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Interview with Patricia Karvelas, ABC Radio National Drive

31 January 2020

Patricia Karvelas

Subject: Gas, energy, emissions reduction targets, bushfires


PATRICIA KARVELAS:  Prime Minister Scott Morrison might be unapologetic in his insistence that Australia is doing enough to lower its carbon emissions, but today he struck a deal with New South Wales which will pump an additional $2 billion into efforts to do just that. Under the deal, New South Wales will also deliver an additional 77 petajoules of gas into the system to shore up the state's energy supply. Just don't call it a national energy guarantee - it's not national, it's with the state, but there are similarities. For more, we're joined by the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor. Minister, welcome to RN Drive.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks for having me, Patricia.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  Opposition leader Anthony Albanese questioned why you weren't at today's press conference with Gladys Berejiklian. Where were you?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I had other commitments but the important point here is that this is backed in by our leaders because it's an incredibly important agreement, Patricia. What it features is increasing supply in electricity and gas, increased grid security through transmission interconnection and network access, and support for emission reduction projects. $2 billion of funding.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  So $2 billion for emissions reduction initiative. What criteria will those initiatives will have to meet to be eligible for funding?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, they've got to reduce emissions at a reasonable cost. I mean, that's how we go about this. And this is key. We're interested in using technology to reduce emissions. We don't want to impose taxes on people. And we're always looking for the most affordable way to reduce emissions, whether it's energy efficiency or through transport innovation in industry, in land management.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: And you have a target for that reduction?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we're obviously targeting achieving the Paris Agreement, which is a 26 per cent reduction by 2030 - I mean, that’s the target.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  Hang on a minute, the reduction that you're aiming for with this $2 billion in investment is to work towards that reduction?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, to meet and beat that outcome. That's our goal.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, but you must have modelling. Is it just about meeting it? What will this contribute? Will it go beyond?

ANGUS TAYLOR:  We have modelling. Look, we put our modelling in December last year, and you'll see that we already have plans to reach our 2030 targets. So anything more that comes from working closely with state governments like the New South Wales Government, obviously is about beating those targets. So, look, that's our goal. We've always said we want to meet and beat our targets, and crucial to this is having state governments and the private sector working alongside us to do everything we can, to find every tonne of abatement we can, at the most affordable price.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  The Prime Minister says the Government would fund projects to develop and commercialise technologies to reduce emissions from coal, but how successful has that research been to date?

ANGUS TAYLOR: There's different parts to that research. I mean, there's just straight energy efficiency in our existing generators, and that's something that has been pursued for many, many years by companies right across the world, right through to carbon capture and sequestration. And we are now seeing carbon capture projects which are coming in at relatively low costs. Whether they bear up as good projects versus the alternatives - I mean, we'll see that over the coming years, I'm sure, across the world. But this is a very strong area of focus. But, at the end of the day, the particular technology that does the best and reduces the most emissions at the best possible cost, that's exactly what we'll see as processes like this one and programs like this one roll out. What we're focussed on is making sure we use those technologies to meet and beat our targets.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  And have you looked at whether this will have an impact on renewables? Would it crowd out renewables?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Not at all. Central to this, the whole agreement, is a significant injection of gas. The point about gas is it is a great complement to renewables, because when the sun goes down and wind stops blowing, you've got to have an alternative flexible energy source. The great thing about gas is it can work very closely with renewables, it's very flexible, and of course it's lower emissions than alternatives.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  Experts say this deal with New South Wales will continue to bring emissions down in the energy sector, but what's your plan to bring emissions down in other sectors of the economy?

ANGUS TAYLOR: The important point actually is that this has a significant focus in other sectors, not just the electricity sector. I mean, we are seeing very significant reductions in the electricity sector now because of very significant additions of household solar as well as large scale solar and wind projects. But outside of the electricity sector - it's about two thirds of emissions - in industry, transport, agriculture, land management - these are areas where we think there is much more potential to reduce emissions. And certainly a significant portion of the funding we would expect to move towards those sectors beyond just the electricity sector. So whether that's additional land management programmes where we're using what's called biological sequestration, capturing carbon by planting trees or revegetation, or whether it's an improvement in manufacturing practices, energy efficiency in our manufacturers - there's a range of different areas here outside of electricity where we think there's great potential to reduce emissions.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  Minister, the bushfire crisis this summer has been unprecedented and it's not over. Just today of course we've seen some alarming warnings. Do you see climate change as a significant driver in this and are you worried?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it's playing a role. I mean, you know, there's no doubt about that.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  And does that worry you, and does that demonstrate that there needs to be a sense of urgency around reducing emissions?

ANGUS TAYLOR: What it does is it says that we've got to meet our international targets, and we've got to work closely with other countries around the world to ensure that there is a global outcome on this. That’s our focus.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  So in terms of Kyoto carryover credits, what's your position on that?

ANGUS TAYLOR: The position is that we will use them if we have to but we will always seek to meet and beat our targets.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  Are you aiming not to use them?

ANGUS TAYLOR: We will always seek to beat our targets and of course we will use the carryover if we have to. So I'll give you an example-

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] But I suppose this is my point: “If we have to”. You're the one that decides that right?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I was about to answer the question. Moving from Kyoto 1 to Kyoto 2, we had 128 million tonnes of carryover. Now, Labor actually wouldn't enter into Kyoto 2 unless they were allowed to use that carryover. We've put ourselves in a position, as Australia, where we could use the carryover. It turns out we don't need to. We're going to be way, way ahead of our 2020 targets. And our approach will be very similar with Paris. We have a carryover. It should be recognised. There is less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because of the actions of Australians, and Australian businesses, in reducing emissions, driving energy efficiency and so on. And that should be recognised. On the other hand, we seek to meet and beat our targets and this deal that we've announced today is a very good example of how we are seeking to beat our targets.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  Minister, industry says the perception of government support for individual projects could scare off investment that might have delivered even more supply. Do you accept that's a risk?



ANGUS TAYLOR: Because our approach - well, I assume you're referring here to electricity generation projects?


ANGUS TAYLOR: Our approach here is very simple. If private sector steps up and provides enough supply of the affordable, reliable electricity we need, we'll step back. We've said that to industry and the sector again and again and again - and that is our approach - but we need to have enough supply, and on days like today, tough days in the electricity sector, we see that it's on a knife edge. We do need to make sure that we have enough, reliable, affordable supply. If the private sector is providing that, there is no role for government. I would much rather government doesn't play a role in it but if we need to, we'll intervene. And there's some markets, some states right now where there's clearly not enough supply and we're working to make sure we get that into place.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  How advanced are negotiations with other state and territories to deliver similar deals? This one's with New South Wales, it's not national.

ANGUS TAYLOR: We're having discussions with other states and we're working on projects with other states. I mean, we've been working with Tasmania for a long time on getting moving on the Battery of the Nation project, using their incredible hydro assets down there in Tasmania and making them a resource that is available for the rest of Australia. This is a great opportunity and we see lots of opportunities around Australia.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  Just finally the allegations about the doctoring of that Sydney City Council report have been referred to the AFP. Have you been contacted by them about the investigation?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, obviously the New South Wales police have dropped this and-

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  [Interrupts] And they’ve referred it to the AFP.

ANGUS TAYLOR: The AFP have been doing a review. And I really, I've made a statement on this, I've really got nothing more to say Patricia over and above what I've already said.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  Can you tell us if they've contacted you?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, I'll always work corroboratively and cooperatively with the police in any inquiry they want to make. But I've got nothing more to say over and above what I've already said.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  Thanks so much for joining us, Minister. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks very much, Patricia.