Sky News AM Agenda

Interview

DCI026/2017

13 March 2017

Subjects: Western Australia state election, Budget, energy

Kieran Gilbert: Joining me from Melbourne now, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester. Mr Chester thanks for your time. What do you think the lessons are out of the WA result?

Darren Chester: Well good morning, Kieran. I think, obviously, out of Western Australia you have seen the increasing volatility of the electorate and, to some extent, the fragmentation of the vote. What you are seeing is people don't necessarily have a particular brand loyalty to a political party. They are prepared to move their vote around and in many cases they are prepared to vote for perhaps minor parties and independents—that is a trend we have seen over the last 20 years. But there is no question it was primarily a campaign fought on state issues, but you'd be a mug to suggest there isn't some lessons all for us to learn from that experience.

Kieran Gilbert: And in terms of the preferences specifically, your thoughts on that and what that means for any future preference arrangement with One Nation—but from the Liberal Party and the Coalition more broadly?

Darren Chester: Well I think, Kieran, the first and most obvious point is you need to increase your own primary vote. If you boost your own primary vote you get yourself in that position where you are not worried about whether you have got to do any preference arrangements with minor parties.

I know for myself in my electorate in Gippsland, I have seen an incredible fragmentation of the vote where I will have people come and vote for me at Morwell or Traralgon, you know, people wearing high-vis jackets, wearing CFMEU logos on their shirts, and they will turn up and say mate I want your card, I want to vote for you because you have stood up for my job. Then at the other end of my electorate in a farming community I'll have a farmer come up to me and tell me to get stuffed, I don't want to vote for you because you are too close to people involved in the oil and gas industry. So there is a fragmentation going on, a volatility going on where perhaps old loyalties don't exactly actually exist as much as we might have thought. My vote in Gippsland has gone up dramatically because Labor has abandoned blue-collar workers in the Latrobe Valley. But at the same time there have been people who have left me because they think I have been too close to people in the onshore gas sector.

But I guess that is not directly answering your question, sorry Kieran. In terms of preference deals, it is such a long way off. We are two years away from an election, we need to boost our primary vote, get on with the job of delivering what we said we would do. We have got a plan to invest in $50 billion worth of infrastructure, get on with that job, and people will reward us at the ballot box if we do a good job in government. I'm not going to be distracted about a conversation about whether you should do a deal with One Nation or anyone else at this stage.

Kieran Gilbert: Alright, but what about One Nation itself? Because there has been a lot of talk about that being a threat to the National Party, as well as Labor and the Liberal parties for that matter, but for the Nationals specifically in the bush. What do you think of its result at the weekend? Pauline Hanson's blaming it on the fact that Colin Barnett was on the nose so much that it had a flow on effect through the preference arrangement to her party. What do you think of what was the One Nation juggernaut? It doesn't seem as much right now in the wake of the WA result.

Darren Chester: Often in the aftermath of an election the first person you should look at is the one in the mirror. I think Pauline Hanson had a terrible campaign. Her party flopped in Western Australia. That doesn't mean much in terms of what the impacts will be throughout Australia, she has obviously got a much stronger base in Queensland than she has in other states. I am sure she will look at her campaign and try to rebuild. I am not here to tell her how to win seats, I am more interested in the fact that the National's vote held up pretty good.

In a time when the tide was going out against the Government, Brendon Grylls and his team managed to do fairly well in WA. I'm worried that Brendon may not win his seat and that is a really troubling thought for us in Western Australia because Brendon was successful in introducing the biggest regional development policy in Australian history with Royalties for Regions. It is a great program which has delivered projects right across regional Western Australia and it would be a great loss to public life in Western Australia if Brendon doesn't get across the line.

Kieran Gilbert: Surely the major parties can make something of Pauline Hanson's comments in recent months where she said that GST funds should be reworked from Queensland into WA, the words came out of her own mouth.

Darren Chester: Well and I guess that is the point, Kieran. You can't get away with saying one thing in one audience these days and another thing somewhere else and it didn't take long for the One Nation leader's comments to be reported in the eastern states and I think she will pay a price in Queensland as a result. But again Kieran, we have got to focus on, in the National Party, delivering what we said we would do in government— getting out there and building the dams that Barnaby Joyce wants to build, building the roads and the rail infrastructure that I want to build, getting on with the work that Fiona Nash is doing in regional development, and Matt Canavan's doing in Northern Australia, and Nigel Scullion's work in Indigenous Affairs. As National Party ministers we have got to get out there and do what we said we would do and I think the Australian people will reward us accordingly. We have just got to focus on getting our job done, delivering the good government that Australia wants and deserves.

Kieran Gilbert: Now, on to some other matters. A number of reports around this morning that the Government is looking at modelling on capital gains tax the discount changes—talk of that again—also a cap on negative gearing for investors. Do you think that the Government should be heading in this direction, despite concerns raised about the Labor approach, there is room to trim the edges of those particular two policies?

Darren Chester: I would put that report in the paper today firmly in the basket of pre-Budget speculation. I am not going to be speculating on what the Treasurer and the Finance Minister and the Prime Minister are considering in the lead up to the Budget, that is a matter for them and the work the Expenditure Review Committee is doing right now. It is pre-Budget speculation, we are getting this fever pitch of it every year at about this time and I am sure we will see more stories speculating about what may or may not be in the Budget, but it is not my position to comment on those.

Kieran Gilbert: What did you think of the intervention over the weekend from the head of Tesla, Elon Musk, and the fact that the Prime Minister had those conversations about battery storage? It sounded like quite an offer—fixed within a hundred days in South Australia, the stability of that system would be fixed, the batteries deployed or it is all free. What did you make of that?

Darren Chester: Look, it was an amazing conversation on Twitter on the weekend and I enjoyed the banter back and forth from both gentlemen. I think it touches on the very point that is of greatest concern to people in South Australia is their energy security. We have made it very clear at a federal level that we are determined to work with the states on energy security, reliability and supply, and affordability, and obviously in South Australia we have seen the experience of an over reliance on renewables. The fact is that if you rely too heavily on wind and solar right now you have an intermittent capacity and it means that you can have…

Kieran Gilbert: But not with the batteries—that is the point isn't it?

Darren Chester: That was exactly the point. I think the conversation around well if you can solve that intermittent nature of wind in particular through storage—and that is the conversation that was obviously had over the weekend, it holds out some hope. Now Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been very clear: he is absolutely agnostic on the source of energy as long as you can provide that reliability and affordability. Now, in my case, in the electorate of Gippsland, obviously, we have the base load power for Victoria primarily supplied by coal through the brown coal power stations and we are looking at the other ways you can burn that fuel source more efficiently with less emissions, and the Prime Minister is happy to look at that as well.

Kieran Gilbert: But does it mean that some of those discussions around coal—whether it be clean coal, however you want to describe it—that that could all be made redundant even sooner with the price point of these batteries becoming cheaper almost by the month?

Darren Chester: I guess, Kieran, the answer is pretty simply, the Prime Minister's own words, about all of the above. He is prepared to look at all of the above. So whether it is hydro, whether it is coal, brown coal or black coal, whether it is solar or wind turbines and associated battery storage. These are all considerations. At the end of the day what the Australian public want is the capacity to know their power supply is going to be reliable and affordable at a household level. If you are running a business you need to know that you are going to be able to turn the machines on every day and if you are operating in a large manufacturing sector obviously you need that reliability and that base load power supply. I mean, South Australia has got itself in a terrible mess through to its over reliance on renewables and that was an example of the Labor and Greens alliance making poor decisions which have had long term impacts on the people of South Australia.

Kieran Gilbert: Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester. Thanks for that.