Interview with Michael Condon, ABC NSW Country Hour

Michael Condon
War in Ukraine, coal for Ukraine, oil and gas prices, $50 million for priority gas investment, renewable energy, batteries, emissions reduction.

MICHAEL CONDON: The Russian invasion of Ukraine has thrown world energy markets and supplies into disarray. Australian gas and coal producers are poised to benefit from this. Whitehaven is shipping a consignment of 70,000 tonnes of coal to Ukraine that’s been paid for by the Federal Government after Ukrainian and Polish leaders asked for that help. And Minister Angus Taylor has announced an extra $50 million in support of seven priority gas projects, carbon capture and storage, and infrastructure along the east coast, Northern Territory and South Australia. It comes as Australian gas exports into Asia are set to be turbocharged as Europeans turn to the US for gas and away from Russian gas. Minister for Energy Angus Taylor says Australians have every reason to be positive about the future for gas, especially if we can decarbonise it.

ANGUS TAYLOR:  We need a balance in our energy system. That’s always been true with energy systems, to make them effective and efficient. Part of that balance for many years to come will be gas. The Europeans have really discovered that with what is going on up there in Ukraine. We do need to have a supply of gas that can support not just our electricity grid, but, importantly, our manufacturing. Of course, fertiliser is made from gas, nitrogen fertiliser, and that puts food on the dinner tables of all Australians and people around the world. So, we do need that supply of gas. There’s a great opportunity for Australia here. We can produce it not just for export, but, importantly, for manufacturing here of products like urea and aluminium. Over time, there’s greater opportunities to decarbonise that gas, and there’s a number of projects, the $50 million, that we are putting forward here that can help to decarbonise that gas production. Australia is in a very privileged position right now. Our gas prices are sitting at 75 to 80 per cent discount of prices in Europe and Asia. That is a position we haven’t been in in the past. It is very good for our manufacturing, for our electricity grid. But we’re going to have to work hard to maintain the strength of that position and decarbonise at the same time, and we can do both of those things.

MICHAEL CONDON:  So, Germany turning their back on Russian gas, so you think there’s an opportunity there to get more Australian gas in there?

ANGUS TAYLOR:  Well, Germany hasn’t turned its back on Russian gas because it can’t. It’s reliant on it because until you build more renewables, solar and wind –

MICHAEL CONDON:  But they’re not building the new pipeline now.

ANGUS TAYLOR:  No, but the full pipeline is already there. There’s significant pipeline capacity. They are reliant on Russian gas. It’s not surprising they’re reliant on gas, but it’s unfortunate that they’ve become reliant on Russian gas. But what has clearly happened is we have gas shortages all around the world now. This is so important to the process of getting more renewables into our grid, continuing to provide those products we all rely on, and Australia is uniquely positioned to address that issue. And this work, alongside other work, is making sure we are able to make the most of the position we have.

MICHAEL CONDON:  We’re talking about, you know, putting in batteries in Liddell and those sorts of things - isn’t that going against the tide of renewables to go to gas? I mean, gas isn’t all that clean.

ANGUS TAYLOR:  Well, it’s a complement. You have to have a solution for what happens when the sun goes down. Now, batteries can play a role but they’re still expensive for longer duration storage. They can work for short‑duration storage. And gas will continue to play an important role in that. Trying to turn the gas off to decarbonise is the wrong answer.

MICHAEL CONDON:  How realistic is it though that we could ship Australian gas to Europe? I mean, wouldn’t they find gas somewhere else or maybe still go to the Russians?

ANGUS TAYLOR:  No, our market is in Asia, but when we supply gas up into Asia, it means that the Americans, who are one of the other biggest exporters in the world, can focus their supplies on Europe.

MICHAEL CONDON:  Talking about Ukraine, what’s known about this coal deal, Whitehaven paid to send coal to Ukraine? They’re saying it’s a humanitarian effort. But they were paid for it. The Government paid money for that coal. So is it a bit of a sweetheart deal?

ANGUS TAYLOR:  Well, they need energy. People can’t get on with their lives, produce food, heat their homes, cool their homes, run industry without energy. It’s that simple.  And you simply can’t turn it off. It’s true that what we’ve seen as a result of the war is a massive disruption in energy supplies. So, we need to address it. We’re doing everything we possibly can to do our bit and we encourage others to do the same.

MICHAEL CONDON:  So, were they paid commercial rates to send it over?

ANGUS TAYLOR:  I’m not party to the details of what that transaction involved. What I would say is that anything we can do to help the Ukrainians get through what’s an incredibly difficult situation for them, we will continue to do.

MICHAEL CONDON:  Coal was the best option - that was what they were asking for?

ANGUS TAYLOR:  The important point is we can play a role here with our gas industry and that’s good for Australians and it’s good for Australia. We can play a role with our coal industry, and in time we can play a role with our low‑emissions technologies.

MICHAEL CONDON:  But how do you respond to the general secretary of the UN saying Australia is going in the wrong direction in regards to the fight against carbon emissions?

ANGUS TAYLOR:  I’d say he should look at the facts and here are the facts: our emissions are 20 per cent down since 2005.  When you look at New Zealand –

MICHAEL CONDON:  They say that’s not enough.

ANGUS TAYLOR:  Hang on, hang on. No, let me finish, please, because the facts are what is here. I go on the facts every day. New Zealand and Canada haven’t moved their emissions. We’ve reduced our emissions faster than other countries who we compare ourselves to like Japan and the United States. You’re seeing emissions around the world rising at a rapid rate as ours are falling at a very sharp rate. We’ve seen them fall five per cent in the electricity grid alone in the last 12 months. We’ve got the highest rate of household solar in the world, one of the highest rates in investment in renewables per capita in the world. These are extraordinary achievements, and so I suggest to those who are saying these things: look at the facts. Look at the facts and then base your propositions that you are putting on those facts.

MICHAEL CONDON:  A lot of people say they’re based on the states and not actually helped a lot by the Federal Government, more state-based and driven by industry, business.

ANGUS TAYLOR:  Some would say that.  There’s activists here who would say all sorts of things–

MICHAEL CONDON:  No, these are energy experts.

ANGUS TAYLOR:  Michael, look, at the end of the day come back to the facts, and the facts are Australia has outperformed.  We’ve outperformed because we’ve seen the deployment of technologies, not taxes. We got rid of the carbon tax and we’ve outperformed so many other countries in the world. And we’ve done that through the deployment of technologies, through the deployment of the Emissions Reduction Fund, which farmers are really benefiting from now and will benefit from much more in the coming years. That’s the way to do it. Now, others don’t like it being done that way.  They prefer it to be done through carbon taxes. They prefer it to be done through very heavy‑handed government intervention. Our approach is different.  It’s a Liberal–National approach and it’s working. So, we’ll continue to do go down this path because it is working.

MICHAEL CONDON:  Minister, thanks for your time.

ANGUS TAYLOR:  Good on you, thank you.