Transcript - Radio Interview - ABC RN Breakfast - Tuesday 12 September 2017

SUBJECT: Liddell power station


PATRICIA KARVELAS:  The Turnbull Government is hailing its meeting with AGL as a success. The Company’s Board will consider a proposal to keep the Liddell power station open for an extra 5 years or to sell it to another operator.  But AGL boss Andy Vesey has reaffirmed that it is still the company’s clear preference to close Liddell in 2022 and replace the coal-fired generator with renewable energy, supported by gas.  The power station is in the NSW Hunter region and the local Member is Labor’s Joel Fitzgibbon who joins us from Parliament House.  Welcome.


KARVELAS: The Government is trumpeting an agreement with AGL boss Andy Vesey yesterday and the AGL Board will have to at least consider a plan to sell Liddell or keep it open beyond 2022.  And we know they have got, what, 90 days to do this. It will help potentially avert a looming power shortage. This is a victory of sorts for the Government.

FITZGIBBON:  Well Andy Vesey has been bullied by the Prime Minister.  And of course, in the end, he had to say he would take the proposal back to his Board.  But I think he also made it clear he wants to stick to his long term strategy. A strategy I support, and that is, transitioning the Hunter’s energy sector from coal onto gas in particular, but also various renewable forms of energy.  Of course supported for at least the next 20 years by Bayswater in the upper Hunter and Eraring further down the Hunter.

KARVELAS:  I’ve just got to pick you up on the language you used.  You said he had been bullied.  This is the boss of AGL, this is a pretty significant business person in this country, do you really think he has been bullied?

FITZGIBBON: It is interesting isn’t it?  The Liberal Party in Australia is now the party of market intervention and the anti-business party.  I mean you have got Craig Kelly and Matt Canavan and others out there demonising Andy Vesey and AGL but this is the company promising to invest $2 billion into the energy sector largely into future renewables.  And I am very keen for that investment to come to the Hunter region.  That is what will maintain and create jobs in my region, that is what will put downward pressure on electricity prices and of course, what will deliver energy reliability.

KARVELAS:  Labor has labelled the push to extend the life of the Liddell power station as a “thought bubble” that gave false hope to workers.  But the Government is clearly serious about keeping Liddell open or ensuring AGL comes up with alternatives to replace that lost electricity generation which is quite significant.  So it is not a “thought bubble” anymore is it?  It is a real proposal taken to the AGL Board which will report in 90 days. It is not “made up”.  It is not “pie in the sky”.  It is something serious happening here.

FITZGIBBON:  No, given Andy Vesey’s comments last night, Malcolm Turnbull is the emperor with no clothes. He has been “sold a pup” by the extreme Right of his Party and he has been left looking silly and isolated.  Andy Vesey has had these plans on the books for a long time.  I have been very aware of them.  I have been supporting them since 2015.  What Andy Vesey has now said is that he needs to put the final touches on that plan before bringing it back to the Prime Minister.  But it is a good plan, that will maintain and create jobs in the Hunter.  It will slowly transition us to a clean energy economy and of course it will make electricity cheaper and more reliable.

KARVELAS:  For those just tuning in, Joel Fitzgibbon is my guest, he is the Member with the seat which Liddell is all about.  The seat of Hunter, he is also the Shadow Agriculture Minister.  How do you feel about the closure of Liddell?  It is a big issue in your seat of Hunter because coal miners will lose their jobs and here you have an opportunity to perhaps get the plant to stay open for a little longer and you are effectively arguing for its closure.

FITZGIBBON:  I am sad about the closure of Liddell, but it is going to be 50 years old with Andy Vesey plans to close it and it would be 55 years old when Malcolm Turnbull would like it closed, he says.  And it is just not physically possible, let alone economically possible.  This is spin from a Prime Minister who has created this energy crisis as a means of desperately hanging onto power and has no merit whatsoever.  And you know Patricia, even if you accepted it may be possible to keep Liddell physically possible to keep going for another 5 years, all that is predicated on the idea that electricity prices will be high for a long time to come.  That is exactly what we are trying to avoid.  This Prime Minister has run up the white flag on electricity prices by suggesting Liddell can be commercially viable until it is 55 years old.

KARVELAS:  The Prime Minister has taken to calling you “No Coal Joel”.  Lots of our texters not happy with that slur, if you want to call it that. Have you fallen out of love with coal because you were a big supporter in the past because of the jobs in your electorate.

FITZGIBBON:  And I remain a strong supporter.  The next coal miner Malcolm Turnbull meets will be the first.  You have got to remember that about 94 per cent of the Hunter’s coal is exported.

KARVELAS:  Okay, but I have got to pick you up on that. You remain a fan of coal and yet you are saying you don’t think there should be an extension of this power station?

FITZGIBBON: I am saying it is raising false hope and running interference on our plans to transition the economy by talking about keeping a coal fired power generator open until it is 55.

KARVALAS: But why is it false hope? Because AGL is taking a proposal to its board to consider it? It’s not false hope there is some hope of that proposal isn’t there?

FITZGIBBON: I think Andy Vesey was bullied into taking the proposal to his board and I think his board will say - no, why are we doing this? Why would we not stick to our plan to transition the energy sector in the Hunter? To save jobs, to keep energy prices down and to keep the supply reliable. That’s what I’m sure his board will say. Of course when the Prime Minister stares you down and says - won’t you at least take this back to your board? Of course you say yes. I think we all know what the result will be and I think Andy Vesey made that pretty clear last night.

KARVELAS: Okay, when you say that he is being bullied, has he told you he is being bullied or is this something you have come up with?

FITZGIBBON: It’s pretty clear PK, he has been dragged to Canberra twice. He tried to resist the first time around. You can see what happened…

KARVELAS: But dragged? I’m going to pick you up again. Dragged to Canberra? He runs AGL and we have a power crisis in this country. Isn’t it reasonable the Prime Minister would drag or invite him on an aeroplane to visit?

FITZGIBBON: It’s true that energy companies are vulnerable by precipitate action by desperate governments so of course Andy Vesey would come to talk to Malcolm Turnbull but he made it very clear last night that he thinks the best way to fill that capacity gap in our generation sector is to create significant gas and renewable generation largely in the Upper Hunter which I welcome and what Malcolm Turnbull is doing now is deferring that investment further. He has deferred investment in energy for the last four years because of his policy vacuum and now he is running interference again. I want to get on with the job of transitioning the Hunter’s energy sector. Bayswater and Eraring will still be there- coal fired generators - but they will strongly be supported by new gas generators and large scale renewables. That’s what we need in the Hunter.

KARVELAS: If AGL comes back and say it will support some version of keeping this power plant open for longer, will you back it?

FITZGIBBON: I just don’t think they can physically do it and I don’t think the numbers stack up.

KARVELAS: But will you do it?

FITZGIBBON: I have said many times publicly that if they can keep Liddell open beyond 2022, no one would be happier than me. I am concerned that if they are spending – Andy Vesey said last night he’s going to spend about $156 million between now and 2022 just to keep the thing cranking over. He is going to spend even more than that to meet Malcolm Turnbull’s desperate request then that is less money he is going to be spending quickly transitioning us to a new energy economy in the Hunter and that will be very disappointing.

KARVELAS: Joel, many thanks for your time this morning.

FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure. 


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