Interview with Paul Murray, Sky News


3 October 2019


PAUL MURRAY: The Federal Energy Minister is Angus Taylor and there's a lot to talk to him about tonight, including about petrol prices, because isn't it just amazing that despite the fact that what happened in Saudi Arabia happened quite a few weeks ago, despite the fact that the world oil price is very low compared to where it was twelve months ago - well petrol has to go up. Would it have anything to do with school holidays? And is it about time to start pinging petrol companies when they're going to blame the world oil shocks when the numbers are actually lower than where they were 12 months ago, and it just happens to be school holidays - that and a whole lot with the Minister.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well let's start with the facts and I think that's the important place to start Paul, which is that the price of a barrel of oil is below where it was before these disruptions which, you know, there is no excuse now to reflect any increase in the price of a barrel of oil into the retail petrol price because it is at or below where it was. So that is very clear. Now in the last 24 hours, I've been in touch with the Chairman of the ACCC, he shares my view about where the price of a barrel of oil sits, and the ACCC I know will be watching very closely over this long weekend in many states. The petrol companies should be doing the right thing by their consumers and this is a time, there is no excuse in terms of the price of a barrel of oil because it has not gone up from where it was before the disruption.

PAUL MURRAY: So how does it work though? Because we have things like the ACCC to make sure that big companies don't all get together and then collectively at the same time start to play games. At what point in time does the planets align of a low world oil price compared to school holidays? Yet what we pay for the bowser is at an 11 year high. At what point does that become evidence to go after these companies?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I would say if they're trying to pass on wholesale price increases which don't exist to consumers then it's time to have a good hard look at what's going on, and the ACCC Chairman has assured me that as we go into this long weekend they're going to be looking at the prices very closely. We've talked, we had a long conversation yesterday afternoon about the situation, and I know he and the people in his organisation focused on this are keeping a very close eye on it. Look, they're subject to what their powers are, but at the end of the day if it looks like there's price gouging going on, there's no doubt that there'll be further investigation and if appropriate, action taken, that's the job of ACCC. Certainly it's my job to point this out and to call out bad behaviour. I mean one of the things that consumers can do is they're always the best regulators of any market and they can shop around but there's limits to that Paul, and limits to what people can reasonably do, and that's why I have spoken with the ACCC Chairman.

PAUL MURRAY: Right, good to see. Now let's talk about power prices because look there is a fundamental expectation that you are going to be able to start bringing down electricity prices. Now there is some positive movement that is starting to happen and there's some evidence that's coming out of New South Wales, IPART, that's the people who help in part set power prices in New South Wales - well they're starting to note that yes, there are some reductions of 4 per cent when it comes to some residential customers; 5 per cent for Endeavour Energy and 2 per cent for the Essential Energy areas. These are starting to turn in the right direction. Why is that happening?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well it's happening for a range of reasons. One is we've put in place reforms, two in particular - we've established price caps for people on standing offers and we're seeing the benefits of that flow through. In New South Wales for instance, typically that would be over $200 for a household customer, much more for a small business customer. We've put in place a reference price which makes it much easier to compare. And we're seeing very aggressive behaviour now from some of the smaller retailers. In fact, in New South Wales from that report, we see the small retailers have doubled their market share, they've gone from 8 to 16 per cent in the last little while and that's good news. It means that competition is starting to work. There's a lot more work to do Paul. We know whilst on average prices have turned the corner, they are coming down, but there are some customers who haven't received that for a variety of reasons and we want to see continued downward pressure.

PAUL MURRAY: But when do we start to see significant changes in energy production? Someone somewhere building something big enough to replace what is being blown up because I know that you're pushing, but when do we start to see this happening? Because that I think is where people start to feel a sense of frustration which is, well hang on we voted for a bunch of people who understand this problem, but it feels like we don't get to hear much back from the private companies. So how close are we to the building of something new?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, and look let's be clear, it takes a few years to build anything new and particularly in this country - you've got to get through approvals and so on. So, keeping existing generation going flat out in the market is incredibly important Paul, and that's what will make the difference over the next couple of years. That being said, we've also said for the first time for many, many years that as a government, we'll underwrite new generation into the marketplace. We've got twelve projects, some of those are quite advanced, and we are well down the track in negotiation. They're commercial negotiations so they've got to be done in a way that's going to make sure taxpayers get value for money and consumers get value for money. But we are well down the track with a number of those projects. That's the first round of projects. A range of different fuel sources and that extra supply we know can make a real difference in the marketplace. But it will be a balance between keeping our generation in and making sure if generation leaves it's replaced with like for like generation, that there's not a loss of supply in the market because that's what gets us, that's what got us in Victoria. What we don't need Paul, is state governments that are pursuing overly aggressive, reckless renewable energy targets, that are banning gas and we've seen that in Victoria in particular where there's an across the board moratorium on both conventional and non-conventional onshore gas exploration and development, and at the same time they’re pushing out our existing coal-fired power stations. That's exactly the policy that will get us into trouble and we'll fight against that every day.

PAUL MURRAY: Yeah good call. And finally, I do love - and I've got to relive this a little - I do love some common sense that you threw the way of the climate emergency councils like, say, the City of Sydney who say there's a chance we can't have lights turned on in parks at night because of climate change. That of course puts particularly women at risk. We all know, nobody, none of us would want to walk down a dark alley, let alone want our wives, sisters and daughters to do so. But there is a climate emergency happening and well done you Angus, and I wanted to say this to you on television - well done for calling out that the City of Sydney Council who at the same time is saying they're going to turn off the lights in parks because of the climate emergency that they have declared, they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their own travel for the fat cats at the council. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well it's worse than that Paul, I mean they're sending people off to conferences like the Women in Climate Conference in Paris. I mean that's where their international travel budget is going. I mean look, I think it's time for councils to focus on roads, rates and rubbish and there's enough potholes around the country for them to be busy just keeping that under control. But this stuff, honestly, you've got to ask yourself why is ratepayer's money being spent on sending off a group from the City Sydney Council to the Women in Climate Conference in Paris? It just makes no sense Paul.

PAUL MURRAY: No, agree completely. Because this thing where it's all look at me, look at me, look at what we're doing, look at how we're voting, look at all the red lines in the sand, but if those red lines contravene with their comfort, their comfort and their access to modernity oh no, no, funnily enough it doesn't quite stack up. Minister, all the best, let's talk again very soon, hey?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks Paul. Thanks for having me.

Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction