Interview with Melinda James ABC Illawarra


20 December 2018


MELINDA JAMES: Well on the front page of The Australian this morning, the Energy Minister Angus Taylor has written to his state counterparts to warn that lives could be at risk from unsafe or substandard solar panel installations. He joins me now on the line. Angus Taylor, good morning.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good morning.

MELINDA JAMES: So this national audit of the renewable energy target -tell us exactly what it's found.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well look, it's found that there are some real risks - safety risks - in some of the installations that are happening on solar cells. So it's great with so many solar cells being installed. A huge increase in recent years which is terrific news but at the same time, there are some cases where there are some real issues with safety. And on the back of that, I've written to my state and territory counterparts, the energy ministers in state and territories asking them to look closely at the occupational health and safety issues, that's a state issue and to look at the report that we've done, the work that we've done through the Clean Energy Regulator and the ANAO, the Audit Office, to make sure that we are getting this right. We know when an industry grows fast, when it's decentralised like this one, with lots of installers [inaudible], the reality is most installers really do know what they're doing but there are [inaudible] we need to make sure we get this right and we can't afford to risk lives here.

MELINDA JAMES: The phone line is not fantastic quality, Angus Taylor. I'll just let you know just in case our listeners are having a little bit of trouble hearing you at times. But so state governments, of course, this is their jurisdiction. This is their responsibility to regulate this. What do people do if- what they are concerned about what's on their roof?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, they can report to the Clean Energy Regulator. They can do that; they can report through their local members. That's always something they can do and as you know, that's a good way to stay in touch with government. So there's a number of ways they can do that. But it is important to make sure that you've got a properly accredited installer, someone that really knows what they're doing. Check that out before you do the installation. And it's important that our installers are properly trained and that's something that I know the states and territories will keep focusing on.

MELINDA JAMES: You're of course coming of the back of what we're hearing was quote: an acrimonious COAG Energy Council meeting yesterday. It's been reported that tempers flared yesterday when the New South Wales Government attempted to have some debate on changing emissions reductions targets. Is that how you describe it? Acrimonious with tempers flaring?

ANGUS TAYLOR: No. I mean we didn't get distracted. We focused on the outcome we wanted which is to get a reliability obligation in place which will ensure we have the supply we need years ahead of time to keep prices down and keep the lights on. That was a great outcome from the meeting yesterday. There's always tension at COAG meetings, that's the nature of it. They're robust and they should be but we've got the outcome we wanted and that means we'll get a better deal for all Australians in the coming years for electricity which is what we're really focused on and we won't get distracted from that task.

MELINDA JAMES: The Energy Minister for New South Wales Don Harwin said that all the states and territory- they want climate policy and energy policy to be discussed together. It is fair to say that you did use some sort of obscure procedural rule to block debate on that when all the other states actually wanted to discuss it?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Not at all. There are a number of states- well in fact the reality was that it wasn't on the agenda and there's a longstanding process in COAG that if you wanted an agenda item, you put it on the agenda well ahead of time. So there's nothing new about that, it's pretty straightforward. People want to play games. Look, we're not interested in that. We want to get- stay focused on the job. We don't want to get distracted and the job right now is to get prices down, keep the lights on and ensure we're in a position to meet our emissions obligations. And I've got to tell you that the story here is fantastic. We will reach our emissions targets- our Paris emissions targets in the electricity market seven or eight years ahead of time. So we're doing extremely well. That gives us breathing space to focus on getting prices down and keeping the lights on and making sure these issues are transitioned like the solar one I'm talking about now, are dealt with appropriately.

MELINDA JAMES: I appreciate- we've been told that you don't have a lot of time but it would not be fair of me to let you go before I allow you to respond to some things that have been said. We heard from the New South Wales Minister Don Harwin of course yesterday, but this morning, the Liberal Member for Kiama Gareth Ward has also called some of his federal colleagues knuckle-draggers and flat-earthers, he says for their decision to block discussions about emissions reductions at the national energy meeting. Here's a little bit of what Gareth Ward had to say.


GARETH WARD: When you talk to people on the streets about where the federal government is at in relation to their energy policy, I constantly hear that they're out of touch. It's time for the federal government to stop dragging their knuckles and to put their hands on the table and start having a fair dinkum debate about energy policy so that business can get the certainty it needs to invest and we can get the lower power prices by the use of renewable energy.

[End of excerpt]

MELINDA JAMES: He's had some pretty strong words to say. That seemed like they were directed possibly at yourself, Angus Taylor.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, he needs to look at the facts. Everyone needs to look at the facts and so does Don on the issues. We've got $15 billion of investment happening right now in this industry, absolutely unprecedented. A 250 per cent increase in solar and wind happening in the next three years. We'll reach our Paris emissions targets in the electricity market seven to eight years ahead of time which is the 2030 target. So these are extraordinarily good outcomes. The pressure now has to be on the big energy companies to do the right thing, to bring prices down and to ensure that we have the reliable electricity we need to keep businesses like Mildred down in his electorate, keep them going. I mean they are struggling with high energy prices. We have to make sure our big energy intensive users get the low-cost energy they need and everyone should be focused on that.

MELINDA JAMES: And yet we're hearing from the Business Council of Australia and yesterday from the Australian Energy Council chief executive Sarah McNamara that there is an ongoing emissions policy vacuum that the federal government is without an emissions policy.

ANGUS TAYLOR: We have a very clear emissions policy: it's to reduce our emissions from the 2005 baseline by 26 per cent by 2030 and we know in the electricity market, we will reach that by 2022 or 2023 - seven to eight years ahead of time. So the policy is clear, the outcomes are very, very clear. We're outcome-focused; others can focus on whatever they like but we won't be distracted.

MELINDA JAMES: Alright. Angus Taylor, thank you very much for your time.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good on you. Thanks, Mel.

MELINDA JAMES: That is the federal Member for Hume and the federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor speaking to me here on ABC Illawarra.

Minister for Energy