Interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News

Laura Jayes
Petrol prices, oil supplies, energy security, oil storage, floods, Statement of Expectations, electricity bills

LAURA JAYES: Joining me now is the Energy Minister, Angus Taylor. Good news for the Government's budget, not so good for household budgets. Angus Taylor, what do you expect petrol prices to get to?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I'm not a forecaster, Laura, but we're seeing Brent crude going up to over $130 a barrel, and that means we will see petrol prices at the bowser pushing up to that $2 mark and beyond, even. So, how long that will be for, I don't know. I mean, clearly, this is being driven by what's happening in the Ukraine and an underinvestment in new supply around the world. We're investing in new supply for gas and oil in places like the Beetaloo Basin, where there's enormous potential. We've kept our foot on the accelerator here in Australia because we know this is the right thing, not just for affordable, reliable energy – which is crucially important – but also for bringing emissions down. Because without gas, it's very hard to do that, as the Europeans are discovering right now, Laura.

But there is pain being felt at the pump. That's why we're part of a collective action globally to put more supply onto the market. We bought fuel back early in the pandemic when prices were low. We're in a position now to start releasing that. We'll do that alongside the United States – 60 million barrels coming onto the market. And that's all about relieving these pressures that are very real and we're very conscious of.

LAURA JAYES: So, what is Australia's role in alleviating that pressure? We don't import a huge amount of Russian oil anyway. And it's my understanding that we only have about a day and a half worth of fuel in our strategic reserve, which is in the US anyway. Is that right?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, Laura, we have 90 day- or 89 days of stocks here in Australia, according to the definition we use, and that includes both crude oil and finished product. And, you know, that's a very significant amount. So, there's no shortage of oil. It's very important for people to understand that. But we have agreed to be part of a collective action globally. We're not big enough, as Australia, no matter what we do, to influence the global market, stand‑alone. But we can, working with allies like the United States, to release oil onto the market. And that's exactly why we have strategic reserves. It's why we're building more. We're actually increasing our stocks here in Australia. We've spent over two … We committed over $200 million to new projects for extra storage here in Australia that are being built as we speak. It's why we've increased the mandatory stockholding obligation to make sure we've got enough here in Australia. But being part of a collective action to release supplies onto the market is crucial.

Supply is always the answer when you have high prices, Laura. We've been very focused on supply across our commodities in the last couple of years. Other countries haven't. And that's why we have gas prices here in Australia right now around 80% lower than the international price, because we focused on gas, the gas‑fired recovery – it's real now. And I tell you what, I bet a lot of countries in Europe right now are wishing they'd had a gas‑fired recovery. I know Boris was talking about it in the UK just in the last 24 hours of how important it is to get extra gas out from under the ground. Well, we've been doing it. And these energy policies we've had in place for a number of years now are working. We have a challenge with oil. It's a global market and we'll work with countries across the world to do everything we can to relieve those pressures that are very real.

LAURA JAYES: Well, Boris also has access to nuclear power, but let's not go down that rabbit hole today. You talk about collective action. So, in effect, is Australia boycotting Russian oil?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, practically speaking, only 1.5% of the crude oil we purchase in Australia is coming from Russia, and both Viva and Ampol – who are the importers of that crude oil that comes from Russia – have both said they're not going to buy any more from Russia. So, that effectively means we won't be using it. We don't need it, frankly. We supply the crude oil we need from offshore from 30 different countries. Russia is a tiny portion of it and so cutting that out, which is what effectively has happened, won't have a big impact. What's crucial here is we get more supply coming onto the marketplace, working with our allies to make sure we can release those stocks, working to make sure we open up places like the Beetaloo Basin, Laura. You know that there's been a lot of people trying to block the Beetaloo Basin from being developed. There's gas and oil there. It will put Australia back to a position where we have more upstream oil, as we've traditionally had from Bass Strait. And lots of activists trying to stop it. They are getting in the way of a sensible pathway for energy, which delivers affordable, reliable energy as we bring our emissions down. We need to have that balance in our fuel sources for a long time yet. And that's why places like the Beetaloo are so crucial.

LAURA JAYES: Alright, let's quickly talk about the floods. Obviously, there's thousands of people without power, probably no way to pay their bills, right across NSW and Queensland. Will they get some reprieve?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yes. So, I've written to the Australian Energy Regulator. I've asked that they stand up their statement of expectations to the energy companies. Effectively, what this was, was a process that was put in place during the pandemic. And what it means in practice is the energy companies won't disconnect somebody because they haven't been able to pay their bill, they won't send around the debt collectors, and they'll make sure that those people are being given a fair go if they've been struck by floods. So, I fully expect the regulator will put this into place and we’ll have a regime that's similar to what we saw during the pandemic, Laura. And that's important. I mean, we've got over 19,000 people out of their housing, including in my electorate. I was out there over the last two days, talking to people who have really been hit hard. We've got to make sure they get a fair go. Energy companies, I've said from the moment I got into this job as the Energy Minister, customers must come first, look after your customers. And this is one way the energy companies can look after their customers, and indeed they did during the pandemic on exactly these issues.

LAURA JAYES: Well, the Prime Minister will declare a national emergency today. Why has it taken so long?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, Laura, I mean, we're working our way through this. Of course, what's happened is it's extended geographically in the last couple of days – that's the key. I mean, we're seeing now serious flooding down in my part of the world. The Nepean reached levels which aren't record levels but they're certainly very high and we've seen flooding as a result of that. We're seeing that more broadly across NSW, and so it's extended from being a much more localised event up in South‑East Queensland and Northern NSW to being a much broader event. And it's appropriate, as it's extended, that that occur. What really counts, though, here is putting in place the measures that are going to help those communities. Today, we've announced a million dollars to help support local government areas that have been badly affected. It gives that injection of cash for local councils to get the work done they need to recover, alongside the personal commit...the commitments to the payments to people who have been directly affected as well. And there will be ongoing support and escalation of that support as is required.

LAURA JAYES: Okay, Angus Taylor, thanks so much for your time this morning.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good on you. Thanks Laura.