Interview with Neil Breen, 4BC

Neil Breen
Government support for Australia's refining sector

NEIL BREEN: There's a massive announcement being made by the Federal Government right here in Brisbane today, and it's going to save hundreds of jobs, it's going to save us all money every time we fill up our cars with petrol. The Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor joins me on the line. Good morning to you, Minister.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good morning, Neil. Thanks for having me.

NEIL BREEN: So Minister, yourself and the Prime Minister will be at the Lytton Refinery this morning for this announcement. Tell us about it.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah look, this is shoring up our fuel security in the country by making sure our remaining refineries remain viable. But on top of that, making sure we've got the stocks of fuel we need and we've got the storages we need, so in the worst possible circumstances all of those people who rely on fuel every day for their jobs and their activities have access to that fuel. So whether you're a truckie, or a tradie, or a miner, or farmer, or an emergency service worker - all reliant on that fuel - this is a package that keeps our refineries in Australia, it's a package that ensures we have the stocks we need and in the process, puts downward pressure on prices and makes sure we have that reliable fuel in the worst possible circumstances. 

NEIL BREEN: So, the situation in Australia was there were four refineries, but now sort of mid-pandemic, we're down to two. That's the Lytton Refinery and one at Geelong as well. Producing our own fuel or being able to refine our own fuel is important. We can't just rely on it being imported. Firstly, the unions would run the show and secondly, you're subject to anything that can happen around the world. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, that's exactly right. So, with two refineries, we know we can process our own crude oil coming out of Bass Strait and the Cooper Basin, and so in the worst possible circumstances, we've still got a supply of fuel that can keep those essential services going. You know, we saw how important diesel in particular was to keep those essential services going during the pandemic when most were shut down. We know how much we need here to be able to do it, and two refineries gives us that but we need to keep those refineries. This is a package that does exactly that and keeps people on the road, keeps people moving, I mean, in the worst possible circumstance. We live in a far less certain world than we did a few short years ago, Neil, and that's why this package is so crucial to making sure we've got the fuel security, reliability and affordability we need.

NEIL BREEN: I've read through all the information about today's announcement, and the Federal Government believes it'll keep prices down what, one cent a litre or so in perpetuity? But people go, oh one cent, big deal, but I suppose it adds up and it's important to control costs.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, that's hundreds of millions of dollars each year Neil, across the economy that we're saving. But on top of that, it means the fuel is there and there won't be extortionate price rises in those worst possible circumstances. You know, we're really doing this for that rainy day, that proverbial rainy day where there is a shortage of fuel for one reason or another. Look, you know, you only have to look at the Middle East right now to see what can happen to fuel supplies if something goes wrong. You look at the United States. We had a major fuel pipeline in the United States shut down through a cyber-attack in the last week or so. I mean, these things can happen and we have to have that reliable fuel supply, that fuel security in those worst circumstances, and that's what this package is about.

NEIL BREEN: How much are we producing of our own fuel supply now in Australia? Because we had, what, eight refineries 20 years ago. A year ago, we had four. Now we've got two. Is it a majority or a minority now?

ANGUS TAYLOR: No, we're down to about a bit under a quarter. And that is enough, of course, to power the economy in the worst circumstances. But, you know, it's why this is so important, because from here on in, if we weren't to do something, we wouldn't be producing any of our own fuel. We can't afford that. We have to have that base fuel supply. The two refineries can do that and that's why we've put this package together. It's constructed in a way where we only support the refineries when refining margins, when their margins are low. We don't want to be shelling out when they're doing well. We shouldn't be. And so we've carefully crafted this so that we make sure they can hang around, they can make the investments they need to sustain themselves, including to lower sulfur fuels, which is something we need to do and they're committing to as part of this package. But most importantly, we have that reliable supply of fuel when we really need it.

NEIL BREEN: Yeah, that's right. So the important thing is when they're doing well, we won't be giving them any money, it's just in the tough times. Okay, Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor, enjoy your stay in Brisbane. Good luck today.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks Neil.