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Interview with Chris Smith, 2GB

8 January 2021

Interviewer: 
Chris Smith

Subject: Boosting Australia’s Diesel Storage program

E&OE

CHRIS SMITH: Well, on the face of it, fuel security isn't a very sexy topic, but with all the uncertainty in the world it's certainly important. Australia imports the equivalent of 90 per cent of its refined fuel needs - 90 per cent - but for years we've only had the capacity to store 20 days of diesel in the national tank in the case of emergency. That's all, tiny amount, particularly if the proverbial hits the fan. Like if war breaks out in the Middle East and supply is disrupted we're in big trouble. Without fuel you can't harvest crops, manufacturers shut down, tens of thousands of people lose jobs, trucks come to a halt, the lights go off, we go hungry. So I want to speak with Federal Minister for Energy Angus Taylor, this morning to find out what the government is doing to address this issue. Minister, good morning to you.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good morning, Chris. Thanks for having me.

CHRIS SMITH: I want to ask a few questions about what else is going on in the world and also locally very shortly. But firstly, 20 days of storage - that's nowhere near enough, is it?

ANGUS TAYLOR: No, we need more. We're targeting 90 days across the whole supply chain, that includes crude oil, Chris. And we need to add some days to get to that. Now, what we're announcing today is the beginning of a process to build 780 million litres of new diesel storage. That's a program where we are putting in $200 million, we expect it to be matched by the private sector. And-

CHRIS SMITH: So hang on, grants. These are grants?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah correct, but grants that are focussed on getting extra diesel fuel storage into place in good locations. That program will open up today and will be open for the next six weeks or so. But the important point is this is all about making sure we've got enough diesel and other fuel types, but this program's particularly focussed on diesel, to ensure that our truckies, our farmers, our other diesel users - because it's a hugely important part of our economy - have the fuel when they need it. Alongside this, we've got initiatives focussed on shoring up our refining. We've been buying fuel stocks and so on to ensure that we have that fuel when we need it, because it is a critical issue. Like the pandemic - it's not something that you think about every day - but I tell you what, if you run out of fuel, for those of us who remember the 1970s when it happened- 

CHRIS SMITH: Yes. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: It's not a good day. 

CHRIS SMITH: I was about to say in the last 40 years - forget about what happened in the 70s - but in the last 40 years this has not been a problem, but it could very quickly become a problem.

ANGUS TAYLOR: That's exactly right. And that's what we're focussed on this. Look, the good news is through the pandemic we've had a surplus of fuel. We've had no shortage of it, obviously. And as you rightly say, through the last 40 years, we've been able to manage this well. But it's important in a world that is increasingly uncertain in some ways, we do have access to the fuel stocks we need, and this program is about making sure we've got the diesel we need for those farmers and truckies and so on.

CHRIS SMITH: All hell broke loose on Capitol Hill yesterday. These rioters and thugs have been condemned by the Prime Minister. And it's a great pity because they had every right to voice their disapproval about the result of that election and alleged fraud, and you have every right to protest, especially in the United States, the land of free speech. But you cross the line, you lose your legitimacy, don't you?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well look, democracy matters. It's the bedrock that our country is built on. It's the bedrock that the United States is built on. Obviously, what we've seen in the last 24 hours is distressing. It's really concerning. But I tell you what, Chris, the one thing I'm very confident of is our relationship with the United States as a great ally, as a great friend will get through this. That strength of relationship will remain and it must do despite these goings on. Look, the United States is a great democracy, it is a great country, it is a great ally of Australia, and it will remain that way.

CHRIS SMITH: Just on the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine. I spoke with Greg Hunt yesterday, and it's interesting that they've shortened the time span between now and when we can expect the roll out. The latest is it'll be the middle of next month. Maybe the middle to the end of next month. Six weeks earlier than planned. This will make a great deal of difference, but it is not the silver bullet, is it?

ANGUS TAYLOR: No, it's not, because it can't happen all at once. We're obviously going to focus initially on our health care workers, aged care, quarantine workers. We have to focus on those areas of priority initially. It will roll out across the broader population from there. But we're going to have to remain vigilant in the meantime. We don't want outbreaks while the vaccine is being rolled out because that'll get us back to where we were and we don't want to go there, Chris. I mean, we've seen in the last little while some of the implications as you get an outbreak, so we've got to remain vigilant. But the good news is we have brought the vaccination rollout forward. It's progressing well and this is good news in terms of getting us beyond the pandemic and onto revitalising our economy, revitalising our country.

CHRIS SMITH: We're in a great position though, and people need to understand that. We don't have the same urgency as the United States and the United Kingdom. We're looking very, very assured of ourselves in terms of our processes to suppress this virus. We've done so well.

ANGUS TAYLOR: We absolutely have. And nowhere is that more true than where I am right now, which is in regional New South Wales. It's been extraordinary, really. I live right near Goulburn and we've barely missed a beat. We had a few weeks there in the first lockdown which weren't great, but this has been managed pretty damn well in the scheme of things. We're in a good position. Most importantly we're in a great position for our businesses to get back up on their feet and going on the other side of this through the course of this year. I'm optimistic about this year. There'll be tough times through it, no doubt, as we get through the rollout, but I think we're extremely well positioned as you say, Chris.

CHRIS SMITH: Yeah. I probably have given some of my listeners a bit of a headache in arguing for, over the past three or four weeks, a ‘no test no fly’ policy to reduce the number of people who are thrown into hotel quarantine with the virus and therefore reduce the likelihood of leaks from those hotels. National Cabinet will meet this morning. Will they adopt a ‘no test no fly’ policy, are you hearing? What are your thoughts on adopting one?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, look, it's very clear we've got to maintain a strong quarantine process. We've got to make sure we have a strong position with people coming into the country. As you say, the vaccine is not as silver bullet, it won't happen overnight. I know the National Cabinet is meeting today and will continue to consider the best possible way to manage quarantining and people coming into the country. The PM has said that this is a matter for the airlines to work through. But as I say, I know the National Cabinet is considering these quarantining issues.

CHRIS SMITH: Yeah, good to speak with you. Have a great year. Hopefully a much better year than 2020. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good on you. Thanks Chris, you too.

ENDS

Media contact:

Minister Taylor's office: 02 6277 7120