ABC Gippsland Breakfast

Interview

DCI030/2017

24 March 2017

Subject: Hazelwood power station closure

Jonathon Kendall: Member for Gippsland, Darren Chester, is with us now to talk about Hazelwood. Good morning.

Darren Chester: Good morning Jono. How are you?

Jonathon Kendall: Now what did you think, what was running through your mind when you read this article from Tony Abbott this morning saying that Hazelwood should be kept open?

Darren Chester: Well I always appreciate it when I get advice from Sydney on how to run my own electorate, Jono, I think it was very unhelpful in that regards. But quite honestly I’m not in the business of giving false hope to the people involved with Hazelwood about the Latrobe Valley community. There’s been no requests made to the Federal Government by Engie to help keep the plant open. They made the decision for their own reasons five months ago and while I’ve been very disappointed, I’ve been critical of Engie for announcing that there’ll be a precipitous closure and all units would go at once. It’s not—it’s too late in the process to be talking about bail out packages and there is no bid been put to the Federal Government for that sort of a measure to take place.

Jonathon Kendall: We had a chat with Ray Burgess this week from the Morwell News Agency and he was saying that, you know, what about Travis St Baker Is there any potential there for him to take over Hazelwood?

Darren Chester: Well not that I’m aware of.

Jonathon Kendall: Okay. Well this article from Tony Abbott says if we’re serious about tackling Australia’s looming energy crisis the last thing we should be doing is closing Hazelwood. Are you serious about the energy crisis, Darren Chester?

Darren Chester: Well what I’m serious about is, as a local member and as a Cabinet Minister, is working to provide energy security and affordability for households and for businesses. Now, AEMO came out as recently as last night—the Energy Market Office—saying that energy security could be maintained with the closure of Hazelwood. But don’t get me wrong, Jono, I’m bitterly disappointed that Hazelwood’s closing in a matter of days and that there’s going to be enormous disruption in our community. But I’ve got to look to the future as the local Member and talk about ways that I can work with the state and federal governments to deliver the infrastructure we need keep our community connected so that people can move throughout the region to access jobs whether it be in Traralgon, Morwell, Moe or Churchill or further afield, but still remain living in our region. And that’s why I want to see money for the rail upgrades, that’s why I’ve been very pleased at the work that’s gone into the East Sale RAAF Base and the basic pilot training program, the Princes Highway duplication. Those are the sort of projects I’m working on to try and make sure there’s opportunities to keep gifted young people in the future and so they can have the confidence and certainty that they can have a home in Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley.

Jonathon Kendall: Just to bring you back to this op. ed. from Tony Abbott because this is the thing that’s bringing this to the front of our attention today. He has said that the Prime Minister’s Snowy Scheme 2.0 plus the South Australian commitment to a new gas-fired base load power station show that our leaders are finally thinking about what might be done to keep the lights on. Do you think, coming from Tony Abbott, that’s a bit rich?

Darren Chester: Well I think it’s late in the game, Jono. I mean, you and I have been talking about energy security issues for as long as I can remember and we’ve been trying to get this on the national agenda and we’ve been receiving assurances from Hazelwood as recently as a year or two ago that it would continue to operate until 2025. So we’ve been part of the conversation, the Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley, on this issue for the whole time I’ve been a Member of Parliament. I think it’s important that there finally is a realisation at state and federal level that you can’t just think that your power supply is going to happen without good policy settings in place. We have to provide policy setting confidence and certainty so that the investments can be made. I think it’s going to be a mix of energy. I think it’s going to be renewables, I think there’s going to be a need for coal-fired power stations still into the future and when we get that mix right we can provide that security for the community.

Now obviously South Australia, in recent times, I think has really highlighted the concerns about the intermittent nature of renewable energy. We do need renewables and I think everyone has a level of support for renewables, but you still need that cheap, reliable base load energy that comes from the Latrobe Valley. And I want to see governments provide that policy confidence so the settings are there that people make those investments and know they’re going to have long-term security in their investment. But more importantly, households across Gippsland and across Victoria and across Australia will have affordable energy.

Jonathon Kendall: You started out this conversation saying it’s great when you get advice on how- what should happen in Gippsland from Sydney, but do you think this article is really just political grandstanding from Tony Abbott?

Darren Chester: Well they’re your words, I don’t want to give free character assessments …

Jonathon Kendall: They are my words, but do you agree with them?

Darren Chester: I don’t want to give free character assessments of my colleagues, because I think most people listening to your program, Jono, really don’t want me talking about other people, they want me talking about the policies. And what Tony Abbott says or does really is of very little interest to me. I’m really focused on what are the opportunities to get some federal money and state money working well in Gippsland Latrobe Valley that will help create jobs in the future and quite frankly what the Member for Warringah thinks about issues in Gippsland right now is not of great concern to me.

Jonathon Kendall: Is that because maybe he might be wanting the top job again? Does he want to be Prime Minister again?

Darren Chester: [Laughs] We’re going down the same path. No one cares about the personalities in politics. They don’t care if Barnaby likes Darren or Darren likes Barnaby or Malcolm likes Julie or Julie likes Tony. They don’t care, Jono. People want us to talk about the policies and I’m completely focused on ways that I can get more money to build the infrastructure we need, create the jobs we need in Gippsland and give us the future we deserve.

Jonathon Kendall: We just heard from Innes Willox earlier this morning, who was supporting Tony Abbott’s comments, saying that  Hazelwood should be kept open and he was saying  he would hate to be in your shoes if next summer, at the height of summer, when everyone turns their air conditioners on that there’s a blackout. What are you doing to make sure that doesn’t happen?

Darren Chester: Well, I respect Innes enormously for his contribution around a whole range of issues. And he’s right the critical issue is energy security. Now, I can’t second guess the expert when you have the AEMO saying base load energy can be secured, there is enough in the market- according to their calculations—to achieve the power reliability and supply we need. What I want to see though, Jono, is that confidence in to the future of our whole region—Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley—how we make sure the generators are there, the confidence to continue to invest and upgrade their plants to meet the emissions reductions targets we set as a nation, but also provide that base load energy in to the future. I want to make sure major employers like Australian Sustainable Hardwoods in Heyfield and Australian Paper, in Morwell, have a good strong future. And that’s about policy settings. Some of them are state policy settings. We’ve got to make sure we support our traditional industry, the dairy sector and horticulture, and all those things. We’ve got a great and bright future but we’re going to have to work with our state and Federal representatives to deliver the infrastructure we need as well to help support that. So look, I’m an optimist John I think we have got a great future but this is going to be a pretty tough time over the next few months.

Jonathon Kendall: Is pumped hydro part of that future?

Darren Chester: I think so, I think it is part of the energy mix. I think the policy that the Prime Minister announced in relation to Snowy Hydro is a good policy. And the feasibility work’s going to be done on that. And that will provide more base load energy from a renewable source, into the future. But again, it’s about getting the right energy mix. There is a mix of renewables and it’s going to involve coal, as well because of its reliability and its capacity to provide base load energy at an affordable price. Now, we have a competitive advantage in Australia—well, we did have a competitive advantage in Australia—of cheap and reliable base load energy, which underpinned the manufacturing sector. We don’t want to give up that competitive advantage because we’ll find it very hard to sell our products around the world if our energy prices get completely out of control.

Jonathon Kendall: Our cheap energy—for a long time—has been also part of gas and cheap gas. And you’re probably well aware that the Prime Minister called in the companies, all the heads of all the energy companies and said; look we really need to do something about selling all of our gas offshore, cheaply. Do you think anything will actually happen there?

Darren Chester: Well, I think so Jono. I think—as the community understands—we have gas reserves in Australia that have the potential to be properly explored and go into production in an environmentally sustainable way. Once people begin to understand that argument more, when they start seeing the impact on their own cost of living, I think they’ll become more interested in the gas debate. I think we’ve perhaps gone a bit too far down the track in recent times, to put the moratorium in place without having a full consideration of the longer term impact that will have. I think, we’ve just got have that conversation that we put information on the table and avoid any scare campaigns.

Jonathon Kendall: Thank you for your time, Minister.

Darren Chester: Appreciate it, Jono, all the best.