SKY News Live AM Agenda

Interview

DCI081/2017

09 October 2017

Subject: Energy, polls.

Kieran Gilbert: Now let's go to Darren Chester. He is the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, joins me live from Melbourne. Minister, as I say, my analysis of this speech this morning which Mr Frydenberg's going to give after 9 o'clock is that your Government looks like it is not going to be adopting that 50th recommendation of the Finkel review, the Clean Energy Target. Can I get your thoughts on that issue this morning?

Darren Chester: Well, first of all good morning, Kieran. Yes, Josh Frydenberg is making a major speech this morning and Josh has worked through this issue in what I'd describe as a very methodical and calculated way to consider the future needs of Australians around reliable and affordable energy and not be based on ideology, which I'm afraid the Labor Party has pursued at all costs. Now, our approach has been one of economics and engineering, not ruling out different forms of energy production, and I am looking forward to seeing the details of Josh's speech this morning.

Kieran Gilbert: He argues in this speech, as I mentioned in the introduction, that increasingly renewables will be able to stand on their own two feet. Is that your sense of things?

Darren Chester: Well, my view, obviously I represent an electorate in Gippsland, Latrobe Valley, which is quite literally at the coal face. We have got Latrobe Valley brown coal-fired power stations in my electorate. I have seen first-hand the disruption that has occurred through the closure of the Hazelwood Power Station and the uncertainty that the current political environment has created over the past decade. So I very much have an understanding of the real world implications of the energy debate.

Now, my view is that we will have a mix of renewable energy forms into the future, but also we will still depend very heavily on the reliable base load energy that coal can provide, at least for the foreseeable few decades. So I believe we have got to get the mix right. I appreciate the way Josh Frydenberg and the Prime Minister have approached this problem.

We want to take some of the pressure off households in particular in terms of the cost of living. It is one of the major reasons why I think we are seeing some reduction in retail spending is the cost of living impacts of higher energy prices. But we also need to see some relief for our businesses in our manufacturing sector, which rely very heavily on a reliable base load form of energy being the coal-fired power stations we have here in Australia.

Kieran Gilbert: Yeah, well, this is something that Mr Frydenberg argues in the speech time and again is about reliability, and in the context of considering that recommendation by the Chief Scientist for a Clean Energy Target he mentions the need for sufficient dispatchable power. Not just the framework, the backdrop of the declining cost of renewables, but that need for reliability and dispatchable power as well, the point that you are making in terms of base load power this morning.

Darren Chester: You are right Kieran and your report does make it clear that we need to provide industry with the confidence and security of an investment environment where they know they're going to be able to keep the lights on, keep the machines working, keep their employees employed. This has been one of the really difficult things about the approach that we've seen from Labor, particularly in South Australia, where the disruption to power supplies has made it very difficult for businesses to invest with any great confidence in that state. We need reliable, affordable base load energy in this nation to remain competitive.

From a household cost of living perspective, obviously people are feeling the pain of increased energy prices. We are working as much as we possibly can on some short-term relief, but also the longer-term issues, as the Prime Minister has pointed out, with the Snowy Hydro 2.0. It is a renewable form which does have that battery capacity, if you like, that storage capacity. So, we are certainly looking from an economic and engineering perspective rather than this ideological approach which I think has tarnished the debate over the past decade.

Kieran Gilbert: You say that, but within your party there is a fair bit of ideology, isn't there, in terms of support for coal? I mean, I know your electorate, as you say, is at the coal face—Hazelwood and Loy Yang and other facilities—but there is a division within the party, isn't there? And the Minister and the Prime Minister have to placate the likes of Tony Abbott, particularly, and those around him that want support for coal into the future.

Darren Chester: Well, in my party, Kieran, in the National Party, there's no division whatsoever. We are…

Kieran Gilbert: Coalition more broadly, sorry.

Darren Chester: Members who represent regional seats fully understand the importance of the mining resource sector in terms of the jobs it creates, in terms of the wealth it creates in our communities. Those who are determined to try and get a reduction in household cost of living, because we represent a lot of the people with lower and fixed incomes in regional Australia. So we fully understand the importance of reliable base load energy, and I think right across the Coalition there's a recognition that this is a key issue for our communities. Not just from individual households and for families, but also for the opportunities to create and sustain jobs in the longer term.

Kieran Gilbert: So you'd be reassured then by the message from Mr Frydenberg this morning, as I was saying, indicating that the clean energy target does not look like it's going to be the preferred option?

Darren Chester: Look I'm not going to put words into Josh's mouth. We have had many conversations about issues with energy security as you'd expect given the electorate that I represent and I appreciate the way he has gone about this in a very methodical and professional manner. He has consulted widely with his colleagues. He has an intricate understanding of what is a very complex equation here in Australia and I think he is doing a great job in his role and I look forward to seeing the full transcript of his speech this morning.

Kieran Gilbert: The Government has made some ground in certain areas in the Newspoll over the last quarter. The analysis done by David Crowe in The Australian today—he's going to be joining me shortly—but essentially it says that the regions have been the weak point—down from 44 per cent support in the regions at the election last year to 34 per cent. Why is that, as a member for Gippsland and one of the great regions of the country?

Darren Chester: Well all I can say about polls, Kieran, is Labor would rather be us. We are in government. We are in a position to influence policy and deliver for our communities. The news polls will come, they'll go, and they will be subject to much discussion in the months ahead as we approach the 2019 election, but I'm sure that Labor would rather be in our position. I mean we might be behind in the polls but we're in a position to deliver our policy, every one of the policies we took to last election we're delivering on the ground.

From my perspective as a Minister for Infrastructure and Transport there's been 17,000 individual projects delivered over the terms of this government. So we are working to deliver the projects we said we will deliver. Right across Australia, whether I travel through New South Wales from the Sydney to Brisbane Pacific Highway project, whether it is the Bruce Highway project, the Melbourne Brisbane inland rail, we are seeing a lot of people employed on important infrastructure projects which are delivering in our regional communities but also in our major cities.

Kieran Gilbert: Is there a problem with the Prime Minister not resonating in regional areas? Because in the capitals the numbers seem to be doing a bit better but in the areas outside of the capital cities, not so much.

Darren Chester: Look I don't know, Kieran, on that point. I have had the pleasure of being with the Prime Minister on regional visits and I'd have to say he is a rock star on the ground, people love seeing him, they want to talk to him, they raise issues of concern, they pat him on the back on other things they are happy with. The Prime Minister's very welcome in my electorate any time he's got the time to be there. He is someone that I think does understand regional communities and he's passionate about seeing all Australians benefit from our agenda. So I don't think the Prime Minister has a problem at all.

We've got to get out there and continue to sell our message, continue to explain why we are making the changes we are making, continue to deliver and build that trust that we need to build with the Australian people that we are focused on them and not focused on ourselves. These are all the challenges that politicians face on a daily and weekly basis. But I believe we are in a good position to contest the election in 2019. We have got plenty of time to keep delivering all those projects I just talked about in my own portfolio, but across other portfolios as well. I think we are heading in the right direction. But there is no doubt, news polls give us a bit of a kick in the backside from time to time but such is life in politics.

Kieran Gilbert: Darren Chester, Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, appreciate your time live from Melbourne. Talk to you soon.

Darren Chester: Thank you.