Interview with Chris Smith 2GB


20 December 2018


CHRIS SMITH: Out of touch, disappointed; these are just some of the words used by state energy ministers to describe the Morrison Government and I think it's safe to say tempers flared at that COAG meeting of energy ministers yesterday; many of whom are not happy with their federal counterpart. Now, it was always going to be a tense day especially after New South Wales Energy Minister Don Harwin penned an article in the Australian Financial Review attacking the Morrison Government's out-of-touch energy and climate policies. You'd expect that to come from maybe a Labor MP but no, from a Liberal Coalition MP. This really shows you how deep the split between the federal and state branches of the Liberal Party runs right now. And to out a sprinkling of salt over the wound, Harwin proposed a national pathway to zero emissions by 2050 and very quickly the federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor produced a little-known COAG process to block the adoption of that motion and so that didn't go down well at all. Meanwhile, we've got warnings from the minister today about dodgy solar panel installations which sounds like pink bats mark two. Let's get across some of these issues. Joining me on the line now is Angus Taylor, federal Energy Minister. Minister, good morning.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good morning Chris.

CHRIS SMITH: Did you thank Don Harwin for his commentary yesterday morning as he came into the meeting?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well look Chris, we didn't get distracted. We've got a very clear goal here which is to get prices down, keep the lights on, make sure...

CHRIS SMITH: But it got fiery yesterday, did it not?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, some people got fired up. I tend to with these things just stay focused, you know, I've learnt that over the course of my career - you've got to know what your goal is and you've got to focus on it.

CHRIS SMITH: So what was he doing? What did Don Harwin actually want? He wanted you to adopt the Labor Party policy of zero emissions by 2050 and he wanted to get there through a pathway that may have involved a carbon tax and he wanted to come up with it out of the blue yesterday, did he?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, look, there's a history to this. The Labor and the Greens, and one of the Greens sits in COAG Energy Council - an ACT Green - have for some time been pushing towards zero emissions, 100 per cent emission reduction and they want COAG to adopt it. And we of course don't, because it would mean the end of agriculture; it would mean the transport industry would be crippled; it would mean manufacturing would be finished in this country. We're just not going to stand for this.

CHRIS SMITH: As the chief scientist has confirmed, it would make no difference to the temperature of the planet.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yes, so we look- we just say that this is ridiculous. It's crazy stuff. We won't stand for it and we're going to stay focused at our very clear goal which is to get prices down while we keep the lights on, and the good news is what came out of yesterday was a commitment to have in place by 1 July our reliability obligation which forces supply into the market years ahead of time. So what we saw with Hazelwood where it was shut and there was no replacement for it, a 24/7 reliable power, that cannot happen again under these new rules. We got that through.

CHRIS SMITH: So it means punishment for those suppliers who don't keep the lights on?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Correct, exactly right. And...

CHRIS SMITH: So for reliability, that's a major- that's a major step.

ANGUS TAYLOR: It is a major breakthrough, and not just that - it's punishment for suppliers who don't maintain enough supply in the market to keep the prices down. So this is saying to them, look, we're going to look years ahead - three, four, five years ahead - and we're going to say we need this much generation- reliable generation in the market to keep prices down and to keep the lights on and if you don't bring it forward, you'll be punished. So this is a really big step forward, we got through yesterday.

CHRIS SMITH: Okay, but does it guarantee reliability this summer?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well we're putting it in place now. So the challenge for this summer is these rules haven't been in place in advance, but the good news on this summer is there's a huge amount of work that's been done to make sure we've got the generation in place. That's not to say there's no risk, Chris. This is why we're putting this reliability obligation in place. It puts the heat on the big energy companies to do the right thing. It prevents the sort of outcomes we saw with Hazelwood and Northern in South Australia.

CHRIS SMITH: Okay, but you wanted the territory and state ministers to also agree about hammering the suppliers on costs or should I say the retailers on costs; you didn't achieve that.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Oh no, look, we did ask them to continue work on this and they've actually agreed to do that. We're also taking our own steps independent of them. As you know, we've brought legislation, laws, to the parliament in recent weeks which will hold the big energy companies to account if they do the wrong thing on prices. And...

CHRIS SMITH: Okay, but you didn't achieve a vote - you wanted a vote, you wanted a decision on that yesterday, didn't you?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well no, we got a decision to proceed with what we're calling our comparison price which is making it much simpler for customers to be able to compare their price offers they're getting from energy companies as they ring around, everyone's agreed to that. The states though are not as hard line as we are on holding the big energy companies to account on keeping prices down so we'll [inaudible]...

CHRIS SMITH: So you were- was it true that you were sweating blood over that?

ANGUS TAYLOR: No. No. I mean look, I got- we got what we wanted, Chris, which is a reliability obligation. We got a focus on being able to compare your prices in a simple way because you sure can't do that at the moment when you're ringing around and they were the objectives for the day and those things will put downward pressure on prices and keep the lights on.

CHRIS SMITH: Okay, did the word coal...

ANGUS TAYLOR: Now [inaudible] distract us with these crazy targets, they can go ahead and do it but we're not going to get into economy-wrecking targets [inaudible]...

CHRIS SMITH: Because correct me if I'm wrong, but we've achieved the targets that we promised to achieve under the Paris agreement already, right?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well this is how ridiculous the debate is, Chris. We've put out numbers this week showing that we'll reach our 2030 target in 2022, eight years ahead of time. Eight years ahead of time, and we're having this debate. We should be talking about getting prices down, keeping the lights on, making sure we keep manufacturers in business, small businesses, butcher shops, abattoirs, keeping all of those businesses that uses energy in business; not talking about higher targets when we know we're doing well. We're doing well.

CHRIS SMITH: Yeah, and given the fact of the number of Labor state governments you've got at the table yesterday, you have on the discussion of climate and energy, you're facing a room full of coal-aphobes aren't you?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well we're facing people who just aren't in touch with everyday Australians. That's what I find extraordinary. I get back to my electorate, got home to Goulburn last night, you know, sigh of relief after having to deal with this carry on, and I know the people there just want lower electricity prices, they want to know that when they flip the switch they keep the lights on and they want to know that they're going to keep their jobs in these really important industries. So we're staying in touch with what really counts here and I think it's time that those in those Labor states and others who are arguing for this crazy targets - reckless targets - get back to reality, talk to some real people and get on with the job of doing the real work.

CHRIS SMITH: Are we anywhere near the idea that a private consortium will get together and produce a high efficiency, low emission coal fired power station in this country?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, look, the other issue we've got going which wasn't discussed yesterday - it was at the previous day at COAG - is underwriting new generation into the market. So we've got to keep the supply we've got, as much as possible, but we've also got to bring new supply in. It's reliable. It's 24/7. Whether that's gas, coal, pump hydro; it's got to be dispatchable and we are running a program to bring new supply into the market. We've had enormous interest. We're expecting initial registration of interest back in January. We know there's a lot of projects out and about and we're looking forward to seeing those as they come forward in January.

CHRIS SMITH: Okay. One final thing: I see this morning you've written to your state counterparts to warn that lives could be at risk from unsafe or substandard solar panel installations. I've had people in the business ring me on the open line today to tell us about those that jumped onto the Pink Batts bandwagon have also jumped on to the demand for solar panels as well and there are some dodgy installations going on out there.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, yeah, this is the concern, Chris. Look there's an enormous amount of solar being installed on roofs. It's good, you know, no problem with that, but it's got to be done safely and we don't want to see lives lost, people injured. We've seen terrible outcomes with installing things in people's houses with the Pink Batts. [Inaudible]...

CHRIS SMITH: One-quarter of all rooftop units inspected posed a severe or high risk; that's a shocker.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, yeah, no. And so look, I've been aware or conscious that this is a real issue for some time. My state and territory counterparts are the ones who manage the occupational health and safety laws but I've written to them all to say look, we've got to lift our game on this. We can't afford to have…

CHRIS SMITH: Blood on your hands.


CHRIS SMITH: Okay. Appreciate your time. If we don't speak before Christmas: merry Christmas to you and your family.


CHRIS SMITH: Thank you. Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor.

Minister for Energy