Interview with Melinda James, ABC Radio Illawarra


13 September 2019


MELINDA JAMES: As we do at the end of each Parliamentary week, we catch up with the Member for Hume and of course the Energy Minister Angus Taylor and he join me now. Angus Taylor, good morning.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks for having me Melinda.

MELINDA JAMES: Today the latest update of Australia's energy report has been released - what do you see as kind of the headline out of that report for the rest of us to take in?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well it confirms a few things Melinda - one is that renewables continue to grow strongly. In fact, in the last month we've seen renewables sitting over 25 per cent of our electricity supply. But coal and gas remain an essential part of meeting Australia's energy needs. So there's evolution there but it's evolution that needs to happen at a sensible pace obviously. There's challenges involved in that transition that we're seeing, the change in the mix and it's one that we're very, very conscious of, of course.

MELINDA JAMES: You talk about the growth in renewables but the renewables sector says that they think that there's been a dramatic drop off in investment because of policy, energy policy uncertainty over the past couple of years. They say it's actually a dire drop off in investment - that it's slowed dramatically.

ANGUS TAYLOR: That's not right at all Melinda - we are seeing Australia investing in renewables at the highest rate of any major country in the world. In fact, it's three times what we're seeing in France, Germany and the UK on an annual basis - so we're seeing extraordinary inurement. I mean it's difficult to see it continuing at the pace it has been because it's been at a breakneck pace and that's creating very, very substantial challenges for us. But it will continue on. I mean we've got one in five houses in Australia now with solar cells on their roofs. That is continuing at a rapid pace, it's not slowing down particularly in some regions and states where the sunshine in best. That's fine, I mean let's get on with it - but at the same time what we've got to do is maintain a degree of balance. Our great challenge in our energy system now is to keep enough dispatchable power, that's power that you can call on when you need it - it's not dependent on the weather. We have to have that balance in the system and that's our real challenge in our energy system right now.

MELINDA JAMES: A lot of the growth in renewables has come from wind power which I know you've been on the record as being opposed in some instances to wind power generation. What do you make of wind power contributing such a large proportion of renewable energy generation here in Australia?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well it's about a third. What we're seeing at the moment, the investment is about one third small scale solar which are on your roofs, one third large scale solar particularly in south-east Queensland, and one third wind. I'm opposed to bad projects - whether they're wind or anything else. You know, you get good projects and bad projects, and bad projects shouldn't proceed if they're going to have a very negative impact on the local community, and that applies to property development as well. So I mean that's my position. The important thing in energy is not to pick fuel sources and say well ‘this is good and this is bad’, we need balance. That is absolutely crucial.

MELINDA JAMES: But some would argue some are good and some are bad. I mean you wouldn't argue that brown coal isn’t necessarily a good way to generate energy these days would you?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well Melinda if we dropped our brown coal power stations tomorrow, we would all pay many times more for our electricity bills and the lights would go out-

MELINDA JAMES: But that's a separate issue.

ANGUS TAYLOR: No, the point is that we need balance in the system and evolution of the system cannot happen overnight. There are people who think you can just flick this and do it over night. You can't. So this is why I keep saying the key here is balance. Our challenge with the balance right now is we are losing dispatchable power. We saw Hazelwood, which is a brown coal power station in Victoria, close prematurely several years ago in Victoria. We saw a doubling of the wholesale price as a result. We've seen blackouts in Victoria and real threats of blackouts this summer, which can be contagious to other states, so you know, you've got to manage this evolution very, very carefully and balance is the key.

MELINDA JAMES: We have had a fair bit of debate on this very radio station about whether a climate emergency should be declared, and I know that the crossbench and the Greens on the federal stage, in the federal arena have been pushing for something similar. More and more local government areas are declaring what they say is a climate emergency, so that they make policy decisions through that lens, considering that as being something they should consider with each and every decision that they make. Given that there are so many people and there's kind of this critical mass building of people who say there's an emergency evolving, is your action as Energy Minister urgent enough?

ANGUS TAYLOR: We're going to meet our international obligations and that's what counts. Look, the point about emissions reduction is it must be coordinated global action. The actions of Australia unilaterally are really not the point. The point is global action and we have to do our bit. We've signed up to the international agreement, Paris Agreement. We've reached our Kyoto obligations. In fact, we've overachieved by a very substantial margin. We're very confident, we've laid out to the last tonne how we'll reach our 2030 international obligations. We need to do this in a sensible way where we don't trash jobs, we don't trash industry, and again, balance is the word. We've got to take a sensible approach to this. So that's what we're doing. It's outcomes that count here, Melinda. It's getting on with the job of ensuring we achieve our international obligations and that's exactly what we're doing.

MELINDA JAMES: Can we talk about the other two policies that were a big focus of discussion this week, which is the drug testing and the trial of drug testing welfare recipients in those trial sites and also the potential for a national rollout of a cashless welfare card for, what, people under the age of 35? What are your positions on both of those things, whether they should be rolled out nationally?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, the drug testing trial is a trial. I mean, it's a trial which is being rolled out in three locations in Logan in Queensland, Canterbury-Bankstown in Sydney and Mandurah in Western Australia, south of Perth. It's designed to do two things - number one, most importantly, it's about getting people from welfare into work, which is we know transformative for people's lives. We know that three times more people who are unemployed are addicted in some way to drugs than those who are employed, so there is an issue there. It's not saying that everyone who is unemployed is addicted to drugs, of course they're not - but there's a higher incidence there and we know that making sure people are off drugs is crucial for getting them into work. I see that in the local area, Melinda, I see employers telling me - we have very low unemployment in Hume, we're blessed with that right now, which is fantastic - but I do hear employers saying, look, one of the challenges is drug addiction. There's no question that that is true. Now we've got to make this trial work. It's very, very important-

MELINDA JAMES: And that will be the measure of success, whether more people who are found to be on drugs get a job?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, there's a second part to this which is there is a mutual obligation with welfare. We believe that very firmly, which is when someone- taxpayers- hard-working taxpayers out there, your listeners amongst them of course, who are contributing to the money that is paid to people on welfare, they can reasonably expect that people on welfare are doing everything in their power to get a job. So those two reasons are important to test this. I think it has every chance of succeeding.

MELINDA JAMES: So if, for example, the trials are over in those three places and it doesn't show that it makes it easier or it sort of smooths the path for people to get a job, then would it be abandoned? If it doesn't meet those aims?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well look, I have every expectation that it will succeed, but let's see. I mean, I don't want to pre-empt the outcome. You know, these things need to run their course. It's going to run over two years and look, I think this is, it's very, very important we keep exploring every possible means of helping people from welfare into work. It's such a crucially important way to transform someone's life and that's why these trials I think are absolutely hugely important for the Government. They need very real focus, but they are trials. The right way to do public policy in areas where there is some uncertainty is to try things, see if they work, and if they do work then roll them out more broadly, and that's exactly what we'll do.

MELINDA JAMES: Angus Taylor, we'll leave it there. Thanks very much for your time.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks Melinda.

Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction