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Interview with Kieran Gilbert and Laura Jayes, Sky News, AM Agenda

27 March 2019

Subject: Energy


LAURA JAYES: Let's go live now to the Energy Minister, Angus Taylor. Thanks so much for joining us. Barnaby Joyce says quote unquote: we've got ourselves a coal-fired power station. Is that right?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well we've got a feasibility project, Laura. And this is part of a broader package which includes a shortlist of four projects to get more supply and competition into the marketplace. That's what we need to get prices down and to keep the lights on - more supply and more competition. And along with that, we are doing a piece of work, feasibility work, on projects in Queensland to solve a very specific problem, which is very energy intensive industries here in Queensland where I am right now, where we need to have reliable, affordable baseload power than can ensure that those jobs aren't sent offshore. And by the way, Laura, if those jobs are sent offshore, emissions globally go up. So we've got to keep these industries like aluminium, cement, copper smelting, these are industries that are absolutely crucial for Queensland, they're crucial for Australian jobs, they're crucial in order to ensure that we get a good outcome on emissions as well.

KIERAN GILBERT: Minister, was this feasibility project, the one that you- you mentioned a feasibility study, was that part of the initial 66 projects that were put forward to the government?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yes it was. Look, a whole range of projects came forward, 66 in total. We've picked 12, we're doing this feasibility work in Queensland, which is solving a very specific problem, an urgent problem to address, as Matt Canavan said earlier, it should have been done ten years ago, but it's being done now. And as I say, this is about protecting Australian jobs and ensuring that we get a good outcome for the workers of Queensland.

KIERAN GILBERT: So why didn't that coal project then make the 12...

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, Labor has abandoned workers...

KIERAN GILBERT: But explain why didn't it make the 12? Why is it separate to that?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well it's an early stage project, that's why it needs feasibility work, Kieran. It's an early stage project. Look, the 12 are projects which are well advanced and where we can have an impact on prices in the short term. We know there's more hurdles to get through in Queensland. But the point about Queensland, Kieran, more broadly is that Labor has abandoned the blue collar workers of Queensland. They've abandoned them. In these industries, whether its irrigation, agriculture, whether it's in aluminium smelting, or copper, or manufacturing more generally, there are a huge number of workers whose jobs depend on low-cost reliable energy. And the Labor Party has given them up. We saw the CFMEU yesterday questioning Labor's energy policies because of the impact it will have on jobs. Well, we're not going to stand for that. We're going to stand with the workers of Queensland and we're going to make sure that they get a fair deal. And more broadly across Australia, 12 projects, just about 4000 megawatts of generation capacity. That's a big, big lump in a total market of a bit over 50,000. And it's crucial we get these projects in as quickly as we possibly can and challenge the exercise of market power, the manipulation of the market, the price gouging, which we've seen only a couple of days ago. A couple of academics from Victoria demonstrated that the anti-competitive behaviour in this market has been absolutely unacceptable, and resulted in some generators in a doubling of power prices. Well, we're not going to stand for that and that's why we're bringing, we're encouraging, new supply and new competition into the market place.

LAURA JAYES: Why are you making this announcement of a feasibility study at eleven minutes to midnight, just a couple of weeks before an election? It kind of looks like a bit of a political fix for Queensland voters rather than a practical one. Because it's going to take at least 5 years to build if the feasibility study does even say it's viable.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, Laura, with the greatest of respect, the jobs of hardworking blue-collar workers in Queensland - manufacturing, in smelting, and so on - that is a very practical problem. It's not about politics, it's practical. We need to protect the jobs of those people. It is very specific problem in Queensland. We are absolutely targeted on solving that problem. We will see the death of great towns like Gladstone and Bundaberg, Mackay, if we don't deal with this - Townsville as well, would really suffer if we don't deal with this issue. And that's why it's crucial that we do it. But more broadly, across the whole of the east coast of Australia, we have to get more supply and competition in the market, drive prices down, a competitive market place, stop some of the appalling behaviour. You know, Labor hasn't backed us in taking on the big energy companies and their appalling behaviour with the legislation that we've taken to the Parliament. Twelve times they've opposed it; well we can bring new supply into the market and we're determined to do that.

KIERAN GILBERT: But there won't be- or will there be any contracts exchanged before the caretaker period? Because what we've got...

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well the time-

KIERAN GILBERT: Basically you've got two weeks until the caretaker period, will there be any contracts signed?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I've been clear about the timeline from soon after I became minister. The ACCC report was done last year. This recommendation- recommendation four is what we're implementing right here and now. I said we'd have a shortlist in the first part of 2019, that's what we were aiming for the first part of the year. Big projects like these take time; it took us two years to get to the point where we could make the final investment decision on Snowy. You can't do them overnight. I've been involved in big projects like this all my career, Kieran, and you've got to get them right. This is not a political play thing, it is actually about practical outcomes for every Australian, every hard working small business and those all important jobs in those industries that I've talked about.

LAURA JAYES: You've talked about market manipulation and the misuse of power in the energy system and you're right to do that of course. The ACCC did point to similar activity. So are you going to bring forward the big stick legislation, the divestiture legislation when Parliament resumes next week?

ANGUS TAYLOR: It's on the notice paper, Laura. I mean 12 times Labor has opposed this. Now lets be clear about this, what this report a couple of days ago said, is that AGL, when the Hazelwood closure was announced, withdrew around a thousand megawatts of capacity from the market, or made the price so high it was never going to be used. They essentially withdrew it from the market, a thousand mega watts. Now what that did, is it meant that the price of power shot up, the wholesale price shot up. This is what they did, there's no- I mean it is unambiguous when you read this report. It's laid out very, very clearly. Now Labor is opposing legislation to deal with that. It's absolutely extraordinary; I mean whose side are they on? Are they on the side of the hard working consumers of electricity, small businesses, households, as well as those workers that depended on affordable electricity for their jobs. Or are they on the side of the big energy companies? And it's really a question for them. Twelve times they've opposed the legislation. They can support it next week. They have an opportunity to come to us and say - yep, we will support it. And of course, if they support it, it will get through the Parliament.

KIERAN GILBERT: And speaking of what side are they on, I guess many would be asking that about One Nation today after they sought influence- promised influence in this country in return for cash. They say they were drunk, but I mean they aren't drunk when they flew over there presumably. What are your thoughts on this?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah. Well I think it's abhorrent, I think it's appalling behaviour. I mean, we take our national sovereignty very seriously and we should. The idea that a lobby group from another country should have influence over our political process and political outcomes is abhorrent and I'm sure it's abhorrent to all Australians, not just to me. So it is appalling and it should be condemned. And the Prime Minister condemned it in the fullest of terms yesterday. Ultimately, we have the greatest of respect for people who vote for minor parties, whether it's One Nation or the Shooters and Fishers, we want them to vote for us. And here is a very good reason to vote for us.

LAURA JAYES: With isolating One Nation, is there a fear amongst you and your colleagues that by isolating them, you isolate their voters? And it's not an insignificant amount of people that do vote for One Nation, at least in the last couple of elections as an example. Why do you think people have drifted to One Nation, is there an air of legitimacy the major parties have given One Nation? I mean the examples with the Coalition and preferences in the past are obvious. But also we can't forget that One Nation delivered the seat of Herbert to Labor at the last federal election too.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well One Nation, I would argue delivered the last Queensland election to the Labor Government in Queensland actually. But look we should show respect for people who are questioning what goes on inside the bubble. I mean there is scepticism. In my electorate I see great scepticism about what is going on in the centres of our capital cities and we should show respect for those voters. But what I say to those voters, what I say to them Laura, is here is a good reason to vote for the Liberal Party, you have it in front of you. And that's what we want them to do. First preferences for us, that's what we're chasing at the upcoming election.

KIERAN GILBERT: It's interesting they've tried to use a distraction in terms of this being Al Jazeera, the Qatari based national broadcaster and so on, even though the producer in question was a long serving ABC journalist. And I guess the point that I'd like to get your thoughts on, the code of ethics in terms of a journalist's code of ethics in this country has an overarching rule that if it's in the public interest, then it's worthwhile. Obviously, creating awareness of the thoughts, the intentions, the plans of One Nation in this context was clearly in the public interest, wasn't it?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look I'm not going to get into the in's and out's of the ethics of the media sector Kieran, I mean you know more about that than I do, frankly. But what I would say is: here is a good reason to vote for us. I understand there's been cynicism about the major parties in the past but ultimately on the centre-right of politics, we are- is the coalition of government. And ultimately, we want people to back us and here is a very, very good reason to do it, as good a reason as you could need. And you know, national sovereignty is a hugely important issue. This is why we have outlawed foreign donations; it's exactly why we've done it. And we pushed that hard and of course, we want people to support us.

KIERAN GILBERT: Mr Taylor, we appreciate your time as always, thanks Minister.