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Interview with Deborah Knight, 2GB Afternoons

22 May 2020

Deborah Knight

Subject: Clean energy Technology Roadmap, coal, China


DEBORAH KNIGHT: As we do every Friday, we dive into matters of the week with Angus Taylor, Federal Energy Minister, and Joel Fitzgibbon, the Shadow Agriculture Minister. They're on the line for us now. Fellas, g’day.



DEBORAH KNIGHT: Good to have you on board. Now, let's talk climate policy first up because you had a big week this week, Angus, releasing the clean energy Technology Roadmap which sounds very formal but effectively, it's a way to look for the future on a policy area that not much has been done. Lot of talk, lot of hot air, brought some politicians down but are we going to see an end to the climate wars? Say it isn't so, we need it.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well I think it's time, I mean, but our focus is very clear: it is technology, not taxes. The way we're going to go about this is to reduce the cost of energy, not raise it, and make sure that energy bills are going down, not rising, and making sure we're growing jobs and industries not destroying them, and that means no taxes-

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But you're investing in technologies-

ANGUS TAYLOR: No taxes and that's a crucial, crucial point for all of this.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Isn't investing in technologies effectively a tax though? I mean, shouldn't it be up to the market to decide, not government?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Much of the investment will come from the private sector. I mean if you look at projects we're doing like down in the Latrobe Valley, a hydrogen project, we're putting in one tenth of the money, and the rest is coming from elsewhere. So we very much want private sector investment in this and that's how you get the best possible outcomes. But the key here is don't raise the cost of things, and there's no worst time you could be talking about taxing energy and carbon prices and all these things, than a time we're coming out of COVID-19 where we need strong economies, strong jobs, low cost of living.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: The big sticking point of course is coal and we know, Joel, that that cost you a lot of votes in your electorate at the last election - concerns about Labor and moving away from coal. Are you going to back this plan?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well of course the Labor Party has always and will always support the coal mining industry, Deb - that is without doubt - but the first thing you'd say about this report, this so-called road-map, is that it's six years late. The second point I'd make is that the Government has now run up the white flag on coal-fired electricity generation - something it talked so much about in the lead-up to the election, and a result which need not have been if they hadn't, six years ago, abolished Kevin Rudd's carbon capture and flagship program. Now, I welcome the belated focus on gas which has been begging for some national leadership for a number of years and I'm a bit bemused, Deb, by the extent to which the Government is now running with Labor's pre-election plans. For example, to give farmers and foresters a greater opportunity to participate in the carbon farming market to earn income from the carbon markets, and of course, everyone's talking about the electric car things, all the Labor Party said was that we'll go to roll out fuelling stations so more people would have the opportunity to make the decision to switch to an electric car. But of course, they pilloried that idea pre-election, and now they're fully signed up members of the electric car club.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well Joel, that's total rot. I mean what this says is that people should be able to choose what car they want to drive, what you had done-

JOEL FITZGIBBON: And that's what we said!

ANGUS TAYLOR: Before the election was telling them what car to drive.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: That's not true.

ANGUS TAYLOR: But can I come back to this coal point because this is very, very important: Labor demonised coal in the lead-up to the last election. Let's be very clear, the Government is a strong supporter of coal as a source of reliable baseload power, and coal workers – we’ve backed them to the hilt.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: It doesn't have much prominence in this roadmap though?

ANGUS TAYLOR: And we are doing a feasibility study into a new coal fired power station in Queensland - and Labor had never backed that. So you know, we have always supported the coal industry, we'll continue to. But technology is important. This is how we solve problems in this country. We're clever with it; we've used in agriculture and mining for centuries and that's how we should approach this problem.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And speaking of coal, it looks like-

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Deb, can I just say there. Deb, Matt Canavan, Senator Matt Canavan-

DEBORAH KNIGHT: The Queensland backbencher.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Is running around Queensland today cursing Angus Taylor and asking: ‘what happened to my coal fired generator?’

ANGUS TAYLOR: That is absolute rot.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Barnaby Joyce is saying something similar.

ANGUS TAYLOR: That is absolute rot, Joel. And you know it!

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well Matt Canavan is saying he's right.

ANGUS TAYLOR: And you’re part of a party that has demonised coal, demonised coal for years!


ANGUS TAYLOR: And now, you're trying to pretend that you like it. I mean, get real. Look, back our feasibility study, Joel, back our feasibility study and you won't be able to because your party will not do it.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Alright, let's talk about coal-


DEBORAH KNIGHT: Hang on, Joel. Let's talk about coal because China - it seems that coal is on the hit list of trade threats. We are in the midst of a trade war here even though our Government is trying to back away from that. How concerned are you, Angus, about the fact that China could be the latest thing to be hit by - that coal could be the latest thing to be hit by China?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah. Look, it's never good. I mean, you know, this is obviously, they're putting in place short-term informal quotas. Look, I would say by the way they have been doing this for years. Before I went into politics, you know, I worked in the resources industry for many years and China was accustomed to doing this. But it isn't good, and obviously we're working our way through it.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And what's happening with you Joel? It sounds like you're becoming a bit of an apologist for China, saying on Sky News that you don't know about China bullying us, we've been demonising the Chinese and their system of governance.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, I'll tell you what has been happening for years now, Deb, and that is this inflammatory language the Morrison and Turnbull governments have used towards China.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well hang on, inflammatory language? They're calling us all sorts of names. The Chinese consul, they're coming out calling us names, calling us a joke. I mean, they're the ones using the inflammatory language.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Deb, there used to be a golden rule in politics which used to be respected by all sides of politics, and that is that you don't mix foreign relations with local politics, or to put it another way, you don't go seeking local votes at the expense of our national interests. China is our largest trading partner. More than one-third of our exports go to China. Hundreds and thousands of jobs are dependent on our trade with China, now we must be-

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But we've got to stand up to a bully, don't we, Joel? I mean, we can't just roll over.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: No, we must always stand up for our national interests, but our national interests and our trading interests are the very same thing. And you know, Malcolm Turnbull didn't need to be so inflammatory in his language towards China. Scott Morrison need not have advocated we send weapons-style inspectors into China after COVID-19 without even talking to the international community. We didn't need to do these things, Deb. We don't need to do that to defend our national interest. We need to be able to walk and chew gum too-

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But they're calling us gum on the bottom of their shoe! I mean, they're the ones using the, I mean, you've got to respond to that sort of stuff, don't you? I mean, if you just ignore it and roll over, you'll be bullied by a bully.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, the point is not to invite this sort of language in the first place by describing people as ‘Shanghai Sam’, by changing Foreign Investment Review Board thresholds to particularly target China. If you want to pick that fight, you'll get an argument, but we never needed to have the argument. And too many Australian jobs are at stake.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Angus, what's your response?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, this has been about one issue and one issue only, which is whether there needs to be an inquiry about where the virus came from, what caused it, and that is something that should happen and must happen. But I'll tell you something, Deb, we should not trade away our values because it might offend somebody. That is not how Australians behave. That is not what we believe. We will do the right thing. If it happens to offend someone else, so be it - we always prefer that it doesn't - but so be it, because we're not going to trade our values. And by the way, the international community has absolutely backed in this proposal and it will happen. And China itself has gone with it. So let's be clear here, this was sensible, it was measured and it was in line with our values and the right thing to do.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Alright. Let's end on something light. It is Friday! Come on fellas, it is a day where on social media the greatest one hit wonders of all time are being celebrated. Joel, what's your pick?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well Deb, I wanted to say Don't Knock the Nocks by The HiFi's, a Cessnock band who created a song for the 1972 Cessnock Goanna’s grand final in the rugby league competition.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: [Laughs] Digging deep into the vault for that.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: But I didn't think your listeners would know much about that, so I've gone with I'm Too Sexy by Right Said Fred.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Oh, what, is that about you, is it? [Laughs] Oh my goodness. Is that a bit of a comment on yourself, Joel?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: That's why I chose it. But actually, I did a bit of a research. It was actually taking the mickey out of those guys at the gym who took it just a little bit too seriously.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Alright. We'll allow that one through. Angus, what's your pick?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I thought Joel was going to pick I'm Too Sexy and he did, its just extraordinary. [Laughter] Look, I can't go past some of the great favourites. I had so many to pick from here, but Video Killed the Radio Star, good early 1980s-

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Look at you guys, I bet you'd tear up the dance-floor at a 1980s disco and then you would not look back. Good on you fellas, thanks so much.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks Deb, thanks Joel.