Interview with Peter Stefanovic, Sky News

19 May 2021

PETER STEFANOVIC: The Federal Government has confirmed it will build a new $600 million gas fired power station in the New South Wales Hunter region. The project is part of a strategy to avoid higher energy prices after the closure of the Liddell Power Station in two years’ time. Energy Minister, Angus Taylor, will later on today announce the 660 megawatt generator at Kurri Kurri. It’ll be built by Snowy Hydro Limited and is tipped to create 600 jobs in the region, keep costs down, and, help reduce emissions. The plant will secure reliable and affordable electricity for New South Wales once Liddell shuts down.

Well, joining me live now is the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management, David Littleproud. Minister, good to see you. Thanks for your time as always. So, this investment here, does this accelerate the demise of coal?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, it doesn’t, it complements it. And this is a significant investment in also making sure that we keep energy prices down. With the shutdown of Liddell, it's estimated that energy prices would go up by 30 per cent - that's not just for households, that's also for business - manufacturing. When there's pressures on manufacturing we need more sovereign capability. This is about maintaining prices, keeping them low, making sure that we're competitive.

So, this investment is making sure Australia can compete globally, using the new technology as what we will continue also with the coal sector in carbon capture storage. Our friends of the United States are going down that path. And I've got four coal fired power stations, you complement that with carbon capture storage that can potentially reduce emissions by 90 per cent. That's a significant investment in reducing emissions by using our competitive advantage of cheap energy.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay, AEMO says though only 153 to 200 megawatts was required to, to plug that hole left by Liddell. So was there a need for 600 megawatts?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, we're a growing nation. And we just saw in the budget that our economy is rebounding and we're trying to put the environment and infrastructure around our economy, we're trying to bring back sovereign capability in our manufacturing, and the only way to do that is to provide cheap energy. We don't when- it's very difficult for any government to be able to reduce the standard of living - we're not going to reduce wages - so the only other major cost that goes into manufacturing is energy and if we can reduce that then we improve our capability, our sovereign capability here. And that's also for the agricultural sector. A lot of agricultural inputs are imported from overseas, and that gives us the vulnerability. So this is a forward step in, in supporting a growing nation's economy, making sure that we have that infrastructure around our economy to grow and to be competitive globally.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Will this actually cut energy prices, though? Because, as Tony Wood from Grattan says, markets adjust. This is a bad deal, he says.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I won't be taking any gratuitous advice from the Grattan Institute. But nonetheless, this is about making sure that we can maintain the supply, and that is baseload. We can't have this intermittency, that doesn't give us the surety of business has been able to, to start their engines and keep them going without brownouts. So, this is an important step in making sure we have that baseload power, complementing coal and complementing the technologies of carbon capture, storage in coal to make sure we, we keep energy prices down and reduce emissions.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. This also comes at a time, Minister, where the International Energy Agency reports that if the world is to reach net zero by 2050 there can be no new coal mines, oil or gas fields opening up and no petrol cars sold by 2035. What's your response to that?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well again, Australia will protect its sovereignty, but also be a good global citizen, which we have. We've met Kyoto. We're going to meet and beat Paris, all by using the smarts of the 21st tech- Century. And that's what we're saying. And I think this report fails to acknowledge the investment that can be made in technology to reduce emissions. It's simply ideology rather than actual common sense, because if you invest in carbon capture storage- When you've got the Biden administration going down this path with us, they’re saying that we can keep coal fired power stations going and reduce emissions at the same time.

If we want to go back to first principles, which is effectively just reducing emissions, then why should we exclude coal-fired power stations? Why would you do that if you can reduce emissions with new technology? You invest in gas, you keep energy prices down, you extend the wealth that we enjoy here in Australia around the world so that others can enjoy it and bring themselves out of poverty. That’s just using the smarts of the human race, rather than turning your back and putting your head in the sand. We should get back to first principles and stop the religion about climate change and you look for practical solutions. The science and technology will drive this, not ideology.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Minister, I’ve got to ask you about these comments that PETA has made overnight, P-E-T-A that is. It’s urged farmers in New South Wales not to kill mice and the argument is that rodents shouldn’t be denied their right to food because of the dangerous notion of human supremacy. That's from PETA overnight. What's your response to that?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, look, this just proves that PETA lives with the pixies. These people are on the fringe of society and are there for a reason. The reality is there is no way you can catch and release mice. I mean, I came home after a couple of weeks away and found them in my bed chewing my jammies. This is the reality that people in regional Australia are facing. There is a plague and there is human supremacy and that's how we've evolved, otherwise we don't and we don't survive. So these are fringe elements of society and they should be treated like that. They shouldn't be given oxygen. We should ignore them and let them sit on the fringes and never give them oxygen in terms of being out there in the media. They actually progress no cause whatsoever.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. And just a couple of quick ones on vaccines, Minister. There's a survey out this morning that mentions one-third of adults say that they are unlikely to be vaccinated. They have some serious doubts over side effects. Do you think more needs to be done to convince people that vaccines are safe and there is a matter of urgency here?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I think we need to continue to give that reassurance that they are safe and that's not just the Government. I think we would encourage people to go and talk to their medical professional, to make sure they listen to those professionals and actually understand the risks that are there and how they're mitigated and how small those risks are and what the benefits are of having this vaccine. So I think it's important that people, before they make their minds up, take the opportunity to go and see their doctor to get that advice firsthand, in person, and then put their arm out if they feel comfortable. We’d encourage them to do that. That's the best way in which us as a country can move forward against COVID-19 to keep the economy moving, but to more importantly, keep everyone safe.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Are you alarmed, though, at the vaccine rollout when it comes to residents needing- disabled residents needing, care workers as well as residents, it equals less than five per cent. And these people, and I'm about to talk to a couple actually, these people are in 1A, the most priority group. They haven't received a vaccine yet. Is this something that alarms you?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, we need to ramp it up. And that's what the Prime Minister said. But you've got to understand, we've been predicating our rollout based on the schedule, based off science. And the highest risks were those that are at the front line, those health workers that are at the front line, treating people potentially and did have COVID-19 and then the elderly. The science told us that they were the most vulnerable. We then got through those. And now as we've been able to give them the jab, we're now moving through that schedule as quickly as we can. We've had constraint issues in terms of supply, but we're saying- we're facing up to that and we're getting it done. We don't think anyone should panic because we've overlaid that with strong border security, in making sure that we haven't rushed into letting people in, particularly from India at times where we’ve seen the risk. And our medical advice was that it was dangerous. We didn't let them come in until we could get that confidence we could protect Australians. And so it's a complex and it's broad and it's multifaceted and multilayered the way in which we approach this. And no one should panic. I think Australia is leading the world in terms of how we're dealing with COVID, not just economically, but also on a health front. And that's because we've taken the advice of the medical professionals and we'll continue to do that.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. David Littleproud, thanks for your time this morning. Appreciate that. We'll talk to you soon.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me, mate.