25 May 2021

CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY:  Thanks for coming this morning. I'll deal with two issues before taking questions.

ARENA and the CEFC are two of Labor's most important achievements when it comes to a renewable economy. Labor built them. Labor's defending them against continual attacks from the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Government which started even before they were elected, when they were undermining ARENA and the CEFC. And the most recent example was the unlamented CEFC bill which Angus Taylor has had to drop because he couldn't get it through the Parliament. Last week in an effort to circumvent the Parliament after the disastrous CEFC Bill, Angus Taylor tabled regulations which would expand ARENA’s job beyond renewable energy. 

I'll give you a hint. The ‘R’ in ARENA stands for renewable. That's its job. And that's the job Labor will defend.

Angus Taylor's regulation which will give him the power to assert that new technologies are low emissions in the future. Angus Taylor, the Taylor of Taylor-made scandal fame, giving him the opportunity to declare that certain emissions are low technology emissions and should be funded by ARENA is utterly unacceptable to the Labor Party. We'll be moving disallowance of this regulation in the Senate and we'll be asking the crossbenchers to support that disallowance. 

I'll also be moving disallowance in the House of Representatives and those Liberal MPs who pretend to be environmentalists and supporters of renewable energy in their electorates can justify their vote to their communities. Those MPs who pretend to be modern Liberals can justify why they are voting to undermine purpose of ARENA. 

ARENA is for renewable energy. If the Government wants to invest in things like carbon capture and storage, then they can consider re-instigating the Labor Government programmes; the carbon capture and storage flagship which they abolished and cut.

ARENA and CEFC have been very important for the economy, which now so strongly relies on renewable energy. And they'll be very important in the future and this Government is no friend of those important institutions, they sought to abolish them and they seek to undermine them at every opportunity. 

The second issue I'll deal with is the Kurri Kurri gas plant. This morning in Senate estimates we asked for the business case. We haven't received it. We haven't received it because the business case does not stack up.

This is a Government which is meant to be a Liberal Government. The Liberal Party used to believe in a couple of things; free markets, prudent expenditure of taxpayers money and competition. The last time a Federal Government funded a power station was 1984.

And here we have this Government going back to the future, interfering in the National Energy Market in a way which will distort markets, and which will create what is very close to monopoly in peaking power with Snowy Hydro.

Now we've heard a lot about the Tomago aluminium smelter in recent days. Snowy Hydro already runs a gas fired peaking station; Colongra. It runs less than 1% of the time. It wasn't turned on, on those days that Tamago was asked to reduce their energy needs.

Now how about Angus Taylor calls Snowy Hydro in for a little chat, before giving them $600 million and asks them why they don't turn their existing gas fired power station on more often? He's creating a situation where Snowy Hydro will now control 80% of the peaking market in New South Wales.

Once upon a time, the Liberal Party was against Government owned monopolies. The Snowy Hydro has been bidding to open Colongra at $15,000 a megawatt hour. This is not about reducing prices. Snowy Hydro is emphasising profit maximisation. Why would it change if they have yet another gas fired power station at their disposal?

This is just a cruel stunt by Angus Taylor. Some Liberals get it. Matt Kean gets it. And he said this will drive up energy prices. This proposal is poor economics. It doesn't stack up economically, it is a misuse of taxpayers money. And I would have thought if the Government was so proud of the business case they'd release it. Not even at Senate Estimates have they released it because they're hiding something.

The Labor Party will stand for good environmental policy, good climate change policy and good economic policy. This Government stands for none of those things. 

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen, hasn’t Labor just walked into the Government’s trap with these two decisions? Obviously the Government's got to take climate change much more seriously and will likely sign to net zero emissions by 2050 by the end of the year. 

BOWEN: Think so Greg? Have you got an exclusive on that?

JOURNALIST: They might have to go somewhere on medium term targets a bit further to? Isn’t this all small fry? And aren't you just walking in enabling them to go further on climate change while still painting Labor as being against traditional industry? 

BOWEN: Well, Greg, you can editorialised $600 million as small fry if you choose, I choose not to. This is not small fry. This is taxpayers money, Australian hard working taxpayers. Now, we are standing on the side of fiscal responsibility. It's been, it's been amusing to see Liberals and Nationals who claim to be fiscal conservatives, saying they're proud of the fact that using $600 million of taxpayers money to interfere in what is essentially a private market. Let them justify that. And with due respect you can ask them how they can justify that. 

On ARENA and CEFC these have been very important. I don't accept your hypothesis that this is some side issue. ARENA and CEFC have been very important over the last 10 years in helping Australia's transition to a more renewable economy. These guys before they're even an office were writing to the board's saying ‘We warn you we're about to win an election. We don't want you to make any investments’. 10 years ago. Then they've tried to abolish them. We've stopped them. Then they tried in the CEFC bill a few weeks ago to undermine the CEFCs purpose; we stopped them. And I'm quietly confident we can stop them this time too. And as I said, let those pretend modern Liberals, lite-Green Liberals, who you know tell their electorates that they're pro-environmental action, let them defend their attacks on ARENA.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) ACCC cast an eye over the monopoly (inaudible)? 

BOWEN: I would be perfectly happy for the ACCC to examine this. As I said, Snowy Hydro is amassing, on Angus Taylor's watch, a large degree of market power. They already have a gas-fired power station at their disposal, which operates less than 1 per cent of the time. Now, why didn't the Government ask them why they don't turn that on more often? If they're so concerned about energy reliability, and consistent provision of energy, particularly to Tamago maybe called Snowy Hydro in for a little chat, instead of saying here's $600 million, no questions asked. How about why don't you turn on the gas-fired power station you have at your disposal right now, which is very rarely turned on? 

JOURNALIST: Will you be going to Port Hedland with Mr. Albanese? And is the point to convince people out there that you're not anti-resources and heavy industry? What's the point of that trip? 

BOWEN: It is my intention to join the Shadow Cabinet meeting in Port Hedland, of course. Let me say this; in my time in the climate change portfolio I have made a point of ensuring that people in the regions and the suburbs are clear about Labor's view that the world's climate emergency is Australia's jobs opportunity. And it's an opportunity in the very regions which have powered Australia so reliably for so long; in the Hunter, in the Illawarra, in the Pilbara, in Central and North Queensland, in the Latrobe and Gippsland. 

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the Latrobe Valley, visiting the Yallourn power station which as you know is scheduled to close. We've got to have the climate change conversation with all Australians and unite Australians around that vision, that we can be a renewable energy superpower and the places that will generate that renewable energy with the good jobs of the future are exactly the same places and in many places the same people with the skills to create energy.

JOURNALIST: So it's a message of transition you’re going to be bringing up north?

BOWEN: We'll be taking the entire economic message to the people of Port Hedland as I have done to the people of Emerald, the people of Rockhampton, the people of Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley in my time in the climate change portfolio since January. This is an argument we are happy to have and the message that we are happy to promote; that the world's climate emergencies Australia's jobs opportunity but only if we seize it. This Government's not going to seize it. An Albanese Labor Government will seize it with the things like we announced in the Budget reply; the $10,000 for 10,000 New Energy apprentices while three in four solar companies are experiencing skill shortages. 

We are not seizing the opportunities because the Government has no vision, no framework and no real understanding of the opportunities for Australia including the regions.

JOURNALIST: A couple of weeks ago Labor (inaudible) jobs in wind and solar. Do the Labor Party’s attacks on the Kurri Kurri powerplant undermine that argument?

BOWEN: The 10 jobs? The 10 jobs in the Kurri Kurri power plant? Look, you know, as I said, the Kurri Kurri power plant doesn't stack up on the economics. On the economics it doesn't stack up. Now, you know Energy Australia announced an investment a couple of weeks ago with modest Commonwealth support. Fair enough. This Government vetoed an independent board in the NAIF which wanted to invest in a wind farm in North Queensland because of its prejudice. We have a view that gas will play an ongoing role in the energy system for some time to come in, particularly in firming and peaking. But I also have a view that $600 million of taxpayers money is too precious to be thrown at a project with a business case which with respect you haven't seen. I haven't seen. The Australian people haven't seen. Every credible energy expert in Australia thinks this is crazy. Every single one, because it's very poor economics,

JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen, ARENA is for increasing the competitiveness of renewable technologies. The Government says that it's kind of fulfilled its purpose of making those things more competitive and so therefore, it needs to expand into other industries. So what have you got against decreasing emissions or investing in technologies that decrease emissions in a wider range of industries like gas and like steel? 

BOWEN: Well, the Government says its job is done on renewables and we disagree. And this is a Government who has, as I said, has tried to undermine ARENA since 2013 and before. Now, if they want to have a conversation about investing in other things like energy efficiency, we'll have that conversation with them. But what they are proposing is to keep ARENA's budget the same, and to request it to do more outside renewable energy. And that is not something that we're going to agree to. It's not something we're going to agree with. And as I said, if they want to invest in something like carbon capture, use and storage, Anthony Albanese wrote to Scott Morrison last year and said, “We understand if you want to invest in carbon capture, use and storage, we'll work with you on that. Maybe you should reinstate the programmes you cut like the carbon capture storage flagships when you came to office, maybe that's what you should do, but don't do it at the expense of the important work of CEFC and ARENA.”

And we stood with CEFC in an ARENA for now more than 10 years, and will stay with them today and in the Parliament, 

JOURNALIST: Mr. Bowen, the Prime Minister's Department has recommended the establishment of an independent mechanism for staffers to air serious complaints. Is that something Labor will support? And if so, what do you think that could be? 

BOWEN: I think with respect, we've said that for a long time, that there needs to be cultural change in his building, there needs to be for want of a better word regulatory change, that sort of change. We've made it very clear that we are open to work with the Government on those sorts of changes. We've been surprised and disappointed with the news that there really hasn't been any change since the terrible events of two years ago, in terms of the way these things are handled. There's been further revelations out of Senate estimates just in the last little while in terms of who knew what and when, which has been an ongoing saga, and Brittany Higgins deserves full transparency. Every person who works in the building deserves full transparency, and Australian people deserve full transparency about who knew what and when. But in terms of your direct question on independent processes for complaints or concerns to be raised, of course, that is something the Labor Party, as we've always said, we're very positively engage in.

JOURNALIST: Putting on your old cap, what do you think Labor should do on the Stage 3 tax cuts? 

BOWEN: The key, the key word in that sentence, Phil is ‘old’ as my former capacity.

JOURNALIST: You must bring a considered view to the Shadow Cabinet?

BOWEN: I bring a considered view if I say so myself to many things Phil but I'm sure the Labor Party will work through those issues. But I’ll just say this, it's extraordinary; last time we were here, the Government was bringing down a Budget with billions of dollars of expenditure. These guys, I mean, are they out there talking about how great their Budget is? No, because they can't. They're talking about us. Obsessed with us. 

JOURNALIST: What's your view on Victoria's updated 2030 target to 45 to 50%? 

BOWEN: Well, I understand and support States taking action. Every State is committed to net zero by 2050. Victoria has outlined a pathway to do so. That is mainly because the Federal Government is missing in action. We have a vacuum. We have a vacuum. That's a matter for Victoria. I'll be outlining our roadmap to net zero by 2050 well before the next election.

JOURNALIST: Just a question back to the Upper Hunter byelection, there’s been a view from the Leader and senior figures in the party that there are no or very little implications as to what it means Federally. Is that the wrong approach and what lessons can you take from that? 

BOWEN: Look, every single election deserves scrutiny. Every single election deserves some consideration of its implications. But Anthony has been 100% right to point out that Upper Hunter is not a traditional Labor seat. You know, anybody who argued that Labor was going to win every seat in Western Australia because Mark McGowan has a majority of, you know, a one party state status would be wrong. Nobody in the Labor Party has argued that. Nobody should argue that. Anybody who argues that the Labor Party will automatically win seats in Queensland because Anastasia had a great election win would be wrong. Nobody's argued that. And anybody who suggests that any particular State byelection means an inevitable result in any Federal context would also be wrong. 

JOURNALIST: The Government's just announced that it's closing the embassy in Kabul in Afghanistan. What do you make of that and are you concerned about what it might mean for Australia’s diplomatic relations within the region? 

BOWEN: Look, I'm sure Penny Wong will have more to say. But, you know, obviously the situation in Afghanistan is changing and changing quite dramatically. I'm sure that it's appropriate Australia has ongoing engagement with the future of Afghanistan, but the form in which it takes I’ll leave Penny Wong to provide further commentary. Thanks very much.