Interview with Nick Rheinberger ABC Radio, Illawarra

Climate Change, Energy

NICK RHEINBERGER: As Prime Minister Morrison announced his new Cabinet, he announced a new twin portfolio for our newly re-elected Member for Hume. Angus Taylor, he's been the Energy Minister for quite some time, he's now the Energy and Emissions Reductions Minister and he's going to be, hopefully, steering Australia towards meeting our Paris targets amongst other things. And Angus Taylor joins us now here at ABC Illawarra. Good morning.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Morning, thanks for having me Nick.

NICK RHEINBERGER: Does it make sense to have energy and emissions reductions in the same office?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well you certainly have to have the two working closely together and of course, we have been doing that. I've worked very closely with Melissa to make sure our energy policy is aligned with our emission reduction policies, and we'll continue to do that. Of course, it makes it a little easier doing that in the same office. But, you know, the important point here Nick is we've got to meet our international emissions reductions obligations, but we also have to make sure that we put downward pressure on energy costs and in particular, we make sure that those industries that have been the backbone of Australia for so many years - irrigation, the resources sector, manufacturing - they're crucial sectors for our economy. And we believe that we can meet our emission reduction obligations without trashing jobs in crucial industries and we will focus on that over the coming months and years.

NICK RHEINBERGER: How do we do both of these things? And surely, if we want people as a general rule to use less energy, you would raise the price, wouldn't you? And therefore, you'd be able to meet your emissions targets much more easily.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well unfortunately the price has been higher than we would have liked it anyway Nick and that has had an impact, there's no doubt about that. But look, the important point here is technology makes a difference and we did a lot of work on this late last year. We came to the conclusion through work that was done by the department, we needed to find 328 million tonnes of abatement between now and 2030 and we've laid out to the last tonne how we're going to achieve that. Now that's all part of our climate solutions package. About 100 million tonnes of that is going to come through what we call our Climate Solutions Fund and a significant portion coming through energy efficiency for instance. And this is where we've had very substantial gains in recent years. Businesses and to a lesser extent households, have been doing an enormous amount of work on this. You only need to go to Port Kembla to see the work that has been done there - the steelworks to improve the output per unit of energy that's being used - and this is happening all over the country. It is important work; it is work that Government can help to facilitate, although at the end of the day, as is so often the case in Australia, it's the hardworking, small businesses and larger businesses across the country who do a lot of the work for us. And we as- in the Coalition, firmly believe that's as it should be.

NICK RHEINBERGER: What about in the generation phase of electricity? Are we going to see more investment in technology in wave, wind and solar power?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well we're already seeing it. We're seeing record levels of investment in solar and wind right now. The next three years, we committed $25 billion investment happening and our challenge is that whilst we will see very substantial emissions reductions resulting from that, we need to make sure that as more intermittency comes into the system - reliance on the wind blowing and the sun shining - that we can keep our system stable and affordable as that's happening. That's the challenge. We will see, as I say, there's enormous investment happening right now, completely unprecedented. One of the fastest rates of investment, given the size of the Australian economy in the world, and we should be proud of that. But we have to make it work. And this is the hard work of delivery now that the Government is focussed on. We made our policies very clear before the election. Now the job is to get on and deliver and make sure that those tough issues, like incorporating that record level of investment in renewables, happens in a way which is good for all of us.

NICK RHEINBERGER: Well as you drove through your electorate and on the way to Canberra, you certainly see a huge amount of wind turbines and they haven't been without controversy. The scientists say that there's nothing in the claims of wind related illnesses. Even Joe Hockey once upon a time said driving past Lake George and seeing all the wind turbines offended him. How do you feel about all that [indistinct]…

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well let's be clear about this - two-thirds or more of the investment happening right now is solar and in fact, a very substantial gains in efficiencies, technology improvements we've seen in recent years have been in PV cells in solar, and other aspects of solar have seen phenomenal improvements, and that's why we've seen such a significant investment in that. And that's important, I mean, I think we need to make sure we make the most of it. Wind will continue to play an important role. Look, the key to this is balance and what will work in our electricity sector is not picking one technology and saying that's it, let's just run with that. It's actually balance. We'll continue to use coal in the system for many years to come, it's important. Gas plays an important role and we know around the world gas plays a very important role because it's very flexible technology. It can come on quickly when the wind drops or the sun goes down. And of course, wind and solar will play a role. So all of these things have got to be balanced. Local planning approvals, which I think is what you're referring to now - a moment ago, have got to be done by local councils and state governments. They've got to get that right. Whether it's solar, wind, gas, coal, doesn't really matter - those planning approvals are very, very important and they've got to be judged on their merits of individual projects.

NICK RHEINBERGER: Well where- what is the future of coal in that case? Do we need to see…

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well it has a role.

NICK RHEINBERGER: Do we need to see our existing mines live through their useful life? Or do we need to open up new coal resources? Let's start with the big one which is in Queensland, in the Galilee Basin - the Adani mine.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well let's be clear, there's two different issues here - one is domestic coal, I mean coal for domestic use, the other is coal for export. But in both cases, this is not an industry that is disappearing overnight or should disappear overnight. It will continue to have a role to play. Now, we'll see an increasing role for renewables, I've described that in the investment we're seeing in Australia right now and we're seeing investments like that happening in other countries. But while coal will continue to have an important role to play, we know that when we export coal up to China, for instance, it's significantly cleaner than the domestic coal used in China - much of which is used in China, there's a lot of domestic coal used in their electricity generation - our coal is significantly cleaner than that and our gas is cleaner again. So these fuels will continue to play a role. But it's about balance; it's about seeing the change happening over a reasonable period of time. If you try to do it too fast, at the end of the day you'll bring industries unstuck, you'll lose jobs. We're going to take a sensible, proportionate balanced approach to it.

NICK RHEINBERGER: Alright. Well much closer to home for you, you're in the Seat of Hume and there's a mine which is proposed by a company called Hume Coal wanting to produce 50 million tonnes of coal over 23 years at Berrima and Sutton Forest. It looks like that has had 97 per cent objection to it's plans. Where do you stand on the Hume coal mine?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, as you know, the coal industry still plays an important role in our region and whether it's the Appin mine in my electorate or the Tahmoor mine Colliery in my electorate, these are important employers, they provide a lot of jobs and they play a very important role in the steel industry. This is mostly metallurgical coal used in the steel industry and there are not good substitutes for that right now and I will continue to support the jobs that those mines create. Now any new mine has got to be- it's got to meet the approval processes and as I've said, every project - whether it's coal, whether it's gas, whether it's wind, whether it's solar - has to meet those local requirements, has to meet the strict planning controls we have in this country, which are mostly driven at the local and state level. And I've strongly endorsed those processes being managed in a very careful way, as they have been traditionally. But it is important to recognise in our region that metallurgical coal will continue to play an important role for many years to come.

NICK RHEINBERGER: Okay. Just a question on electricity prices - it was a big part of the election campaign, you were talking about getting some sort of a ceiling price for the electricity companies. What can you tell our listeners about their electricity prices expected over the next year?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well on 1 July you'll see substantial changes in the way electricity prices are negotiated and billed. First of all, if people aren't in a position to get on the phone and negotiate a better price, they'll get what's called a standing offer which will be capped by- is being capped by the Government, by the Australian Energy Regulator. So these are new price caps for standing offers, for the non-negotiated prices. There's still a lot of people, particularly small business - about 20 per cent of small businesses - on standing offers. They'll see substantial reductions depending on exactly where they are, but they are coming down. And through to the household, that might be a reduction of around $200 a year, up to as much as $800 depending on their offer they're currently on. But the second thing which is equally important is that every offer made must be benchmarked against a single reference price. So if you ring around to three of four electricity companies, ask them for the price they can offer you - the best price they can give you - they will have to benchmark that against a single price. So you know someone saying to you - look, this is a 20 per cent discount on the reference price, and another company offers you a 10 per cent discount, the 20 per cent discount will be a better price. That wasn't the case in the past, it was confusing, it almost deliberately confused a lot of customers - that is changing on 1 July. And along with that, a big change to the way penalties are imposed by companies, they won't be able to hike the price if you pay even an hour late. They're going to have to only pass on the direct costs of a late payment. So there's a very substantial change from 1 July. And then ongoing, we're putting downward pressure on wholesale electricity prices and that's by bringing more supply and competition into the market.

NICK RHEINBERGER: Okay. Look, I know you've got to get going, but just a very quick response to Stephen Jones who suggests the Government does not have a mandate to put in place every change - whether it's emissions or the tax plan - but that every individual member has a mandate from the people that voted them in in that Seat. What do you say to that?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I'm not quite sure what that means, but I've got to say we've just been to an election. Our policies in energy and emissions reduction were very clear - frankly, far clearer than the Labor Party. We laid out to the last tonne what we were going to do. We laid out what we expected with electricity prices, what we'd be asking the companies to do. There was no ambiguity about that. Now we won that election. I feel very privileged to be given the honour of being the Member for Hume for another term of Parliament and to be the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reductions. I'm going to get on with the job of what we took to the election and what the Australian people- the fact that the Australian people have voted us in for another term in government.

NICK HEINBERGER: Angus Taylor, good to talk to you. Thanks very much. Cheers.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thank you. Cheers.

NICK RHEINBERGER: Angus Taylor, the Federal Member for Hume and the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reductions.