Interview with Neil Breen, 4BC Brisbane

Neil Breen
G7 Summit

NEIL BREEN: Over the weekend and into this week, there was a lot of coverage of the G7 Summit in the UK. There were sideline meetings between international leaders. They're still happening. We saw Putin and Biden this morning, didn't we? But one of the things that got a little bit lost in the fray was a win for Australia. It was a big win when it comes to our energy future. We know climate concerns were a major topic of conversation at the summit, they always are at these summits. But how did Australia's coal fired power stations fit into that future? I'm going to talk to the Federal Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister, Angus Taylor. He joins me on the line. Good morning, Minister.

ANGUS TAYLOR: G'day Neil. Thanks for having me.

NEIL BREEN: No problem. The thing that really interested me, because, you know, you get all this wording and communiques and all this sort of stuff, but Japan insisted on changing the wording of the G7 stance on the construction of coal power plants. Talk me through it.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, you know, there's lots of debate about the future of coal, and Japan insisted that they be able to continue to invest in coal but it needs to have some level of abatement. The good news here is it is a great opportunity for Australia because they want to put ammonia and hydrogen through their gas and coal-fired generators, and that's an enormous opportunity for Australia to sell a new export up into Asia. This is what we saw over the weekend. So this is good for us. It provides us with another fantastic opportunity. Our energy sector needs to evolve but in a sensible way. We don't want to shut down the coal industry. In fact, quite the opposite, we see it having a great future. But we do need to evolve, and that's one of the opportunities we saw coming out of the G7.

NEIL BREEN: Yeah, this is one of the things about coal the world over. These summits, you know, what, for the past two decades now? Has been talk-after-talk about climate change. But the fact is, the world is still reliant on coal. And I'm not just giving you that question as a free kick for you - it's just a fact.

ANGUS TAYLOR: That's exactly right. It's 54 per cent of our energy sector. Look, we're seeing record levels of investment in household solar, and that's a great thing. It's a mix and a balance that we need. We need that in Australia, and of course, through Asia where our customers are for our coal exports primarily. You know, that will continue to be part of the balance for a little while. Including in the steel industry of course. It uses our metallurgical coal, much of which or most of which comes from Queensland. So, the idea that some are putting around that you're going to shut this industry down overnight is just insane. We do need to evolve. We do need to build the hydrogen industry alongside our current exports, and that's a wonderful opportunity for Australia, but we're not going to shut things down and that's not what's being asked. That's the important point to make. 

NEIL BREEN: Okay. There's challenges though. I love the fine print of budgets, going through and picking out little bits and pieces. And coal royalties, our [Queensland] budget released this week showed they'd slumped by 50 per cent because of export restrictions from China. China, you know, royalties from coal, all that sort of stuff, it's not a good position for Australia.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, look, I’d make a couple of points about that, Neil. The first is we have seen lower prices for coal throughout COVID, and, that's a global phenomenon and you’d expect that-

NEIL BREEN: What, because people are using less power around the world or something?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Exactly. We did see a reduction in demand worldwide. There's no doubt that there's been some rebalancing of our exports. China has always been a relatively volatile market for our coal compared to, say, Japan, which is our biggest export partner. It's been a much more stable market over a long period of time. And at the end of the day, we will always stand firm to our values when it comes to China. We're not going to compromise those. But look, the good news is we've rebalanced our exports in a way that works for us. China will continue to be an important customer, and we're very confident that those revenues will increase in the coming year. We've seen an increase in prices. This is all part of a natural trade cycle. We have seen an increase in prices, and that's good news. And we'll see strength in volumes. But we need volume coming on as well, Neil. This is important. We need projects, our coal projects in Queensland need to continue to see investment and approvals. This is absolutely essential. And that's how we keep this industry strong. And alongside it, invest in those technologies that ensure that we've got those energy exports over a longer period of time, like hydrogen and ammonia.

NEIL BREEN: Well, I shouldn't be confused because it is a Labor government, and Labor's stance across the board on coal is confused. Because Labor governments are happy to take coal money. Like, they'll take it and they'll use it in their budgets. Of course they will. But building and approving the expansion of mines is just a mess, and it's a mess here in Queensland. And we've seen today, there's a story today more jobs are said to go from the New Acland coal mine on the Darling Downs while they wait for stage three to be approved. Why are we tying ourselves in knots over this? Like state governments - not so much the Federal Government - I just don't understand it.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, they shouldn't be. It's as simple as that. They shouldn't be. Look, the Queensland Government is hiding behind the courts to avoid making a decision on this. 

NEIL BREEN: 100 per cent.

ANGUS TAYLOR: And a decision needs to be made. Now, if the Premier were serious about protecting coal jobs, she can approve the coal mine today. Today. It's gone on for over a decade. The company deserves a decision now. I was up in Toowoomba, in that region, just in the last few weeks. They deserve a decision now. Over 300 local jobs are at risk. It's time for the Queensland Government to make a decision on this.

NEIL BREEN: Yeah, and end the pain. End the pain and the uncertainty. Angus Taylor, Federal Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister, thanks so much for joining us on 4BC Breakfast. Have a good day.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks, Neil.