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Interview with Sharri Markson, Sky News Live

2 February 2020

Subject: Sports funding, Bridget McKenzie, gas, energy security, emissions reductions targets


SHARRI MARKSON: I'm going to go live to Canberra and I'm joined by the Energy Minister, Angus Taylor. Welcome to the program, Minister.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks for having me, Sharri.

SHARRI MARKSON: Minister, first to the news that Bridget McKenzie has this afternoon resigned over the sports rorts scandal - do you think she should have done this weeks ago?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, she's done it now. The Gaetjens report obviously was important in this. It made very clear findings which the Prime Minister has relayed. I'll be sorry to see her go - she's been a fantastic colleague in Cabinet, she's been a great champion for regional Australia, and of course she'll continue to be a great champion for regional Victoria as a Victorian Senator. I wish her well in that role. I know she will do a great job as she has always done in that role. But as I say, I'll be very sorry to see her go.

SHARRI MARKSON: Minister, it's clear that the Phil Gaetjens report had a different outcome, and this is very significant to the Auditor-General's when it comes to whether marginal seats disproportionately received more funding than other seats under this program before the election. Whose report is right? They can't both be right. Do you think it's possible the Auditor-General could have got it wrong?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, of course Auditor-General's look at different things to what the Secretary of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Phil Gaetjens was asked to look at. He was asked to look at ministerial standards and he has done, and he's made it very clear that from his point of view there was no untoward allocation. It's clear the ANAO, the Auditor-General has found that there was some issues of process that can be improved, and we'll take on board those recommendations as the Prime Minister said in his press conference. We'll make sure that grant processes in the future with independent authorities providing advice, as was the case here, there's an appropriate process in place as was recommended by the Auditor-General.

SHARRI MARKSON: But just when it comes to that key finding about whether marginal seats received more funding under this $100 million sports program - do you think the Auditor-General got it wrong and Phil Gaetjens, a political appointee, was right and that, you know, this hadn't happened?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I haven't seen Phil Gaetjens' report but it was pretty clear from what the Prime Minister said that there was no untoward allocations, and the percentage that the data showed up that it was an appropriate allocation. I'll take that statement as it is. You know, the important point here is that the Auditor-General's recommendations about how processes work with independent authorities like this one, are recommendations that we will take on board, we will implement and we'll make sure they're in place for the future.

SHARRI MARKSON: Now, this was a program that first came into place under the Turnbull government. It has been running for a couple of years now. Bridget McKenzie has told her colleagues that she's been getting advice from Malcolm Turnbull behind the scenes as the scandal has dragged on. Does that concern you?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I haven't heard that before you mentioned it, Sharri, so I really aren't in a position to comment on it. But look, what I will say is I really will be sorry to see Bridget leave Cabinet. She has done a great job, you know, and sporting infrastructure like this is enormously important for regional outer suburban communities, communities right across Australia. These sorts of programs are very important, they have to be done well, but it's a big gap, there's a lot of parents out there and grandparents, no doubt, who take their kids to sporting matches in areas like in my electorate where there's simply not enough facilities. It's an area where I think there has been historical underinvestment and we've got to see continued investment in these sorts of programs.

SHARRI MARKSON: Just lastly on this topic, do you think in general pork-barrelling, which happens in many portfolios not just when it comes to sport funding, do you think it's time that that old political practice is stopped?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Sharri, you characterised it as pork-barrelling, clearly Phil Gaetjens didn't. So I'm not going to accept that characterisation. But I will say, that electorates that need facilities like these, regions, communities that need facilities like these, it's appropriate that governments at all levels play their role in making sure they're put into place. They’re enormously important. I can tell you sporting infrastructure, getting people out there, being active, getting engaged in sport, it is so important in our community. I tell you, every local MP who is hard working knows how important these sort of facilities and infrastructure really are.

SHARRI MARKSON: Now to your portfolio, Minister - on Friday the Prime Minister and the New South Wales Premier announced a big deal to inject 70 petajoules of gas into the New South Wales market to lower electricity prices. Very quickly here's what the PM had to say.

SCOTT MORRISON: What we're looking forward to is seeing further reductions in electricity prices. You'd know John that this is not a precise science but what I do know is this - you get more gas into the system, it drives down prices. That's what happens. This is about working together to drive down prices, working together to reduce emissions, working together to get the gas.

 [End of excerpt]

SHARRI MARKSON: But then the New South Wales Energy Minister Matt Kean gave me an interview for The Daily Telegraph yesterday where he said that in fact the deal wasn't about gas at all. He said: “The exciting thing is that three billion dollars will be spent on green infrastructure in New South Wales, and the commitment to gas doesn't cost a cent, and doesn't involve any money”, I should say. According to the federal state agreement, if the commitment on gas doesn't happen the only consequence is a review into the gas market. Minister, what do you say to Kean's claim that this is just a big green deal and that you've basically funded their climate change action?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, Sharri, it's about two things. It is about getting the cost of energy down and it is about reducing emissions. And of course they're the two parts of my portfolio and what I love about this deal is it's doing both. That's the crucial point. Now, on the energy side there's two really critical parts to it. One is 70 petajoules of gas, and let's be clear about this, this is in a market of 120, so this is a massive increase. We've left it open to the New South Wales Government as to how they're going to achieve that, but 70 petajoules is a very big deal and also making sure there's enough coal for our coal-fired generators. We've got a coal-fired generator called Mount Piper in New South Wales, it's one of the newer generators, one of the better generators in Australia and it hasn't had enough coal. Now, what we need from that is planning approvals to get the coal, to get the gas, to get to those generators so we put downward pressure on prices. Government isn't all about- 

SHARRI MARKSON: [Talks over] But, Minister-

ANGUS TAYLOR: No, no, let me finish. Government isn't all about handing out money. A lot of it is about making smart decisions, legislative and regulatory and policy decisions that are going to get the outcomes but in the case of getting enough supply in our electricity grid and for gas for industry and for households, those decisions are crucially important, they're made by state governments and that's why it's such an important part of this deal.

SHARRI MARKSON: But New South Wales seems to be pretty pleased about the fact that they face no consequences other than a gas market review if they fail to inject that promised 70 petajoules of gas into the state. Did the Prime Minister therefore mislead the public when he said energy bills were going to come down on account of this massive injection of gas?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, this is a deal which is a whole range of different parts. It's got the gas piece, the coal piece, it has abatement and commitments through the Climate Solutions Fund which will be matched by the New South Wales Government to drive more emissions downward than would otherwise be the case. It all hangs together. And of course New South Wales has to do its bit and we will do our bit. That's how it works. I've been involved in these sorts of deals in the infrastructure space when I was cities minister. They work because everyone has to do their bit. If someone doesn't do their bit, the whole thing falls to pieces. So I'm confident that the New South Wales Government and the Commonwealth Government are both very committed to all parts of this deal. We will achieve them. It's a very good deal for the people of New South Wales. It will drive down energy prices and will drive down emissions. And what we want, Sharri, and this is crucially important, is we want emissions reduction without economy reduction. We want emissions reduction whilst we're getting lower cost energy to create jobs, to make sure that we've got more industry and that the cost of living comes down.

SHARRI MARKSON: To get that extra gas into the market, one of two things needs to happen. Either the Narrabri project needs to get approval from Gladys Berejiklian, or more import terminals need to be opened. Do you have any confidence that the New South Wales Government will sign off on that Narrabri project when they had to come - as I understand it - kicking and screaming to the table when it came to gas, because they're so squirmish on the issue given the history over the fracking was in New South Wales politics?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we've left it open to them how they get the 70 petajoules. Clearly, one option is Narrabri, which happens to be 70 petajoules, which will be fully committed to the domestic market. We know that will be the case. The other alternative is import terminals. I mean, there's great advantages in having local gas that's produced locally, but that'll be a decision for the New South Wales Government. We want the gas, Sharri. That's what we want.

SHARRI MARKSON: But I'm saying, do you have any confidence that Gladys Berejiklian is going to be prepared to have that political fight on Narrabri?

ANGUS TAYLOR: That's a matter for them. What I have confidence on is that we will get the gas, and that the New South Wales Government will be committed to making sure we get it. That is clear because that's a centrepiece of the deal from our point of view. It's a crucial part of it, as the Prime Minister made very clear. It not only brings down energy costs, which is absolutely fundamental for industry, for households, and for electricity, because gas is so important in bringing down the cost of electricity. But it will also help to reduce emissions. So it has great advantages. We've seen in the United States. The gas revolution there has been central to supporting reductions in emissions.

SHARRI MARKSON: It will only happen in New South Wales and bring down the price of electricity if New South Wales does fulfil its commitment of which there seem to be no consequences for to inject more gases market.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, no. There are clear consequences, there are clear consequences.

SHARRI MARKSON: [Interrupts] What are they?

ANGUS TAYLOR: This is a deal of many parts. And the deal-

SHARRI MARKSON: [Interrupts] Apart from goodwill, what is the consequence?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, this is a deal of many parts and in a deal of many parts, you've all got to do your bit. That's pretty clear, Sharri.

SHARRI MARKSON: [Talks over] So you're saying you might pull the $900 million if they don't fulfil-

ANGUS TAYLOR: No. What I'm saying, we've all got our piece to do, and we've got to get on and do it. That's how these things work. That's how they're structured. That's the purpose of the exercise. I'm very confident by the way. I'm very confident that the New South Wales Government is-

SHARRI MARKSON: [Talks over] Would you pull the 900 million if they don't commit to, if they don't inject that extra gas into the market?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I'm not going to deal with hypotheticals but what I will say is I am confident the New South Wales Government is absolutely committed to finding 70 petajoules of gas, which will drive down the cost of gas, drive down the cost of electricity, and of course create jobs in industry and reduce the cost of living. So, I'm confident they're committed to doing that, and the Prime Minister is as well.

SHARRI MARKSON: Well I tell you what I'm confident they're committed to doing - I think that in the next couple of weeks, they're going to announce a 35 per cent emissions reduction target by 2030. Do you think this is something that the government should aim for nationally and do you think Australia can shift the world's greenhouse dial with 1.3 per cent of global emissions?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well you said it, we're 1.3 per cent of emissions, so single-handedly we can't solve this problem globally. Let's be very clear about that. We have to do our bit, and that's why we have a 26 per cent emission reduction target, which is a strong target, particularly on a per capita basis, one of the strongest in the world. We have historically done our bit. We've met our past targets. We'll meet our 2020 target very easily, by almost a year's worth of emissions ahead of the game, and we're already on track to meet our 2030 targets. Now, with deals like this, we'll meet and beat our targets. I mean, let's be clear. This is around $1 billion from the New South Wales Government helping to reduce emissions while strengthening the economy. That's going to be a good thing for emissions reduction. That commitment from New South Wales is not built into our projections, so I'm confident with these kinds of deals that we can meet and beat our targets. But our target is 26 per cent, and as I say, we'll treat that as a floor in our ambitions and we'll always seek to beat it.

SHARRI MARKSON: Just lastly, Minister, there's an AFP investigation going on into the fraudulent document or the altered document that was sent from you to Clover Moore. Have you been interviewed by the AFP yet? And if the investigation finds that your office was responsible, do you plan on stepping down?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Let's be clear about this, Sharri - it was an allegation, and it's an allegation that I have rejected. Clearly, I've made a very clear statement on this in the Parliament. I've got nothing more to add to that. It was a referral from the Labor Party, who is accustomed to make political referrals, this was to the New South Wales police who are no longer evaluating it. But I really don't have more to add to the statement that I made last year on exactly this issue.

SHARRI MARKSON: And just whether you've been interviewed yet by the AFP?

ANGUS TAYLOR: As I say, I've got nothing more to add to what I have said in that statement, other than to say that of course I'll always cooperate with the police if they want me to.

SHARRI MARKSON: Thank you for your time tonight, Minister. Appreciate it.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks, Sharri.