the Prime Minister has said this many times, the Canberra bubble, more generally, needs to start reconnecting back with the grassroots. It's a great frustration for a member of the House of Representatives. We're out there. It's our job to be talking to people on the ground every day. We're all doing it and we see the disconnect between what we're seeing in the Canberra bubble and what we're seeing on the ground, and I think this is a real wakeup call for everyone in that bubble to get out and reconnect with the grassroots because the grassroots said something different from what many most. You're [inaudible] most in the Canberra bubble thought was going to happen, and that reconnection is very important. I mean, I look at the loss we've had in that local grassroots media. Even in my own electorate, it's been devastating. The reduction in the number of journalists who are out talking to people on the ground-
CHRIS KENNY: Yeah.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Talking to small businesses and households because that's where the action is. That's where you really get to understand what's happening in Australia. And I think that reconnection has to happen, Chris. There's no doubt about it.
CHRIS KENNY: But it makes me laugh because this is not new. This is not new or unexpected. This is exactly what people like me were talking about throughout the election campaign; what we've talked about for years. It happens all the time, and it's not a new thing with Brexit and Trump either. The point is the mainstream is always sensible, the mainstream is always aspirational, and the mainstream disconnected from the media political elites. Otherwise John Howard never would have been elected. Every time John Howard got re-elected, it flew in the face of the thinking and predictions of the Canberra press gallery and others, and it was the same with Tony Abbott - and here it was again. So if they haven't learnt now, they're never going to learn. So I suppose we shouldn't even worry about the Canberra Press Gallery or the media and academic elites. What you need to worry about is that your politicians, is the Coalition MPs continue to remember this so that they focus on the real needs instead of, you know, chasing climate gestures or feeding the beast that is the ABC, or whatever it is they do to try and make a sacrifice to the gods of political correctness.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well look, and I think you make a very good point. One of the things I take from this election is great confidence in focussing on what we're hearing on the ground around Australia. In the lead up to the election, I always believed we could win it. And I always believed we could win it on the back of, you know, the retirees, young families, the tradies, the blue collar workers, who I could see were attracted to what we were offering. A fair go for those who have a go, the aspirational Australians. Scott Morrison's extraordinary campaign where I think he really connected to those aspirational values. I could see that connection and it's very important for us as politicians to make sure we are confident in what we're hearing on the ground and we don't get diverted by smear campaigns or campaigns that are completely out of touch with what's happening on the ground. I think this election has certainly given me confidence to continue to focus on what I'm hearing out in Townsville, in Penrith, in Launceston, in Camden, or Goulburn in my own electorate. These places where you hear very clear messages, which aren't always the messages you're hearing if you read the newspaper in the morning.
CHRIS KENNY: I'm just wondering you, it gives you confidence and of course, we've seen Scott Morrison travel the length and breadth of the country. We've heard quite a bit from the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. Has anyone heard from or seen Melissa Price? Do you think she'll be confident now to come out from whatever hole she's hiding in in Western Australia?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well look, I've had a very good working relationship with Melissa in my role as Energy Minister. You've got to remember, Chris, when she delivered the emission policies - which were crucial in this campaign-
CHRIS KENNY: But she hasn't, she's refused to talk to anyone about them, Angus Taylor. We've had an Environment Minister [inaudible] where she's been central in the campaign and she's just been completely AWOL because no one trusts her to actually argue her case.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, she delivered the policies, and let's face it, Chris - the differentiation we had in that policy area versus Labor's policies, the 45 per cent emission reduction target, 50 per cent renewable energy target, the obsession with electric vehicles, the carbon tax they wanted to impose on industry, the punitive approach they were taking to farmers and farmers control over their own land. I mean, the Australian people have rejected those policies in no uncertain terms.
CHRIS KENNY: They sure have. Just quickly on that. Sorry, I meant to ask you about this earlier, Angus, and that is, do you believe there's any chance, now that having seen the way all that policy prescription was rejected, that Labor would take the sensible option and go back to where they were a few years ago and that is supporting the Paris targets?
ANGUS TAYLOR: I think this is a big question for those potential leaders, Chris. What is their position going to be? I mean, we have a very clear mandate coming out of this election. Business, rightly and the community more generally, wants bipartisanship on this. Well, here's the opportunity. Are those leaders going to back our policies, back our mandate? Back the real clarity we had in this area as to what we're doing, what we want to achieve - a proportionate, balanced, approach to these issues? That's a very good question for those leadership contenders. I'm not convinced any of the people that have put their hat in the ring are fit to lead. Chris Bowen put together these tax policies that have been very clearly rejected. Albanese, of course, in 2015 was dead against strong border policies, dead against boat turn backs. I think it is incumbent on them to lay out what they're going to do as leaders, but right now, the policies have been rejected. That's very clear.
CHRIS KENNY: Angus Taylor, appreciate it.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks.