Transcript - Sky News PM Agenda - Wednesday, 6 September 2017

SUBJECTS: Liddell closure; Energy policy; CSG; Barnaby Joyce dual citizenship






SUBJECTS: Liddell closure; Energy policy; CSG; Barnaby Joyce dual citizenship.

DAVID SPEERS:  Let’s get to our panel though this afternoon, Joel Fitzgibbon and the Government’s Craig Laundy.  Very good to see you both, you’ll both be sweating on that outcome [re the postal survey] from the High Court let’s start on what’s.

CRAIG LAUNDY:  [interrupts] It’s no coal Joel.

SPEERS:  Here we go.


SPEERS:  Did the Prime Minister get that wrong?

FITZGIBBON:  Yes, he got that wrong.

LAUNDY:  You’re a Marist boy mate?  I knew there was a reason you were a good bloke.

SPEERS:  Let’s talk about this coal issue because it is in your electorate, the Liddell coal-fired power plant.  Now, do you want to see it stay open beyond 2022?

FITZGIBBON:  I have said publicly, on a number of occasions in the last 24 hours, that as the local member, no one would be happier than me if we could extend the life of that power station.  My complaint is, I believe out of political desperation, Malcolm Turnbull is giving my communities false hope.  I have never spoken to anyone in the energy sector who believes that a 1970s power generator can be extended beyond 2022.

SPEERS:  Already today Delta Electricity has said they might be interested.

FITZGIBBON:  I know you interviewed the Chairman, they’ve put out a statement, I think possibly clarifying some of his statements on your program, where they it clear they haven’t been approached.  They make it clear, they, like AGL, are transitioning to a lower carbon economy.  They also make it clear that any such purchase, hypothetically, would have to be on commercial terms.  Of course this is the company  

SPEERS:  It’s all pretty consistent though, they have been approached, they need commercial terms?

FITZGIBBON:  If you picked up Vales Point for a million dollars already, and you were interested in further investment you would get in the queue or at least speculate about being in the queue in the hope that a Prime Minister might one day almost pay you to take the assets.  So why wouldn’t they not rule it out?  I think that statement makes it pretty clear that they haven’t been approached.

LAUNDY:  David, I can actually tell you yesterday afternoon -  

FITZGIBBON:  Breaking news?

LAUNDY:   No, no. In my portfolio of Industry we deal with obviously businesses regardless of size.  Yesterday afternoon I happened to have a major energy intensive industrial employer in this country tell me that if it came up for sale he would seriously consider buying it.

SPEERS: Liddell?


SPEERS:  So this is one of the energy intensive -

LAUNDY:  Energy intensive major employer, you are talking around 15,000 people and -

SPEERS:  Can you tell us who it is?

LAUNDY:  I can’t.  It is a listed company.

SPEERS:  I spoke to the head of Tomago  Smelter in just the last hour or two, and they said they are not interested in buying it, but they do want to keep it open because the more renewables and the less coal in the system, as he put it to me, is reckless and it is killing jobs. 

FITZGIBBON:  But just remember, the Prime Minister first said he was talking to AGL about keeping it open, then he changed his tune and said no, I’m talking to AGL about the possibility of selling it.  But AGL have told me that it would cost between half a billion and a billion to extend the life of that generator and that it would be a less reliable generator then than it is now.

SPEERS: But you can make money out of coal at the moment.

FITZGIBBON:  Well when you think about the liabilities attached to the Liddell decommissioning and the environmental clean up, it could run to hundreds of millions dollars.  That is why Delta secured Vales Point for only a million dollars because it came with it two hundred million dollars’ worth of liabilities.

SPEERS:  You say you have spoken to someone who might be interested?

LAUNDY:   The short answer is you don’t know.  They have to go through due diligence and make those decisions on a commercial basis as you say.  But the fact you can’t run away from, and the AEMO report yesterday explained this quite clearly, we have a major dispatchable power issue coming at us and the minute it warms up later in the year we could be in strife. 

FITZGIBBON:  We have that because of the investment drought, caused by this mob.  What you do by introducing all this into the equation now is further going to muddy the waters for investors.  They haven’t even less understanding today than they did yesterday.

SPEERS:  There are a thousand megawatts which are going to disappear.  This is what the regulator says.  How do we fill that?

FITZGIBBON:  Well, you can’t fix the damage which is already done.  We have had 5 years of investment drought.  You can’t produce significant new capacity in year or two?

LAUNDY:  In, what, coal?

FITZGIBBON:   In any generation technology.  Not for this coming summer.  You just can’t do it.  We need to get the investment certainty right straightaway then you can move to the things that you can do quickly in terms of generation.  That is why, for more than two years now, I have been talking about making sure we get gas generation -

SPEERS:  I want to talk to you about, you raised this before, you reckon you could put a gas plant pretty much on the site.

FITZGIBBON: Pretty easily.

SPEERS:  And, what, use the gas that is at Narrabri and pipe that down to run a gas plant there?  

FITZGIBBON:  You put the gas generator on the buffer lands around the existing coal-fired generators and the transmission lines are of course already there, you have got the skilled workforce which could easily hopefully transition into the new sector, you have just got to get the gas there.

SPEERS:  Gas is expensive.

FITZGIBBON:  I have had a conversation with AGL about this, they are interested in continuing to invest in the Hunter region.  That is what I want them to do.  They believe gas should be part of the mix.  And they even in conversation reminded me they are working on this receiver terminal in Victoria which could be a potential source of gas as well.  Now a gas power station, these things these days can almost be just craned off the back of a truck and plugged in. It could all happen very quickly once you run -

LAUNDY: But David also, and this is misunderstood out there in the broader public, gas is the problem.  Gas is the problem. The way the market prices electricity, it is a bid and tender process, it is done every five minutes by AEMO and the last price in to hit that demand is what everyone gets that comes in before it. 

SPEERS:  So you need to open up more supply.

LAUNDY:  Exactly.

SPEERS:  Your mates in NSW need to get that Narrabri field going.

LAUNDY:  Exactly.  Exactly.

FITZGIBBON:  We agree.

LAUNDY:  No. We don’t agree because when doing deals through the Rudd Gillard years they had no domestic reservation policy.

FITZGIBBON:  - that doesn’t deny the fact that the NSW Government will not allow us to get Coal Seam Gas out of the ground.  Not even where fracking is not required.

SPEERS:  Do you think they should?

LAUNDY:  Look I don’t know enough about Coal Seam Gas.  There are a lot of people obviously talk about the chemical impact on the water table.

SPEERS:  - if it is good enough for the Prime Minister and John Howard.  The Labor States, Victoria, South Australia, why not NSW?

LAUNDY:  - with gas we are going offshore in traditional exploration.  In Victoria they have been –

SPEERS:  I am not talking about exploration I am talking about fracking, they whack Labor all the time in Victoria and South Australia, why not NSW?

LAUNDY:  David, I don’t know enough about fracking.


LAUNDY: But we don’t need that, if we didn’t have these offshore deals done with companies shipping it offshore we would have more than enough.  You have got hundreds of years of gas already in this country being shipped offshore on a daily basis. Joel it is true, it is true. And gas is the problem with the price at the moment. Not coal seam Joel.  We have got hundreds of years of traditional gas, normal gas in the ground.

FITZGIBBON:  We have got traditional gas in Queensland that could be exploited.

SPEERS:  Do either of you think we should use taxpayers’ money to keep something like the Liddell power station going? Craig Laundy?

LAUNDY:  No, I don’t think we should do that. I think we should facilitate the sale of the asset.

FITZGIBBON:  What does that mean?

LAUNDY:  We should put together the people. AGL obviously –


LAUNDY:  Look I don’t think so but I am not the Minister responsible for it.

SPEERS: Do you agree?

FITZGIBBON: I think we would require a lot of persuading to tip billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money into a new coal fire generator which needs 40 years.

SPEERS: - billions of tax -

FITZGIBBON: Well today they are talking about new coal fire generators and the next they’re talking about extending  the existing but can I just say something about Liddell, there are so many unknowns  here. Liddell and Bayswater across the road have shared infrastructure, they have a shared workforce. Their  coal largely comes from Glencore which has a condition of consent for the opening of a mine some years ago,  must provide coal to Liddell and Bayswater, it’s a condition of their consent. They supply 20 aussie dollars per tonne  when at the same time they could be getting $60US a tonne and exporting it to other amrkets. That obligation runs out in 2023. These are all the things that  Malcolm Turnbull hasn’t thought about.

LAUNDY: But that would be factored into a sale Joel, that’s the due diligence you know that the commercial operator would do at the time. If it happened to be, take over the asset.

SPEERS: As we all agree if there’s no tax payer money attached then it’s a hell of a liability to pick up right. I’m going buy Liddell and clean up the site for the next 20 years.

FITZGIBBON: Exactly. And the experts told me.

LAUNDY: As you said earlier, there’s money in coal. Like the way the market is set up, you’re [inaudible].

FITZGIBBON: If I’m going to progress my vision for the retention of the Hunter as the powerhouse of NSW for all these new technologies including gas, while the Prime Minister is still muddying the waters, hoping and wondering whether we can extend Liddell, this is not doing my community any favours.

SPEERS:  Surely, surely the answer is some bipartisanship around the actual policy settings. Even Delta have said that today, we need some bipartisanship so we can all invest in-

LAUNDY: I’ve said we need policy certainty in this space.

FITZGIBBON: When are we going to get it?

LAUNDY: Well obviously we’re working through, I mean, don’t forget its things like and Joel mentioned already the cheaper alternatives of generation. Yes, renewables are getting cheaper to generate. The drama is we’ve got to solve a dispatchable power problem.

SPEERS:  That is right, so why not have -  instead of an ad hoc, you know, Liddell shutting down so let’s quickly work out what we can do about that. Why not have policy settings that say you know we’re need this much clean energy and this much dispatchable energy?

LAUNDY:  That is what we have done with storage David.  For the first time, Joel you can laugh all you want, it has been absent from the policy mix – every renewable needs storage -

FITZGIBBON:  You don’t have any policy that comes into effect before 2023.

LAUNDY: That one does –

FITZGIBBON: - seven years away –

LAUNDY:  Joel, you are missing the point.  You don’t understand what I am saying.  With every new renewable development you must have backup storage.  For the first time, it should have been the case twenty years ago and we probably would not be having this discussion. However it wasn’t.  It took this Prime Minister and Energy Minister to spot the problem and say hey you know what we have to do a pivot here.  Renewables, if they are going to be dispatchable and reliable you need to have storage.

FITZGIBBON:   John Howard, it’s his fault?

LAUNDY:  No, historically it is everybody’s fault in this policy mix up to now.

FITZGIBBON:  You know what the Newcastle Herald said today? 

SPEERS: What did it say?

FITZGIBBON:  Too Liddell, too late.

LAUNDY:  No props.

FITZGIBBON:  That is the reaction of the Newcastle Herald which holds up the interests of those in my communities in the Hunter region.

SPEERS:  Now let’s move on to citizenship. Obviously Labor has been pretty focussed on this, in fact the last couple of weeks of Parliament I don’t think you have done anything but raise this issue around Barnaby Joyce in particular as to whether he should be standing aside.  I mean, why isn’t he standing aside Craig Laundy?

LAUNDY:  David, from the 6th August to, where are we now, almost, what is that, a month?

SPEERS: It is the 6th September today.

LAUNDY:  OK, so we have not had one question from Labor on anything else.  For almost a month.  Not one question.

SPEERS:  I will come to that.

LAUNDY:  Seven times running they have suspended Standing Orders.  At Question Time when that is their chance to hold us to account and work out what we are doing.

SPEERS:  Tony Abbott’s record on suspending Standing Orders –

LAUNDY:  They are not interested in the topic – they are interested in politics. Joel did his best today to continue to try and muddy the waters.  We have referred the case to the High Court because this section of the Constitution needs to be cleared up.  Not just for this situation but for future governments.  David with due respect if you have got people sitting on their side of the fence who are not as fair dinkum as we are, sitting there and hiding,  it will come out eventually.  The Parliamentary Liaison for Coffee – Katy Gallagher – in the Senate there.  She is Ecuadorian by descent, the same trap that has caught others that had no idea about it. And she shouldn’t leave and neither should they.  And that is the legal advice from the Solicitor General.

SPEERS:  Coming back to the question Labor keeps on asking,  I know they have probably asked it far too many times for your liking certainly, but why hasn’t Barnaby Joyce stood aside?

LAUNDY:  Because until the High Court resolves his case, he has every right to sit and both represent the members of his electorate and the portfolio he was chosen to represent.  And that is the reason start and stop right there.

FITZGIBBON:  And I think it is pretty obvious Barnaby Joyce doesn’t think he should be here either.  He would have much preferred to have gone to a by-election.

SPEERS:  What makes you think that?

LAUNDY:  He is a mind reader now.

FITZGIBBON:    I talk to people on the other side.  I get feedback from them.  And he looks embarrassed to be there.   And so he should be.  But Craig talks about other issues and the thing we do in this place is underpinned by the Constitution.  If the Government is not prepared to defend it, we will.  Politics is at an all-time low in the terms of the respect of the community in my view.  And you can’t expect people to respect the Parliament if the Parliament doesn’t respect the Constitution.  There is no bigger issue facing the Parliament at the moment than the Prime Minister’s decision not to stand Barnaby Joyce aside. We all know it is about saving his own bacon. 

LAUNDY:  I tell you why people think politicians are at an all-time low and Joel today in his 5 minute rant and rave-

FITZGIBBON:  You just said it was a good speech.

LAUNDY:  You did very well mate, you did very well.  He said this is the only thing being spoken about in his electorate.  I have just had two weeks back in mine and they just want us to bloody well get on with it.  They are sick to death of this and other topics.    Topics that highjack the debate and have no relevance to their day to day life at all and they want us to get on with it.  And the last month from the Labor Party has been all about politics.  Nothing about substance.  And they are over the whole lot of it.  That is why they are fed up with us.

FITZGIBBON:  Be in no doubt David, they are talking about this in the electorate. 

LAUNDY:  Your electorate is very nuanced Joel.

SPEERS:  We will see where it lands in another six weeks or so.  We are going to have to wrap it up.  Joel Fitzgibbon, Craig Laundy, good to talk to you.


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