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Interview with Chris Smith, Sky News

8 April 2021

Chris Smith

Subject: Coal jobs in the Hunter Valley, Malcom Turnbull, electricity generation, coal exports, electricity prices


CHRIS SMITH: Well, it's been a massive week for what role coal plays in our future. Firstly, we had this almighty barney within the Liberal Party of New South Wales about a green zero emissions job handed to Malcolm Turnbull. And as soon as he indicated he'd put a stop to new coal mines, his new job almost instantly evaporated. Secondly, we've had news about a record number of low emission coal fired power stations being built in both China and India. Meanwhile, the National Party has selected its candidate for the by-election in the Upper Hunter, which is destined for next month, which most judges are saying will be a referendum on coal. So to discuss these issues, I was joined much earlier today by the Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor. You must have been pleased that the New South Wales Government came to its senses and decided to withdraw that job for Malcolm Turnbull.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, look, I think Gladys and Matt made the right decision there, Chris. I saw that many of our supporters, our voters were fed up with Malcolm's interventions, just as we've seen Labor voters fed up with Kevin Rudd's interventions. Former Prime Ministers have a role to play in public life, but it's got to be the right role. But there's another aspect to this, which is that when someone turns up from the city in a country area, like where I live and where my electorate is, and tell us how to live, what kind of jobs we're allowed to have, what kind of cars to drive, we don't appreciate it. And that has certainly happened with this idea of a moratorium on coal mining in New South Wales, of course including the Hunter Valley, and I think that was totally inappropriate.

CHRIS SMITH: Can you see a time when we do have a moratorium on new coal mines? I guess what I'm trying to ask you is: it is our primary source of baseload power at the moment, how long will that continue for, do you think? Two decades?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it's 60 per cent of our electricity system right now, so it's a very important part of our system. It's dispatchable. It's there when you want. It ensures that when you flip the switch, it's there. It ensures that we've got that baseload for manufacturing in this country. And any change to that has to be managed very, very carefully, which is why as we look to the closure of very old coal fired power stations, they have to be replaced. There has to be a plan in place to replace them appropriately. But importantly, coal is also one of our biggest exports, and of course the biggest export port in the world for coal, for thermal coal, is at Newcastle.


ANGUS TAYLOR: That's an important part of the Australian export mix. It creates a lot of jobs, a lot of opportunities for us. And it's important, because it's relatively clean coal in places like Japan and Korea and China. Now, I'm not going to tell those countries what kind of fuel they should be using. That's ultimately a choice they have to make. But we'll continue to export, because it's an important industry for them and for us.

CHRIS SMITH: We keep beating ourselves up, though, in Australia about ’oh, a new coal mine, or a coal-fired power station - shut it down!’ And make this word, coal, almost like a four letter word. And yet we're hearing news this week of a record number of low emissions, highly efficient coal-fired power stations being built in places like China and India.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, there's 38 gigawatts of new capacity, coal capacity in China. So put that into perspective, that's 15 or 20 very big coal fired power stations. The equivalent of 15 or 20 power stations that look like, say, a Liddell in the Hunter Valley. So, ultimately, China and India are building an enormous amount of new coal capacity. And if the world is to bring down its emissions, what Australia does is trivial compared to what the choices are that are being made by China and India. Now, we'll continue in Australia to invest in solar. We've got the record level, the highest level of household solar in the world, Chris. But that has to be backed up. It has to have baseload. It has to have dispatchable, complimentary generation. It's very, very important we continue with that. Coal, gas, hydro all play a role in that. It's totally inappropriate to say we can shut all these things in the very near future.

CHRIS SMITH: Okay, I want to talk about electricity prices, in particular in the ACT. We've got this company called Evoenergy saying that they have to increase their electricity prices, because of what they claim are renewable energy targets and taxes that make it almost impossible for them.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, all I would say is beware of state or territory ministers with very aggressive, badly thought through renewable energy targets. That's exactly what we've seen in the ACT. They committed to what was originally a 90 per cent renewable energy target, has since become a 100 per cent one. It wasn't properly thought through. They overpaid. They entered into these contracts at very high prices. The cost now to consumers in the ACT will be about $5 a week, over $250 a year because of the mistakes that were made by the ACT Government in entering into these contracts. You know, you see these governments going into these sorts of programs without thinking them through and without understanding, and without caring apparently about the implications for consumers. Consumers have got to come first, and electricity prices really matter to middle Australia. It's important that as we look forward, state and territory ministers avoid those kinds of crazy programs.

CHRIS SMITH: Now, given the fact that there's a by-election in New South Wales in the Upper Hunter next month, I have decided to broadcast live under a mine in New South Wales - I won't mention the mine at this stage - live in about two weeks' time. Would you like an invitation to come down, discuss the issues, and meet the miners?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I'd very much like to, Chris. I actually met a group of miners in my own electorate just a couple of weeks ago who were good hardworking miners, and always delighted to meet them and go and see a mine. It obviously depends on logistics and timing, but I'd very much like to come along.

CHRIS SMITH: Okay, we'll talk about that behind the scenes. But thank you very much time tonight. Thank you.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good on you. Thanks, Chris.