Australian Prime Minister Press conference – Parliament House, Canberra

Prime Minister

: Thanks very much for joining us. I’m joined by Minister Bowen and Matt Kean, who’d be familiar to many of you. I just firstly want to say that it’s seven days until every Australian taxpayer gets a tax cut, not just some. It’s seven days until our energy bill relief kicks in of $300 off everyone’s energy bills. It’s seven days until 2.6 million low paid workers get their third consecutive pay rise backed by this Government. It’s also seven days till we continue to provide cheaper medicines and seven days until an additional two weeks of paid parental leave kicks in. In addition to that, today we’ve made important announcements about further cost of living relief to have cheaper groceries with our crackdown on supermarkets, making sure that there’s mandated responsibility, not just voluntary. And can I see that that’s been welcomed by those above us. Today as well we are making an important announcement. Our energy plan is about cheaper energy for Australians. It’s about dealing with lower emissions, but also lower costs, and it’s about making a substantial difference as we go forward. And I’m pleased to announce that today Cabinet has agreed to appoint the Honourable Matt Kean as Chair of the Climate Change Authority. Climate Change Authority is an independent statutory body that provides advice to Government on how we can provide the cheapest and cleanest power to Australians. Their advice is vital for reaping the benefits of the energy transition for every household and every business, and as well for delivering new, well paid jobs. As a former New South Wales Treasurer and Minister for Energy and the Environment, Mr Kean is uniquely qualified to lead the Climate Change Authority. And I am so pleased that he has accepted the Government’s invitation to take up the vacancy, which is there due to the resignation of Grant King. And I want to thank Grant King for the important work that he has done as Chair of the Authority. Mr King will deliver his final work by August 1, before his resignation takes effect in early August. Matt Kean is an outstanding appointment for this job. I worked very closely with Mr Kean when we introduced, of course, our caps on coal and gas and our energy price relief plan in partnership with the New South Wales State Government and other State Governments as well. We know that it made a practical difference. Mr Kean understands the opportunity that the transition to clean energy represents for our nation. He understood it as a member of the New South Wales Government and he understands it as someone who has focused his working life in recent years on making a difference, not just today, but for the generations to come. And he also understands the folly that walking away from the renewables transition represents for our nation, and understands, as a former New South Wales Treasurer, the certainty which the business community need in order to invest to make sure that we address not just the challenges, but the opportunities that the transition to a clean energy economy represent. We’ll hear from Minister Bowen, then from Mr Kean. We’re happy to take questions on these issues and then if you have some questions on some other things, we’ll do that as well. Minister Bowen.

CHRIS BOWEN, MINSTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY: Well, thanks very much, Prime Minister. Seizing the opportunities for Australia of cheaper renewable energy requires our country to be all in. It requires not just a whole of government effort, not just a whole of government’s effort, but a whole of society effort. It requires us to harness all the talents. And what we’re doing today is appointing one of those talents to the key role of Chair of the Climate Change Authority of Australia. As you know, our Government brought the Climate Change Authority back to an appropriate role, advising Government as part of our Climate Change Act on things like targets and pathways. An independent role, advising the Government on how to best capture and maximise the opportunities for our country and play our role in decarbonisation. Carbon dioxide doesn’t recognise political parties and countries around the world that have best harnessed all the opportunities and talents available to them are those that are best seizing the opportunities for our country. Now, Grant King has done a good job as Chair of the Climate Change Authority. He approached me a little while ago indicating that he thought it was now time for him to move to new opportunities. And I note that today earlier today, it was announced that he will chair Transgrid going forward. He wants to play a role there in our transition and to take other opportunities that would really preclude him from concentrating on his job as Chair of the Climate Change Authority. When I turned my mind to potential replacements for Grant King, I could think of none better than Matt Kean. The role that Matt has played as Energy Minister of the most populous state in the country, knowing that the opportunity to seize renewables puts downward pressure on bills and reduces emissions, creates jobs in the many thousands across New South Wales, but across the country. This is the critical decade we’ve come so far and done so well as we deal with renewable energy and then we embrace those opportunities. But there’s a long, long way to go and to stay the course, we need the best possible advice, the best possible consultation process across the business community, across our country. As you’ll recall, when the Prime Minister and I formally notified UNFCCC of our new 43 per cent emissions reduction target, we did so with representatives of the Business Council of Australia and the Climate Council, the ACTU and the Australian Industry Group. Right across the board, climate groups, employer groups, unions, to seize that opportunity. Because real action on climate change brings Australians together. Seizing those opportunities is an opportunity for business and an opportunity right across the board. And I know that in keeping with that approach that we’ve taken, bringing Australians together, avoiding denial and delay and division, but bringing Australians together is the best opportunity for our country. I’m absolutely delighted Matt has answered that call and will play a role working with us to make sure we seize those opportunities. Matt.

MATT KEAN: Well thank you, Prime Minister. Thank you, Minister. It’s great to be here today. As you know, I announced that I was leaving politics to pursue a career in the private sector. But the opportunity to serve as the Chair of the Climate Change Authority means that I’m able to continue providing public service. The Climate Change Authority has an important role to play in providing independent advice to the Government of the day based on facts, science, evidence, engineering and economics. And I intend to follow that tradition and continue to carry myself as I did as the New South Wales Energy and Environment Minister, as the Treasurer of New South Wales who oversaw a $115 billion Budget. And that’s to take a pragmatic approach to ensuring that we deliver for families, we deliver for our economy, but we protect the environment and build bipartisan consensus where possible. This is not about ideology, this is about outcomes. And the experts tell us, and I agree with them, that if we get this transition right, we can not only put downward pressure on electricity bills for families and businesses right across the country, but we can protect our environment and make our economy even stronger and more prosperous for everyone forever.

JOURNALIST: For Mr Kean, ending the climate wars requires bipartisanship. Does Peter Dutton’s new nuclear policy threaten that and harm investment in the renewable transition?

KEAN: Look, I’m taking on this role to be the independent Chair of the Climate Change Authority of Australia. My role is to bring my expertise and experience to provide independent advice to the Government of the day, whoever that should be, based on facts, based on science, based on economics and engineering. To make sure that we not only meet the challenges that we’re going to face in doing this transition, but we grab all the opportunities that are coming with it. We have an opportunity to become a stronger and even more prosperous nation. We have an opportunity to deliver families some of the cheapest electricity bills anywhere in the world, but we’ve got to get it right. This is too important to leave to chance. We need policies based on facts and evidence, and that’s what I intend to be advising the Government.

JOURNALIST: I’m asking in a purely technologically agnostic sense, do you think nuclear power can play a role in achieving net zero emissions or has a role to play?

KEAN: Well, I can only talk about the role that I saw at play as the New South Wales Energy Minister. In 2019 when I was appointed as the Energy Minister by Gladys Berejiklian, I was told the first day on the job that in the next decade, four of the state’s coal fire power stations would come to an end. We needed a mechanism in place to replace that capacity. Now, we looked at all options, including nuclear. In fact, we looked at all options and made decisions based on economics and engineering. In fact, the advice that I received at the time which was most compelling was from the Chief Scientist of New South Wales, Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte. Professor Durrant-Whyte is one of the few people in the country that’s actually run a nuclear program. In fact, he was responsible for the British Government’s nuclear defence program. And his advice to me was that in order to bring nuclear into the system, it would take far too long and would be far too expensive for New South Wales. Now, I didn’t want to bankrupt the state and I didn’t want to put those huge costs onto families. That’s why we introduced the Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap, which planned the transition to renewables, backed up by firming and storage, because we know that was the cheapest option for New South Wales. It could be rolled out the quickest and deliver the future that we wanted.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, if Peter Dutton did win the election, would Labor respect the Coalition’s mandate on nuclear and repeal the ban?

PRIME MINISTER: The Howard Government’s ban is in place and we have no plans whatsoever to change it. It’s been in place for some time. And what we know is that the plan, so called, put forward by Peter Dutton, a so called plan that has no costings, they can’t tell you what form of nuclear reactor would be built, they can’t tell you how many reactors will be built at the seven sites that have been selected. They can’t tell you how you would overcome the fact that six of the seven owners of the sites have ruled it out. The fact that it can’t overcome the state as well as the national ban on nuclear power. The fact that it can’t tell you either what will happen with the waste. There are just all questions to be answered by the Coalition and I make this point, that this is about delaying the investment certainty which is required. The business community stood with myself and Chris Bowen. Whether it be the BCA, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Australian Industry Group, the Clean Energy Council, stood there and said what they have wanted for a long period of time is certainty as an end of the climate wars is an environment whereby they could invest. And that is what we have provided for them. Not just with legislated net zero by 2050, legislated 43 per cent reduction by 2030, legislated capacity investment scheme as well as, sorry, the Safeguard Mechanism as well as the Capacity Investment Scheme. We have a real plan. What Peter Dutton has is a plan for denial and delay, which is what they did for ten years.

JOURNALIST: Mr Kean, as New South Wales Energy Minister, you were critical of the Morrison Government for the uncertainty in policy for investment and you went alone with your renewable energy zones. Do you think what Mr Dutton is doing right now is undermining investment in renewables in Australia?

KEAN: Look, I’ll let the Prime Minister answer questions with regard to the politics, but I will say this. As the incoming Chair of the Climate Change Authority, my job is to advise the Government based on evidence, that includes engineering evidence, economic evidence and scientific evidence. And that’s what I intend to do. We need to make decisions based on facts and that’s what I’ll be doing.

JOURNALIST: Mr Kean, you outlined your scepticism of nuclear energy based on your own experience and the advice you got while in government. Do you think there are others within Liberal ranks who share that scepticism?

KEAN: Look, I got advice from people like Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte in 2019. And as far as I’m aware, that advice was a while ago, but that advice has been updated. The latest scientific, engineering and economic advice that’s looked at these matters that I’m aware of is from the CSIRO and AEMO. And they very clearly say that the cheapest way to transition our electricity system is to move towards renewables backed up by firming and also storage. That’s what the CSIRO says, that’s what AEMO says, that’s the evidence available to us. I’m not aware of anything different.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that the three eyed fish memes are undermining the consensus on AUKUS?

PRIME MINISTER: No is the answer.

JOURNALIST: And in a related question, when those nuclear submarines are delivered in the future, do you rule out them being plugged into the grid when they’re tied up at the pier?

PRIME MINISTER: I note some in the media and the Coalition have attempted to be very worried about some cartoons and some memes going out. I’m happy to engage in a debate about facts when it comes to nuclear energy, because the facts and the science tells us that it simply doesn’t stack up. And I have been somewhat bemused by some of the coverage because I know that if I stood here as Labor Prime Minister and said, “I’ve got this policy that’s going to cost hundreds of billions of dollars, that’s going to completely reverse the direction in which Australia is going, but I can’t tell you how much it’ll cost, I can’t tell you what any of the economics associated with it are, I can’t tell you what the timeframe will be, I can’t tell you who will pay for it.” I reckon the coverage might be a bit different than some of the coverage which is there.

JOURNALIST: Mr Kean, obviously as the head of the CCA, you will provide advice to the Government on the 2035 targets. Now, I know you’ve just got your feet underneath the desk. Probably haven’t started that yet. But what’s your view at this stage on what the 2035 target should be?

KEAN: Look, the Climate Change Authority is currently consulting on those targets. They’re going out into the marketplace. They don’t need to provide their advice until October. So I’ll take the time to listen to the evidence, to assess the latest economic and engineering advice before I provide any advice to the Government. What I will say is that in New South Wales, we had an ambitious target, but the New South Wales economy is different from the Australian economy, so I’ll be making decisions and providing advice to the Government based on facts. And I’m really looking forward to getting into the facts and understanding how Australia can prosper from this enormous opportunity.

JOURNALIST: A related question to that on the 2035 target, there are calls for a 60 per cent target by 2035. Prime Minister, do you think 60 per cent is a realistic target? Will you reveal that target, whatever it is, before the election?

PRIME MINISTER: I’m focused on the 2030 target and delivering the policy that we put in place. That’s my focus. The 2035 target is something for down the track. I’m very focused on delivering at the moment. And I note that when I was leader of the Labor party, people, including from the fine media outlets represented here today, every time I did a press conference, it was, “what’s your 2030 target? What’s your 2030 target?” I look forward to you continuing to ask those questions of Mr Dutton over and over again. We have a legislative target in place. One of the things that we will do is take proper advice. That’s what we do, including from the Climate Change Authority. Advice obviously hasn’t been received and is some time off. But we’re very focused on the 2030 target and delivering.

JOURNALIST: Two main polls out today show that Peter Dutton’s gamble appears to be paying off for him. There’s a majority of Australians from those polls are at least open to the idea of nuclear power. Have you been sort of caught on the hop by those results?

PRIME MINISTER: Have a look at what the polls actually say. They say solar is up here, then wind, hydro. They go all the way down. Gas being more popular as well. The fact is that Peter Dutton doesn’t have a serious policy going forward. We’ll continue to advance our plan, that is serious, that has a mechanism, has a method of getting there, of emissions reduction, is the cheapest form of new energy. Nuclear power is the most expensive form of new energy and it requires a delay into the 2040s before we have a transition. What we need to do is to make sure as well that the big question, which is unanswered by Peter, and I’d ask Chris to supplement this, but the big question is what happens in the meantime into the 2040s, in terms of filling the energy gap. We had a decade in which 22 policies were announced by the Coalition. None of them landed. None of them landed. But during that whole period, they continued to say that coal fired power stations would stay open, including Liddell. Question Time after Question Time about them keeping that up. They paid proponents at Collinsville in Queensland, the actual proponents of a coal fired power plant received millions of dollars in funding to do a study for something that was never ever going to go ahead. Now that coal fired power stations, 14 of which announced their closure while they were in government. Now when coal fire power is closing they’ve now stopped that. They handed round, people might recall Scott Morrison handing around lumps of coal around the frontbench. I don’t recommend he does that with uranium, I make that point. But handed round lumps of coal thinking that was a very clever thing to do to show that this was the future. Now it’s not clear what the future is. It is clear that coal will close over a period of time. They agree now. And now they just say, who knows what happens between now and the 2040s. That’s why it’s not a serious plan. And that’s why a plan that’s always been on the fringes of the serious energy debate in this country has now been put front and centre by Mr Dutton who is on the fringe of Australian politics, is nowhere near the centre, is out there on the hard right of Australian politics being driven by ideology, not being driven by common sense.

MINISTER BOWEN: Thanks PM. Just to add briefly what these polls show, and I don’t normally comment on them, but what they do is reinforce the views that are expressed to me by Australians every day. Renewables are not only the cheapest form of energy, they’re the most popular. And the fact of the matter is Mr Dutton’s nuclear policy as much as it’s a policy I use the term very lightly, it’s a scam with scant details, but it’s an anti-renewables policy. That’s what’s driving them. They have to decide what lane they’re in. On one hand they say we don’t have enough renewables but what they actually say more often is we have too much renewables. They think we’re being too successful. So, if Mr Dutton really is pleased and proud of this, where’s the costs? Where’s the gigawatts? Where’s what it will mean for renewable energy? Mr Littleproud said this morning that he knows the costs. He’s not prepared to share them yet with the Australian people. We are happy to debate this every single day between now and the next election. Every single day.

JOURNALIST: Given the strength of the support, or the showing from industry from the Capacity Investment Scheme for the first auction, would you look at bringing forward or increasing those to drive that renewable growth that you’re looking for? And also just in relation to Mr Kean’s appointment, did that go through a formal recruitment process or was that a captain’s pick on your part?

MINISTER BOWEN: On the two matters. Firstly, the very, very strong interest in our Capacity Investment Scheme which was reported in your newspaper today. Thank you for following that up with a question. Six gigawatts out for auction, 40 gigawatts worth the bids. That just shows the pipeline of interest, the strength of renewable energy with the right policy settings in our country. That is a big sign of strength and showing that we actually will meet those targets when you’ve got 40 gigawatts of potential projects there asking for support. Now we’re rolling out six monthly auctions. We’ll announce more details about the size of each auction as we go with the Capacity Investment Scheme. But it’s a very, very strong start for the Capacity Investment Scheme. It follows the more than 20 gigawatts which bid in for the 600 megawatts in South Australia and Victoria. In relation to Mr Kean, I recommended to the Prime Minister and then the Cabinet his appointment because I knew he was the best for the job.

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