2CC 1206 AM Canberra with Stephen Cenatiempo


STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: We’re bringing back our federal pollie panel starting today and we're mixing it up a little bit. David Littleproud, the Nationals leader joins us. David, good morning. 

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Good morning. Good to be with you. 

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: And Kristy McBain is the Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories and Member for Eden-Monaro and she's with us, too. Morning, Kristy.


STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Kristy, I want to start with you. The Government has flagged an infrastructure review. There are suggestions that $120 billion of infrastructure should be scrapped. I know you guys have got to be tight with the purse strings but is infrastructure where you need to make the cuts?

KRISTY MCBAIN: There's no suggestion that $120 billion worth of infrastructure will be scrapped, but we know that the infrastructure projects in the pipeline have grown from 150 to 800. Many of them are under $50 million, very few of them are in Labor seats, the concerning thing for a lot of people is that there isn't enough money to cover the actual cost of the infrastructure projects. A lot of them have got a dollar figure attached to them, but it won't cover the cost of the infrastructure project and there's no funding partner. It’s not very helpful to have something in the pipeline that's not fully funded.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Kristy, what difference does it make whose seats they're in? It doesn't mean the infrastructure's not required.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Some of that infrastructure would obviously be required, but some of it was used as a political pork barrelling exercise as we went to previous elections, and it's time they be reviewed. But, most importantly, it's time to make sure that if they are going to be built, that there's actual funding to get them done to completion, not just to get a media release out.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: David, has the word "pork barrelling" lost all meaning now? It seems to me whatever the other side does is pork barrelling, whatever we do is nation building?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: What this code for, is the region will cop it in the neck again. The first Budget of this mob took over $27 billion of infrastructure projects, that's roads, that's dams, that's the tools our regional people need to feed and clothe you, keep your cost of living down. That was ripped away and then to say oh well, they're not all in our seats we're going to take that away, is code for regional Australia will take it in the neck again.

I've said quite publicly, let's have a mature conversation. 30 per cent of Australians live outside of a capital city. Let's quarantine infrastructure spend so that we do get our fair share because if we don't get the road networks, our rail networks and the dams, then you know who just doesn't pay for it is just not regional people, it's also city people because your cost of living goes up because we can't produce your food and fibre and the minerals to put on a boat to pay for it and there has to be arterials that get that stuff out and that's what we're saying. Just use some common sense.

The only reason that we go hard when we're there is because we get nothing when Labor comes into Government, and we have to square up and the Nationals get that by being in Coalition. I'm saying let's not have this fight about who does what. Let's have a mature conversation and I've said this to the Prime Minister, let's quarantine funding for regional Australia and that way there is a secure pipeline from big to small – and what you've got to understand for regional councils, and Kristy being a former Mayor will know this, that they don't have the rate base that big city councils do, and sometimes those smaller projects are so important because they don't have the rate base to build those medium-sized infrastructure pieces in their shires because they only have up to a thousand ratepayers. I've got one that's got 90 ratepayers in my electorate.

So this is about understanding the nuances across our country, making sure that no-one's left behind, but it's time for a mature conversation about regional Australia getting its fair share rather than us becoming a political football every three years.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Kristy, as the Minister for Regional Development you'd agree with that, wouldn't you?

KRISTY MCBAIN: I absolutely agree with some of what David has said, but if you're serious about infrastructure building in the regions, then fully fund it. You can't put something in the Budget that's going to cost $80 million to build with a $30 million price tag. We've got to be serious. If you're serious about building in regional Australia then it's got to be fully funded because, as you've just said, we can't expect some of our regional councils to foot the bill on the good infrastructure projects. So many of them still have wooden bridges, so many of them have got ageing water and sewer treatment plants, so many of them don't even have an adequate pool and the money isn't there to fully fund these projects.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, they were, Kristy, and this is the thing. Over the Forwards they were fully funded. The projects that we are talking about, and the people need to know, this is over a 10-year span. So this was forward-looking giving confidence to everybody to have that investment confidence over a horizon more than just the forward estimates and, really, the one thing, the one big program that the Labor Party went to the election, nearly 12 months ago, was a regional program that was over $1 billion, and we still haven't seen the specifications which councils can apply. I mean, you've had 12 months to put it out and these poor old councils are sitting there waiting for Labor's signature election promise, a signature election promise for regional Australia infrastructure and we still haven't seen the specs of it 12 months in after being elected. I mean I don't know what they're doing.

KRISTY MCBAIN: That's because for the first time ever we're actually consulting with councils. They're actually saying these are the things they want to see.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: They're waiting, they're not waiting for consultation. They're waiting for the dollars. 

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Let's move on. David, you've met with some farmers in Victoria about concerns about hundreds of new kilometres of poles and wires being built through regional Victoria. In the concept of a national energy grid, this is going to have impacts right across the country. What are they telling you?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, they're frightened beyond belief and they're only 400 kilometres of what will be 27,000 kilometres of new poles and wires that rewiring the nation means from this new Government, and their first tranche of that is $25 billion worth of borrowed money that ultimately will come back to you because if you look at your energy bill at the moment, half of that is in service charges. So that's your poles and wires. So they're going to actually accelerate that and make sure you pay for it.

But what's happening is that all the renewables, and we're not against renewables, but the renewables will be put in place, and I've got two of the biggest wind farms in the Southern Hemisphere, but the low-hanging fruit has been done with renewables. They've been put very close to where existing transmission lines are and so what happens now is they're saying we need all these greenfield sites and good old regional Australia will cop it in the neck again. They're going to have solar panels across cultivated landscape that grows your food and fibre, they're knocking down native bushland and effectively saying that that is the social licence of renewables. We are saying there's a better way to do this. If you look - want to look at a landscaping, which you could get even more increase in solar is in the households of Melbourne, not across the paddocks of western Victoria where they're producing your food and fibre.

This is where we need to have a sensible conversation about our energy mix into the future and I wrote to the Prime Minister when becoming Nationals leader and said let's have a national energy summit. Let's work through this, make sure that renewables can be firm with the power that we need because renewables can't do it all and that's AEMO, that's not David Littleproud saying, but if you're going to have renewables you need firming power, but where you put the renewables is important so we don't have to spend billions of dollars on transmission lines and there's a professor, Bruce Mountain, at Victoria University, who has an eminently sensible solution without having to build all these transmission lines that can still make renewables work, we confirm with gas and we believe a sensible conversation over the horizon on small-scale modular nuclear where in Canada they've got it down to $70 a megawatt hour. Now the average price on the east coast at the moment for energy is $107. So let's just peek over the Pacific, see if it works. If it doesn't, that's okay. But let's have a look because you can plug a small-scale modular nuclear power plant into where an existing coal-fired power station is, no need for new transmission lines. So let's work through this sensibly and let's not zealotry and ideology get in the road of practical reality of what's coming out of your wallet at the moment, which is higher energy prices.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Kristy, because that's the problem with the argument about renewables and Chris Bowen always says the sun doesn't send you a bill and the wind doesn't send you an invoice. That's all well and good but you can't just plug your toaster into the sky. It's all of this, you know, the poles and wires and the added infrastructure that builds the cost into it.

KRISTY MCBAIN: There's obviously going to have to be some new poles and wires but the other thing that rewiring the grid does is rewire some of our existing poles and wires which can't take any additional capacity. David was there for nine years and didn't once advance a nuclear discussion. Some of the figures are that small modular reactors would cost $5 billion each and we'd need 80 of them across the country. That's $400 billion. What do we do with the nuclear waste, because we've had trouble in this country dealing with the nuclear medical waste for one facility? We'd have to come up with nuclear waste for 80 different facilities. Where would they go across the nation and whose backyard are they going to be in? I guess, David, it would be in the backyards of regional Australia as well.

Everyone is up for this conversation about energy, but the demonisation of renewable energy is just silly. We've got to actually move forward. We've got coal power plants closing at the moment. We've got to come up with a plan. That's what we've been doing. We've been working with companies to put in green hydrogen, to talk about how we get more renewables into it. We know New South Wales, a Coalition who had a very different ideology than the Federal Coalition, who have created renewable energy zones across the New South Wales and the investment into those places has been going gangbusters.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: And look, can I say, Kristy's right. We didn't do anything on nuclear, but the Nationals have always believed in it, but the Liberals haven’t, and Peter Dutton has now courageously got the Liberals to the point of having that mature conversation. The Nationals have believed in it.

Let me talk about small-scale modular nuclear and about where it would go. It would go where existing coal-fired power stations are. You've got to be honest. They're about 300 megawatt. They're not these big nuclear power plants we've seen in the past. And the generation four, the exciting thing about generation four, is they reprocess the waste so there is no waste issue. And the cost, let me tell you, there's ones in Canada at the moment that will do 300 - 400 megawatt that are under a billion dollars. $900 million. So that's a lot less than what Chris Bowen is running around.

You've got to understand we already have a nuclear industry here. You only have to go to Sydney, Lucas Heights, and there's residential houses less than a kilometre away that are selling for $1.3 million. And the Government, quite rightfully, has built on our legacy of AUKUS and signed up to nuclear submarines. Kristy, just a little headline here, you are going to have to waste from those nuclear submarines. We are going to have to store that. So you have a civil nuclear industry here, you are going to have a military one in terms of generating power propulsion for our submarines and you will have a waste that you will have to solve, and the Government will solve that, as will the Opposition in a bipartisan way.

All we're saying is open up the conversation and open up the opportunity – for the market to decide whether someone wants to build an SMR here and that's all we have to do. But there's an ideological view and you only have to have a look at what happened with the submarines when the Labor Party split between the left and the right over nuclear propulsion of submarines. The only reason we're not having a nuclear civil discussion is because it will destroy the Labor Party because they're philosophically opposed within their own party about nuclear energy.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Well, I get the sense that that might be changing and there's enough voices on the Labor side that are now starting to speak common sense on that and listening to Kristy this morning it sounds like she might be one of them. We do have to move on. David Littleproud, Kristy McBain, thanks for your time this morning.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Have a great day.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: David Littleproud, the Nationals leader and Kristy McBain, the Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories.