Interview with Mark Levy, Mornings, 2GB


14 January 2020


MARK LEVY: Lots of stories in the papers today about energy security, emissions reduction and renewables. At the end of the day, all we care about, I suppose, is a reliable supply that's affordable. The Government's top energy security adviser has warned national leadership is needed on emissions policy. Kerry Schott is the Chair of the Energy Security Board, and Dr Schott is calling for a national policy to bring the Federal Government and the states together. At the same time, Labor has thrown their hat in the ring, they're accusing the Government of using a fake number to mislead Australians about cuts to greenhouse gas emissions. Angus Taylor is the Federal Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, and I'm pleased to say he joins me on the line. Minister, good morning.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good morning, Mark. Thanks for having me.

MARK LEVY: Not a problem at all. You've obviously heard and read the comments from Dr Schott. Are they on the money?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, we have a national policy and it's very clear. We put in place the reliability obligation in the middle of the year - which is an important part of what she had advocated - which ensures that retailers have to have enough firm, reliable supply in place to meet customers' needs years ahead of time. And of course, we're going to meet our emissions targets in the National Electricity Market many years ahead of time. In fact, we expect to reach our 2030 target within the next year or two, eight or nine years ahead of time. So we are doing extremely well on that. Big part of the reason is lots of people have put solar on their roofs. Our challenge now is to make sure that we have power available when the sun goes down, of course. These are important practical issues that we have to deal with as these new technologies are taken up. And that's our focus. We have very clear policies on that. We have a reliability obligation, we've got a Grid Reliability Fund to make sure that we have the backup and storage we need to ensure we keep the lights on and keep prices down. So there's great progress. We measure ourselves on the outcomes and the outcomes are good.

MARK LEVY: I'm glad you talk about targets because that was the big thing that came out of the interview between the Prime Minister and David Speers on the ABC on Sunday morning, where he kept referencing the fact that Australia will meet and beat its emissions reduction targets. Now, it seems to me as if some of the climate change and the environmentalists, these warriors, are suggesting this is the biggest issue facing Australia at the moment. I guess my question to you, Minister, is if we're meeting and beating those targets, what more could we possibly do to keep these people happy?

ANGUS TAYLOR: That's a question for them, not for me, Mark. But we are meeting and beating the targets. There's no doubt about it.

MARK LEVY: But do you know where I'm coming from, though?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I do, I do know where you're coming from.

MARK LEVY: [Talks over] I mean, you're doing everything in your power to keep these people happy and do what we need to do to reduce the emissions in the world. When we consider that we make up 1.3 per cent of the world's emissions, I just don't understand why some of these people aren't sending their animosity and anger towards countries like China and India. We seem to be doing what we need to do, Minister, yet you can't keep people happy.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well look, we'll continue to focus on delivering the outcomes. That is the important thing. Our 2020 targets we're expected to beat now by 411 million tonnes. Now, put that in perspective, that's almost a year's, it is 80 per cent of a year's worth of emissions that we're beating our targets by. There are very few countries in the world that can boast that kind of outcome. We've reduced our emissions far more than countries like New Zealand and Canada, which are equivalent developed countries, which are big commodities like us. We are doing extremely well. We have a plan laid out for 2030 emissions reductions down to the last tonne. Now, we always try to beat our targets and that's the point that the Prime Minister made. We'll set a target and we'll strive to beat it. I was in business for much of my career and that's what I always did, and we'll do the same at this level. But we've got to do it in a way that doesn't destroy jobs, reduce incomes. That's the Coalition's core policy here is to make sure we meet and beat our targets but we do it in a way where we can put downward pressure on electricity prices, energy prices - that's been a challenge in recent years - and we'll continue to push hard on that challenge where we don't destroy regions and jobs, where we get the balance right here and that's a balance that all Australians, I think, are very focused on.

MARK LEVY: Alright. There's another story today, some comments from Labor's Pat Conroy who says the Government is telling fibs about our cuts to emissions. One headline in today's papers has even accused the Prime Minister of cooking the books. Is that fair?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Oh, that's just absolute rot. I mean, we have one of the most disciplined and rigorous carbon accounting systems in the world. I was over in Madrid at the international conference, the one thing that you continually hear is people saying and trying to imitate the strength and rigour of the Australian carbon accounting system. So it is simply wrong. The truth of the matter is that our emissions are almost 50 million tonnes a year lower than they were under the previous government, under the Labor government. We're delivering, we're getting on with the job, it's very practical. A lot of the initiatives we've put in place for instance around agriculture and land management. These are practical, hands-on initiatives which are sensible, which can be done without destroying jobs and the economy. I think Labor believes that the only way you can reduce emissions is destroying jobs and income and we're simply not going to go down that path.

MARK LEVY: Well we seem to be talking a lot about renewable energy as well and given Australia has an abundance of coal and uranium, and I look to countries like China who continue to build more coal-fired power stations, what are we going to do in relation to this? Because while it's fair enough to talk about renewable energy, we talk about wanting reliable power, well there's nothing more reliable than coal and I would have thought nuclear given the amount of uranium and coal we have in this country.

ANGUS TAYLOR: The sensible thing here is balance. Now lots of people, lots of your listeners will have put solar cells on their roofs and that's a good thing - they're able to reduce their electricity bills and they are obviously reducing emissions in the process - that's good, but the balance has got to be right. We've also got to have power that's available when the sun goes down and that means gas and coal are an important part of the mix and will be for many years to come.

MARK LEVY: [Interrupts] So are we building any more coal-fired power stations Minister?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I mean, that's a question for the market. Obviously investors have got to make the decision-

MARK LEVY: [Interrupts] Well it's a question to you, you're the Minister, you're the Minister that's responsible. Are we building anymore?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I'll tell you what we announced just before Christmas was two new gas-fired power stations to balance up that very significant investment we're seeing in renewables, the solar cells people are putting on their roofs-

MARK LEVY: [Interrupts] But that wasn't my question Minister. My question to you was, are we building any more coal-fired power stations?

ANGUS TAYLOR: The critical thing with coal is to avoid premature closure of coal-fired power stations. That's what has got us into trouble in more recent years-

MARK LEVY: [Interrupts] But you're still not answering the question Minister. Are we building any new coal-fired power stations?

ANGUS TAYLOR: As I say Mark, that will be an issue for the market, but what I will say is premature closure like we saw in Hazelwood in Victoria where you had a coal-fired power station that had many years of life left. If you take it out of the market without proper replacement, like-for-like replacement what you get is upward pressure on prices and a loss of reliability. And we've seen that in the Victorian grid. So that has to be balanced, that is the right answer here. Obviously private sector investments have got to come forward with any, any of these investments we're talking about including the two gas-fired power stations that we announced before Christmas. They're being invested in by private sector players. The crucial thing here is to keep the balance in the system. If we lose that balance then we won't get the right balance between emissions reduction and, crucially, putting downward pressure on prices and keeping the lights on.

MARK LEVY: Alright. One more on energy just before I ask you about the other fires that have affected your local electorate and your community as well. On uranium and nuclear power - is that a discussion that will be had in 2020? I mean it seems like a bit of a taboo subject yet, like I say we've got an abundance of uranium in this country. Is that something on the agenda for 2020?

ANGUS TAYLOR: We'll continue to export uranium, there's no doubt about that. But coming back to our own situation, we have a moratorium and there's no plan at this point to take away the moratorium. We've had a parliamentary inquiry which has made a series of recommendations that we'll take a look at over the next little while. But as I say the crucial thing here is to get the balance right, and that balance we need to keep right now between gas, coal, and renewables - a balance that Australians understand, because so many have got solar on their roofs now is one that we're going to need to maintain. The crucial thing that we have to keep in our system is the ability to deliver power when the sun goes down or when the wind doesn't blow, and that means a sensible balance as more investment in solar in particular continues in the coming years.

MARK LEVY: To be fair though Minister when we talk about getting a balance there's hardly a balance when we're not using uranium for our own good, yet we're selling it overseas.

ANGUS TAYLOR: The balance is one between dispatchable base-load power as well as the intermittent renewables that are coming into the system. That's the balance I'm talking about. And there are many different fuel sources to get that balance right. I mean, it's not a matter of picking the fuel sources, it's a matter of getting the balance right to ensure that we've got that downward pressure on prices and downward pressure on emissions which is happening at a very rapid rate, as I've already said Mark.

MARK LEVY: Alright. You were born in Cooma, your electorate of Hume takes in Bundanoon in the Southern Highlands and other towns hit by these devastating fires. I've got to ask you how the recovery is going and how are the residents of your local community are holding up given what they've been through?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Your comments before I came on were absolutely right. I think you nailed it when you said we've seen tragic losses, there's no question about it - loss of life and loss of property - but it is also extraordinary what has been saved and these communities are rallying. You take a little village like Balmoral in my electorate which was hit very hard about a week before Christmas. We've had the Army in there cleaning up, helping to bring down very dangerous trees. We've got people right from across the community and across the region more broadly who are pitching in to help. The community is rallying. I was at a community recovery event last night in Bargo and it was just great to see the support that is coming out. It is a tough time. I think we've got to keep coming back and making sure, for months to come, years to come for that matter, that people have the support that they need through what is a very, very tough time. There's obviously still areas where the fires are live and we've got to deal with that. But I am buoyed by the extraordinary support that is occurring and the unity that we're seeing around wanting to support, and extraordinary generosity in wanting to support people who are having a very tough time of it.

MARK LEVY: Yeah, it just goes to show the Australian spirit doesn't Minister?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Sure does.

MARK LEVY: People pitching in and helping these people. Like we say we've got to get back to these local communities, invest in the towns because that's what they rely on. Really appreciate your time Minister. Always good to catch up. It's going to be, obviously, a big issue this year - energy, emissions and the like so we'll leave it in your capable hands and we'll catch up soon.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks Mark. Thanks for having me.

Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction