Interview with Mark Levy, 2GB
18 September 2020
Subject: COVID-19 border closures, Australians overseas, gas, energy prices, nuclear energy.
MARK LEVY: Yeah, every Friday, Deb speaks with Energy Minister Angus Taylor and Shadow Agriculture and Resources Minister Joel Fitzgibbon for Question Time. They're on the line right now. I'll introduce them one by one. Mr Taylor, good afternoon.
ANGUS TAYLOR: G'day, Mark. Good to be with you.
MARK LEVY: Good to talk to you as always. Mr Fitzgibbon, good afternoon to you.
JOEL FITZGIBBON: G'day, Mark. G'day Angus.
MARK LEVY: Now fellas, am I going to be like a boxing referee here and order you back into your corners, or is this going to be a fair fight?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Always a fair fight, mate. Always a fair fight.
MARK LEVY: Righto. Well, let's get into it.
JOEL FITZGIBBON: We will try not to agree on too much, Mark. You don't want to just hear us agree.
MARK LEVY: We don't want to hear you agreeing. I mean, this is the whole point of the Coalition and the Opposition. We want you to go head-to-head. This is fantastic. Now, National Cabinet meeting, the cap on overseas arrivals is at the top of the agenda. Mr Taylor, the PM determined to see it to go up from 4000 to 6000, but a lot of people saying that's nowhere near enough to get tens of thousands of desperate Aussies home. What are your thoughts?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, there's no doubt the time's come for the states to start accepting more Australians back home. The quarantining is the bottleneck, it's the bit that's got to be increased. It's currently 4000. We want to see it go up to 6000. Look, in time, it may be able to go beyond that. It depends on the capability of the states to manage quarantining. It does need to go up. We need to get more Aussies back home. No doubt about it.
MARK LEVY: Mr Fitzgibbon, I mean, the Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan, the Queensland Premier Ms Palaszczuk, they've both said they won't help out unless the Federal Government provides more resources. Surely, the Federal Government's done more than enough already.
JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, there is a physical constraint, Mark, on how many people you can put into quarantine without somehow finding new places to put them, in the right circumstances. And the states who, of course, are always cash poor, are saying to the Commonwealth, well, if you need us to do this, you'll need to give us some resources as well. I think that's a pretty reasonable proposition, quite frankly.
MARK LEVY: But when the states, though, Mr Fitzgibbon, aren't going to work with the government, surely the Federal Government can turn around and say, well what more can we possibly do at the same time you don't want to come to the party and help with other things?
JOEL FITZGIBBON: But remember, Mark, we're not even meeting the caps now. The real problem here is getting people out of these countries and onto planes. And that's where the Commonwealth has the lead role to play. So, before we start talking about caps on arrivals and hotel accommodation constraints, we need to find a way of getting them here in the first place.
MARK LEVY: Minister Taylor, Mr Albanese this week, he called for the government to intervene, to organise chartered flights, even use RAAF planes to get Aussies homes. Do you think it's time to look at those sort of options as well or not?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, the flights aren't the problem. The problem is the quarantine caps. I mean, at the end of day you've got to focus on what the problem is. I saw Albanese said that earlier in the week, and I thought, well, you don't understand the problem here. We need to get the quarantining up. Now, the states always ask for more money. There is no state that hasn't got the beaten cap out all the time. And, but, we're stumping up over $10 billion a month at the moment to keep Australians whole in a very difficult situation. I think it's more than reasonable for the states to step in, get those caps up, get more Australians back, we need to do it as quickly as possible, and it right and appropriate that the states get on with it.
MARK LEVY: Joel, on the borders, are we starting to get somewhere in the State of Queensland with the announcement this morning that people in Canberra will be allowed to fly to the Sunshine State? Those restrictions will be eased?
JOEL FITZGIBBON: It's a great development, Mark. And I can tell you, having spoken to a few this morning, Canberrans are cheering and trying to book their flights to go to Queensland as we speak. And I said it to Deb Knight last week, I didn't think it made any sense for Canberra to be considered part of New South Wales for hotspots purposes. So, that's good news. Of course, other states already have access to Queensland, so we're seeing some pretty rapid progress now, and that's got to be a good thing.
MARK LEVY: And Angus, if she decides, the Queensland Premier that is, Ms Palaszczuk, to let people in from New South Wales, we'll be popping the champagne corks, won't we?
ANGUS TAYLOR: We sure will. I mean, look, these arbitrary constraints on our borders haven't helped and we've seen some of the tragedies that have resulted from it. We've got to get this sorted as quickly as possible. Good to see them move on the ACT. I live just outside the ACT - I think it makes sense that people from outside of the ACT also get that access. Again, the states have got to get on with this. Get this economy opening up and moving again.
MARK LEVY: Alright - enough of the niceties, let's get into energy. This is where things might spice up a little bit. Mr Taylor, you've been very busy this week announcing the Government's plans for a gas-led recovery. You and the PM want private companies to invest in gas projects, and if they don't the government will. But if the private sector won't invest in something, is it really a good idea for taxpayers to stump up the money?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Yes. Yes, and I'll tell you why. Because people don't want to see their electricity bills go up. I mean, we've got one of the biggest power stations in Australia closing in a couple of years' time, and the private sector has refused, point blank, so far, to commit to investing. Now, we're giving him another six months, seven months, through to April next year, at which point we've said we'll do it ourselves. If you don't step up, we'll step in. If you do step up, we'll step back. It's simple, it's clear. You know, we'd rather the private sector do it, but if they don't, we'll be building a generator based on gas in the Hunter Valley.
MARK LEVY: Joel?
JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well Mark, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Angus has stolen my plan. I've been arguing for this for the last three years while Angus and Scott Morrison have been wasting time playing with the politics of the Liddell power station. They knew she could never be extended beyond 50 years, and now they're sort of carrying on still saying, oh, well if AGL don't extend her, we'll build our own power station, and, you know, we'll give them seven months. Now, hallelujah I say, we want two gas fired power stations in the Hunter Valley, that's what I've been fighting for. And I'm with Angus on that point. And by the way Mark, it's not taxpayers subsidising the gas fired power generator. Snowy Hydro is a government business enterprise. They've got the capacity both to build a gas-fired generator in my backyard but also make money and return that money to the taxpayers. That's a win-win all around, surely.
MARK LEVY: Alright Angus, you're champing at the bit. Go on.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah. Look, every good idea has a thousand fathers or mothers.
JOEL FITZGIBBON: Why did it take you so long, Angus?
ANGUS TAYLOR: We won't agree with Joel on whose idea it was. But look, the point is this has to happen.
JOEL FITZGIBBON: Agreed.
ANGUS TAYLOR: And Joel's right in saying this is a business proposition. You'll get a return from this. It's a good business proposition because there's a big gap in the market. The extraordinary thing is that the private sector have all stepped up. And it tells you that there are companies there, and we heard this from the Australian Energy Council this week, who are saying the gap doesn't need to be filled. Well, that's because they want to see the price go up. That's because they want to see the price go up. Well, that's unacceptable. We've got to get on with it. This is a good project. It'll get a return to taxpayers and it's good for consumers.
MARK LEVY: Just one more on this, Mr Taylor. And I'm going to throw it both at you. I mean, in this country alone we have got that much coal and uranium in our own backyard. What do we do with it? We put it on ships, we send it overseas, we allow other countries to power their own grid. Surely in this country we've got to start doing more with things like nuclear power, yet every time I raise it with politicians like your good selves, its oh no, we don't mention nuclear, we can't possibly talk about it. Surely we could do more with that, Minister.
ANGUS TAYLOR: There's a few questions there. On coal, we generate a lot more electricity from coal than we do from gas, and that's going to continue to be the case for many, many years. The quick thing to do though here in this case is to get a gas generator up, and that can be done in time for Liddell. In terms of nuclear, there's a parliamentary inquiry on this. The economics of traditional nuclear power stations has typically not worked in recent years. There's emerging technologies, small modular reactors as they're called, that look more interesting, but it is early days. We still don't know.
MARK LEVY: But Mr Fitzgibbon, if we've got an abundance of uranium in this country, wouldn't it be best for us to use it to our own advantage rather than sell it off overseas?
JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, it's good selling it overseas. It earns us foreign exchange which we use to pay for our imports, but-
MARK LEVY: But that doesn't help the people that can't afford to pay their electricity bills, though.
JOEL FITZGIBBON: Countries that typically use nuclear generation do so because they need to. We don't need to here in Australia. It is expensive. We have cheaper forms of energy in coal and gas, even renewable energy of course. And Angus is right, 90 per cent of our energy still comes from fossil fuels. 70 per cent of our electricity still comes from fossil fuels, and we are still exporting those cheap forms of energy, and we should do and we will do that for a long, long time to come. I just don't see nuclear generation being viable in this country. And by the way, shop around Mark for someone prepared to have it in their backyard. Whenever I hear someone supporting nuclear generation, I immediately ask them: do you want it near your hometown? I never get the answer I was looking for, Mark.
MARK LEVY: Alright. Joel, one last one mate. We'll try and squeeze it in if we can. Kristina Keneally, she's in the news today, reports that the New South Wales Labor right faction, your faction split on what to do with Ms Keneally. Some unions want her to take the top Senate position at the next election. Others want her off it. What do you think should happen?
JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, the Labor Party, Mark, benefits from the fact that we have an abundance of talent in our showboat. Deb O'Neill and Kristina Keneally are outstanding senators and I hope some way both of them will be accommodated.
MARK LEVY: Don't sit on the fence, come on.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Come on Joel, who are you supporting, mate? Who are you supporting?
JOEL FITZGIBBON: [Laughs] Nice try, Angus.
ANGUS TAYLOR: I'm buying the popcorn and sitting back and watching this one, it's going to be a great show.
MARK LEVY: Come on Joel, no splinters on this program. Deb said last night: ‘Mark, you fill in, don't let have them splinters.’
JOEL FITZGIBBON: We never walk away from this interview with splinters, mate. You're not going to draw me into this one publicly.
MARK LEVY: Alright fellas, and good luck to your footy sides over the weekend too. Joel, your beloved Newcastle Knights, and Angus, your Canberra Raiders. Good luck.
JOEL FITZGIBBON: You're a Rockdale boy, aren't you Mark? You'll be expecting the Knights to smack your backside this weekend.
MARK LEVY: [Laughs] No, I grew up a Souths supporter. Don't talk to me about the Bunnies. Smashed by the Bulldogs last night. Hello, the world's gone mad. Gentlemen, lovely to talk to you. Keep up the good work. We'll catch up soon.
JOEL FITZGIBBON: Thanks fellas.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks Mark.