Doorstop Parliament House, Canberra

Transcript

8 October 2019

E&OE

ANGUS TAYLOR: In July of last year the ACCC handed down a report telling us that the electricity market had conduct in it that was unacceptable and unsustainable. On the back of that, we've implemented a number of crucial reforms. We've established price caps for standing offers, clear reference prices for customers to give power back to customers in the marketplace. We've established the Retailer Reliability Obligation. We're bringing in, and encouraging new supply into the marketplace both through the Underwriting New Generation Investments program and through Snowy 2.0. These are all crucial initiatives to ensure that Australians get the affordable, reliable electricity, energy they deserve. This is crucial for all Australians, it's an essential service. We want to see a fair deal for all Australians.

We're seeing good results already. The ACCC has told us in the last couple of weeks that standing offers have come down, we're seeing more competition in the marketplace, and we're seeing an end of the sneaky late payment penalties that were in place in the past. This is good news for consumers, but there's more work to do. We need to make sure that we attract and retain that dispatchable capacity, the on-demand supply that is necessary to keep the lights on and keep prices down. That will be a focus for us, for some time to come. All of this is focused on one very clear pragmatic goal, which is a fair deal on energy for all Australians.

JOURNALIST: Mr Taylor, Malcolm Turnbull has said that power prices are higher under your policies than they would have been under his policies with the National Energy Guarantee. Is he right?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, the ACCC has told us that standing offers have come down. We've seen the CPI coming down in recent months. We're seeing good progress-

JOURNALIST: [Talks over] They could have come down under the National Energy Guarantee as well. Is he right to say that a coherent policy would have lowered prices more than they are now?

JOURNALIST: Yeah, let me finish - we're seeing prices coming down now. The outcomes of the National Energy Guarantee will be achieved - we'll achieve our emissions target nine years ahead of time, and the Retailer Reliability Obligation is in place. That is good news for Australian consumers. We're seeing good progress. There's further to go and we'll work closely with collaborative state governments to ensure that we continue to deliver good outcomes in the coming years for Australian households and businesses.

JOURNALIST: Minister Taylor, the NEG, the AER model when they modelled the NEG, and in a figure they released, which was supported by the now-Prime Minister and the now-Treasurer, said $150 a year off your power bill just due to certainty. Is that what we're missing out on now because we're not doing a NEG?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, the Retailer Reliability Obligation is in place and we're going to achieve the emissions target nine years ahead of time. So, Phil, we'll achieve the outcomes.

JOURNALIST: [Talks over] Will we get the $150?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Outcomes are what matters here. That's the focus. We're focusing on the outcomes. Mechanisms are one thing, but outcomes are everything. Australians want a fair deal on energy - that's our focus. We're achieving those outcomes. The ACCC is giving us good guidance on the progress made so far. We know there's further to go and we will keep pushing.

JOURNALIST: Wasn't it Malcolm Turnbull who killed off the NEG?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I'm telling you that we're achieving the outcomes. The Retailer Reliability Obligation in place, and we'll achieve our emissions reductions eight to nine years ahead of time, 2021/2022. Look, these are extraordinary achievements. The challenge now is to have enough dispatchable, on-demand supply in the system to continue to put downward pressure on wholesale prices and to continue to ensure that we have the lights going on when customers flick the switch. That's the Government's focus.

JOURNALIST: Is it unhelpful for Malcolm Turnbull to make the comments that he did?

ANGUS TAYLOR: As I say, we're achieving the outcomes that he talked about. So, look, it's very clear that the Retailer Reliability Obligation is in place and we'll achieve our emissions reductions eight to nine years ahead of time.

JOURNALIST: Minister, last week the Prime Minister gave a speech at the Lowy Institute in which he said that we needed to avoid negative globalism and he was critical of unaccountable international bureaucracies. What does that mean for global climate change negotiations? And also, the Prime Minister wants China now to be designated as a newly developed economy rather than a developing one. Does that mean that Australia has now abandoned the framework of common but differentiated responsibilities in global climate change negotiations?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, Katharine, I'm focused squarely on achieving outcomes here at home. We achieved our 2012 Kyoto obligations, we'll achieve our 2020 obligations easily - we'll overachieve on them by a latest estimate of 367 million tonnes - and we've laid out to the last tonne how we'll achieve our 2030 obligations. We have strong targets, we have a clear plan to get there, and it's all fully costed.

JOURNALIST: But what does negative globalism mean for global climate change negotiations? I mean, the Prime Minister's raised it, so what does it mean?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I tell you what all this means, is I am focused on achieving the outcomes here in Australia, and crucial to that is not just our emission reduction obligations, but a fair deal on energy for all Australians. For the small businesses, households, and the industry that depends on a fair deal on energy for jobs right around Australia, is absolutely crucial. We'll focus on the outcomes here at home. They are part of our international obligations and those international obligations matter, but the crucial thing for us as a Government is to focus on the outcomes here in Australia.

JOURNALIST: With the Callide B coal-fired power station closing 10 years ahead of schedule, are you concerned more existing generators are going to follow suit and start closing ahead of schedule, putting pressure on that reliability?

ANGUS TAYLOR: State government shouldn't be encouraging premature closure of power stations. We've seen what happens - we saw it with Northern in South Australia, and we've seen it with Hazelwood in Victoria. It hikes the prices and turns the lights off. We need to have a sensible mix of policies that ensure we have balance in the system. That balance will deliver, if it's maintained, affordable, reliable energy whilst we bring our emissions down.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] power station?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, as I say, premature closure is not on. I mean, we're dealing with Liddell, and I've been very clear about Liddell and New South Wales. We either have like-for-like replacement, or we have life extension, but we need to ensure we've got that dispatchable, on-demand power in the system to balance the record levels of investment in solar and wind coming into the system.

JOURNALIST: So will you take steps to deliberately either stop the closure or to extend it's life?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, the immediate focus is on Liddell because that's in the near term and we are focusing on that in New South Wales. But this is an issue. We understand the importance of keeping our existing generators in the system running flat out. It is absolutely crucial to ensure that we have affordable, reliable power.

JOURNALIST: Mr Taylor, a hypothetical question, if I could, on the Big Stick legislation. Under the so-called Katter clause, you know the one that if you were to forcibly divest a state-owned entity it couldn't be privatised, does that mean if it were to happen either the the owner would have to set up a separate government business or the Commonwealth would have to buy it? Are they the only two options?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I don't get into hypotheticals but what is very-

JOURNALIST: [Talks over] Well, how is that clause going to work?

ANGUS TAYLOR: There needs to be competition Phil and this is all about creating competition.

JOURNALIST: But what are the options if it doesn't?

ANGUS TAYLOR: We can see competition between government entities. We've seen increased competition, actually, in Queensland in recent times and that's put downward pressure on the wholesale price and got good outcomes for consumers. We want to see competition and that competition is necessary, whether it's under public ownership or private ownership. That's the focus of the legislation.

JOURNALIST: Minister, at the recent Pacific Islands Forum-

ANGUS TAYLOR: Just one at a time - why don't we take someone else who hasn't asked one?

JOURNALIST: Has there been any progress with your plans to underwrite new power generation investment?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Sorry, I didn't hear the first bit of that question.

JOURNALIST: Has there been any progress with the underwriting plan?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, of course. Of course. We're down to a shortlist of twelve. We're well advanced in discussions on a number of those projects. They're all at different stages. I've been to visit a number of the projects myself and there's real potential to get more supply into the system. But in the meantime, what's crucial is that we maintain the supply we have in the system or avoid premature closure and that's a strong focus for the Government.

JOURNALIST: Which projects?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, look, these discussions are commercial in confidence. I'm not going to go into the details of them here and now - but what I will say is that a number of them are in advanced discussions. As I say, this is a priority for the Government, that just as important, more importantly in the short term is retaining supply in the system. What we don't want to see is state governments pursuing reckless targets, the sort of targets that Labor took to the last election, and banning gas, which again, creates real issues for reliability, and encouraging premature closure of the power stations. Those things do not help.

JOURNALIST: Minister, is it true on Liddell, the New South Wales Government has said to you that to extend its life to 2026 you will not need to underwrite it or keep Liddell open? There's other options available for it?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I'm not going to go into the discussions that I'm having, the confidential discussions that I'm having with the New South Wales Government. This will all become apparent in the fullness of time. But what's crucial, though, is that there needs to be a plan that's clear: either like-for-like replacement or life extension of our big generators. We saw what happens when we don't have that in South Australia and Victoria. The prices went up and the lights went off. We are simply not going to stand for that.

JOURNALIST: Let me put it this way then: if you spend $300 million of taxpayer money to extend the life of Liddell, are you convinced you will be able to get the generation needed, or is the facility just too old and too unreliable?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I'm not going to get into hypotheticals. I mean, I've been very clear about what the focus is and what the outcome is we want.

JOURNALIST: How's Collinsville going? The HELE coal-fired power station proposal?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Again, that work is ongoing. What's crucial in Queensland is several things. Number one, we need to maintain enough dispatchable power in the system in the coming years to keep the lights on, put downward pressure on prices, and ensure the industry - and we have a great deal of energy industry in Queensland - remains healthy and is strong. That is absolutely crucial. What we don't need is price gouging from the government-owned generators. We want to see them doing the right thing. Last year, they took $1.65 billion of cash out of the industry. We want to see as much money as possible in the pockets of hardworking consumers.

JOURNALIST: Minister, at the recent Pacific Islands Forum, Australia signed a communique which basically commits us to developing a 2050 strategy for emissions reductions next year. What is that strategy? Will it involve net zero emissions by 2050, which is what-

ANGUS TAYLOR: Our immediate focus is on the 2030 Paris obligation. As I say, we have a strong plan, strong targets, fully costed. We know how we're going to get there, and that's in stark contrast to what we saw Labor taking to the last election when they couldn't detail the costs and the impacts of their policy.

JOURNALIST: So, what is the 2050 strategy that we've signed up to at PIF then?

ANGUS TAYLOR: As I say, our focus right now is on achieving the 2030 targets. As I say, they're strong targets. We've laid out to the last tonne how we're going to achieve them. One more question here, I'll take this as the last question.

JOURNALIST: Do you welcome Malcolm Turnbull's contribution, and would you continue to welcome his commentary into the future?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, my focus is very clear. It's a pragmatic focus-

JOURNALIST: [Interrupts] But just on him, personally, because he came out speaking against you and pretty much trashed your energy policy. What is your response to that and would you continue to welcome his commentary?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, as I say, my focus is clear – it is on affordable, reliable energy, whilst we ensure that we reach our international obligations, and we're confident we'll do that.

JOURNALIST: So you don't care about-

ANGUS TAYLOR: The focus has to be on making sure that we've got enough supply in the market, and the big energy companies are doing the right thing. That's why we've introduced to the Parliament our big stick legislation, which is all about holding the big energy companies to account, ensuring they do the right thing. We hope that they will do the right thing and that legislation won't be necessary. But, we saw the ACCC tell us the behaviour in the marketplace was unacceptable and unsustainable, and that's why we've implemented these reforms. It's why they're crucial to ensure that we get a fair deal for all Australians. I'll make it one more.

JOURNALIST: Do you agree with Malcolm Turnbull that the Liberal Party has been captured by climate change denialists?

ANGUS TAYLOR: We've entered into the Paris agreements and we'll achieve those targets. We've laid out very clearly to the last tonne how we're going to do it, but we need to balance that with ensuring we don't trash industries, we don't trash regions, we make sure there's affordable, reliable energy for all Australians.

Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction