Interview with Neil Breen, 4BC

Neil Breen
Electricity prices, power station closures, Parliament

NEIL BREEN: There are reports today that energy prices across the country are set to fall over the next several years, and Queensland will benefit the most. According to new data, the average yearly Queensland energy bill will fall by $126, or around 10 per-cent, over the next three years. It is predicted Queenslanders will pay about $1100 a year for electricity by 2024. The Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, joins me on the line. Good morning, Minister.

ANGUS TAYLOR: G’day, Neil. Thanks for having me.

NEIL BREEN: What's behind the drop in prices?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, what we're seeing is additional supply coming into the market, and we aren't seeing the big losses of generators that we've seen in the past without replacement, and that's good news. I mean, at the end of the day, you've got to have enough supply to meet the market. That's what we're seeing. We're also seeing record levels of investment in household solar in Australia, particularly in Queensland, and all that extra supply is putting downward pressure on prices and on bills. We've seen a 10 per-cent reduction across the east coast in recent years, and an additional 10 per-cent in Queensland in the coming years. So that's very good news but to take advantage of that, people need to shop around. There's great deals available. Energy Made Easy is a really easy website to use. It can give you a plan that's suited your particular usage.

NEIL BREEN: I think one of the things, Minister, is people just shop around. Like, the only way you'll get competition for your business is if you put your business out to the competition. So just having the one supplier for your whole life, it'll creep up and up and up just like health funds as well, it's the same thing isn't it?

ANGUS TAYLOR: It's exactly right. Look, we have capped what are called the standing offers, which is what you get if you don't shop around but they're still higher prices, substantially higher, than what you get if you shop around. You know, the best regulator of any market is the customer, and when a customer shops around, they keep that market honest for themselves and for others and that's why shopping around is absolutely crucial. We do it for most goods, Neil, and there's no reason why we shouldn't do it for energy.

NEIL BREEN: How does Queensland do better than the other states with regards to these prices?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, look, we're seeing Liddell leaving in New South Wales. We're replacing that with a big generator in the Hunter Valley, and that will help keep prices down in New South Wales but we've got very strong supply in Queensland, and particularly strong increase in household solar. You are, of any region in the world, the biggest users of household solar, and that's putting downward pressure on prices, particularly during the day. We have to keep our eyes on what happens when the sun goes down and making sure there's enough supply there in Queensland for that, and we're working closely with the Queensland Government on exactly that but Queensland is in a very good position versus all other states, and that's good news.

NEIL BREEN: I did see The Australian reporting today that power prices will go up because of the Liddell coal fired plant closing by AGL Energy.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, that's not quite right. We're expecting to see prices going down in New South Wales but, crucial to that is having a replacement for Liddell when it closes and this is the point. If you see a big power station closing, it must be replaced. You can't leave a gap in the market. We saw that with Callide in Queensland where Callide unexpectedly had that explosion, tragically, a little while back. Fortunately, there were no injuries but the point was, we did see a sharp increase in wholesale prices for a short period of time before it came back into operation, and this is what we see. We've got to keep the supply on. We've got that happening in Queensland and that will give us downward pressure on prices.

NEIL BREEN: Minister, it's been a tough week for the Government. You've got these rebel Queensland MPs from your own side, who are shooting at you from inside your own tent with regards to this One Nation bill that was put forward and crossing the floor, and George Christensen's playing up, you've got Senators for Queensland playing up. Is the Ministry of the Coalition upset at those Queenslanders agitating like this when you're heading towards a federal election? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, you know, politics in Canberra inevitably reflects politics on the ground around Australia. There's, you know, there's a degree of emotion out there as we approach the end of the year. It's been two tough years for all Australians with the pandemic. You know, there's been strong differences of view on many issues, and that's reflective in our Parliament. You know, it's completely understandable. Look, I happen to have the view that whilst voluntary vaccination has been absolutely the right answer for Australians, except in exceptional circumstances, I also have the view that it's not the role for the Federal Government to legislate over the top of states every time states do something we dislike. We are a federation, so getting the balance right is tricky but, you know, we're getting to the end of what's been a very tough year and it's understandable that there's differences in view across this great nation. We resolve them, that's the great thing about Australia. We have knockdown, drag out debates all the time as a country and we sort it out and we get on with life.

NEIL BREEN: Yeah. The most dangerous thing for a government, though, is when it becomes every man and woman for themselves heading towards a federal election and people are out to save themselves, not the Party.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I don't think that's right. I mean, I think there's a degree of emotion.

NEIL BREEN: Well, what's Gerard Rennick up to?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, you know, there's differences of view across Australia as there is in the Parliament and, you know, we will resolve these issues, we do resolve them. We're not collectivists like the Labor Party. Labor Party demands obedience from all of their members. We allow a degree of debate on our side of politics, and that degree of debate does reflect what's happening on the ground and I think that's absolutely reasonable but we have to sort these thing out, as we do all issues, and get on with delivering for Australians and, you know, lower electricity prices, affordable reliable energy has been a focus for me for a number of years, Neil. We're seeing the results of that hard work now. There's been a lot of debate about it but we're getting the outcomes and that's what we look to as a Government.

NEIL BREEN: Well, there is no doubt, and I have to agree with you, I can see it in my own power bills that something positive is happening. Angus Taylor, Energy Minister, thanks so much for joining on 4BC Breakfast.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good on you. Thanks, Neil.