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Interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News

27 February 2020

Laura Jayes

Subject: Energy bills, crackdown on late payment penalties, emissions targets


LAURA JAYES: Energy retailers will have to scale back the penalties they charge consumers who don't pay their bills on time. Under new rules announced by the Australian Energy Market Commission, the change is designed to protect consumers with pay-on-time conditions in their contracts which can lead to excessive charges for those missing deadlines. Energy Minister Angus Taylor says the new rules will protect consumers from dodgy retailing practices, and Angus Taylor joins us live now from Canberra. Thanks so much for your time. How much cheaper will energy bills be for some of these people?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Obviously it depends on your circumstances, but we've seen people being hit with these dodgy late payment penalties by as much as 40 per cent, Laura. Essentially when you go and negotiate a discount, those discounts are in some cases being completely taken away. A typical household might be paying $185 a year extra as a result of the late payment fees, small business much more, closer to $1000 - obviously depends on the circumstances. But this was completely unacceptable practices. From 1 July, they'll be outlawed, penalties of up to $100,000 for any transgressions from the companies. The regulators will be keeping a very, very close eye on this one. The good news is we're starting to see the energy companies, and we've seen them moving on this in advance of the rule change but the rule change will be in place from 1 July.

LAURA JAYES: Yes, we're all keeping a very close eye on our energy bills indeed. Now, you promised before the election a 25 per cent reduction in costs by the end of next year. Is that still an ironclad guarantee or more a target?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, well the very good news is at the retail end we've seen four consecutive quarters of electricity price reductions. But wholesale prices, which is what you're referring to there, in the last three months they're 35 per cent down on the same period last year, and very much in line -

LAURA JAYES: How much is that making it to retail though?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, the point I am making to you now is that that target was wholesale prices, and that then has to flow through to retail prices. We've put legislation through the Parliament last year which requires substantial and sustained savings in wholesale prices to be passed through to customers. If you're a big industrial user the wholesale price is the vast majority of the price, if you're a retail customer obviously it's a smaller proportion of it, small- to medium-sized business is somewhere in the middle. But we'll be watching very, very closely to see that as contracts roll over that these savings are being passed through. And they're not just savings in electricity, we're also seeing the same reduction, 35 per cent reduction in gas prices in the last three months compared to the same time last year. So this is really very, very good news for energy customers. We've seen early reductions in retail prices, we'll be watching closely to see that these wholesale prices are passed through as well.

LAURA JAYES: Well Rio Tinto, in the last couple of days as well, have announced that they have zero emissions target by 2050 and they're going to invest more than $1 billion in what they describe as climate change measures. Is that good news as well? Do you welcome that?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah well look, we welcome investment by the private sector in technologies that are going to reduce emissions, and that's exactly what Rio Tinto is focused on - investing in technology that will reduce emissions in industries like the mining sector where they are, where it is difficult to reduce emissions. They want to see that alongside affordable reliable energy for their aluminium smelters, for instance, and they've got a very strong focus on that. And it's only technology investment that will enable us to do that, and technologies like hydrogen are going to be absolutely crucial to achieving those longer-term emission reductions. Crucial in the shorter term is our 2030 target, which is 26 per cent emission reduction target. We're on track to meet and beat that and we'll absolutely smash our 2020 targets by 411 million tonnes. This is crucial. And the whole point about this is that as a government we focus on the plan to deliver sensible targets, with a plan to deliver on those targets - we've done that for 2020. It's very, very clear now we will beat 2020 by a long way. We're on line, in line to do that for 2030 and we're putting in place important initiatives that allow us to reduce emissions beyond 2030.

LAURA JAYES: Given such a track record, you would have no problem setting a 2050 target then, would you? You'd be in good company.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, Laura, what's crucial is that we have a plan in place to reduce emissions beyond 2030 - that is the crucial thing. And if you look at the National Hydrogen Strategy we launched late last year, alongside all state and territory governments - it was a joint government initiative - we've since committed a total of over $500 million to that strategy. I opened the National Hydrogen Centre in Tonsley in Adelaide just last week. These are the practical initiatives that will make the difference. I mean, there's no point setting a target where you've got no idea how you're going, how to do it because what you end up doing is slashing industries, like agriculture, like transport -

LAURA JAYES: Well, sure but NFF already has a goal, and it's a shorter term goal - it's 2030, of trending towards carbon neutral by 2030. Is that not the view of farmers?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well they have aspirations and we all have aspirations to reduce emissions, but let's be clear - they know, the NFF, just as Rio Tinto, know that the key to this is technologies that can allow us to do this without trashing our industries, losing, shedding jobs, shedding incomes. They all know, everyone knows this and yet what we've seen from Labor is this target with no plan, Laura. Now they've done it before, and they end up filling the gap …

LAURA JAYES: Sure, but can I just ask you about, and I'm sorry to interrupt, because - yes you're right, there is no plan in place at the moment but they are in good company, aren't they? They've got a 2050 emissions reduction, zero emissions reduction target by 2050. Rio Tinto, as I just explained, have a similar target. The NFF I've mentioned, the New South Wales Government, and Labor. I mean, what is the difference between those groups and what Labor has put forward?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Let's be clear here, Laura. The three biggest emitters in the world - China, India and the United States - don't have such a target and it's claimed that countries like New Zealand do. I mean New Zealand has exempted its agricultural sector. It's claimed that Europe does. Poland of course is exempted from that and that's the big coal generator in Europe, which supply energy to Germany and other parts of Europe. But look -

LAURA JAYES: Boris Johnson - you didn't mention him.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, the crucial thing here, Laura, is that if you're going to set a target you've got to have a detailed plan about how to get there without trashing the economy. This is like Groundhog Day. Labor do it again, and again, and again. They set themselves these targets and, you know, they come back to the one instrument they love more than anything else which is tax, which is a carbon tax. Yeah, they were spruiking -

LAURA JAYES: But what's the difference between the Berejiklian Government and the Anthony Albanese opposition?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well the Federal Government is the one that makes the international commitments and it's held to-

LAURA JAYES: No. But you have, you've singled out Labor for special criticism here, why not the New South Wales Government?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Because the federal government, or those who would like to be the federal government, have a special level of accountability because they're the ones who go to the international negotiations, the COP meetings and conferences - and they are required to be held to account to deliver on their targets. And this is why our focus from day one, from the moment we got into Government, was to deliver - look, a very important fact is this - when we got into Government, when we got into Government the forecast Labor left us with their carbon tax was emissions to be a 100 million tonnes higher than they are this year. We've delivered that without a carbon tax. We got rid of it. And emissions will be 100 million tonnes lower than was in their forecast. This is how you do it, Laura. It's energy efficiency, it's land management through farmers, it's world-leading levels of investment in household solar. I mean, this is how you do it, and it's how we are doing it. We'll continue to focus on that approach.

LAURA JAYES: Angus Taylor, twice in one week. Thanks so much for your time.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks for having me, Laura.