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Transcript of press conference: 8 November 2012: Energy White Paper; Nauru

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Christine Milne Australian Greens Leader

Thursday 8 November 2012

Press conference


Subjects: Energy White Paper, Nauru

JOURNALIST: The Energy White Paper - what’s your reaction to it?

CHRISTINE MILNE: The Government has released the Energy White Paper. It’s been long-awaited and sadly the focus is still way too much on a dash for gas. That clearly is Martin Ferguson with his fossilised fingers all over the past, promoting increased fossil fuel exports, saying we have to get rid of all regulatory measures so you can stream line the dash for gas. Now what that means is Australia's farmland, its aquifers, communities already outraged by the onrush of coal seam gas are going to see this as yet more taking away of their rights to facilitate the fossil fuel industry. The estimations of Clean Energy Future are really conservative, it’s exactly what you would expect from Minister Ferguson. He’s saying that Australia couldn’t expect to get to more than 80 per cent of renewable energy by 2050. I think we need to get there way, way sooner than that and we should be getting to at least 50 per cent renewables by 2030.

Having said that, some of the good things we’ve been campaigning for, getting much better connection for distributed energy for example, getting a fair price for renewable energy. Those things are recommended in the paper, and the real challenge for the Government is now to put a target on reducing peak load demand. Martin Ferguson talks about it a lot but he hasn’t actually put a target on it, and we need to see that happen. So there’s a mixture - some good things in terms of encouraging national electricity market reform, some good things in recognising that renewables have a place in the future, that’s the last person who has worked that out seems to be the Minister, but the tragedy is there is this completely two-faced view of the future in energy - promotion of fossil fuels, rush for gas, at the same time talking about a clean energy future. It doesn’t add up.

JOURNALIST: So you would say that he focuses too much on coal and gas and not enough on renewables?


CHRISTINE MILNE: Well one of the tragedies in the energy White Paper is it fails to take on board the reality of what’s happening in China. Professor Garnaut came out only a few days ago saying that the Chinese are serious about reducing their fossil fuel use, their energy intensity in terms of fossil fuels, and actually what the White Paper fails to recognise is this massive investment in fossil fuel infrastructure in Australia, in coal ports for example, could well end up being white elephants in the scheme of things. If there’s one thing we know about energy, just like communications, the whole telecommunications sector, we are in a revolution right now, disruptive technologies are coming on faster than people could have anticipated. So whilst this is Energy White Paper will have some cachet today I would suggest to you it’s going to be out-dated within a matter of a very few years.

JOURNALIST: Do you think Energy White Paper would look different if it was a different minister? You mentioned that it’s typical of Martin Ferguson.

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well I certainly think Martin Ferguson is a champion of the fossil fuel age. He has begrudgingly recognised a role for renewables, begrudgingly said that he thinks perhaps 80 per cent of our demand could be met by renewables by 2050 when anyone in the sector knows that renewables are coming on so quickly, they are rapidly pushing the fossil fuels out of the way, I think another minister might have done something differently. But the key thing here is that the Gillard Government can’t have it both ways, they can’t on the one hand say they’re keen about reducing emissions, and supporting a clean energy future, and on the other hand saying let’s rush for the fossil fuels, let’s expand coal, let’s get the biggest coal mine the southern hemisphere going, let’s invest billions in coal infrastructure. That is a completely internally divided and contradictory and unacceptable way to proceed.

JOURNALIST: But why should Australia give up the wealth available from exporting things like coal and gas?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well Australia has to recognise the same as the rest of the world is beginning to do, especially in terms of the United States, and we’ve got some hope for Obama on this point, what Australia has to do is increase its level of ambition in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. All of the opportunities in the future are around the new technologies, the innovation that’s going to come from renewable energy, energy efficiency, improved grids and the like, distributed energy coming on at scale, battery technology is making enormous breakthroughs. That’s where the future is, not in saying let’s rush to dig up as much coal and gas as we can while the dinosaur kicks.

JOURNALIST: You touched there a little bit on peak loads and things like that, he was supposed to say, I haven’t fully heard the speech, people should be charged more during peak times to kind of encourage them to put the washing on at midnight or something like that, is that what you’d like to see?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well one thing that needs to happen is the national electricity market rules need to be reformed, we simply have a situation where what’s holding back the roll out of renewables and efficiency is the management of the grid and the rules of the market. Now what we’ve just been through with a massive Senate inquiry, but equally the Government knows this as well, is demand is falling but we are spending billions on infrastructure to provide power for only 40 hours of the year and that is when all the air-conditioners go on at peak heatwave time. What we now need to do is say to people is there a way in which you can use energy so that you’re not using it at the peak


hour? And the best way of doing that is bringing on a peak load demand reduction target, that way the companies will have to talk to their consumers and say can we come up with another arrangement. Now that might be time of use pricing, that’s clearly something that everybody supports, but you have to take into account particularly low income earners or pensioners, people working from home, people with disabilities who would be charged more in that context because they have no options . So we have to really look after people who might be forced to be at home during peak times. But at the same time by setting a target you’ll have innovation come through the system. What we’ve learnt about renewables and efficiency is if you free up the system to allow the innovation to come through it will, and that‘s why we need to have a much better connection system for distributed energy, and that’s why we need to make sure that we can’t have gold-plating of the assets and passing that charge through to consumers and that’s why we have got to have state governments not being able to fill their coffers by actually taking money from consumers when it’s not necessary

Just on Nauru, we’re into the seventh day of a hunger strike in Nauru, it is time that the Federal Government recognised that they have to step in it, that there should be an independent body of health experts to oversee what’s going on in that overseas detention centre. This is a case of out of sight out of mind, it’s become incredibly serious, the last thing anybody would want surely is that people will die on Nauru as a result of hunger strikes and it’s all because people are there indefinitely. You can’t take away people's hope that they may at some stage be placed somewhere safe and expect them to cope. They’re not coping. The Human Rights Commissioner has said this is wrong , that this is a terrible breach of human rights, it’s time for Julia Gillard to step up and actually deal with the consequences of this very flawed policy.