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Transcript of interview with Kieran Gilbert: AM Agenda, Sky News: 4 April 2018: coal fired power; National Energy Guarantee; Newspoll; leadership



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SENATOR THE HON. ERIC ABETZ LIBERAL SENATOR FOR TASMANIA

TRANSCRIPT

04 April 2018

INTERVIEW WITH KIERAN GILBERT AM AGENDA, SKY NEWS

E&OE..... Check against delivery.

Subjects: Coal Fired Power, National Energy Guarantee, Newspoll, Leadership

KIERAN GILBERT:

Let's go live to Hobart now, former Leader of the Government in the Senate Senator Eric Abetz joins me. Senator, thanks so much for your time. What are your thoughts on this development that the Government is and has been in talks with Alinta to try and get Liddell to stay open longer? You'd welcome that?

ERIC ABETZ:

I welcome this initiative, I think it's absolutely the right move. What we need is affordability and reliability. We were told when Hazelwood closed that it would have no impact on power prices. We now know that was false. Similarly, if Liddell were to close there would be an impact on power prices and that would impact on our fellow Australians' household budgets and of course the viability of our farming and manufacturing sector so this initiative by the Government is welcome and I hope it succeeds.

KIERAN GILBERT:

And do you concede as well that this is evidence of the fact, as the NEG has proposed, that coal will remain a significant part of the mix until well beyond 2030?

ERIC ABETZ:

Coal has to remain part and parcel of the energy mix within Australia. It has to do so for the simple proposition of affordability and reliability. Coal has been the base of our energy source now for a century or so. It's vital that if any transition is made that we ensure, first of all, affordability and reliability and so this initiative that the Prime Minister has indicated is most welcome.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Would this then negate the need for a building of an entirely new plant?

ERIC ABETZ:

Hopefully it would but at the end of the day, what we've got to do is put absolutely everything on the table and so when we have a government that has distorted the energy market be it with Renewable Energy Targets, with solar subsides, with the purchase of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, it stands to reason that there may well be a case for government involvement in coal as well and so this step by the Prime Minister ringing the chair of AGL is a most welcome development.

KIERAN GILBERT:

But there's a big difference between say the Snowy Hydro which has always been within government ownership - whether State or Federal - and the big difference between that on the one hand and investing $4 billion in building an entirely new coal plant isn't there?

ERIC ABETZ:

A coal-fired plant, I don't think, would cost the full $4 billion that we're talking about investing into Snowy 2.0 and further, if the Commonwealth does buy out the Victorian and New South Wales interest, that is a further investment by the taxpayer so these things should be considered and developed. The simple fact is that if we're talking about government involvement in the energy sector, I personally would prefer that there weren't any but once you've got a Renewable Energy Target, once you've got all these Solar Subsidies that have been flowing to that particular sector, where you've got government purchasing a greater interest in an energy source then investing in revamping that energy source, I don't think we can really talk about a free market anymore and sadly, we are now suffering from unaffordable and unreliable energy and that has been the strength in the past of the Australian economy, we have been...

KIERAN GILBERT:

...do you accept that the National Energy Guarantee policy removes subsidies for renewables? Do you accept that as a starting point?

ERIC ABETZ:

Ultimately it does but in this transition period of removing, we are still investing, we still have the Renewable Energy Target, the subsidies etc and within that space, it makes perfect sense to fully investigate and fully explore the viability of coal and clearly coal is viable. Hundreds of them are being built around the world as we speak, the high energy-low emissions, that's the way of the future. We have the coal that would be able to provide those sorts of power stations and I think it would make good sense for Australia to investigate whether we could showcase such a coal fired power station to assist us with our coal exports and ensure affordability and reliability of energy supply.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Given it takes 4-5 years minimum to get a plant built, what would it do in the short to medium term for affordability? It would do nothing?

ERIC ABETZ:

Same with Snowy 2.0, that's going to take a number of years to build and we'll need the transmission lines etc so let's not suggest that any solution is just going to drop out of the sky overnight but might I also say, in China they can build these coal fired power stations within 2 years and I don't think it's beyond the wit of the Australian population to similarly build a coal fired power station in about half the time you are taking about, if we are to set our minds to it.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Yeah, the Chinese obviously have a very different set of circumstances not just in terms of the speed of building major infrastructure but also their demand - China and India have huge demand and I know another example that advocates of coal point to is Japan but Japan is shutting down it's nuclear powered facilities so all of these examples have different supply and demand situations than we do in this country.

ERIC ABETZ:

But the ability to build something does not necessarily rely on the demand for the product afterwards. You can build one of these things if you set your mind to it, as the Chinese have shown, within a couple of years and I think it's not beyond the wit of the Australian workforce to do that...

KIERAN GILBERT:

...but you need demand to make it viable...

ERIC ABETZ:

...and clearly there is a demand for affordable and reliable energy and indeed I read in one of the papers this morning that 50,000 manufacturing jobs are desperately crying out for affordable and reliable energy. We owe it to those workers, we owe it to those families to ensure that they have that affordable and reliable energy so that their jobs can remain secure. I don't think it's too much to ask government to have policy settings to ensure that.

KIERAN GILBERT:

This Monash Forum proposal has emerged just days out from the likely 30th Newspoll loss. Should we read anything into the timing of that?

ERIC ABETZ:

Absolutely not and this Monash Forum has been finally given a name but there has been discussion over many months, indeed years, in the Coalition about energy and I know there are alot of commentators and other people willing to talk about leadership. I simply ask the one question: is the suggestion a good policy or a bad policy? You can seek to dismiss or support anything through a leadership prism. I've never done that, I've always asked the fundamental question, is the proposal good or bad policy? Or can it be tightened up one way or another? But

let's look at this as a genuine policy proposal and discuss its merits without trying to put it through the prism of leadership.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Is there a concern though? Are you worried that this might undermine Josh Frydenberg's effort to get a national commitment and coherence to energy policy with this National Energy Guarantee. He's meeting with the States on the 20th of April, this emerges now, it doesn't help him.

ERIC ABETZ:

I would have thought it would help the Federal Government and the consideration of energy policy Australia-wide that we do need a National Energy Guarantee. How do you do that particularly with the provision of affordability and reliability injecting this consideration into the debate just heightens the interest to ensure we do have a National Energy Guarantee. That's what households want. That's what farmers want. That's what the manufacturing sector want and they all need it as well so in those circumstances, talking about how we can ensure affordability and reliability is at the centre of the National Energy Guarantee and further discussion about that can only enhance the prospect of getting an Australia-wide guarantee and with the election of the South Australian Liberal Government I hope that can be achieved.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Finally, on the leadership issue - you touched on it before - and I mentioned the comments by Peter Dutton to Andrew Bolt last night where he pledged his loyalty to Malcolm Turnbull in the face of a likely 30 Newspoll losses. Will you do the same?

ERIC ABETZ:

Yes. Whenever I've been asked about the leadership, I support the elected leader of the party but I have never engaged in the cult of personality be it when Malcolm Fraser was leader, when I first joined the Liberal Party. I joined the Liberal Party because of its virtues, values and principles not because of who might be the leader from time to time. The virtues and values that the Liberal Party is founded on is alot greater than any of its leaders, even Robert Menzies if I might say, so that is what motivates me in public life and in the Liberal Party. Having said that, I'm not aware of any challenge to Malcolm Turnbull's leadership and I would invite you and all your colleagues to discuss this issue on a coal fired power station on the merits of the policy proposal, not through some artificial prism.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Fair enough. Thanks for your time.