MONDAY, 9 OCTOBER 2017
SUBJECTS: Energy policy,
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody. Big developments in the energy debate at long last at this conference. I am pleased that Josh Frydenberg, Mr Turnbull's Minister for Energy and Environment, has finally admitted that the Government's dishonest scare campaign on renewable energy doesn't add up. Today we've seen the Government finally admit what Australian households know, what Australian business know, what Australian investors know: the price of renewable energy is going down and down and down, and if it's not already the cheapest form of energy, it is amongst the cheapest forms of energy. So today at least, the Liberals in Canberra have fessed up to the dishonest scare campaign they've been running against renewable energy. The more renewable energy we have, the cheaper prices are for consumers and for industry.
However, in a further disturbing development, it would appear that Tony Abbott and the right wing of his party are winning the internal war against Turnbull and Frydenberg. Today, the Minister for Energy, Frydenberg, has given the clearest signals yet that the Government now find the Clean Energy Target, the best mechanism proposed by Australia's Chief Scientist, the Turnbull Government now finds it too hard to beat Tony Abbott, so they're going to drop the Chief Scientist’s key recommendation; the clearest signs yet.
Our message to the Government, my message today was very plain: we will work with you, to put downward pressure on prices for consumers and for industry. We've offered solutions to put downward pressure on gas prices, we've offered solutions to make our national energy market work in a reliable manner for the interests of all Australians, and we've also offered an olive branch to Mr Turnbull, and I've said to Turnbull, work with Labor, and we can see-off the ten wasted years of Tony Abbott and his divisive politics which sees power prices going up, and jobs being threatened. Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: What will be the result for everyday Australians if the Clean Energy Target is abandoned?
SHORTEN: If Turnbull walks away from the Chief Scientist's report, he's walking away from lower prices for consumers and households. As one humorist observed to me before, it would appear that Finkel is Gonski, and the fact of the matter is that's bad news for Australian industry, Australian businesses, Australian consumers and Australian jobs.
JOURNALIST: You've offered to work with the Prime Minister, have you had a direct conversation with him about this?
SHORTEN: I wrote to him over four months ago. Even before the Chief Scientist had come down with his report, I wrote to Turnbull and I said: listen, ten wasted years - it's the sort of reason why Australians hate politics, is when the two major parties, keep weaponising energy prices, rather than working together to put downward pressure.
We've got a prefered position, we're willing to compromise on that if the Chief Scientist’s report is the preferred option of the Government, but we want it to be fair dinkum. We're not interested in compromise for compromise sake. The problem these days is that Turnbull thinks he's had a good day at the office if he doesn't have Tony Abbott firing bullets at him in terms of energy policy.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the Government's obviously now mounting an argument that a CET will add to power prices, are you ready for another election fought along these lines again, waged on policy that increases power prices, those sorts of allegations and having to argue the counter?
SHORTEN: Mr Turnbull asked the Chief Scientist of Australia, one of the smartest people in Australia, to come up with a mechanism which will put downward pressure on prices. Now what we've got is the Chief Scientist of Australia, having his homework ripped apart by the knuckle draggers of the right wing of the Liberal Party, the people who don't believe in climate change.
There's one reason above all else that power prices have gone up in the last ten years, and especially in the last couple of years, there's a lack of policy certainty. Yet again, Turnbull is sacrificing policy certainty and lower prices for consumers, lower prices for businesses, lower chance of job security for people working in those industries, just to keep his day job and to fend of Tony Abbott and the right wing of his party. This has got to stop. I'll work with Turnbull, just depends if Turnbull's got the courage to work with Labor, instead of surrendering to Tony Abbott.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you talked about ending the blame for the past ten years, the Prime Minister's just attacked you, and you've just attacked the Prime Minister's previous policy - does the blame game continue?
SHORTEN: No let's be straight here. I got up in my speech, which you probably heard, and said that there's enough blame to go around for everyone, and not just dare I say it the politicians, but the media and business. Everyone has been happy to sit in the trenches, and bag everyone else until the cows come home, but it's not good enough anymore is it? It's just what turns people off politics and in the meantime energy prices are going up.
I'm inviting Turnbull to work with me and the Labor Party and the sensible part of the Government, but instead today it would appear that they are trying to walk away, they're sending the clearest signals ever, that they're not even interested in following the Chief Scientist's report.
What's the point of Turnbull being Prime Minister if he gets the Chief Scientist to do a report which previously he said, had a lot of virtue, a lot of merit and then as soon as it gets too hard they just give up their views and Tony Abbott and the others rule the roost. That's been the problem for the last ten years, a lack of fair dinkum conviction. What people hate about politics is when they know that a politician believes something but doesn't even have the self-respect to back it in.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, in that context what are your views on the New South Wales Government legislating to expand a coal mine out of Lithgow?
SHORTEN: Well, that'll be up to the State to decide, they will have their evidence I suppose. What I'm interested in doing though is providing certainty for investment in new generation, what I can do is encourage the States to go down the path of backing in renewable energy. I certainly, today, said that they need to look at the responsible development of onshore gas but I put plenty of caveats around that or requirements, communities have got to be happy. What I want to do is get Turnbull on the same page as Labor, that's what people are crying out for.
I visited nine or ten different factories in the last four months, specifically to look at their gas prices and electricity prices. It is heartbreaking for Australian investors and Australian business and indeed their workers, every time they make an improvement: invest in a new machine, come up with a new workplace relations practice which improves the outcome for the business and the worker. All of that gets washed away with every increase in gas and electricity prices. It's got to stop and I'm prepared to work with the Government but what I am is also saying that I'm not going to work with the Government at any price, because the problem is that the Government's finally admitted their own dishonest scare campaign against renewable energy for what it is.
We've had the Minister for Energy today, say that renewable energy, the cost of it is going down and down and down and indeed it's amongst the cheapest forms of energy.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, what is the Government, what they're saying now, what if it proves to be correct and the price of renewables is so low that post 2020 it won't need or warrant subsidy through a CET. Would it be your view you'd still need a CET even though there is a zero price on the certificates just to provide a framework, an investment framework? Would that still be Labor's view?
SHORTEN: As Labor prepares its policies as an alternative Government, I've been talking not only to workers on the ground but also talking to investors, talking to financial investors, they need policy certainty. The one thing, and there's plenty of different opinions across energy in Australia in electricity and gas. The one thing that everyone agrees on, other than Tony Abbott, is that you need policy certainty. See when you've got policy certainty as proposed by the Chief Scientist, that means that companies and financial institutions can invest in new power generation.
Once business knows the rules they can invest money to make profits, to employ people. But when you don't even know what the rules are then you are effectively starving Australia of the new power generation and if we don't have investment in new power generation, including renewable energy, the prices of everything just go up and up and up.
We have a crisis now and a crisis requires people reconsidering traditional positions. I'm up for that, I just need Turnbull to stare down Abbott and work with me.
JOURNALIST: Given that that - everyone is saying that the price of new renewables is even less than new coal than wouldn't organically we reach the same point we would need to be in 2030 to reach our Paris agreement?
SHORTEN: Well, that isn't guaranteed without investment certainty, you need investment certainty. The idea that you could enter a game of football without knowing the rules and organically you know, goals would be kicked - you need rules.
JOURNALIST: But wouldn't the market sort of make that happens because that's where the cheapest generation is?
SHORTEN: Markets need rules.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten just on the gas policy, you talked about immediately reserving gas if elected to Government, until the price came down to a right price. What is the right price?
SHORTEN: It's much less than what it is now. Industry are the best people to answer that but in my journeys, where I meet industry and I talk to employers and I see the changes they make, currently, they're being offered massive increases, we've got to slow this rate of increase in gas prices.
It is basically intolerable if you're a very big company you know, take a Blue Scope or Qenos or a CSR, they have some capacity to order sufficient gas that gives them some leverage but even they're getting remarkable and out of control increases.
But imagine that next tier of manufacturing in Australia and you can think about these manufacturers, they are in every big town and every region of Australia. They don't have the capacity to demand of the gas companies, any downward pressure on their gas prices, they're just getting hammered from morning to night. That's why we need to have the certainty and that's why we need to have the national interest, I make no apology for a National Interest Test which prioritises Australian industry and Australian consumers. It's just what any self-respecting Government should do. Alright everybody, thanks very much.