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Interview with Stephen Cenatiempo, 2CC

23 February 2021

Interviewer: 
Stephen Cenatiempo

Subject: Nuclear power, Facebook

E&OE

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: It's time for our regular local political panel. Each Tuesday we grab local federal members from both sides of politics. Dave Smith is a regular here on the program, but we've now decided to rotate the Coalition side as well and our new lamb to the slaughter is Liberal Member for Hume and Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor. Good morning, Angus.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good morning, Stephen. Thanks for having me.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: And David Smith, the Member for Bean. Dave, welcome back.

DAVID SMITH: Oh, morning, Stephen.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Now, Dave, I'm going to throw you under the bus here, is there any truth to the rumour that you are gunning for Albo's job and are going to be the next Labor leader?

[Laughter]

DAVID SMITH: It's not true. It's not true. But like anything Sportsbet has a market, I think I was back at $67 to $1. So-

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Oh, gee, you know, unless you're more than $100 to $1, you're not out of the running, mate. Now, no, I'm letting you off the hook, I made that rumour up, don't worry about it. Moving along, Angus, I do want to talk about particularly your portfolio. A lot of backbenchers on your side of politics have been agitating now for the moratorium on nuclear energy to be lifted. A number of Labor backbenchers have come out suggesting the same. Is there an appetite within Cabinet to do that? And if we're serious about emissions reduction we've got to put nuclear back on the table, don't we?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, there's a moratorium - there's no question about that obviously - but to change it would require bipartisanship, and you know, we're open to having that discussion with Labor. But right now, Albo has shown absolutely no interest in it. I mean, the irony of this is it is a baseload zero emissions power source. We've put it in our Technology Investment Roadmap. The technology is evolving quickly. It's actually improving fast through small modular reactors. There's still a long way to go with that new technology, but it has all the promise of being lower cost and safer. So, we're going to be watching it very closely. In the meantime, as I say, it would require bipartisanship, and right now Labor is showing no willingness. Now, you're right to say some members of the Labor Party are enthusiastic about it - Joel Fitzgibbon being a good example, but there's others as well.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Well, Dave, not only Joel, but Victorian Senator Raph Ciccone's now come out in support of nuclear energy. A number of leading unions have come out in support of it. What will it actually take to change the Labor Party policy platform on this? And my understanding, it has to go to the conference in order for that to happen, doesn't it?

DAVID SMITH: So, Stephen, you know my background working with scientists and engineers, and to me this isn't really a culture war debate, it shouldn't be one side or the other. And if you think about it, we know some of our allies that have used nuclear power for decades, and it's an important part of our health system. But I think, look, the fundamentals here, so that we get beyond, sort of, thought bubbles is just understanding, you know, how much is this going to cost. You know, plant costs are in the billions. Whilst there've been some developments at the lower end, there's still a lot of unknowns. Alongside that, you know, what time frame will it take us, effectively, to turn an atom into a megawatt? So, what's a realistic timeframe? And with everything, there's an opportunity cost in terms of what won't be funded as a result. I guess as someone who comes from the science and engineering background, there are a number of the questions that I'd like to see dealt with. But as well as the other obvious ones, Stephen, which is where will the reactors go? What lines will be upgraded? Where will waste be treated? There are a lot of important questions that need to be answered before jumping into a debate without much substance.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: All of those things are valid questions to ask, but surely lifting the moratorium so that we can actually realistically start exploring these things is worthwhile, isn't it?

DAVID SMITH: You don't have to lift a moratorium in a policy platform for the Government to outline their roadmap on nuclear energy. And there's capacity to actually have a conversation about some of these issues. But at the moment, it's still off in fantasy land.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we've put it in the roadmap, we've been unambiguous about that. But Albo has shown absolutely no interest. In fact, he's campaigned against it for much of his career. So, if we're going to make any progress here, it's got to be bipartisan. And, you know, we're putting it on the table, as we did through the roadmap, that this is a technology that has great potential and we should be evaluating it and considering it.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Now, Dave, I want to touch on your comment about opportunity cost. The Public Works Committee, which you're a member of, is due to sign off on the expansion of the Australian War Memorial this week. You've come out suggesting that we need to look at different options and a cheaper option. Shouldn't it be a no brainer? I mean, this is our most important cultural icon, cultural institution, which at the moment can only display a mere percentage of the various exhibits that it has. This will expand that opportunity by 80 per cent.

DAVID SMITH: Stephen, the Public Works Committee has actually tabled its report. So, that's already come out now and it was a three, two outcome. But the points that both Tony Zappia and I were making were, we broadly supported redevelopment of the Australian War Memorial, for the reasons that you actually outlined, in terms of actually making sure that stories of additional conflicts are able to be told. But, there's more than one way of doing that. I don't know if you've been out to the Treloar Centre out at Mitchell and the capacity that's out there. And certainly, what Tony and I were suggesting was actually a capacity to tell that story, but also, do it in a way which wasn't going to cost the taxpayer as much money.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Angus, surely we don't want people traipsing all the way out to Mitchell, when we have this magnificent facility in the heart of Canberra?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, sure, look, this is an issue for the Public Works Committee. But the point I'd make is it obviously is something that is a real institution in its own right - it deserves serious investment, it deserves being cherished. I remember going there as a kid, my grandparents lived in Canberra, and just being absolutely gobsmacked by what I saw and what an amazing place it is. I think it deserves enormous focus and it deserves the investment that we're considering, but I'll leave it to the Public Works Committee to make that final decision.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Now, I was going to talk about vaccines, but I mean, the rollout has started now. I imagine both of you are at some point in the line to get your jabs in your arm, unless- well, I assume you're both in favour of the vaccine?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Of course!

DAVID SMITH: Absolutely, Stephen. And with a bit of luck, my dad might be in the lucky position to get the vaccine in the next couple of weeks.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Now, I want to talk about this Facebook ban. Angus, why are we negotiating with somebody like Facebook? Why is a multinational organisation, domiciled overseas, why do they even have a say in Australian legislation?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we've said we're not going to take a backward step. That's the whole point. So, that's why we had this situation last week, where Facebook did what it did because we took a strong position and we're not backing away. Now, we are dealing with a private organisation, but frankly, it has enormous market power. We have made clear where we're going with this. We expect them to come to the table. We're having those discussions with them. But frankly, we're not going to be backing away on this one.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Dave, should we be having discussions with Facebook or should we just be saying, this is Australian law, you either deal with it or you don't?

DAVID SMITH: I think it is actually appropriate to have discussions with Facebook. But I think it is actually appropriate that the Government actually does seek to take action in the way that they have. So, I'm not actually opposed to the approach the Government has taken. And to give you a small example, Stephen, you're probably aware that I have Norfolk Island as part of my electorate-

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Yes.

DAVID SMITH: And it's actually taken down a number of pretty innocuous Norfolk Island Facebook pages, which pretty much is just about promoting the beauty and richness of that culture. So, I think it's been right to actually take these moves, and hopefully we'll see a bit of common sense come back from the Facebook side of the table soon.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: I think you're right there, with some of the non-news sites that have been affected by this. But I actually think it's a good thing that news has been pulled off Facebook, because it stops news being about clickbait and we can actually go back to some proper journalism again.

DAVID SMITH: Fair bit of truth in that. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, at the end of the day people are accessing their news in many different ways. But the important point here is - these days in particular - but the important point here is that we want news providers that are producing quality news being recognised for what they're providing, and that's all we're asking of Facebook. As I say, we're not going to take a backward step. Their action last week was absolute overreach, and that Norfolk Island example is a good one. And we won't be stepping backwards on this one.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Gentlemen, thank you for your time. Angus Taylor, the Member for Hume and Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction. Thank you.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good on you. Thanks, Stephen.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: And David Smith, the Member for Bean, we'll talk to you again soon.

DAVID SMITH: Thanks, Stephen. Thanks, Angus.

ENDS