Interview with Chris Smith, 2GB

Chris Smith
Urea, diesel fuel, ACCC, electricity prices, AEMO report, coal fired power, Modern Manufacturing Initiative

CHRIS SMITH: Now, to Energy Minister Angus Taylor, who has a pretty good message to spruik at the moment, as the unofficial election campaign gets underway. New data from the ACCC as found that power prices are down 8 per cent for households, and up to 12 per cent for businesses. That's good news. On average, the Aussie household is paying $128 less than two years ago and while that's the message you'll hear from the coalition, there's a lot more going on, including the commitment to net zero. Energy Minister Angus Taylor is on the line right now. Minister, thank you very much for your time.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks for having me, Chris.

CHRIS SMITH: Now, the Labor party and Albo has been tweeting it. They say, we can only have lower power prices under a Labor government but this new data from the ACCC says otherwise.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, that’s absolutely right. We’re down eight per cent. As you said, $128 for a typical household. There are great deals around. It’s really important people shop around to get those deals. More for small businesses and industry, and this is enormously important. I was the - brought in as the minister for bringing electricity prices down when I became Energy Minister three years ago, and we've driven them down. Now, in contrast, when Labor was last in government, they doubled electricity prices, Chris. So, Albo says one thing and does another. We know that's how he works.

CHRIS SMITH: What about wholesale electricity? The market is being driven down as well. Why has there been a drop?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, there's extra supply coming in, and that's important. But crucially, we're not losing supply without replacement. We saw Hazelwood shut and no replacement for it in Victoria. That sent shock waves through our electricity market a number of years ago and we haven't been seeing that, and that's crucially important in keeping those wholesale prices down, which passes through to consumers and is particularly important to big industry and manufacturing jobs. We've seen growth in manufacturing jobs again in this country, which is wonderful.

CHRIS SMITH: The growth of the renewable energy sources - that's clearly played a role too, right?

ANGUS TAYLOR: It sure has, and we've got record levels of solar on our roofs now in Australia- we're approaching one in three households with solar on their roofs. This is the highest in the world. You know, people like to talk Australia down in terms of bringing down emissions and energy. In fact, we're leading the world and, this is contributing to lower prices- creating some challenges, but we're working to those challenges, and we're getting the outcomes, Chris and that, at the end of the day, is what matters.

CHRIS SMITH: Alright. There was a report from the Australian Energy Market Operator, it found: coal-fired power plants are closing two to three times faster than anticipated. What does that actually mean?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it means they have to be replaced, if they’re closing. Now, they either have to be extended in their life, or they have to be replaced and that's exactly what we're doing with Liddell, as it closes in 2023 in the Hunter Valley. We’re replacing it with a major gas generator in the Hunter, and Energy Australia's building another generator in Illawarra. So, they've got to be replaced. You can't leave a gap in the market. That's our approach, that's our policy. Labor, on the other hand, are assuming they're all going to stay open. You know, frankly, you can't make that assumption. The reality is, some of these generators are getting very old and they need to be replaced and that's exactly what we're doing.

CHRIS SMITH: And the more we talk about electric cars, and electric this, and electric that, the more baseload power we're going to have to have. And I don't get it, you know - I hear what Anthony Albanese says about: oh, we're not going to get rid of coal-fired power stations, you know, we want to keep the jobs and we need as much power as we can. Well, hang on a minute. If these coal-fired power station plants are closing two to three times faster than anticipated – that’s the truth from the Australian Energy Market Operator – we’ve got to ensure that baseload power is not reduced.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, that’s exactly right and I’ve seen Labor oppose replacing generators that are leaving the market. I mean, that’s what they’ve done. They also don't know the difference between a wholesale price and a retail price. So they really don't understand the market and that's why we saw a doubling of prices power, carbon tax in post, and much industry lost. You know, we're building a gas generator at Kurri Kurri, the very site where after a carbon tax was introduced by Labor, we saw an aluminium smelter close. That's what we're seeking to avoid here. And in fact, we're seeing growth in manufacturing jobs we're seeing reduction in electricity prices, and our emissions are also 20 per cent down since 2005, Chris, so this is a track record to be proud of. We can talk Australia up, not talk Australia down as so many others, including the Labor Party, like to do.

CHRIS SMITH: Five years ago, if I had a discussion with the mining industry, they would say, well, you can't have cheaper electricity prices without coal-fired power stations. That particular boast is not quite as clear cut nowadays, is it?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, they're part of the mix, and they’re going to be part of the mix for a long time, despite what AEMO says. I mean, AEMO accepts that. So, they will be part of the mix for a long time but other sources of energy are playing a bigger role. I mean, I talked about solar on people's roofs. Many of your listeners out there will have solar on their roofs. Gas is playing an increasingly important role because you can turn it on and off quickly and the world is realising how important gas is to both electricity generation and industry at the moment. We have enough gas in Australia, but many countries around the world don't and that's an important part of the mix. And we're seeing other sources of energy coming in. That's got to be managed very carefully. That's what we're doing. It’s got to be managed to bring electricity prices down as well as bringing emissions down. That's what we're doing, Chris, and we'll continue to.

CHRIS SMITH: I just want to mention one thing, applications for the Modern Manufacturing Initiative, they're open now. Can you just explain that to our listeners?

ANGUS TAYLOR:  Yeah, this is a big focus for us on getting more manufacturing jobs in Australia. Over a billion dollars committed to this fund, with a whole series of rolling programs for Australian manufacturers to get support, not to just, you know, continue doing what they're doing, but to do things which make them sustainable and competitive into the future, so they can employ more Australians. They're doing it. We're back to over a million people working in manufacturing in Australia now. We haven't seen that since the carbon tax was introduced by Labor, so it's great news. This program is all about supporting those manufacturers into the next era, with the sort of technologies that make our manufacturers successful in an increasingly competitive world.

CHRIS SMITH:  And just quickly, the fuel stock piles of AdBlue. The trucking industry is concerned that this is needed in their diesel trucking fleet and I think two-thirds of the fleet use AdBlue. The Chinese have put an import ban on it. What are we going to do to fix this up?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, it's an important issue. I mean, I drive an AdBlue car, a Ford Everest, and many of your listeners will have cars that use AdBlue. Look, the stocks are within the normal range. We've got seven weeks of stocks either on the ground or on its way in a container and that's within the range of what's normal. However, there have been global disruptions, as you’ve said. The Chinese have been unhelpful on this, and we're seeing other unhelpful behaviour. However, there's no need to go out and buy additional stocks, buying additional stocks right now is unnecessary and it’s unhelpful. We're right on it. We are looking at every option to make sure there is no possibility of a disruption in the coming months, looking at both internal manufacturing options as well as import options. We do manufacture it here in Australia, in Brisbane, and there's potential to manufacture more.

CHRIS SMITH:  Okay, so, you'd have to get that manufacturing plant up and running again, because it's since been closed?



ANGUS TAYLOR: It’s being manufactured as we speak. However, AdBlue is made from urea, which is essentially fertiliser. Most of the production in Australia is going into fertiliser. So there's potential to divert a small amount of that into production of AdBlue. So that's something we could do reasonably quickly but we're looking at a range of options, whichever is going to be best to make sure we don't have a disruption.

CHRIS SMITH: Thank you so much for your time this morning.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good on you, Chris. Thank you.

CHRIS SMITH: Alright. Federal Energy Minister, Angus Taylor.