Interview with Neil Breen, 4BC

Neil Breen
Hydrogen hubs, Gladstone, cyber security, energy security, AUKUS, nuclear power, Christian Porter, interim ministerial arrangements.

NEIL BREEN: The Federal Government is today announcing a cash injection for the hydrogen energy industry, a Queensland hub in Gladstone. Isn't it a powerhouse, Gladstone? It's amongst seven locations set to benefit from the funding. Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor joins me on the line. Good morning, Minister.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Morning, Neil. Thanks for having me.

NEIL BREEN: No problem. Gladstone, they'll be benefiting from this today. Talk us through it.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, Gladstone is a powerhouse. You're absolutely right but hydrogen is the energy industry that is growing at a really rapid pace. It's not new, we've been producing hydrogen in this country for a long, long time. In fact, the food that your listeners are eating now as they sit down to their breakfast has been produced from fertiliser, which is made from hydrogen. So it's not new, but what's changing is we can produce it from - in a much broader range of ways. Traditionally, we made it from gas. Now we can also make it from coal and from renewables and it's been used in a much broader set of applications, including transport, manufacturing more generally. The electricity industry and the Japanese in particular are now pioneering using it in their electricity generators. So it's a big opportunity for Australia. It's an extra $150 million, totalling $464 million now for our hydrogen hubs. One of those that we've prioritised is Gladstone, because Gladstone is such an energy powerhouse. It exports to the world. It's important to Queensland and Australia more generally, and we see it as a huge opportunity for Australia to build out this industry.

NEIL BREEN: What will exactly be there in Gladstone?

ANGUS TAYLOR: So we have a great deal there already but the production of hydrogen for both export and domestic use is the focus. Now that needs infrastructure, it needs skills. We've got a lot of what we need in Gladstone, but there'll need to be more and this money is all about getting that industry going with that supporting infrastructure, the skills we need and making the most of that incredible starting point we've got there with aluminium refineries, smelter, of course, LNG exports, the coal generators. All of those things together make it an incredible location for- and not just in Australian terms. This is a global, this is a real world leader what we can do in Gladstone, and that's why we're excited about it. That's why we're committing this extra $150 million.

NEIL BREEN: On the weekend, Minister, the Defence Minister Peter Dutton warned about industrial scale cyber attacks from China. Obviously, this is post the AUKUS deal and the nuclear sub deal we've done with the UK and the US. Is our power grid ever under threat?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, it's something we're very conscious of. I was cyber security minister before I came into the current role, so I'm very, very conscious of this issue. We started work back when I was cyber minister on the electricity grid, working with AEMO, the market operator. We're extremely conscious of the risks. There's an enormous amount of work that's been done both by government and the private sector, I should say, in this area. You know, the Government's invested $1.7 billion in the Cyber Security Centre and other cyber related initiatives through the ASD. So it's been a big focus for the Government. It needs to be. We've called out bad behaviour from state-sponsored actors in the past. We'll do it again, and Peter is right to highlight it as something that we need to keep focussing on.

NEIL BREEN: Angus Taylor, for Australia to go nuclear, we know that it doesn't include nuclear weapons and it doesn't include a domestic nuclear strategy but it's always something that we've been worried about in this country, to have our subs powered by nuclear energy is something we're going to do going forward. I have to say from my observation, the public of Australia has taken the announcement pretty well.

ANGUS TAYLOR: It’s been, I think, extremely well received, and I think partly that's because it's the right decision. I'm very proud to have been a member of Cabinet when we made the decision, Neil. I think it's been enormously important. You raise the issue of nuclear power. Obviously, we don't need a civil nuclear capability for these subs, but if we're to have nuclear power in this country, it'll need to be bipartisan. It's too easy to run scare campaigns. I was pleased to see that Labor are, at least in principle, supporting the nuclear subs, but they've come out, Albo came out at the same time, saying there is no way he would ever support nuclear power. So that's where we stand at the moment. Who knows what will, Labor's position will be in the future, but it's very clear what it is right now.

NEIL BREEN: Well, one day we're going to have to have nuclear power, because the renewables industry, and you know they've had half a century longer to come up with a viable alternative to coal-fired power. And we have them, but they're not affordable.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, gas plays an important role, and hydrogen will play a bigger role over time but in many countries, nuclear does play a role but they have been very expensive to build, Neil, there's no doubt about that. The newer technology, small modular reactors they're called, still very early days, we're watching that closely as part of our technology work. It's watching, keeping a good eye on how that's developing is important. None have been finished and are operating in the developed world yet, but we'll see. Politically, the big question for Labor is would they ever come to this from a bipartisan point of view? As yet, the answer again late last week was a definitive no.

NEIL BREEN: You got some extra jobs on the weekend, industry and science. They were Christian Porter's portfolios after he resigned from the ministry. How long are you expecting to hold on to those for?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Oh look, it's an interim arrangement. Obviously, we need a Minister covering those areas. It's in my departmental area, work in the industry department, so it was just a natural set of interim arrangements. We'll see where we go from here. I mean, these are important issues. I'll be getting briefings today. Obviously, incredibly disappointed to see Christian leaving. I think he's made a huge contribution to the Government over a long period of time, and he's a very good fellow who was attacked in a way which I think was completely unseemly but it is what it is and we move on. 

NEIL BREEN: He made an error with regards to this, though. He should have known that he couldn't put that on his register of interest. Anonymous donors from blind trust, it was never going to fly.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well I mean, he's made a very clear statement on this yesterday obviously and he stepped down. So we are where we are, and as I say, Neil, and it's important we get on with the job of governing. Certainly, I'll be in Canberra this morning, getting briefings on those important areas. And manufacturing is hugely important to this country. We want to see it prosper coming out of COVID, and I'll certainly be focussed on doing everything I can in the time I have working in that portfolio to make sure our Australian manufacturing industry is put in the best position possible as we come out of COVID.

NEIL BREEN: Okay. Energy Minister Angus Taylor, we wish we could invite you to Gladstone for that announcement today, but you'll have to do it via Zoom. One day you'll be welcomed back into Queensland.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I look forward to getting back to Gladstone again.