SUBJECTS: Liddell Power Station; NEG; live exports.
TIM SHAW: Today at the National Press Club the Minister for Energy and the Environment, Josh Frydenberg, is making an argument and he is calling it “Powering Forward, the National Energy Guarantee”. Now let me tell you what the journalists from the Hill are going to be asking: the future of Liddell power station. Now with Josh Frydenberg making that address ahead of the COAG meeting that is being held on Friday he has got to get the States and Territories to buy into this NEG. National Energy Guarantee. Liddell is in the Hunter Valley, the local MP is Joel Fitzgibbon, and like Gai Brodtmann, the Member for Canberra, she wants to be preselected for the seat of Bean; I rate Gai Brodtmann and I rate Joel Fitzgibbon. Now he is in Perth today and he has been meeting with grain facilities, the pork industry and the citrus farmers because he is the Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, he is also the Shadow Minister for Rural and Regional Australia. But right in the bang middle of Hunter, his seat, coal-mining people, coal mine generated, coal-generated electricity Liddell; what should happen to Liddell. I have to ask the Federal Member, he is on the line from Perth, Joel Fitzgibbon welcome back to 2CC Breakfast.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Always a pleasure Tim.
SHAW: What happens to the Liddell coal-fired power station, AGL was gifted it, probably a dollar from the NSW Government back in 2014, they signaled they wanted to shut it down in 2022 and get into renewables, what does the local Federal Member say? What should happen to Liddell?
FITZGIBBON: Well Tim it will be 50 years old by 2022 and probably at the end of its economic life. AGL at least did something no other generator company has done before was to give us 7 years intention to close the plant. Now whether it kicks on for a couple of years after that is really a commercial decision for AGL. In a sense it doesn’t matter, my main concern is that we continue to be what we have been for a long time, and that is, the power house of NSW in the Upper Hunter - generating about 50 per cent of the State’s energy needs. And to continue to create jobs in that sector. AGL have the plan to spend literally billions of dollars on a whole new range of generation, they are going to upgrade the sister coal- fired Bayswater power station just across the road from Liddell. They are going to invest in pumped hydro, large scale solar, new battery storage technology. Now that investment will allow us to remain the power house but will create jobs, good jobs, for many, many decades to come. The extension of Liddell might extend some jobs for a couple of years but that is a very small thing compared to what the new investment would mean. But I don’t mind if Liddell stays open a bit longer as long as it doesn’t crowd out or in any way frustrate AGL’s plans to invest in those new forms of renewable clean energy, creating jobs for many years to come.
SHAW: Alright, so you have been on the front foot, you have met with AGL and you are satisfied and convinced their plan for the local area, for your Federal seat, for the local employees is solid, strong and you endorse it?
FITZGIBBON: I do and of course no one will be forced out of their job at the closure of Liddell. They have guaranteed me. Obviously by then there will be a lot leaving the workforce on their own terms but the majority will transition across to the Bayswater power station across the road. So the workforce issues are pretty much settled. Again, I just want to ensure AGL continues with that investment and I get very concerned when the Prime Minister and Josh Frydenberg and others become involved, bullying a private sector company around, telling them what they should and shouldn’t do. AGL has shareholders to satisfy and if I was a shareholder of AGL I would be looking on with some concern at the Government’s interfering in the company in which I have invested. Three things that matter Tim: power prices; energy security, that is, a reliable supply; and jobs. And the environment actually, on top of that. So there are four things. I think AGL’s investment plan is for the best part, to all of those things. Whether Liddell stays open for a year or two more is somewhat irrelevant as long as it doesn’t interfere with those plans.
SHAW: So the O’Farrell Government in 2014 in February said yep, right-oh, AGL we are going to gift it to you for a dollar. Why did the taxpayers and shareholders in NSW, some of whom of course where clearly your constituents, why did we let the NSW Government just simply say to a private company take the asset of the people of NSW we can’t maintain it, we don’t have the skill sets, was it the decision in 2014 that you supported and backed?
FITZGIBBON: No. In fact the Labor Party ran interference on the privatisation initiative. Barry O’Farrell will have to speak for himself. But I certainly think there is a contention now that what happened back then was a mistake. It is a bit ironic that now you have people running around wanting to re-nationalise the power industry. Well, they really need to reflect on what their own colleagues did back then.
SHAW: Alright, so if Labor had been in power back in 2014 in the State of NSW, what do you suggest a Labor Government would have done? They would it have retained that asset in the hands of the people of NSW?
FITZGIBBON: Well the Labor Party had the debate in NSW and rejected the privatisation, but what the government of the day could have done is invested, re-invested, in existing coal-fired capacity and at that point could probably extended the life of it. The same goes for poles and wires of course. But that’s the past Tim, we need to look forward to the future and ensure there is downward pressure on power prices. We need to guarantee reliability and we have got to create those jobs. They are the important things. Of course the current power crisis is the result of six years of policy inaction. The Turnbull and Abbott Governments have been all over the shop on energy policy. That has caused a drying up of investment in generation capacity and that in turn has brought us to this crisis we are facing now.
SHAW: You are in the powerhouse seat, the seat of Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon, now I note that Bayswater, that power station is black coal, thermal power station with 660 megawatt generators Tokyo steam driven turbo alternators, what is the longevity of the Bayswater Power Station?
FITZGIBBON: Well with the money AGL is proposing to invest in efficiencies et cetera, I suspect that power station has up to 20 years left in it. So coal will remain part of the energy equation in the Upper Hunter for decades to come. From my perspective that is a good thing. It is also a good thing that we are ready ourselves for the transition to renewable forms of energy and I welcome that very, very much.
SHAW: You are not anti-coal are you?
FITZGIBBON: No Tim, I am not anti-coal, I have been a very strong supporter of the industry and I remain a supporter of the industry. The industry understands that there is a change in our economy, the banks, the investors won’t invest in new coal-fired generators. It is worth remembering Tim that 98 per cent of the coal produced in the Hunter goes to the ports for export. So there is not much of a link really between the coal mining industry and the power generation industry. You could close down the coal-fired industry tomorrow and that coal would be largely redirected to export markets without any problem at all.
SHAW: Alright I know you are very concerned about the issue with live exports, if you were Minister today what would you do be doing differently to the Federal Government in relation to the matter of the health and security of these live export animals?
FITZGIBBON: Well as you probably know Tim, and hopefully your listeners know, David Littleproud, the new Minister, has been working with me on a bipartisan basis, something Barnaby Joyce sadly was never prepared to do. So far we are hearing from the industry, we are working quickly to initiate reform. The final proof will be in how far David Littleproud is prepared to go, for example, Labor’s long-standing six point plan includes the establishment of an Inspector General for Animal Welfare and Animal Exports and an Independent Office for Animal Welfare. Unless he embraces that he will fall short, we have given him an opportunity and so far so good. One thing is for sure business-as-usual case in the live trade is not acceptable.
SHAW: We don’t want a shut down again of the $3M live export industry, that was a serious problem for our economy. So you see yourself working in a bipartisan way and bringing in the experts that can get the kind of rationale that we need to continue that important and valuable export industry Joel Fitzgibbon?
FITZGIBBON: That’s right, I am talking to David Littleproud the Minister on a daily basis. He has initiated a number of inquiries and I welcome that. One inquiry specifically will look at whether it is sustainable to have live exports continue to go from WA in those extremely hot northern summer months, and I welcome that very much. I find it difficult to see how that can be sustainable. The conditions are just too extreme at that time of year. We will see what the report says, I don’t want to pre-empt it, but I will be very surprised if it passes muster.
SHAW: I want to thank you for your time. Safe flight from Perth to Canberra and I will catch you again soon.
FITZGIBBON: Thanks Tim.