Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM

Sabra Lane
Low Emissions Technology Fund, CEFC, carbon capture and storage, electric vehicles,

SABRA LANE: The Federal Government's releasing more of its climate change policies today, promising to invest $500 million in a new Low Emissions Technologies Fund, with another $500 million raised by the private sector. The Government's hoping new technologies will deliver much of the carbon dioxide emissions cuts it wants to achieve with the net zero goal by 2050. The plan is for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to administer this new fund, but it's barred from investing in things like carbon capture and storage technology. So, new laws will be needed, potentially setting up a huge political battle. The Industry Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister is Angus Taylor. Angus Taylor, Welcome to AM. When do you want this fund set up by? And what sorts of projects will it support?

ANGUS TAYLOR: As quickly as possible, Sabra. It's a $500 million fund, it'll be matched at least dollar-for-dollar by the private sector, focusing on Australian small businesses, start-ups, and innovative businesses that can provide low emissions technologies to Australia, to bring down emissions in Australia, but to the world as well. We're seeing Australian companies doing unbelievably well. We saw that over in COP with an Australian business that is doing extraordinary things with building materials bringing down emissions. They won a competition amongst 2700 applicants around the world - world beating small company, and we want to see a lot more of this to bring down emissions, as I say, in Australia, around the world, and to employ Australians. And we are in a great position to do it. 

SABRA LANE: The Government says that this fund could mean putting money into technologies like direct carbon capture and storage, powered by renewable energy - to take carbon directly out of the atmosphere and bury it. Would it also include technology for carbon capture and storage for coal-fired power plants? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we're interested in any technology that can commercially bring down emissions in a way that helps us to bring out our emissions in Australia, or emissions around the world. We don't want to pick and choose a technology on some kind of ideological basis. Anything that can work, Sabra, is our focus here. At the end of the day, you have got to remember that the goal here is to contain the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide equivalence - that's the goal. It's a very straightforward goal - hard to achieve, but we know what the goal is - and any technology that contributes is a technology we should focus on.

SABRA LANE: You've said that you'd like this fund set up as soon as possible. You'll need parliamentary approval because you would like the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to administer this fund. Have you started talking with crossbenchers about this already? Given the Senate has blocked, well, it's blocked previous attempts to allow agencies like this to put money into carbon capture and storage projects? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: We're interested in all technologies. We're only announcing the fund today, of course, Sabra, so we'll discuss this with our, our colleagues at an appropriate time. But the point I'd make to you here is that there's lots of people, when it comes to climate policy, want to wipe industries out. They start at this position where they say, we want to see resources industries gone, or agriculture impacted. That's not where we start. We start at the solution. Low emissions technologies that can bring down emissions, and if any technology can contribute to that, we should be looking at that. Small Australian companies are doing an unbelievable job in this area, where they were on display at COP. Amazing Australian companies doing extraordinary things and we're attracting enormous interest over at, over in Glasgow. We want to see more of this. There's a gap in the market. It's difficult for them to get funding. There's a role for Government to play alongside the private sector, and that's exactly what we're doing here.

SABRA LANE: What do you fancy your chances, then, of getting parliamentary approval for this? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it's a sensible proposal. But the truth is that Labor has decided that there's some types of emissions reduction they like and there's some they don't. Now, this is such a-

SABRA LANE: But it's not – sorry – it's not just Labor. You've got people like Andrew Forrest, who's highly sceptical about carbon capture and storage technology as well. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well you know, I say to people, look at the facts. There's 60 projects around the world, 30 in operation. It's working. It's working in large quantities now. The IPCC and the IEA support this, and all technologies that can actually contribute. I mean, it's pretty straightforward here. We need every horse in the race, Sabra. This is a difficult goal for the world. It's a difficult goal for Australia. You can't rule things out and expect this to be easy and achievable. Now, if you start ruling things out-

SABRA LANE: Just, I was going to say, just on that point of ruling things out. In the past, the Coalition has derided the Clean Energy Finance Corporation as ‘Bob Brown’s bank’ - it wanted it abolished. The Coalition is now embracing electric vehicles. In years gone by, you've been highly sceptical about electric vehicles. Many voters would wonder, why does the Coalition initially reject these policies and then make a hullabaloo about it, and then years later think, well, they're not so bad after all?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I'm a huge supporter of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the role it's playing. I've worked very closely with the team there, Ian Learmonth, and the team. They're doing an amazing job. You know, we've got the highest rate of household solar in the world. We, we've got eight times the OECD average in terms of investment in renewables and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation has played a huge role in that. We want them to be broader. We want them to be looking at every sector of the economy. So, you know, policies evolve, they should. And our approach to the CFC is that it needs to evolve and focus on the 70 per cent of emissions outside of the electricity grid, including in agriculture and industry. My focus is on helping and working with the CEFC through funds like this, to have the broadest possible application to, and the broadest access to technologies that can bring down emissions. 

SABRA LANE: The New South Wales Treasurer, Matt Kean, says the Federal Government could be doing a lot more on electric vehicles by waiving taxes and charges to encourage families and businesses to buy them. Is that under consideration?

ANGUS TAYLOR: The thing that will hold back electric vehicle uptake is access to infrastructure and integration into the electricity grid, Sabra. And this is the crucial role of government. In fact, what we announced yesterday- 

SABRA LANE: But on the point of that question, specifically waiving taxes and charges to encourage people to buy them.

ANGUS TAYLOR: So Labor has a policy where they say they're going to get rid of tariffs on electric vehicles. The truth is our free trade agreements have already done that, Sabra. I mean, we've already done this- 

SABRA LANE: This is a Liberal treasurer calling on you to do these things.

ANGUS TAYLOR: People should look at the facts here. I always come back to the facts. Free trade agreements have eliminated tariffs on most of the electric vehicles being imported to Australia, and with the free trade agreements in motion like with the UK, it will get to the vast majority of them. So we're already achieving this through our broader policies. And now the critical role here is to make sure our infrastructure is fit for purpose, our electricity grid is up to it, we have charging and refuelling infrastructure like we were looking at yesterday with Toyota here in Melbourne. We're investing $250 million to make sure that infrastructure is in place, that our electricity grid can cope with the increased demand. And that's what will ensure that people can make the choices as the technologies improve, and that's the key. Australians choose technologies that work for them, they always have, and they always will.

SABRA LANE: Angus Taylor, thanks for your time this morning.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good on you, Sabra. Thank you.