Transcript - Radio interview - 2CC Canberra - Wednesday 13 September 2017

SUBJECT/S: Energy crisis, Liddell power station.


TIM SHAW: With me is Joel Fitzgibbon, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Shadow Minister for Rural and Regional Affairs. He’s a passionate Federal Member of Parliament for the people of Hunter. It’s all about this (power to the people). I’m not into name calling, I’m into facts and it was a fact that in 2015 the Baird Government sold out of this Liddell power station in New South Wales. I still can’t quite work out why? A man who was across it then and is certainly across it now is Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon. He reckons the Federal Government needs to look at other ways to secure Australia’s energy future without extending the life of the Liddell power station smack bang in his Federal seat of Hunter. He says keeping the coal fired power station open beyond 2022 is not viable and I’m pleased to say the Member for Hunter, auto electrician by trade I might add, is on the line. Good morning Joel Fitzgibbon.

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Great to be with you Tim and of course we auto electricians know a little about power.

SHAW: We are bright sparks my friend and we are dealing with 12 volt then 24 volt, what are we going to do about a shortfall of 1000MW out of the Liddell power station when it goes? Where is the energy going to come from?

FITZGIBBON: Well the scariest part about that Tim is that the Government doesn’t have a plan and we have had five years now of policy uncertainty which has dried up investment and you simply can’t build a power station overnight of course. When AGL announced in 2015 they were giving Governments – plural - seven years warning or notice of the closure of that plant. Governments should have swung into action but of course nothing happened until Malcolm Turnbull realised he’s in political trouble.

SHAW: The Palaszczuk Government owns the Queensland assets so the people of Queensland own the energy assets. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party says never will it be policy to sell off energy assets in New South Wales. Can you tell me why you and Luke Foley arguably tried to send your message to Mike Baird but he stepped of the Liddell responsibility. Tell me why the Baird Government failed on that policy?

FITZGIBBON: Well they wanted the cash Tim, it’s pretty simple. Interestingly it goes back a bit further than that and let’s be honest Morris Iemma stuck his toe in the water on privatisation too but his party resisted. When he decided that game was over, that the generators would stay in Government hands, he had a proposal to inject a significant amount of money into those generators in the upper Hunter and guess what? The Liberals in New South Wales rolled him in the Upper House. There is a big history there but I have chosen not to attack Mike Baird and the former Premiers, because look, people don’t want to politicians talking about the history of the thing.

SHAW: Or name calling.

FITZGIBBON: Or name calling. We are now experiencing very high energy prices and when Tony Abbott said he was going to reduce them but they have been going up, up, up. But also, very concerningly this summer there is a real prospect the lights could go out.

SHAW: I know and that’s what we are worried about. Are you anti-coal mining?

FITZGIBBON: Of course not. There is no greater supporter of the industry in this Parliament than me and why wouldn’t I be? So many of my constituents work in either directly in the industry or in associated industries, but I made the point last night that this is a fiction linking Liddell to the coal industry. 94 per cent of the coal we win in the Hunter goes to export markets. The coal that goes to the two power stations is rather quite small. It’s still important but it’s not a big factor in this equation or debate. My concern is Malcolm Turnbull is just raising false hope in my local community saying that he can keep a generator going until it is 55 years of age.  It is probably physically impossible. There are significant safety risks involved and of course it is all predicated on the idea that energy prices remain high and of course we want energy prices to remain low.  More particularly, even still , I want AGL to invest these billions of dollars in new energy capacity and I want them to do it in the Upper Hunter.  I want it to be cleaner forms of energy.

SHAW:  Should I as a taxpayer pay for that?  Should I be subsidising AGL, a privately run, very profitable company?  They’re businessmen and women, they know how to run a company and make it profitable for shareholders. Should Federal taxpayer money be pumped into these renewables?  What about the Spanish company, kicked in $12-15 million, and were getting $115 million worth of subsidies on renewable energy. That is yours and my money.

FITZGIBBON:  What we certainly shouldn’t be doing is pumping taxpayers’ money into a 50 year old coal generator to keep it going for another 5 years.  What I am saying to Malcolm Turnbull is, if you want to give away tax payers’ money help us build this new clean energy hub in the Hunter which will produce energy and sustain jobs not for 5 years, but for the next 50 years.

SHAW:  What about Simon Benson’s story, front page of the Oz today, that there’s problems for Energy Australia.  They have got Mount Piper, the power station there, and of course they need coal to fire that up, they have asked for a planning consent for the extension of the Springvale Mine owned by Centennial Coal but there is a mob called “For Nature” who have got Green support and they are bringing legal action to stop the extension of this coal mine.  Now we can’t afford to lose that one too.  That has got life up to 2042 Joel Fitzgibbon, you are not anti-coal mining, why are the Greens getting in the way?

FITZGIBBON:  I did try and find the time to ring Centennial Coal before I spoke with you this morning to get more of the facts, because you have got to be a bit careful about what you read in the newspapers at times, that is becoming increasingly to be true.  I just don’t know anything about the environmental impacts of that extension and I have never heard of For Nature. I need to know the facts.  This is where State Governments need to get their planning consents right, there are merits based appeals, there are appeals on law, I don’t know which one this is but I have very strong confidence in Centennial, I know them well.  I am pretty sure they  would have their environmental ducks lined up pretty well.

SHAW:  Alright, so the message to Josh Frydenberg is that you are not anti-coal mining so stop calling me “no coal Joel”.  What is your answer for the Upper Hunter?  Explain to my listeners what this renewable energy investment is that you are looking for and how much Federal taxpayer money should go into that?  Should the NSW Government be kicking into this?  What’s your answer?

FITZGIBBON:  What you need to remember Tim is none of the energy companies are interested in investing in new coal generators.  Why?  Well they cost about $2 billion and they need to run for about 40 years to get a decent return, and you and I don’t know what the energy system is going to look like in 10 years, let alone 40.  So it is not who the Government is subsidising or who the Government is not subsidising et cetera.  It is about where those who are investing want to put their money.  Now AGL is a good example, once Liddell reaches the end of its commercial life they want to invest big money in pumped hydro, in gas generators, in battery storage, in large scale solar.  Because they know that is the future and they can run those things for the next 50 years.  So it is not really about governments, it’s about where people are prepared to put their money. They are not interested in putting their money into coal generators anymore.  That doesn’t mean we won’t still have a strong coal industry anymore because, as I said, most of our coal, the overwhelming majority of our coal go to export markets. 

SHAW:  Alright what is Labor’s current position on nuclear energy?

FITZGIBBON:  I have had a long term openness to nuclear energy but the fact here is that our immediate problem is that we have had a dearth of investment and if we want to have a 10 year debate now about whether we have nuclear in this country, well you can be certain of one thing, investment will continue to dry up while people are still trying to work out what the rules are going to be.  So talking about nuclear in any shape or form now would be a very, very big mistake for this country.

SHAW:  Alright, good to talk to you pro-coal Joel, it is alright to have coal mining in the Upper Hunter, thank you for your time this morning.  Stay in touch, if you do hear back from the coal miners I’d love to hear back from you.

FITZGIBBON:  And Tim I have an open invitation to both the Energy Minister and the Prime Minister to come and talk to some of my coal miners and power generation people.  When they meet them it will be the first time ever.

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