Interview on ABC North and West SA

TOM MANN: We have been hearing in the news today so far that Mayor of Port Augusta, Linley Shine around her reaction to last week’s announcement for the Coalition plan to build one of seven nuclear reactors in Port Augusta if they do come to government in the next election. She's made clear that she wants the community to be brought along with any decision that is made and she hopes to be educated more around the possibilities around nuclear. The plan, though, has seen a range of reactions, but still has quite a few hurdles if it were to come to fruition. When the Coalition announced a nuclear plan last week, I spoke with a Federal Member for Grey, Rowan Ramsey.

ROWAN RAMSEY: The Coalition's plan is naming seven sites for nuclear reactors in Australia. We think something needs to be done. We are clearly not going to meet our emissions targets at the moment. This is a proven 100 per cent clean technology. And so we pick sites that either hosted or have coal fired power stations due to shut down on the basis that we can hook into the existing transmission system. We think the right place to put them is in places like Port Augusta. We've announced, I think, two in NSW, two in Queensland, Victoria, one in Western Australia. And I'm very pleased that we've got one in South Australia because I certainly wouldn't want to miss out on this opportunity. And I think it'll be a great opportunity for Port Augusta as we go forward and we discuss the benefits of hosting. And for Port Augusta, it becomes a huge opportunity. Now, we'll have a lot of work to do at Port Augusta, but I think that the time is right and people will see the benefit and they'll have an opportunity to vote on it, but I think people will see the benefit. While there will undoubtedly be people that will oppose it with every ounce of energy in their body, Australia needs this.

MANN: Liberal Member for Grey, Rowan Ramsey speaking with me last week. Kristy McBain is the Federal Minister for Regional Development and Local Government. Good morning.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Good morning, Tom. How are you?

MANN: I'm doing quite well, thank you. Now, what's been your reaction to this plan released by the Coalition for nuclear power?

MCBAIN: I'm not sure you can call it a plan. They've released a placemat, effectively, which gives no detail on how they're going to purchase these seven sites they've named, no detail on what it would cost to build the reactors or how many reactors they would need. No detail about how they would then run the electricity system, no research to understand whether these seven sites could use nuclear power and plug it directly into our transmission system. It is really a placemat. It has zero detail on it. Most frustratingly for a number of community members in the seven locations, there's been zero consultation with the community on their thoughts on this placemat.

MANN. So, we spoke about this with Mayor of Port Augusta, Linley Shine, about, you know, her concerns around the impact of frequently changing plan, a lot of announcements, but with the long-term things it does take for plans like this to come up. You have concerns around the impact of frequently changing plans and what that can have on a community as well.

MCBAIN: This idea would mean that nothing changes for over the next two decades. The Coalition are suggesting we do nothing for two decades. We spend billions of dollars on building reactors and hope that in 25 years’ time electricity bills come down, which is ludicrous at the extreme. My frustration frequently with renewable energy companies is they don't do enough consultation with local communities, genuine consultation. That's why we had the Andrew Dyer report come out, which was really about how transmission and renewable energy companies should engage with communities. We took on board those nine recommendations and we backed it up with $20 million in the last budget to make sure that these companies are working in communities, that there is genuine consultation. That we put out developer ratings, so that communities know which developers are doing that really well, and which need to pick up their game. That's how you work with communities. You actually do genuine consultation. This is just so extreme that you would say to seven different communities and seven different regions across the country, like it or not, this is our plan. That's really taking people for granted.

MANN: And this announcement from the Coalition has come in the context of rising concerns around the rollout of renewables and Australia's movement towards net zero, but also the immediate concern around electricity prices. Do you have confidence that your government's plan is on track to bring down prices and create economic stability?

MCBAIN: In only a few short days’ time, electricity bills will be $300 cheaper, because rebates are coming on. That's how you deal with cost of living pressure, not pushing something into two decades time. It is really important that we hold ourselves accountable for things. Having a target is better than having no target. It is really important that we continue to work across communities to see the rollout of more rooftop solar, to see larger scale solar farms coming online, to see wind turbines going up, to see that storage capacity that we need growing, to see more pumped hydro getting into the system. These are all things that we have some competitive advantages in Australia and these are things that a number of reports have now showed will be much cheaper in changing our energy mix than nuclear.

MANN: And do you have confidence? It's clear that this is going to be an election issue and we'll see a federal election within the next twelve months, that people will be brought along by the government's plan. There are some early reactions. It seems that there is some favour towards a nuclear plan.

MCBAIN: It's important that Australians have their say, but it's even more important that if the Coalition is serious about this policy and for it not just to be a delay tactic for traditional industry, that they give us the costing. We've just appointed a new Chair of the Climate Change Authority, former Treasurer of NSW, Matt Kean. He looked into it for the state of NSW and said he didn't proceed past the party room because it would bankrupt the state. That's a clear indication of what the cost of nuclear would be across the country. It would be a huge impost on Australian taxpayers who would be paying for it for decades to come.

MANN: Federal Minister for Regional Development and Local Government, Kristy McBain is with me now. Earlier in the week, the plan to implement a mandatory behaviour code was released for supermarkets. Are you satisfied with the plan of the mandatory Food and Grocery Code of Conduct?

MCBAIN: It's been a really good review that Dr Craig Emerson has done. We'll adopt all eleven recommendations, including making a voluntary Code of Conduct mandatory, with penalties for breaches attached. Those penalties can go up to a maximum of $10 million. We've heard far too many stories about supplies and producers not getting a fair deal. We want to make sure that consumers are getting a fair deal at the supermarket. That our suppliers and our producers are also getting a fair deal for what they're contributing into the supermarket. We've heard a lot of people talking about bargaining power imbalance and we are serious about trying to get supplies and producers a better deal. That’s why we'll also allow anonymous complaints to the ACCC to investigate. I've spoken to a lot of producers who said that they had real fear if they made a complaint that their contracts would be terminated. A really positive step in the right direction. It will make sure that our big four supermarkets are very careful about how they interact with their suppliers and producers, and hopefully will lead to prices coming down when they know the ACCC will be watching them. We've also got Choice doing a quarterly comparison, so that we can literally compare apples with apples as consumers.

MANN: Speaking of creating balance, there was some discussion and the Greens put forward the idea of giving the ACCC divestiture powers. Why was the government not interested in this idea?

MCBAIN: It’s ridiculous that the Greens and the Nationals have suggested divestiture powers. In so many of our regional communities, there is no choice in our supermarket shopping habits. We only have one in so many of our regional towns. Divestiture powers would leave some communities without a supermarket at all. What we need to do is get them to act in a way that is conducive to bringing down prices on the shelf, as well as paying producers better, which is why you've got a mandatory Code of Conduct with significant penalties. Divestiture powers would leave some of us without a supermarket at all, and that's not what we're going to be doing.

MANN: And for suppliers who have been closely following this development, when do you expect the change to begin to. To be felt by them?

MCBAIN: I would expect over the next couple of months, there will be some serious discussion around boardroom tables about making sure that they are complying with that mandatory Code of Conduct. There will be some changes in behaviour by supermarkets, particularly towards suppliers and producers. That continual monitoring by Choice will really see supermarkets being far more competitive than they have been.

MANN: Minister, really appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

MCBAIN: Great to be with you, Tom.