Media Releases & Transcripts

Interview with Greg Jennett, ABC Thursday, 9 June 2022

June 09, 2022


Interview with Greg Jennett, ABC

Thursday, 9 June 2022


SUBJECTS: Energy crisis, nuclear power, coal-fired power, Murugappan family.




GREG JENNETT: Now, in a week when quite obviously energy debate has been running hot, we’re fittingly bringing together today two Queensland senators for a discussion on that and other political topics of the day. In a moment, we’ll be welcoming Labor’s Anthony Chisholm. We’re just doing some final checks and communications with him. He’s, these days, an Assistant Minister and will be joining us from Brisbane momentarily. But already established is Nationals Senator Matt Canavan who’s with us from Yeppoon in Queensland. Matt, we might go to you first of all. Should I run the standard disclaimer about messaging, just for those who are confused by it? Matt Canavan does come to us using his own equipment from his own office and the ABC’s not endorsing the messaging behind him, but that sets the backdrop nevertheless, Matt, for a discussion.


We heard from Madeleine King the resources minister this week, saying “Come on, we need to get some more coal‑fired to get through this south‑eastern shortage around gas”. Are you going to call yourself a prophet in this regard? I think you’ve made that point yourself a little on our program.


MATT CANAVAN: Well, look, if I’m a prophet, Greg, I’m one in my own land, so I don’t expect – 


GREG JENNETT: To be recognised.


MATT CANAVAN: – any bouquets. Yeah, that’s right. I don’t think I’ll get much recognition. But I’ll just keep banging the drum for common sense here. We need more power. I heard in some of your commentary from some of the commentators before, sort of indicate there’s no easy answer, and it’s not going be to fixed in the short‑term. Well, I sort of agree with what Ronald Regan said that there are no easy answers but there are simple ones. We overcomplicate this energy system. It’s a complex engineering challenge, but the economics aren’t particularly complex. When you don’t invest in reliable power, when you don’t invest in enough power, you end up with shortages, and when you end up with shortages you end up with high prices and that’s what we’re living through today. We just simply need more power. And renewable power, we’ve been investing a lot; we’ve been investing more than any other country in the world in renewable power, but it doesn’t exist all the time. So, we need some reliable power to back that up, so I hope Madeleine King is listened to on the coal‑fired power question.


I still think, though, this new Government is finding its feet. It’s getting some of the facts wrong. I heard Chris Bowen say that the pipeline down to Sydney and Melbourne from Queensland is running at capacity. It’s not. I just checked it now, it’s about 58 per cent full. It’s been below half actually; half capacity for most of the last few weeks. It has bumped up a bit in the last seven days but certainly not at full capacity. So, there are things that can be done here, and I hope some action is taken soon.


GREG JENNETT: All right. We might come back to nuclear power as a distinct proposition in just a moment but over to you Anthony Chisholm, with a brief congratulations on your elevation to the frontbench under the Albanese Government. On this energy, so‑called, crisis, I don’t know whether you’re calling it a crisis, but is it counter to the Albanese Government’s narrative that we are having to have people like Madeleine King publicly encouraging greater return to coal‑fired generation because of the squeeze here in the southeast?


ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Well, I think it’s just the reality of the challenge that we’re dealing with and the fact that we are dealing with this challenge is because people like Matt have played games on this policy outcome for the last 10 years. So, we’re not going to be lectured to by “Senator Lucifer” over there, who has lit a match to energy policy in this country over the last 10 years, and now he’s pretending to turn up and lecture us about how we fix it – 


MATT CANAVAN: No‑one’s listened to me.


ANTHONY CHISHOLM: – while he’s still holding the matches. It is just an absolute nonsense – 


MATT CANAVAN: I haven’t done anything. All I’ve done is – 


ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Senator Canavan is trying to lecture everyone – 


MATT CANAVAN: I’ve got enormous power.


ANTHONY CHISHOLM: – on how to fix this crisis when they’ve been responsible for what we face. So, I think that Chris Bowen and Madeleine King have done a good job over the last week – they were only sworn in a week ago – going about fixing this crisis, that, let’s face it, we face it because there’s been 10 years of inaction on building new capacity. We saw today Rio Tinto put out a release overnight about they need 4,000 megawatts of new energy to replace the old coal‑fired power to power their existing plants in Gladstone. So, it shows you have we have an enormous challenge to get new energy into the grid to keep these jobs, these important jobs, in central Queensland.


GREG JENNETT: Yes, what of that, Matt Canavan? It’s a major request for proposal coming from Rio Tinto to greatly reduce their own power demand, particularly around aluminium I think and around Gladstone. They wouldn’t be doing this unless it made economic sense for them, would they?


MATT CANAVAN: Well, it’s best I think here – we do face a crisis, so it’s best – I’m not going to engage in the same kind of character assassination Anthony just meekly attempted. But, I mean, because I do actually agree with him on the latter point, that we haven’t been investing enough in capacity; that’s what I was saying before. We had been investing a lot in renewables. We’ve been investing in renewable energy in this country at about 200 watts per person per year. That is four times the rate of investment in Europe and North America. More than four times in the case of the US. And it’s clearly not working. So, if we want to just keep doing the same thing and keep installing enormous amounts of renewable energy that is intermittent, unreliable, and expect different results, well, that is the defence of insanity. We have to do something different than what we’ve been doing to avoid another crisis – 


GREG JENNETT: Why not just firm it up? Why not continue that investment and then firm it with gas? Matt?


MATT CANAVAN: Look, you could do that. The problem we’ve got is we don’t have affordable gas reserves anymore. We are very reliant now on coal seam gas which is quite expensive and not been as productive as we would have hoped. There’ll be some – there is some capacity in my view to pull this trigger that the government seems reluctant to – I’m not sure. I don’t know why they’re not listening to the unions. I’d be doing it if I were the minister.


GREG JENNETT: Would it take effect?


MATT CANAVAN: – it would take us till January.


GREG JENNETT: How would that help in the next three or four months though?


MATT CANAVAN: So, what I did, what I did when I was minister in 2017 is we wrote to all the industry and said “Look, I’m considering pulling the trigger, tell me why I shouldn’t” and, yes, you can’t pull it for a few months; but guess what, just writing to them and just threatening it generally delivers a result. It certainly did five years ago when I did that. It halved prices within a few months because the industry didn’t want to do it. I don’t know –


GREG JENNETT: All right, although in this case Matt Canavan – 


MATT CANAVAN: I don’t understand why the Government – 


GREG JENNETT: They know you are – 


MATT CANAVAN: – is looking for every excuse under the sun here, not to do it.


GREG JENNETT: Right, but on this occasion, they’d know you were calling their bluff because the whole piece of legislation is grandfathered – it sunsets in January of next year so they’d know you were calling their bluff, wouldn’t they?


MATT CANAVAN: I’m happy to support, I’m sure the Coalition would support the extension of that mechanism. We established it. I’m sure we’d be willing to work with the Government to do whatever we can. Look, I don’t think it’s a panacea for our long term because there’s limited amounts, we can take from Queensland with the pipeline capacity we have. It’s something that could provide some short‑term relief but long term we do need to invest in more reliable sources of power. And if we’re not going to develop gas in New South Wales and Victoria, given the restrictions there and red tape that has been imposed, we have to look at other options like coal, and you’re going to ask about nuclear. But nuclear will be years away too.


GREG JENNETT: Yes. Anthony Chisholm, just on, yes, the use of this mechanism. We’ve heard from the Government today after a cabinet meeting that, yes, they do in fact want to update, overhaul, and extend that piece of legislation. Were that done, quickly, and we have a sitting don’t we in late July, would the Government, should the Government then use it?


ANTHONY CHISHOLM: I’m certainly not opposed to it being used but I think the fit-for-purpose point was the one that Madeleine King made at what I caught at the press conference today and the fact that it does take so long to implement. So, they made it clear that they want to see it updated. They want to see if they can add a bit more teeth to it to give them a bit more scope to have impact right when we need it, which is now and not in six months’ time.


GREG JENNETT: All right, Matt Canavan, I don’t know that you are in my mind, you know, the foremost advocate of nuclear power in this country, but plenty in the Coalition seem to be swinging in behind that since the 21st of May. What is it a panacea for? Is this very hard argument to stand up from opposition and then presumably through subsequent multiple terms of government?


MATT CANAVAN: Look, there’s no doubt about that, Greg, but I do this not because it’s easy, because I want to do the hard things and get good decisions for our country. And, yes, I’ve been supportive of removing the prohibition on nuclear. I would say it’s not a panacea. It’s not something that can be done overnight. It will take time. It can’t be the only solution; but look, when you’ve got all of the countries in Europe effectively switching towards nuclear – Germany’s being a bit of a heel dragger there, but everybody else is. Boris Johnson wants to build one a year. The Biden Administration is right behind nuclear energy as part of their climate change policies and of course many Asian countries are building them too. It just seems nonsensical that we continue this ban on a form of power that is emissions free and safely used right around the world.


In saying that, I’ve always recognised – it’s a costly form of power because in Western countries these large construction projects tend not to be done on time or on budget and therefore it can be quite costly, but at least it would be reliable. What we need now is something reliable, so I don’t think we should keep it off the table.


GREG JENNETT: Anthony, to those arguments, where does that leave it? Something at least worth entertaining or a total non‑starter from your point of view?


ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Look, I think it’s a complete distraction floated by the Nationals. This is the same party that a couple of years ago spent a couple of years – 


MATT CANAVAN: And Boris Johnson.


ANTHONY CHISHOLM: – on a feasibility study into a coal‑fired power station in Central Queensland that they’ve now abandoned.


MATT CANAVAN: Finally, we’ve done that?


ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Now after 10 years in Government, they’ve come up with saying they’re going to support nuclear. It’s a complete distraction. There’s no serious proposals. It is costly, as Matt said himself. We just ended a 20‑year debate on a modest storage facility. Imagine if we had nuclear power, where that’s going to be stored and how long that would take to be resolved. The reality is, and I’m not someone who is philosophically opposed to nuclear power, but I just don’t believe that there is any realistic proposal that is going to be considered and the Nationals need to be called out for what is effectively them trying to run obfuscation about what the real challenges we face in the energy market is that they’ve created because of 10 years of inaction.


GREG JENNETT: Yet when we get Parliament back and debating pieces of legislation, Anthony, we’ll start this one with you, it’s clear that Labor will at least attempt to legislate its 43 per cent emissions reduction target in the Senate. Both of you serve in the Senate. What happens if you hit the wall there? Will you fight to the death for that to be legislated or walk away from it?


ANTHONY CHISHOLM: I’m absolutely committed to that as being our policy. I think it’s interesting the debate around this, because there’s people talking about mandates and people talking about bringing back integrity to politics. Well, I can’t think of anything more integral than delivering on what you promise. That’s the promise we took to the Australian people. We were rewarded with a majority government and that’s what we should stick to and implement when it comes to our policy objectives, because that’s how you actually rebuild integrity and trust in politics which is what the Albanese Government is about.


GREG JENNETT: Matt, they appear to have got 77 seats in the lower house and workable combinations of potential majorities in the Senate. That equals a mandate, doesn’t it?


MATT CANAVAN: I think that conclusion is laughable, Greg, given that the Labor Party received less than a third of the vote; a lower vote than the Liberal‑National Parties. Yes, they have a mandate to pass things through to the House of Representatives, but they do not have a majority in the Senate. They have to negotiate with other parties in the Senate, as they should particularly given their low primary vote. They’ve got an option. They can negotiate with us or they can negotiate with the Greens, and I think it’ll be very instructive who the Labor Party works with about what this Government will be, because keep in mind what we’re seeing here, with a very delayed return to the Senate – they don’t have a lot of an agenda to get on with – but we’re going to see a cost-of-living crisis that is hurting every Australian family and the Labor Party’s legislative program will be a 43 per cent emissions reduction target in eight years and cheaper childcare for very rich people. They’re not focused, I think this new Government, on the new challenges that face people. People are doing it very tough and it’s going to get harder without a Labor Government focused on those issues.


GREG JENNETT: Well, there are some other long‑term projects to be tackled. Whether they are legislative or not, one we’ve been discussing on the program this afternoon with Andrew Green and others was this contribution by Peter Dutton through an op-ed piece in The Australian today. Matt Canavan, appearing to reveal the inner workings of negotiations when he was Defence Minister over Virginia‑class submarines. Why should that information be lobbed out into the public domain by the now opposition leader?


MATT CANAVAN: I think it’s well past time, Greg, that we have an adult and mature discussion about our defence readiness and capability, so I applaud Peter for being upfront and honest about this. There’s no secret information here. There’s the issues he’s discussing are ones that are canvassed quite often in our strategic and defence community. But to some degree for some unknown reason, politicians seem somewhat shy to speak the truth. If we’re not going to speak openly and honestly about these issues, we’ll make the wrong decisions.


GREG JENNETT: But he didn’t say it when he was the actual minister – 


MATT CANAVAN: It’s not a comparison with the 1930s to debate – 


GREG JENNETT: – though, did he?


MATT CANAVAN: Well, he did raise these issues and I do accept that when you’re a minister in a cabinet Government sometimes you’ve got to be more restrained because you’ve got to speak on behalf of the cabinet. But I do think it’s about time we have these honest discussions. I was about to say, in the 1930s in the UK, we had very volatile discussions about their preparedness. Winston Churchill of course led that significantly about their lack of aircraft investment. If he hadn’t have done that, if people hadn’t of raised these issues, they would have been much less prepared for the challenges that came. So, I think it’s really important that we have these discussions and I applaud Peter for having the bravery to do this. He will cop criticism, but I think we need to be mature enough to discuss these issues.


GREG JENNETT: Bravery, Anthony, transparency – what’s wrong with letting us all in on the secrets?


ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Well, it’s dangerous that this is the way the opposition leader intends to act. I’ve seen efforts of relevance deprivation over the last couple of weeks, but this would be number one, where he’s just trying to get himself in the headlines. It’s not a responsible way for the opposition leader to act. These are important national decisions. We’re not going to be lectured to by the previous government on these issues when they spent $5.5 billion on submarines and didn’t deliver one sub, and they’ve in fact paid that as compensation to the French Government in the whole. So, I think that the Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles has taken a realistic view on this. He’s doing the detailed work that is necessary and he said that this is the most important task for him to get right and I’m confident that he will in time.


GREG JENNETT: He seems mightily unimpressed by this, Anthony, do you think it paints him into a corner with these two colleagues? I mean, might it force his hand to complete whatever preliminary discussions had begun with the Americas to the exclusion of the Brits?


ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Well, there’s no doubt that it’s unhelpful but I’m sure Richard Marles will be taking the right advice from the defence department and ensuring that we get this call right, because it is important that we have this capability as soon as possible and it is really tragic that the previous Government left us with this capability shortage in such a critical area at a time when it can be least afforded.


GREG JENNETT: All right, why don’t we as two Queenslanders move towards the conclusion of our discussion – the Biloela family. Matt Canavan, heading home, I think they’re due to arrive back in the town tomorrow. Is this a welcome end to a very prolonged ordeal, from your point of view as a central Queenslander?


MATT CANAVAN: Not to trivialise this, Greg, but I thought you were going to raise the State of Origin.


GREG JENNETT: Well, we can get there if you want.


MATT CANAVAN: It is an important issue for – we’ll get there as well. But I’m sure the family, the Biloela Sri Lankan family will be supportive of the Maroons too. Look, I think it will be welcome by the town of Biloela. I’ve always had a concern, though, that we’ve got to be careful not to create special circumstances. This family’s trauma is heartbreaking, but probably not that dissimilar to around a thousand other Sri Lankan refugees who were returned home over the past decade. So, look, the decision has been made. The Government was elected, and they were elected on that basis so I’m sure they will be welcomed as all refugees are to this country, but we do need to make sure we maintain a strict border controls because we do not particularly given what’s happening in Sri Lanka at the moment, we do not want a restart to that terrible trade.


GREG JENNETT: Yes, Anthony, any risk there from your point of view? I mean I presume you’re going to say you welcome their resettlement back in the town but is there any mixed messages? Any risk, I suppose, on the border policy?


ANTHONY CHISHOLM: I’ve spent time in Biloela, as I’m sure Matt has over the last couple of years, and you certainly got a sense when you were there that there was strong community support for this family to be returned. I think the way they’ve been treated by the previous Government was appalling. There was always the power in the Migration Act for the Government to take action to ensure that they could be living in Biloela rather than sent off to Christmas Island and the difficult circumstances this they faced there and then transported to Perth. I think that this is an example of federal Labor’s approach though which we said we want to maintain our strong border protection policies but there are occasions when you can be humane, and I think this is a perfect example of that.


GREG JENNETT: Yes. All right. I’m not going to waste the final question on the State of Origin because I’m going to take it as a given that both of you are on a unity ticket there and still celebrating a – 


MATT CANAVAN: I’m sure we are.




GREG JENNETT: – a magnificent victory last night. Let’s see what number two and number three bring to us this year. Matt Canavan, and Anthony Chisholm, thanks for joining us this afternoon.


ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Thanks, Greg; thanks, Matt.

: Thank, Greg.