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Transcript of joint doorstop: Rockhampton: 4 April 2018: Rookwood Weir; Liddell Power Station; Bill Morrow



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PRIME MINISTER

THE HON. MALCOLM TURNBULL MP

TRANSCRIPT

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Doorstop

Rockhampton, Queensland

SUBJECTS: Rookwood Weir; Liddell Power Station; Bill Morrow.

E&OE…

MICHELLE LANDRY MP, MEMBER FOR CAPRICORNIA:

It's wonderful to welcome the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull and Michael McCormack, our Deputy Prime Minister and David Littleproud, the Agriculture Minister as well as my colleagues Ken O'Dowd and Senator Matt Canavan, Minister for Resources.

Today is a very, very special day for this area, a day that we've been working hard for a long time and I'm really proud to be part of this Coalition government that's delivering for regions like Central Queensland.

This is a project that we've been working on for a long time and was actually promised by Queensland Labor back in 2006. It takes a Coalition government to actually work for the communities and work for the farmers of central Queensland.

So I'd really like to pass over now to the Prime Minister, he has a wonderful announcement to make. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Great, thank you Michelle and thank you Ken and it's great to be here with the DPM and our colleagues to announce that the Rookwood Weir is going to go ahead.

Michelle and Ken have been campaigning for it for years and we've been campaigning for it for years. We announced our Federal Government support for it two years ago. At one point we even offered to Annastacia Palaszczuk that we’d do the whole thing ourselves, if she’d just give us the water rights.

So we've done everything we can to get this underway. And finally just a few months ago, weeks ago, the Queensland Government came on board with an increased price tag. We've looked at that and we will go ahead with it at the increased level of commitments, $176 million each. So that is that, the Rookwood Weir should now go ahead.

This is going to mean stronger regions, stronger agriculture, stronger industry and more jobs. A lot more jobs, over 2,000 jobs will come out of this project. This is going to deliver 42,000 megalitres of water for agriculture, 34,000 megalitres of water for industry and for cities. This is a game changer and it's been argued for and campaigned for by Ken and Michelle and so many other people committed to Central Queensland for a very long time.

And now just as Michelle said, we are making it happen by putting in the funds that we need from the Federal Government to support it. It's going to be a real game changer. Stronger regions, stronger agriculture, stronger industry and thousands more jobs. That's our commitment to Central Queensland.

So it's great to be here and I ask Michael, do you want to add a few words to that as the Minister for Infrastructure?

THE HON. MICHAEL MCCORMACK MP, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you Prime Minister and well done to Michelle and well done to Ken, they've been advocating for this on behalf of their communities for many, many years. Ever since they actually both got into parliament. So congratulations to them both. Congratulations also to the community for keeping up the lobbying effort.

But as the Prime Minister just said 76,000 megalitres available now for agriculture, for industry. That's tremendous. Drought proofing Central Queensland. And I know Ken and Michelle will both be very happy with that and so will the communities of Rockhampton and Gladstone. This is, as the Prime Minister just said, a game changer and February 9 was a rather an interesting date because that's the date the state government said that they would provide the money if we stumped up.

Well we've stumped up. We've delivered. Now it's time for the state government to also do their part and get shovels in the ground.

Tremendous announcement. Well done to Michelle, well done to Ken for delivering.

KEN O'DOWD MP, MEMBER FOR FLYNN:

Well good morning everybody. Well this has been a long time coming since about 2006 when Peter Beattie first announced it would be built by 2011, the time has come out to put shovels in the ground and get the job done. Because we know whatever comes out the sky is good for our farmers, it's good for industry, it's good for the people of Rockhampton and Gladstone and all the way down the line.

So thank you Prime Minister for coming here. Thank you Michael. Thank you David. Thank you Michelle and thank you Matt. Thank you very much. It's been a great day.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good on you Ken, fantastic. So we have some questions?

JOURNALIST:

Mr Turnbull will the Federal Government be putting up any funds for the operational costs?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we haven't been asked to do that. As you know the way it works is this is a grant from us, so we're basically giving $176 million to the Queensland Government. Which means that they get a $350 million dam weir for half the price that they spent. So, but if the Queensland Government wants to operate in joint venture and it wants to share the ownership of it, well we'd obviously look at that. In fact, you know you go back - I read an amusing line in the Queensland Minister's press release where he said that the Premier had been fighting for this at COAG meetings.

I can remember a COAG meeting in fact, where's Matt? Matt was with me, Matt was with me, he was there in Hobart!

We had a meeting of the Northern Australia Group at the COAG meeting, it coincided with that, although it was held in in Hobart. We were pressing Premier Palaszczuk about Rookwood Weir, Barnaby Joyce and Matt and I, and at one point we said, ‘look if you don't want to do it then assign us the water rights and the development rights and we will build it and own it and operate it ourselves as a Federal Government asset’.

She said, she'd get back to us in 24 hours. Well we didn't hear anything at all. So look, the bottom line is, you know, there's been real reluctance on the part of Queensland Labor to build this despite their promises in the past. They've come to the party late, that's better late than never, and I think the main thing now is what the people of Central Queensland want us to do, just as Ken and Michelle said and Michael said is get the shovels in the ground and get building it. The money is there.

JOURNALIST:

The state government says Mr Joyce actually promised to put in half the operational costs at the meeting, is that true?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, yeah completely untrue. I remember it very distinctly, Matt is my witness. We said to Premier Palaszczuk that if the Queensland Government did not want to proceed with it, then if they gave us the rights to the water and the development rights, we would proceed and build it and operate it as a Federal Government business, Federal Government owned economic infrastructure.

So they obviously weren't interested in that, but they're now getting a grant of $176 million. So you know, that is a very big head start. The business case shows that this water is going to be very affordable, very competitive. It's going to create thousands of jobs.

JOURNALIST:

So have you had a formal approach from the state government for sharing of operational costs?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I haven't seen that. No, I haven't had that approach, so that's all I can say.

JOURNALIST:

So Dr Lyneham’s comments this morning, where he's calling for a share of operational costs?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me be very clear, I haven't heard that he said that. I saw his press release, it wasn't mentioned in the press release.

So let me be very clear, if the state government wants to operate this as a jointly owned business, company, and establish a special purpose vehicle, half owned by the Commonwealth and the state and then we operate it together and we get half of the revenues and pay half of the costs and share half of whatever profits there may be. We would absolutely look at that.

But, you know, at this stage you've got to recognise this is a $350 million dollar project which as it's currently planned will be owned by the state government, 100 percent and we are paying half the cost of it as a grant for no return at all. But if they want us to be their business partner, then would be delighted to do so.

So if that's what Dr. Lyneham is talking about, we'd welcome it. We actually did offer back in Hobart, I think February last year Matt?

SENATOR THE HON. MATT CANAVAN, MINISTER FOR RESOURCES AND NORTHERN AUSTRALIA:

It was early last year.

PRIME MINISTER:

Early last year, we offered to do the whole thing ourselves.

JOURNALIST:

Farmers have expressed -

PRIME MINISTER:

You've really got the rails run here, I tell you. Are there any other - ?

[Laughter]

Alright, no, keep going.

JOURNALIST:

Farmers have expressed concern about the cost of the water, they're concerned that all the water might go to Gladstone industry. Are you concerned about the cost of the water to farmers?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Matt or Michelle can elaborate on that or perhaps David. But my understanding is that the plan is to have 42,000 of the 76,000 megalitres going to agriculture. 34,000 going for industry and urban uses and that's obviously directed down Ken's way towards Gladstone.

So there is plenty of water there for agriculture. The concern in the business case, the question mark in the business case, was whether there would be sufficient demand from agriculture. I have heard concerns - as you would always naturally have and all the farmers here understand that very well - the concern about whether the water would be affordable. But all of the information we have shows that the cost of the water and therefore the pricing of the water will

be very, very competitive and comparable to other products, other comparable security products.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, AGL have told Sky News that Liddell -

PRIME MINISTER:

Now just stay there, have we finished the questions on water and Rockhampton and Rookwood Weir?

JOURNALIST:

Just finally, given the State Government is asking for more money for operational costs would you say they’re just being greedy?

PRIME MINISTER:

That's the sort of comment you may be free to make. I just say, I would say they're being ambitious, perhaps overly so.

Look, it's a very good deal for the state government. But as I said, if they want to operate it as a 50-50 joint venture, we own it together and we operate it and collect the revenues and pay the costs, then we can do that. We'd certainly look at that. I mean again, we offered to the state - we were so frustrated by their refusal to get on with this, that early last year we offered to do the whole thing ourselves. If they gave us the right to do so. Obviously we can't do it without the relevant permitting and grant of water rights and so forth by the state government.

JOURNALIST:

Well Ms Landry, given that you've been battling this for so long and going backwards and forward, would you say they're being greedy?

MICHELLE LANDRY MP, MEMBER FOR CAPRICORNIA:

I can probably say a bit more than the Prime Minister, so I think that they actually are. Because I believe that this is a project, as we have said, has been on the books since 2006. The state has mucked around with this, the state Labor government. Peter Beattie promised in 2011 that it would be done. We put the money on the table in 2013. We gave them $2 million for a business case and it took them over 600 days to get the business case. It sat in someone's basket down in Brisbane for about five months before we even saw it. Then, they pressurised us to get the money!

Well, we've got the Prime Minister here and our senior ministers here today putting the money on the table. The government, state government, is going to own this project, so obviously it comes down to the bureaucrats working out the workings of all of this. But I think that $176 million from the Federal Government is a pretty good deal for the state.

PRIME MINISTER:

Exactly so yeah right. So, any other questions? You had one about AGL I think.

JOURNALIST:

Yeah, so they’ve told Sky News Liddell isn't for sale but they want to keep it open until 2022, but Alinta says that’s a dealbreaker. Do you think that potential sale could get [inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER:

Sorry, just say that again?

JOURNALIST:

Alinta says it's a deal breaker and then could that potential sale help [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well okay, look, I didn't catch all of that, but just let me be very clear about what our position is. We have consistently urged AGL to keep Liddell operating for, you know, five years after they plan to close it, so out to 2027. We know that there is going to be a shortage of dispatchable power, electricity, in New South Wales between Liddell closing and the Snowy 2 hydro project coming online, which is estimated to be 2024/25. So there's at least two, three years where there is a risk of a shortfall in dispatchable electricity in New South Wales.

I spoke to the Chairman of AGL again last night about this and I said to him, "Look, it's in the public interest, it's in the community's interest."

You know, it's his company to run obviously, I think it's in AGL's interests to be seen to be a responsible player in the electricity market. Keep this power station going for a few more years to make sure there isn't a shortfall and then, if they choose to close it, then they can do so. But it's really a timing issue.

I really welcome the offer from Alinta. That's a very credible energy company. I know there's another Australian company that's expressed interest, Delta.

Really, AGL should do the right thing by their customers, by the community and I think by their own shareholders and either keep this plant going for another four or five years, or sell it to somebody who is prepared to do so. It’s manifestly in the public interest that that happens.

JOURNALIST:

Would there be any subsidies available to keep it open longer?

PRIME MINISTER:

There are no, well Jeff Dimery, the CEO of Alinta was on television today and said there’s no subsidies had been sought, nor are any subsidies needed. There is no reason why this plant cannot keep going. All the advice we have is there's no reason why it can't keep going for a few more years. It is obviously a very old plant, there's no question about that. But its closure in 2022, as opposed to four or five years later, does create potentially some very significant issues. Now, the National Energy Guarantee will deal with that. It will be able to bring forward dispatchable power. But the safer and the more prudent and responsible route is for them to keep Liddell going for longer. That's what we're urging in the public interest, we're urging AGL to do.

JOURNALIST:

But Alinta says it must be taking ownership by September to make it feasible. What do you say to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well these are commercial matters between Alinta and AGL, but again, from our point of view, from the Government's point of view we're not picking sides in a commercial dispute. Our interest and the public interest is in ensuring that the 850 megawatt gap in dispatchable power that the Australian Energy Market Operator has identified being caused by the closure of Liddell in 2022, our interest is in ensuring that gap does not occur.

Now, the simplest, most straightforward way to do that, is to keep that old plant, which has run for many years, going for a few more years. Snowy 2.0 comes on in say 2025, 2024/25 and that will obviously make up for that gap and so then they can make their own arrangements.

Okay perhaps just one more and then we should wrap up.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister how confident are you in the broad support from the rest of your party?

PRIME MINISTER:

Very. Okay, that's it? Thank you very much.

JOURNALIST:

The NBN CEO is standing down. Has he done a good job? The NBN Chief Executive to stand down later this year?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, Bill Morrow, yeah. Look, Bill Morrow - thank you, I'm really glad you asked that. That's one of those rare occasions where the question you're asked just as you're leaving turns out to be one you really want to answer.

[Laughter]

So Bill Morrow has done an amazing job and I want to thank Bill. Bill stepped in, in fact I appointed him Chief Executive after we came into government in 2013. The National Broadband Network project was a complete train wreck that we inherited from the Labor Party. It was really the biggest turnaround, I would think, in Australian corporate history.

Bill is a great leader, he's turned the project around. It is now about two-thirds finished and it's well on track to be completed by 2020. It's going to be finished in regional Australia first, by the way. It will be completed in regional Australia by the end of the year, or at least the fixed wireless rollout will be completed by then. I think the fixed-line deployments in regional centres will be done by then too.

It is really powering along and anyone who doubts what I say, get on and have a look at the NBN's weekly report. They put the rollout figures out every week.

Can I just remind you, the Labor Party in six years managed to connect 50,000 customers, right?

The NBN does that every couple of weeks now.

So that's what Bill Morrow's leadership delivered, he's been a great CEO. He's done a great job and what he's doing, very responsibly, is giving plenty of notice of his departure so that they can look around for a new CEO.

Okay, thanks a lot.

[ENDS]