18 December 2018
JANE MARWICK: A new report out today says emissions reductions in Australia’s electricity market are on track to meet the Paris target eight years ahead of schedule. Angus Taylor is the Energy Minister and joins me now. Minister, good morning. Welcome to 6PR.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks for having me, Jane.
JANE MARWICK: Look, it’s a political hot potato - there is no doubt about it. A lot of people have been saying get out of Paris. What do these new figures show you?
ANGUS TAYLOR: What they tell us, Jane, is that we’re going to get to the target well head of time, years ahead of time, without any intervention. We’re expecting to get to 28 per cent below our 2005 emissions by 2023, so that’s seven years ahead of time - seven or eight years depending on how you want to measure it - and what it means is we can focus on price and reliability, and that’s the crucial point. It also means, Jane, that the 45 per cent target that Labor’s pursuing will require major interventions. That’s when we’re going to have to see very significant interventions by government to raise the price of electricity and reduce usage of electricity. We won’t have to do that under our policies but Labor certainly will with their 45 per cent target.
JANE MARWICK: Okay. So you were aiming for a 26 per cent target - you’re now saying it’s going to be 28 per cent by what year again?
ANGUS TAYLOR: By 2023, and that’s a target that’s supposed to be achieved only by 2030, so we’re years ahead of time. Look, the reason for that, Jane, is we’re seeing an enormous amount of wind and solar coming into the system. Our challenge now is to make sure that we keep prices down and keep the lights on with so much intermittent energy - wind and solar, which at the end of the day, only works when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining. Our challenge is to make sure that we still have a reliable electricity supply and that we can keep those more traditional sources of electricity in the system, and that will keep prices down and keep the lights on.
JANE MARWICK: Of course, Angus Taylor, here in Western Australia, we’re not on the national grid so-
ANGUS TAYLOR: Yes.
JANE MARWICK: We’re separate from it, but the politics of it is national and it has been very, very difficult for the Coalition. Would you accept that the Coalition has not been able to sell its message very clearly? That it’s been easy to attack or open to attack from Labor and the Greens?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, if you ignore the facts, but the facts are we’re going to reach emissions targets so we should focus on price and reliability. I mean, that’s got to be the focus. Look, all sorts of people have all sorts of agenda in the electricity sector but what we want to focus on is getting prices down, keeping jobs in those crucial sectors like the aluminium sector, which is so dependent on low-cost energy for its survival and prosperity; keeping our focus on the things that really matter to those hardworking families and small businesses that rely on lower electricity bills. So our focus is very, very clear. It’s true that Labor and the Greens want to focus on emissions, and in the process, there’s no doubt they will drive up electricity prices and they risk the stability of our electricity system.
JANE MARWICK: How do you sell the message to the younger generation? Because I feel that probably people 30 and under just want all renewables and they want them now. There’s a perception and I don’t know what the numbers would be, but talk to most young people and coal is really a dirty word. They don’t like fossil fuels. They want solar. How does your government get the message through that although that might be, as you say, utopian, it’s not practical?
ANGUS TAYLOR: I think it’s pretty simple. The sun shines for around 12 hours a day on an average day, and we need power when the sun’s not shining. It’s pretty simple. Right now, batteries are very expensive so it’s not easy to store power. So, it’s all about pace. If you get ahead of natural technology gains, you hurt people and we need to make sure we do this in a sensible way - that it’s measured, that it’s balanced and that way we’ll get the technology improvements and the new technologies, renewable technologies, but we’ll do it in a way which maintains jobs and avoids hurting the most vulnerable out there in the community.
JANE MARWICK: What do you think about Bill Shorten’s idea for subsidising household batteries, storage batteries for solar?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Last time Labor put things in our homes it didn’t work out well with the Pink Batts Program and pink batteries are similar. But it’s a crazy program because it simply won’t touch the sides. An aluminium smelter will run for about 10 minutes on all of the batteries that Bill Shorten’s talking about here. It is not the solution to the problem. The right answer to the problem here is balance. It’s making sure that we’ve got the right mix of technologies. Batteries will improve over time but we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves and think that batteries are the solution to the problem just yet. Anyone who has sized them the up for their own home, will know that they’re still reasonably expensive and we’ve got some way to go before they’re an economic solution to the problem that I’ve described.
JANE MARWICK: What about - does anyone have the political courage to talk nuclear or is that just a political hot potato?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it’s just long time frames. I know the industry pretty well and it will be a long time before we would realistically have nuclear on the ground as a solution for this problem. We’ve got an immediate problem over the next three or four years, which is to manage the enormous amount of investment that’s going into solar and wind and keep our grids stable and keep them affordable. That’s what we’re focussed on right now because if we get that wrong we’re in deep trouble.
JANE MARWICK: How do we keep the grid stable? Because I noticed in WA, we were some of the first people that started to notice all of that solar power going back into the grid, feeding in during the day. It’s hard isn’t it? I don’t know that people can quite get their heads around being able to regulate all of that power going back in, but then you need that baseload power overnight, you need to keep those generators going.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Exactly right. The answer here is a balanced mix of fuel sources and technologies. You can’t jump to one solution, you’ve got to have a mix of coal, gas and renewables and if you move away from that mix, you’ll destabilise our electricity system. So, as always in life, I find again and again the right answer is to get a balance and not jump ahead of the natural improvement in technology.
JANE MARWICK: And before I let you go Angus Taylor, of course, news of the day is Andrew Broad. It would be remiss of me not to ask you - is this damaging, is this sucking the oxygen out of the government? You’ve got some news stories to tell, you’ve got some good financial news, you’ve got this that you’re reaching the Paris targets way ahead of schedule; what’s your response to the Andrew Broad debacle?
ANGUS TAYLOR: We have got lots of good news to talk about and as you rightly say, not only in emissions but in the economy - fantastic news about getting to surplus or producing very strong surpluses in the coming years like all Coalition Governments. We balance the books in a way Labor just doesn’t do. So there are good news stories, this is obviously an issue for Andrew. It’s not ideal, that’s clear. But it’s important that we get on and tell the good stories we have to tell about jobs growth, about the strong economy, about getting back to surplus and about just as importantly, the services that we can provide by balancing the books in a way that Labor is never able to. Labor always seems to get unlucky when it comes to balancing the books and the reason for that is they just don’t know how to do it.
JANE MARWICK: Good to speak to you today Angus Taylor, thank you.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks Jane.