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Interview with Patricia Karvelas, ABC Radio National Drive

16 February 2021

Interviewer: 
Patricia Karvelas

Subject: Gas prices and emissions reduction

E&OE

PATRICIA KARVELAS: My next guest this afternoon is the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor. Minister, welcome.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks for having me, PK.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: We're going get of course to your portfolio - the ACCC's report on the gas inquiry - but we have to start on this devastating story into this rape allegation. Did the Liberal Party fail Brittany Higgins?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Can I say right up front, this is obviously very distressing reports, and this is not a good outcome, clearly, what's happened here. We’ve seen Linda Reynolds today make very clear that we could have done better and we're going to need to do better into the future. We're conducting a review, as you pointed out in your headlines. And that is absolutely appropriate. I think it's important for all of us in this place, across both sides of the chamber - Liberal, Labor, National - to make sure we're doing everything we can to ensure we've got a safe, effective work environment for everybody.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: With respect, Minister, it looks systemic though. In your own political party, we've got now, what, three complaints? Women have been raising these allegations. Don't we need an independent body to look into these complaints from staffers?

ANGUS TAYLOR: We're conducting a review. In the Parliament during Question Time today, the Prime Minister extended the opportunity for Labor to work with us to get the terms of that review right, and we'll work with them, no doubt, in the coming days to do exactly that. But we have to get this right. Look, there's no doubt we have to do better, Patricia. That is very clear from the events that we've seen in the last 48 hours or so. And I think there's a very strong commitment, and I know there certainly is from me, to make sure we do exactly that.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Do you find it odd that the Prime Minister didn't know in the last two years that this had happened?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it's clear that he didn't. He found out only very recently and his office only found out recently as well. The Defence Minister has made the point that we've got to do better than this so- 

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Yeah, but Penny Wong says that's not believable.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, they're the facts, as we understand them, Patricia. I go on the facts as they stand. I mean, Labor can say all sorts of things, but this is our understanding of the situation. But it's clear, whatever the case, that we have to do better. And we're committed to doing exactly that.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Penny Wong said she doesn't think Parliament is clearly, it's clearly not safe for women. Do you agree with that?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I don't see evidence of that in my office, and I do everything I can to make sure that- 

PATRICIA KARVELAS: But we have evidence about this now.

ANGUS TAYLOR: We have an effective work environment. But this event is clearly not acceptable. I mean, the reports, the allegations are totally unacceptable behaviour, there's no question about that, and we have to do better.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: So you agree with Andrew Bragg that the Liberal Party needs to do more on these issues? You need sort of deeper, deeper reform within your political party to fix this?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, what the nature of the reform is, I'm sure, will come from the reviews, but it's very clear we need to look at this and we need to do better. And we'll await the outcomes of the review work that is done, but the commitment is very strong.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Have you taken the Prime Minister's advice and spoken to your own staff about how to create a safer workplace?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yes.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: What have you said to them?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I've said we've got to do better. And look, most importantly, I've said to them that - and this has been something that I have observed my colleagues doing across the board - we need a safe work environment. We need a situation where if there is a problem, people call it out. That's what I've asked my staff to do. It's very important we all role model the right behaviour and we all ensure that there's an environment where people can call out behaviour that's unacceptable, and that's certainly something I seek to do within my office.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Just a final one on this, does it worry you that you will lose the brilliant minds of young women who would think ‘why would I want to work in that environment’?

ANGUS TAYLOR: You make a good point, which is the Liberal Party, and all political parties, want to have an environment where you can attract the best people, those who are best able to represent their constituencies, their states, and it's very important for us, for our success and for the future, to be able to do that. Alongside the fact that it's just the right thing to do, Patricia. So, I will continue to work to try to make sure there's an effective, safe working environment in my office where the very best people find that they can realise their potential. It's something I've sought to do throughout my career, and I think it's appropriate that we all use this as an opportunity to step back and make sure we're getting things right.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Moving onto your portfolio, the competition watchdog has released its interim report on the gas inquiry. It highlights that the lower prices may not last and that the risk of a supply shortfall remains. It says gas prices fell significantly during the past year, driven in part by the COVID-19 pandemic. So, can the Government guarantee that prices won't increase as life returns to normal?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, Patricia, the point I would make is that a large part of the price decrease had already happened before the pandemic struck, but we have seen reductions of as much as 50 per cent in wholesale prices. We're seeing that flowing through into electricity prices. The CPI for electricity across Australia fell 9 per cent in the last 12 months. Now it's important that we contain that in the future, and we continue to see the passing of this through to customers. That means customers should get on the phone and ask for a better deal. There are a lot of good deals around because we're seeing this reduction in wholesale prices. But it also means we need to see extra supply coming into the marketplace, both on gas and on electricity, and we're working very hard to make sure that happens. We've seen in New South Wales, in recent times, the Narrabri project approved. We're working closely through state governments, through our state energy deals to get more supply coming on. We need that extra gas, not just for industry. We use gas to produce fertiliser and other critical products, plastics, but also for our electricity grid where we're seeing record levels of investment in renewables, in solar and wind, and that needs to be accompanied, complemented by dispatchable, flexible generation and you get that with gas generation. So we need it for those purposes and it's completely consistent with significant reductions in emissions. So, that'll continue to be a strong focus for the Government.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Minister, the ACCC Chair Rod Sims says it is concerning that the risk of a gas supply shortfall in Australia's southern states continues, despite this having been a looming issue for some time. So what's gone wrong and are you prepared to bring projects forward? What work are you doing to bring projects forward so that this looming crisis in New South Wales and Victoria doesn't occur?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we're doing it. I mean, this is why we said to New South Wales when we entered into the state energy deal with New South Wales, we want an extra 70 petajoules of gas supply for New South Wales. Now they've approved Narrabri, which is 70 petajoules. This is good news. So it's happening. Now what we're seeing is a rundown of gas supply in Bass Strait. We're also seeing an expansion of gas supply in Queensland, but we need to get more gas into the southern states. That can come from projects like Narrabri, but it also can come from gas coming down from the north and that's why we are looking at gas pipeline projects now. There's a number of projects proposed, we're working with those proponents and we want to make sure that we've got enough gas for our southern states into the future. Look, we've seen very good gains in reductions in prices, we want to contain those, we want to hold those reductions, we want them passed through to customers, we're going to continue to work hard to make that happen.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: You've declared that you're dead against so-called carbon tariffs as a way to reduce our emissions. Do you think Australia should be committing to net zero emissions by 2050 as the Prime Minister says he hopes to get to?

ANGUS TAYLOR: We absolutely want to get to net zero, and we preferably want to get there by 2050. It's part of the Paris Agreement, the global commitment to net zero, but we want to do it without imposing taxes, Patricia. This is the key point. Whether those taxes are imposed by other countries or imposed by an Australian government, that's not the way we see that it can be done. Look, to put it in perspective, when Labor left government with a carbon tax, they forecast emissions for last year, for 2020, their forecast was 100 million tonnes higher than it turned out to be. Our emissions are 20 per cent lower than Labor's forecast, and Labor had a carbon tax in place. So we got rid of the carbon tax and we've seen the deployment of technology, energy efficiency, sensible initiatives being taken through the Emissions Reduction Fund which is bringing down our emissions. That's how you do it. Whether the technology is hydrogen, whether it's soil carbon, carbon capture and storage, whether it's stored energy, whether it's low-emission steel or aluminium - these are the technologies that are going to allow us to bring down emissions. 

Okay. 

And at the same time strengthen our economy, create jobs and not impose extra costs on consumers.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Have we been invited to these climate talks in April? Has the US invited us?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well we haven't got to that point yet, but, look, I'm very confident we will continue to have very strong dialogue with the United States.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Do you think we're going to get an invite?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, that's a matter for the United States, not for Australia.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: But would you like an invite?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, of course we want to be involved in these discussions.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: So you want to be invited?

ANGUS TAYLOR: We want to be involved in all discussions on important issues that are going to affect Australia. That goes without saying, Patricia. But the point I'd make to you is I've have a very, very good discussion with John Kerry who has responsibility for this area in the new administration. It was a discussion that focused very heavily on technology and the way we can use technology. The United States is a proponent of technology in so many parts of its economy and its society. We can work with the Americans and other countries. The Japanese - we're having very strong discussions with the Japanese. The Koreans, Singapore, Germany, you name it. To focus on how we can develop technologies and deploy those technologies to bring down emissions and strengthen our economies. More taxes is not the answer.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay. But you don't have a mechanism or a plan, right? You've got- 

ANGUS TAYLOR: We absolutely do.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Well there is still no mechanism to get there.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Hang on, Patricia what you're talking about-

PATRICIA KARVELAS: You want to get to net zero emissions by 2050, but we still don't really know other than this word technology which is rather vague, isn't it?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, technology has driven human prosperity for several hundred years. It's not vague at all. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Sure but you've got to be specific about it. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: The reason why we are sitting around having this conversation today is because of incredible advances in human technology over long periods of time, Patricia.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Yeah. But I'm talking about being specific about it, how to get to net zero by 2050?

ANGUS TAYLOR: You know human progress was not made by imposing more taxes on activities. It was driven by the development of technologies. Our energy systems have improved over long periods of time through the development and deployment of technology. That's how we've done it, Patricia. That's how we're going to do it in the future. Technologies like hydrogen, like soil carbon, they can play this crucial role in our energy systems, in our agricultural systems to deliver a reduction in emissions and to strengthen our economy at the same time.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay fair enough. So if you want to be-

ANGUS TAYLOR: That's what we committed to. Now you used the word mechanism, that's code for a tax, I get it.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: No, no, no, no. I would have used the word tax. A mechanism, a plan. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well we have a plan. We launched the Technology Investment-

PATRICIA KARVELAS: No. I didn't use the word tax, deliberately.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Hang on, let me finish. We launched the Technology Investment Roadmap last year. We've backed it in with $18 billion of investment. There will be more investment, there's no doubt about that. We expect that to total up to $70 billion of investment across federal and other governments and the private sector. We're getting $3 of investment from the private sector for every dollar we're making. This is a plan. It's very clear. We've set very clear targets for these technologies. Hydrogen to get under the cost of $2 per kilogram. We've set targets for soil carbon. We've set targets, economic targets for carbon capture and storage, for low-emission steel and aluminium.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: You've said you want to be invited to these climate talks in April. What do you want to take to those climate talks?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well you know, we have a comprehensive plan with very specific targets for individual technologies, and those technologies - let me put this into perspective - they will either substantially reduce or eliminate emissions in sectors responsible for 90 per cent of the world's emissions. This is a global problem that requires a global solution. That's what we're focused on. The discussion I had with John Kerry was very focused on technology, on our target of ‘H2 under 2’, getting the cost of hydrogen under $2 per kilogram. We talked through how we can achieve that, how we can work together to achieve that. We're put together a joint taskforce to focus on exactly these issues. So we're getting on with it.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay. So what do you say to your colleagues who are saying they don't want net zero by 2050. One ever your colleagues Matt Canavan was on this show recently saying that, that they didn't think-

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well I think what Matt Canavan doesn't want, and I agree with him on this, is he doesn't want to destroy the regions, he doesn't want to destroy agriculture. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Sure, but he was very specific with me. He said he doesn't believe we should get to net zero by 2050 when I put it to him. So what do you say to those colleagues who say that?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I say we are not going to go down the path of destroying regions, destroying our economy in order to get to net zero. But what we are going to do is develop and deploy technologies that can allow us to do that without imposing costs on consumers, without destroying jobs in regions. That's a clear focus. Look, when you have a technology that is lower-emitting technology, that comes into line with its higher-emitting alternatives, people are going to start buying it. We are seeing it now. Household solar, we've got the highest rate of household solar in the world. One in four houses in Australia with solar panels on the roof, Patricia. The highest in the world. Why? Because that technology is now working for households and this is how it's done. We're going to continue to go down this path and that means we can achieve this with a strengthened economy, with more jobs. It's good for Australia, it's good for Australians, it's good for Australian jobs, and there is no time when this is more important than as we come out of and recover from the coronavirus.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Minister, thank you so much for coming on the show.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks Patricia.