Interview with Hamish McDonald ABC RN Breakfast


20 December 2018


HAMISH MACDONALD: Don Harwin there, speaking with us just before 7 o'clock this morning, accusing the Morrison government of being out of touch on climate policy and warning that its refusal to adopt a zero emissions reduction plan will in fact keep power prices high in the longer term. Angus Taylor is the federal Energy Minister. Good morning to you.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good morning, Hamish.

HAMISH MACDONALD: States from across the political divide are now demanding an emissions obligation be restored to national energy policy. By holding out in the way that you have, aren't you proving Don Harwin's claim that you are out of touch when it comes to tackling climate change?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Not at all, Hamish. We have a very clear target for reducing emissions; 26 per cent reduction by 2030. And we've seen numbers this week that show that we'll reach that in the early 2020s. We'll be at 28 per cent reduction by 2023, seven years ahead of time. So, we are doing extremely well on emissions reduction. It's a strong target by international standards. We're focused on ensuring we achieve it, we don't intervene in the market if we don't have to. If we're going to achieve the outcomes, then we get on with it. And that target is, as I say, going to be reached well ahead of time. Now the reason for that is...

HAMISH MACDONALD: Can I just pull you up? Where are you getting these figures from that you're saying you're going to meet this?

ANGUS TAYLOR: We released departmental numbers this week, and there will be more of that coming. We've also seen independent analysts...

HAMISH MACDONALD: So, what are the figures, sorry?

ANGUS TAYLOR: The figures are that we'll reach a 28 per cent reduction in emissions on 25- 2005 baseline by 2023. And remember our target; our target is a 26 per cent reduction by 2030. So, we are way ahead here.

HAMISH MACDONALD: I'm sorry, your own government data shows emissions rose 1.3 per cent last year. And the UN Emissions Gap Report, released last month, show Australia is not on track to meet its Paris target.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, Hamish, the data that I'm talking about is in the electricity market. The debate yesterday was about the electricity...

HAMISH MACDONALD: So, you're just talking about electricity emissions, you're not talking about broader emissions here?

ANGUS TAYLOR: That was the debate yesterday and that's the question you asked me about, that's what we're focusing on.

HAMISH MACDONALD: But we just need to be clear about what you're saying when you say that Australia is going to meet its Paris targets by 2023.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I am saying that we will reach - in the electricity market - a 28 per cent reduction by 2023. Now, the debate yesterday, which is what we're talking about now was...

HAMISH MACDONALD: So, you acknowledge that actually you're just talking about electricity emissions when you make that claim and that that doesn't include other sectors like transport, industry and agriculture - which, it must be pointed out, continue to rise.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I'm happy to come back to those. But you asked me the question about electricity and the answer...

HAMISH MACDONALD: Sure and I do want to talk about that, it's just that you've started this interview by making this claim again that Australia is on track to meet its Paris targets. And I think we need some clarity about exactly what you mean when you say that.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, if you let me answer the question, I'll answer it. In the electricity market, we are well ahead and we'll reach that. Now, yesterday the debate...

HAMISH MACDONALD: And do you acknowledge that in the other areas you're actually well behind?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Can I just finish? The debate yesterday was about the electricity market. And let's be clear, we're going to reach it. And that's why we don't need further intervention in the electricity market to reach those emissions outcomes. Now, more broadly across the economy, we beat Kyoto - the first stage of Kyoto - by about 128 million tonnes. The most recent forecast on how we'll track on the 2020 Kyoto targets is almost 300 million tonnes, we're expecting an update on that very soon. And I'm optimistic that we'll do better than we had expected. So, our track record across the broader economy's extremely good. One of the reasons for that is we're doing well in electricity. Another reason is that there's been big changes in land use in Australia in recent years. And as I say, based on our track record, we're very confident that we'll reach our 2030 target across the broader economy, as well, of course, as electricity, where we know we're tracking well, well ahead of time.

HAMISH MACDONALD: Do you acknowledge that Australia's emissions are rising?

ANGUS TAYLOR: No, look, from year to year you see changes, that's the nature of it...

HAMISH MACDONALD: But this is a very simple yes or no question, do you acknowledge that Australia's emissions are rising and did last year?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I'll tell you what I acknowledge, that we have a 26 per cent target by 2030. And that we are well ahead of it in electricity. And across the broader economy our track record is extremely good. And based on that track record...

HAMISH MACDONALD: But do you know how much Australia's emissions rose by?

ANGUS TAYLOR: …we expected to reach it. Now, from year to year you see ups and down. We've seen the LNG trains coming on, the big liquid- the natural gas trains - which, by the way, are reducing global emissions because they're replacing coal - we've seen them coming online in recent years. And that has had an impact, they will slow down over the coming years. And based on that, as I say, we're tracking well, our past record is exemplary, there are very few countries in the world that can boast what we've achieved, Hamish, in terms of the Kyoto targets, and we're confident that it will be the same for the Paris target.

HAMISH MACDONALD: Minister, if we're tracking so well, why does government data show that emissions rose 1.3 per cent last year?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I think I've answered that question. You see ups and downs from year to year. The target is a 26 per cent below the 2005 baseline by 2030. That's what we're focussed on, that's the goal and as I say, the- it's very clear that we're doing extremely well in electricity. And more broadly, look; the amount of work going that's going on in this is enormous. If you look at the work being done by Arena in the CFC, the Energy Efficiency Initiative, some of which are coming through my department. There is an enormous amount going on. But more broadly Hamish, The reason we do so much better than many predict is because there's an enormous amount of energy efficiency and productivity work that goes on on the ground, in small businesses, households, big businesses alike. Making sure that they are finding ways of using less energy to get the job done and that's had a big impact over a long period of time. If you look at farmers where I live, if you look at small businesses, butcher shops, abattoirs; they're all thinking all the time about how to use less energy and that's having a very big impact and it's why we've done so well on Kyoto. People like to talk down our performance on this, but frankly, we should be talking it up because by global standards we've done extremely well. Very few countries can boast our performance on Kyoto.

HAMISH MACDONALD: Minister, it's just that so many of your colleagues from the states and territories don't see it as favourably as you do. Indeed, some of your state counterparts are blaming your refusal to adopt an emissions reduction plan on toxic ideology. How do you respond to that particular claim - toxic ideology?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well I'd say get beyond the ideology and focus on the facts and that's what I'm doing in this interview. The facts are in electricity, which is my portfolio Hamish ,and it was what the discussion was about yesterday, in the electricity market we're doing extremely well, extremely well.

HAMISH MACDONALD: Isn't it a fact though that the Australian Energy Market Commission has said that by creating a regulated price, you are likely to increase prices for some customers? Isn't that a fact?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well we're reducing prices for customers.

HAMISH MACDONALD: No, no, that's not my question. Is it not a fact...

ANGUS TAYLOR: I'm telling you what's happening. Again, I'm focussed on the facts.

HAMISH MACDONALD: Minister, this is a question - the Australian Energy Market Commission has advised that it would likely increase prices for some customers. Do you accept that fact?

ANGUS TAYLOR: No, absolutely not. The ACCC has made clear, it has made very clear, that getting rid of the loyalty tax as we call it, this is the premium that's charged to customers who don't have time or the ability to be able to get out and negotiate a new contract with their electricity suppliers each year, that loyalty tax which has increased in many jurisdictions, particularly Victoria in recent years, that that must go. And in getting rid of it you get your price done - it's pretty simple. And on 1 January…

HAMISH MACDONALD: It's just that you're a minister that repeatedly talks about getting prices down as a result of this default price, the Queensland Minister says that in the short term, Queensland families who have made the effort to shop around and save, would lose those savings. Do you accept that some people's energy bills would go up because of what you're proposing?

ANGUS TAYLOR: No. No, on 1 January, because of what we're not just proposing but are doing, we're seeing reductions of up to 15 per cent for half a million customers across Australia who are on these standing offers, which is what the debate has been about. And that is good news for Australiana energy consumers, both small businesses and households; it can be savings of up to $400 or $500 for many households. And the important point about this group of customers Hamish, is that they are often the most vulnerable. The people who aren't in a position to pick up the phone, call a number of energy retailers or get onto a website; it's complex, the bills are confusing.

HAMISH MACDONALD: Understood. But, so do you just think the Australian Energy Market Commission got it wrong?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well I think the ACCC got it right and the ACCC is very, very...

HAMISH MACDONALD: No, no, that was not the question. Do you think the Market Commission got it wrong?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I think the ACCC got it right and we have from the start Hamish. I've followed the ACCC's recommendation on this...

HAMISH MACDONALD: So [inaudible] just choosing which bodies you listen to.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Sorry I missed that.

HAMISH MACDONALD: You're just choosing which bodies you listen to?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we have adopted the vast bulk of the ACCC's recommendations. We think they are absolutely right on this point. We think the loyalty tax must go. We think the energy companies have done the wrong thing on this issue. And we think Australians deserve a fairer deal and we're pushing hard on this. Look, the truth of the matter is the Queensland Government is an energy company. And when the Queensland Minister says that he doesn't like something, you've got to remember he's speaking as the owner of most of the energy assets in Queensland. Of course he wants profits. I mean, that's how they're making ends meet in Queensland. A huge part of their budget and their budget problems are being filled by profit taking from their energy company. So you would expect them to say this. We on the other hand sit on the side of the Australian consumers, Hamish.

HAMISH MACDONALD: Okay. Solar panels - you're written to state energy ministers about installations and some potential for substandard installation. Are people in danger at the moment?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, there are risks here and there's an AEMO report, an auditor report that's come out in the last little while saying there are real risks here. I've been concerned for some time that given the enormous growth in the industry - which by the way, is helping deliver these very strong emissions reductions, so that's good news - but, the risk with this very rapid growth of the industry is that we run into safety issues. And there's some evidence now that the Clean Energy Regulator has collected to say there are some real risks here, we need to be cautious. I have written to state and territory energy ministers who take responsibility for occupational healthy and safety issues, asking them to review their frameworks. And most importantly, we need properly trained people out there doing the right thing. The vast majority of them do of course, but- and this is not to say people shouldn't install solar cells on their roofs, it's a good thing to do. But we do need to make sure we get safety right here, we can't put lives at risk.

HAMISH MACDONALD: Angus Taylor, we appreciate your time as always and a very Merry Christmas to you and your family.

ANGUS TAYLOR: You too Hamish.

HAMISH MACDONALD: Angus Taylor is the federal Energy Minister.

Minister for Energy