Interview with Neil Breen, 4BC

Neil Breen
Global gas and oil prices, war in Ukraine, $50 million priority gas investments, AdBlue, Un Secretary-General speech, emissions reduction.

NEIL BREEN: The Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, is on the line. Good morning, Minister.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks for having me.

NEIL BREEN: No, worries. Okay. We’ve seen petrol prices go through the roof. We’ve seen AdBlue prices go through the roof. That’s a personal one. I’ll ask you about a bit later. We’re worried about gas because we’ve seen what’s happened, the economic devastation in Europe and the United Kingdom because of gas shortages, all to do with Ukraine. How is this affecting Australia? What are we doing about it?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it’s great for our exports, and the good news is that those huge price rises that have happened in Europe and Asia, over 300 per cent increase in the price of gas, haven’t occurred here. Our prices remain 75 to 80 per cent below international prices, and the reason is we’re getting gas out of the ground at a greater rate than we have in the past. That’s great news. That’s the result of a lot of work that’s been done over recent years. But there’s risks. We’ve got to keep gas coming out and getting to the right places. And that’s why we’re announcing today $50 million worth of projects to support the infrastructure and storage needed to keep our gas industry moving, and to prevent those price increases because they would be disastrous. They would scorch industry, and that’s exactly what we have seen in Asia and in Europe. And this suite of projects and the $50 million of funding is all about preventing that from happening.

NEIL BREEN: It’s all about storage. Where will these places be, and is this a Budget measure? Has this been added to the Budget?

ANGUS TAYLOR: It’s more than storage - it’s also pipelines. It is about getting the gas out, and then getting it to the right place and having storage. The Europeans have found they didn’t have enough storage, and that’s been a big issue for them. We need to make sure we do have the storage, and it’s absolutely critical we’re able to move the gas around. There’s no point extracting gas if you can’t move it to where it is sold, and that’s why these projects are so important, Neil.

NEIL BREEN: Where will these places be?

ANGUS TAYLOR: There’s a whole range of them. There’s projects down in Victoria –

NEIL BREEN: I’ve got a list here.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Surat, up at the Beetaloo Basin as well.

NEIL BREEN: Surat in Queensland.

ANGUS TAYLOR: And then there’s carbon capture and storage pipe projects or pipes to move the CO2 around which will be based out of Gladstone, as well as in the Beetaloo and in the Cooper Basin down to South Australia. So, a range of different projects, but all about making sure we’ve got to help the gas industry into the future and allowing us to decarbonise the gas industry over time as well, which is crucial to its prosperity in the future.

NEIL BREEN: I have to say, Angus Taylor, it’s been a roller coaster ride because I think we had a caller before pointing out to us and reminding us two years ago today Australia went into a national shutdown and the pubs in Queensland were shut. Everything was shut down. And then petrol was dirt cheap. It was a dollar. You could just cruise around, do whatever you wanted. Then we come out of COVID, the world comes out of COVID, the demand comes back, the war in Ukraine. It’s kind of incredible topsy‑turvy stuff you’re dealing with.

ANGUS TAYLOR: It sure is, but to be frank, we knew there would be a real surge in demand coming out of COVID, and that’s why we launched the gas‑fired recovery, and the National Gas Infrastructure Plan is all part of that. We had to put ourselves in a position where, coming out of the pandemic, we had enough energy, we had enough gas, we could contain prices not just for gas but for electricity. And we’ve been able to do that. Oil is more challenging. We have taken very significant fuel security measures, shoring up our remaining refineries at Lytton and down in Geelong, as well as being sure we’ve got enough storage for our fuel, liquid fuel, so that we’ve got it when we need it. And we’ve also taken significant measures on AdBlue. You mentioned AdBlue. I mean, we’ve had to secure AdBlue manufacturing supplies here in Australia. Most of our AdBlue is being made locally. There’s more work to do on that over the coming months, but this has all been important work. We saw these things coming. We anticipated it and that’s why we’re taking action.

NEIL BREEN: I think the price has to flow through to the consumers because my car was due for AdBlue on the weekend, and I bought 10 litres from Repco for $72. Now, I used to pay $20‑something for 10 litres of AdBlue and I think there’s a body of work for the ACCC to do here, because –

ANGUS TAYLOR: You’re dead right. Look, the deal we’ve done with Incitec Pivot, who is making most of the AdBlue, manufacturing it locally, so that’s good news. It was mostly being imported. Now we’re making it locally. They’re selling it at the international price. Now, the international price has gone up. Urea is the main input. It’s similar to fertiliser and that price has gone up. But if the retailers are gouging, we have made very clear that we want the ACCC crawling all over that. Very happy to take the details of the price you paid, by the way, Neil, and follow that up and –

NEIL BREEN: I don’t want to make it about myself. You know, I can afford $72 for AdBlue once every six months, but I think about other people, you know, like pensioners and people such as that have got to put it in their car.

ANGUS TAYLOR: It’s a big deal.

NEIL BREEN: I know. It is a big deal, and it’s ridiculous. And also, the guy behind the counter was being honest with me. He said: “Listen, mate, I’d buy it if I were you because this stuff comes in and it goes out the door.” Can I ask you about this story – this story that’s broken on the BBC overnight. I wouldn’t say broken but I got it off their website. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres, he says, he’s criticised the world. He says: “The rush to use fossil fuels because of the war in Ukraine is madness. It threatens global climate target.” He’s talking about the rising prices of coal, oil and gas and we’ve got to phase it out, and China has got to phase out coal, and we’ve got to stop using it. I don’t know. I would have thought he had something better to do at the moment and that may be stopping Russia bombing Ukraine.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah. Look, I think it’s pretty tone-deaf to focus on these things when we’ve got these terrible images in Ukraine and we’re trying to keep the Ukrainian economy going. I mean, we’re moving coal over there, as you know, Neil, and that’s the right thing to do. We’ll do whatever we can to support the Ukrainians. That’s got to be the top priority at the moment. You know, the truth of the matter is we are, in places like Australia, taking serious measures to reduce emissions. We are reducing our emissions faster than most countries in the world, including places like Canada and New Zealand and the United States, Japan – places we compare ourselves with. But right now, you know, what is going on in Ukraine needs to be the primary focus. We have a real issue with global energy markets. We’ve been to a significant extent insulated, but not at the petrol bowser, as you pointed out, and dealing with these issues is incredibly important. We have to do it with real sensitivity about the impacts it’s having on people’s lives.

NEIL BREEN: That’s right. People have got to have money to shop and to live, not just pay for petrol. Angus Taylor, Federal Energy Minister, thanks for your time this morning.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks, Neil.