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Interview with Rafael Epstein, ABC Radio Melbourne

10 October 2018

Subject: Energy

E&OE

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: The federal Energy Minister is Angus Taylor; he's just arrived in Melbourne. He's got an important job and that is keeping your power bills down while meeting our international obligations. Minister, good afternoon.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good afternoon, Raf. Thanks for having me.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: How do we meet our international commitments when your own figures say we're a long way off?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we've got a very good track record of meeting our commitments, Raf. We beat the first Kyoto target by about 128 million tonnes; we'll beat the second target in 2020 by significantly more than that - we're well ahead. If we look at the electricity sector, we're confident that we will reach the 26 per cent Paris emissions target in the NEM, the National Electricity Market, in the early 2020s. So, we have a very strong starting point here. There's obviously more work to be done - there always has to be, just as there was with Kyoto - but our track record here is very, very good.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Track record's important - I'm interested in formal forecasts as well. If your own department - well, it was your department - but if your department said at the end of last year: we're a long way off - when's that going to change, that prediction?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we're not a long way off in the electricity sector - I mean, we're going to get there in the early 2020s. And to put this in perspective, we have record investment in renewables, record renewable generation happening this year - it'll be similar next year - and that's why we are so confident that we're going to reach that 26 per cent target in the electricity sector well, well ahead of time. Now, the challenge it's creating it is that we have to also manage the reliability, security, and affordability of the sector and that's why today we announced that we're going to proceed with a reliability obligation that we-

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I'm happy to get on to the reliability; I want to get onto that in a moment. There's just the conference that you were at about our energy - Kerry Schott was there as well, the head of the Energy Security Board. So, she designed - or she and her group of experts appointed by you and other governments - they designed the National Energy Guarantee which your Government is no longer committed to. She says we have an emissions policy in a state of anarchy. That's the quote - anarchy.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I'm telling you what the situation is, and we're going to reach the 26 per cent target. We're very confident of that. We reached the Kyoto targets, we'll reach the target-

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: The woman who was designing your Government's policy now says it's in anarchy - she's wrong?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I'm telling you what the Government position is, what we know, what the facts are: we beat Kyoto 1, we'll beat Kyoto 2; we're well on track for Paris in the electricity sector. And our challenge- and an important part of what the NEG was doing was a reliability obligation and- which we will be proceeding with. And the announcement today was that we will be proceeding with a reliability obligation. We're asking the states to be part of this, they have to be; and this is particularly crucial in Victoria because we're looking at a one in three chance of load [inaudible], of blackouts this summer in Victoria - we had a very challenging summer in Victoria last year.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Well, the biggest problem's the fossil fuel plants, isn't it? The old coal fired power plants?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, the truth is we've got a lot of intermittency coming into the electricity grid, and it's particularly in Victoria and South Australia and that needs to be firmed. The firm generators, the reliable generators are being pushed out.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: [Inaudible]

ANGUS TAYLOR: Raf, just let me finish. And the result of that is that we have a very real challenge. Now, this summer will be tough, future summers will be potentially tougher, without the reliability obligation and that's why we need the states to work with us to firm up that intermittent generation to make sure it's reliable and secure so we can keep the lights on.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: 1322-774 is the phone number. Angus Taylor is the Minister for Energy; the Prime Minister dubs him the Minister for getting your energy bills down. Minister, is there an expert body consulting and giving advice to the government that thinks cheap energy comes from anything other than renewables? Is anybody telling you that coal is cheaper than renewables? All of the experts seem to think coal is more expensive than renewables.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, you see, part of the problem with the debate here is that we all line up and we have to choose our favourite fuel and our favourite generator-

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I'm not asking about favourites. I'm just asking you what's most expensive.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, so my point is simple. We had the ACCC give us a very comprehensive report on what it takes to get electricity prices down. There was a whole series of measures in that and we are pursuing them. And that includes getting rid of some of the bad practices in the industry - standing offers, these are the offers you get if you don't actually go and negotiate with the energy companies; they're too high.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Yeah, good ideas.

ANGUS TAYLOR: We need to back reliable generation in the sector, which is what-

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Minister, my question was: has anybody told you that coal is cheaper than renewables. Because the Energy Council, they own all the coal generators. They think renewables are cheaper. The Chief Scientist thinks renewables are cheaper. And the Energy Security Board, which is appointed by your government and other governments around the country, they think renewables are cheaper than coal. I'm just asking you if you agree.

ANGUS TAYLOR: My point is simple, Raf: if we want lower prices, there's a whole series of things we have to do. The choice between fuels is way back, way down in the list and my focus is simple. The Prime Minister-

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: You don't want to just- all the experts are telling you coal's more expensive. Why don't you want to agree with them?

ANGUS TAYLOR: The Prime Minister didn't give me the goal of choosing between fuels, having my favourite fuel. The Prime Minister gave me a really simple goal - and I like simple goals because it gives clarity for everyone who's working on this: get electricity prices down while we keep the lights on. Now, that's a challenge. We've got lots of intermittency coming into the network. We've got to shore that up; we've got to make it firm; and we've got to get prices down. And we're working in a whole series of areas to do that and one of them is this reliability obligation which we announced we'd proceed with today, and we need the Victorian Government to come with us on this. Now we're going to face a very serious challenge this summer-

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I will pursue that with the Victorian Government; we get the Energy Minister on from time to time. Can I ask you to consider something you'll have to consider in Cabinet at some stage, Angus Taylor; you are the Minister for Energy, but the Religious Freedom Report - in New South Wales you can already, if you're a private school, you can expel a child or refuse to admit them, a private school, because of their sexuality, I think it's the same in West Australia but it's a grey area nationally. The Religious Freedom Report is suggesting that you come down one side or the other on that. I just want to play you something your ministerial colleague said, this is Alex Hawke. He was asked on Sky if it's okay to block gay students from Catholic schools.

[Excerpt]

ALEX HAWKE: The Left feel a constant pressure to create these problems.

COMPERE: So, do you believe they should be able to block students as well, because under the arrangement that's already in place, as I mentioned, teachers can be but schools should be able to block students that are gay?

ALEX HAWKE: I don't think it's controversial in Australia that people expect religious schools to teach the practice of their faith and their religion.

[End of excerpt]

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: That's Alex Hawke, your ministerial colleague. Angus Taylor, do you think religious schools should be able to reject students because of their sexuality?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, there's already legislation in place that enables schools in good faith to choose their staff and…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Do you think that's a good law?

ANGUS TAYLOR: … their students as they see fit. That legislation is already in place. Now, we have a report to government - I haven't seen it yet, Raf.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I'm just asking your personal opinion - do you think that's a good idea?

ANGUS TAYLOR: We haven't discussed it in Cabinet; we'll give it due consideration, this is an important issue. One thing I can assure you of is we'll get the balance right here. We'll protect religious freedom - it should be protected, I firmly believe that. But there's got to be a balance. We always, as governments - and high courts deal with this as well, the courts deal with this - there's always conflict between different rights and freedoms. They have to managed carefully.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Should the school be allowed- do you think personally, Angus Taylor, are you comfortable with a school having the power to reject a student because of their sexuality?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, as I pointed out, religious freedom is important but we've got to get the balance right. We'll consider this and a whole range of issues in Cabinet and I'm not going to pre-empt that process, Raf.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Do you think there will be a decision? You could just leave New South Wales and WA with the law as they have it and leave a grey area. Do you think you're going to come down one side or the other as a Government?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, look, this is an important issue it's important to many people, it's important to me and to many others. We need to get the balance right. We need to protect religious freedom and we have to be aware of discrimination issues as well. There's conflicting rights in these issues; they're tough ones. But as I say, we'll consider the report - I haven't had the opportunity to read it yet. And as I do, I'll form my own views and we'll work our way through it and I think we'll get that balance right.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I appreciate your time today, thank you.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks, Raf.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Angus Taylor is the Minister for Energy in the Prime Minister Scott Morrison's Government.