Australian Prime Minister Radio Interview – 2SM 28 March

Prime Minister

Good morning, Prime Minister.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, good to be with you. And indeed, it’s a great story, the Rabbitohs. What I always say is that our team is named after a worker, not an animal.

KING: Yes indeed, a Rabbitoh. And good luck tomorrow night. It’s the early game, isn’t it? Tomorrow you take on the Bulldogs, the Rabbitohs.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah. The Good Friday traditional game there at Homebush. Together with the Easter Show. Let’s hope that the Easter Bunny brings the Bunnies a win at last.

KING: Well, you’re bringing a billion dollars investment to the Solar Sunshot Program. That’s the reason you’ll be in the Hunter Valley today. And the press release says this will supercharge Australia’s ambition to become a renewable energy superpower at home and abroad. The Solar Sunshot Program, how will it supercharge our renewable energy transition, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, this is so exciting. This is a national program, but which is beginning with the most significant support will be for solar manufacturing panels there at the Liddell site. Liddell of course, the power station, helped to power NSW and Australia in the last century, in the beginning of this one. What this will do is make sure that this site continues to provide power for Australia by manufacturing solar panels. We have the highest uptake of solar panels in the world, yet only one per cent of those have been made in Australia. Now, in the last election campaign, I said I wanted manufacturing to brought back to Australia, I want to make more things here. Whether it’s rail carriages there in the Hunter or whether it be new products like solar panels. These will be the most efficient solar panels produced anywhere in the world and they will be competitive, it will be a major job created. There will be more jobs created as a result of this announcement than existed at the former Liddell Power Station.

KING: Right, so they’re going to be manufactured on site there at the former site of Liddell?

PRIME MINISTER: That’s right, and it will be a major shot in the arm for the Hunter. And we know that with manufacturing jobs like this, for every job that’s created on site, there’s an extra three or four jobs created through the supply chain, through logistics and other jobs created. So, this is a major investment, a major sign of the confidence that we have in the Hunter region to continue to evolve, to continue to be such a powerhouse of the NSW economy, and I’m very excited with this. We have every metal and every critical mineral necessary for what is going to be the zero transformation. Global, this is a global phenomenon that we’re seeing, our transformation. We have the potential not just to benefit domestically, but to be an exporter, because we are in a position with the best solar resources in the world and that provides us with an opportunity. But if we’re smart, in the past, we have seen innovation in solar panels produced at places like the Australian National University and the University of NSW, and we haven’t commercialised those opportunities. What we’re doing here is seizing this opportunity to create jobs, and there’s nowhere that is better suited than the Liddell Power Station site. We have skilled workers in the Hunter as well. And yesterday we introduced into the parliament the Net Zero Economy Authority that we’ve been working with unions, particularly in the Hunter, like the Mining and Energy Union on. And so all of these announcements make it a very positive day for the Hunter.

KING: All right, you will be at Liddell Power, or the site of the former Liddell Power Station later today. Interesting that, you know, the announcement is there and that they’re going to be manufacturing solar panels. Towards the tail end of the previous government they did announce gas, gas, gas was a vital transition energy source as we move towards renewables. And they also announced, I think, under Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership, not only Snowy 2.0, but also the construction of a gas peaking plant also here in the Hunter Valley at Kurri, the site of the former Hydro aluminium smelter that was programmed to be finished before Liddell Power Station closed, which was early last year. It is still not finished, hopefully before the end of this year. Has your government walked away from gas as being an essential energy source as we transition to renewables?

PRIME MINISTER: Not at all, gas will play a really important role in firming capacity of the system. And the Australian Energy Market Operator has made that very clear. And indeed, we’ve had legislation before the parliament just this week to ensure that there can be an appropriate supply of gas. We think it is important for companies as well that are looking at transition, looking at manufacturing for example, Rio Tinto have just signed a very large deal with renewables there in Central Queensland. But what they require in order to do that is the confidence that comes from the firming capacity which is there. And other businesses, including major manufacturing businesses there in the Hunter, know that gas will continue to play an important role.

KING: So, your government still sees it as vital as an energy source as we transition to renewables. But as I understand it, there’s no gas connected to that Kurri plant at this stage.

PRIME MINISTER: The former government, of course, the problem was that they had lots of announcements, had 22 different energy policies, but they didn’t have any delivered. And when it comes to Liddell, of course, the current Opposition’s plan seems to be to put a nuclear reactor on the site. Now that would be decades off, would be incredibly expensive. No one would invest in it. What we’re doing is being practical, working with business, working through agencies like ARENA, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, to actually deliver real change with real jobs that produce a real future for the Hunter.

KING: Right. Well look, you said nobody’s interested in investing in nuclear, but I mean, you’re putting a billion dollars into this Solar Sunshot Program. I mean, maybe companies wouldn’t be interested unless there were huge government subsidies, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, no one is putting their hand up. You have this frolic from the Opposition that is just really another excuse to do nothing. We had nothing happen for a decade. What we need to do is to drive the transition. The market is making it very clear the cheapest form of new energy is renewables and that’s where the investment is going. You could not have a nuclear reactor up and running for a very, very long period of time. And it’s the most expensive form of new energy, which is why no one will invest in it. And we’ve had the extraordinary statement from Peter Dutton of wanting this, but they need to sort out the costs, the location, the waste and other issues as well. What we’re doing is getting on with the business of the transition, getting on with the business of creating jobs and seizing the opportunities which are there, including for the Hunter, with this transition.

KING: The Coalition, many have described it as an unholy alliance, the Coalition teaming up with the Greens and some of the crossbench to, well, put to bed for at least a few weeks the immigration laws, which your government tried to rush through parliament yesterday. Why the rush? Why was it so urgent to pass those immigration laws, which as I understand it, are basically to make it easier to deport non-citizens? Why the rush?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this was a clear need to fill a gap that was left open, to close a loophole that was left open by the previous government. We’re making sure that Australia’s migration system works effectively and there’s a loophole there, which is someone, to be clear, this isn’t about –

KING: The loophole has been there for years, for a very long time.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, and it’s now been identified. We are making sure that people who haven’t been found to have any eligibility to be Australian citizens, they’ve been found not to be refugees, they’re not eligible as part of family reunion program, they’re not filling skill shortages. Essentially, you can’t have a situation whereby someone can come here on a tourist visa, for example, and just say, ‘I’m not going, I’m not leaving, and I won’t cooperate with leaving’. This is a gap in the system which this legislation was seeking to close. The parliament isn’t sitting again until May, and you’ve had the extraordinary position of the Opposition voting for it in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, saying they wanted a committee. They got the committee hearing. Then on Wednesday they changed their mind and voted to defer it on Wednesday morning, and Wednesday afternoon they said ‘why don’t you just bring parliament back at great cost in the meantime, before May, in order to pass this legislation?’. It’s just more politics.

KING: But in fairness, parliament’s been sitting for a fortnight but you left it until the second last day to introduce this legislation. Maybe if it had been done two weeks ago, it could have all been sorted out?

PRIME MINISTER: We gave appropriate briefings to the Opposition, to crossbenchers. This is clear legislation that is required. The Opposition voted for it on Tuesday and voted against it on Wednesday. They voted for it because of the policy. They voted against it because they want to play politics.

KING: Leichhardt Oval, changing the subject dramatically here. It’s within your electorate. I had a lot of calls yesterday worried about the survival of suburban football grounds. I mean, it’s in your electorate, it’s not under you, but I believe it’s a council-controlled ground. But do you think it’s essential? It’s essential to preserve these suburban football grounds like Leichhardt Oval?

PRIME MINISTER: I sure do. There’s nothing better than sitting on the hill at Leichhardt Oval, or indeed Henson Park as well in my electorate. It’s just a great experience and the fans love it. There’s an incredible atmosphere and it has an important role. And Leichhardt Oval must continue to be a place where the faithful can go along and cheer their footy team. It’s a great place if you’re a West Tigers fan, but it’s also a great place if you’re a visiting fan as well and there’s just a great spirit there.

KING: Do you think taxpayers money should be put into preserving these grounds and upgrading the facilities?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think that in the past there was substantial money has gone into a lot of grounds, of course. But when it comes to suburban grounds, they have been grants in the past to places like Leichhardt Oval and Campbelltown, and the stadium there, of course, at Newcastle as well. And that’s about the quality of life that Australians have. Rugby league is important and it’s important to recognise this as well, Leichhardt Oval isn’t just used by the first grade teams. I played rugby league at Leichhardt Oval as a kid. It’s used by football, soccer, it’s used by a range of sports, it’s used by schools. It’s a great asset for the people of New South Wales.

KING: And should be preserved. Appreciate your time, I hope you have a safe and a happy Easter, Prime Minister, and good luck to the Rabbitohs tomorrow.

/Public Release. View in full here.