Australian Prime Minister Radio interview – ABC Sydney Drive

Prime Minister

: Prime Minister, welcome. Welcome to Drive.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good to be with you again. Greetings from Burnie in Tasmania.

GLOVER: Why are you in Burnie?

PRIME MINISTER: I’m here looking at a shiploader project that will double the productivity at the port here. So, here having a look at that, part of the Future Made in Australia plan, making sure that we grow our economy into the future.

GLOVER: All right, let’s go down to the issue of the week. Mr Dutton says that of the world’s 20 largest economies, he says Australia is the only one not using nuclear energy or moving towards using it. Why should we be the odd one out?

PRIME MINISTER: The International Energy Agency, which supports nuclear in places like France and countries where it’s appropriate to use it, makes it very clear that it is absurd for us to not take advantage of where our comparative advantage is. Which is, you can fry an egg on a footpath in most parts of Australia. We have the best solar resources in the world. We have amongst the best wind resources. We do not have a nuclear industry here. Climate change is real and we need to act, not say, “oh well, we’ll continue to do what happened under the Coalition Government, which is to deny climate change, do nothing, watch the grid, have real issues with reliability for the decade they were in office, but we’ll do the same thing, will just do nothing until 2040 and then have a nuclear industry with no costings, no real timeframe, no details on what type of reactor will be there.” This is a plan without any substance and it simply is not the right way to go for Australia.

GLOVER: It’s true we’ve got a lot of space for solar and wind. They argue though that that very space means that these power sources are spread out. The result will be to crisscross the countryside, they say, with 28,000 kilometres of new transmission lines, which will kind of wreck farming land and wreck the landscape and wreck the visual appeal of our landscape. What do you say to that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that’s nonsense. You’ve seen a 25 per cent increase in renewables into the grid since we came to office. You’ve seen record investment in batteries and storage. You’ve seen 330,000 homes put rooftop solar in place and 50 renewable projects, major projects, given the go ahead. We know that nuclear is up to eight times more expensive than solar or wind with firming capacity. And that’s why in their announcement that they made yesterday, or not really an announcement, because it had no funding details and they’re now saying it will be run by the government. Why do you say that? Because no private sector financier or bank would touch it with a barge pole.

GLOVER: But other big national projects, the NBN is one example, Snowy Hydro is another, are government owned corporations. What’s different about this?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, Snowy Hydro is, of course, running massively over budget and massively over time as well, a project that was set up by the former Government. What you have here with nuclear, a nuclear industry, is surprisingly a Coalition Government saying, “oh, well, we’ll run it through, we’ll essentially nationalise the energy network when it comes to nuclear.” At the same time as they’re saying multiple things, they can’t even agree with each other. You had Shadow Ministers yesterday, senior members of the Shadow Cabinet, including Perin Davey, the Deputy Leader, was saying, “oh, well, of these seven sites, if the community don’t agree, then we won’t go ahead with them.” Peter Dutton’s saying they’ll compulsorily acquire them, something that is very unusual for any Government to suggest, compulsory acquisitions, let alone something on this scale. And six of the seven owners of the sites have already ruled it out. In Port Augusta, it’s already underway, the use of that site for different purposes. Up in Liddell, in the Hunter Valley, I visited there, they’re going to be producing through Sundrive, manufacturing solar panels. They’re already having manufacturing and other activity on the site that’s employing far more people than were ever employed by the former power stations.

GLOVER: But couldn’t you build this next door to that on fresh land? And the main point isn’t to build on the Liddell site necessarily, it’s to use those electricity wires that are already there.

PRIME MINISTER: But they’re being used already, of course, in places like Port Augusta and Liddell. What you’re seeing is considerable renewable projects that are using the power lines that are there for the grid to connect up with the network. What you have there is, in that case, Origin doing deals to use the site and to make sure that the energy that can be produced there is being used to advance manufacturing. This is something that is really an excuse from the old climate change deniers to do absolutely nothing to address climate change and reduce our emissions. In the meantime, what will happen before 2040? You can’t develop a nuclear industry in the timeframe that’s required as coal fired power stations shut. They spent almost a decade saying that coal should be extended in its lifetime and that in some cases, like up in Collinsville in Queensland, actually funded proponents of a new coal fired power station. Now, none of that went ahead. 14 coal fired power stations announced their closure on their watch and not once of their 22 energy policies that they’d announced included nuclear. Now, a couple of years after they lose office, they’ve come up with what is really a nuclear fantasy from a Coalition that couldn’t build a commuter car park, let alone a new nuclear industry.

GLOVER: Anthony Albanese is here, the Prime Minister. Do you, do you worry about the impact on investment in renewables? You’ve got a lot of political capital on trying to make this target by 2030. Do you think this is going to get in the way of you making that target simply because people won’t be willing to invest in renewables given the level, the new level of uncertainty?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think that’s part of the motivation for the Coalition here. This is a Liberal Party that cheer against Australia, not for Australian interests. What the business community have been saying for a long period of time was that they require that investment certainty. And that’s what we’ve provided with the legislated targets, using the mechanisms like the safeguard mechanism that was established under the former Government but never really used. The capacity investment scheme. That’s why our plan was welcomed by the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, as well as the mainstream conservation groups. This is a plan for an economic catastrophe as you don’t have investment. If they are successful, you will see nothing happen for, even under their own scenario, they’re talking about maybe one or two at the end of next decade and they’re talking about, of course, plans for, if anyone saw the 7.30 Report interview last night from the energy spokesperson, he had to concede that there isn’t a single small modular reactor of which they’re talking about in operation in any Western country in the entire world. This is a nuclear fantasy.

GLOVER: Five of the seven, though, are more traditional larger scale reactors.

PRIME MINISTER: And they’re off in the 2040s.

GLOVER: Because they’re longer to build. That’s right. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is with us. I mean, they say that this is, you’re against it for no good reason. They say, for instance, that the illustrious Leader of the Labor Party, Bob Hawke, was talked about nuclear as being a winner in 2016.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they’re talking about a fellow who can’t answer for himself. And I think it’s a pretty low point in politics, frankly, to try to use Bob Hawke in this debate. Bob Hawke was a friend of mine and Bob Hawke would have been completely hostile to the entire reactionary agenda of Peter Dutton.

GLOVER: Okay, but he might agree with this bit of it though, mightn’t he?

PRIME MINISTER: He would not agree with Peter Dutton on much, let me tell you. And I think it is, it says a lot about the character of the current leadership of the Coalition that they would try to use Bob Hawke, which was in a very different context from where we are today. What we know is the cheapest form of new energy is renewables. Solar has become cheaper and cheaper and cheaper as the technology has got better and better and better. And that’s why, that’s why there is no one in the business community who’s putting their hand up, not a single bank, not a single financier, not a single equity firm, saying, “yeah, we want to be involved in this.” Which is why they’re coming out and saying they will use your listener’s money to produce the highest cost form of new energy that there is, is nuclear. It makes no sense to go to a high cost proposal that is years off in the best case scenario, that is contrary to the bans that are in place under State and Territory Governments, as well as a Federal Government ban that was brought in by John Howard. And in addition is opposed by people like David Crisafulli, the LNP Leader in Queensland, as well as the local National Party Member, of course, up in Upper Hunter has opposed it as well.

GLOVER: Power is cheaper in France than it is here, because they’ve got nuclear and we’ve got coal and renewables.

PRIME MINISTER: They have a very sophisticated industry that’s been in place for a long period of time. We have a very different nation here in Australia, and we also have a comparative advantage with the best solar resources in the world. And that’s why countries should take advantage of the best opportunities that are there for them. And what we know is that for Australia and whether it be anyone involved in the Australian energy industry, Australian business, as well as international forums like the International Energy Agency are all very clear that renewables is the way to go for Australia, not going down this track, which in the meantime, I mean, just one of the questions that the Coalition have failed to answer is what happens to energy security in between now and 2040?

GLOVER: They say there’s nothing in their policy to not encourage renewables as well. They say that that’s part of the plan.

PRIME MINISTER: At the same time, they’re out there discouraging investment in renewables. And David Littleproud has been very explicit, the Leader of the National Party, that he wants to see less renewables.

GLOVER: Yeah, he talked about a cap. That’s true. Anthony Albanese is with us, the Prime Minister. Before you go, let me catch you on a couple of other issues. I obviously want to talk to you about PNG. I’m always very interested in PNG, but China says it wants a more mature relationship with Australia and then their officials try to obstruct the journalist Cheng Lai. Now, some say you took a day to realise what a bad look that was and call them out on it.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, absolute nonsense. I did, I was asked to do an interview straight away and I note that after the luncheon where I spoke and Peter Dutton spoke, Peter Dutton didn’t mention a word of it in his speech at the luncheon. And when it was raised with me, I said very clearly, Cheng Lei was sitting in the front row. I must say, because of the work that the Australian Government, that my Government have done is one of the reasons why she was, of course, able to come home to Australia. And that was something that we absolutely welcomed.

GLOVER: It did take you longer, though, to say that this was a disgraceful piece of behaviour.

PRIME MINISTER: That’s not true, Richard. That’s not true. As soon as I saw the behaviour, I called it out. What I won’t do is just call out things that I don’t know have happened because some journo, not Cheng Lei, who was the first person who asked me a question in that press conference, it must be said, didn’t raise it at all with me.

GLOVER: Just to be clear, you hadn’t really yourself seen the behaviour from the lectern?

PRIME MINISTER: I hadn’t seen it. It didn’t happen while we were at the lectern. It happened beforehand and I hadn’t seen it, didn’t comment on it. Peter Dutton didn’t comment on it either. And I assume that is because he wasn’t aware of it either or he didn’t raise it either directly with Premier Li. I did raise it directly with Premier Li. It shouldn’t have happened. And every time I always call out Australia’s national interests. That is my job and I do it. What I don’t do is engage in this macho contest that Peter Dutton is trying to be engaged in, of showing how macho he is, because essentially he engages indirectly. He had an opportunity at the lunch to call out anything at all with regard to China in front of Premier Li and he was a mouse when he had the opportunity. He’s a lion outside when he’s talking to the media, but he was a mouse in front of Premier Li and the Chinese delegation.

GLOVER: Do you think there’s a problem with what you call the macho behaviour might interfere with your attempts to rebuild a relationship with China?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we know what the relationship was like under the former Coalition Government. We have engaged in Australia’s national interest, but we’ve engaged in diplomacy, not just with China, with France, with the Pacific Island nations, with Papua New Guinea, indeed with the United States of America as well. The truth is that we had a major job to repair Australia’s standing internationally. I mean, Peter Dutton’s a guy who made jokes about people in the Pacific drowning when it came to climate change and so the credibility that he would have if he was ever to attend a Pacific Island Forum meeting, every Pacific Island leader remembers that comment and they remember the fact that for a decade they were a Government that denied, effectively, the impact of climate change and that we had a Prime Minister in Tony Abbott who said that it was crap.

GLOVER: Let’s finish with the Pacific. You’ve announced today that you’ll provide $2 million in extra funding to assist Papua New Guinea’s recovery following that terrible landslide last month. And more than 1000 learning packs for children too. Just tell us a little bit of what you’re going to do.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’ve had a delegation up there led by our Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, and the Deputy Prime Minister, Richard Marles. We have an important relationship with our friends in Papua New Guinea. I’ve spoken with Prime Minister Marape on a number of occasions about the visit. This was the 30th Australia-PNG Ministerial Forum and we had seven Ministers, I think, up there as well, talking about our economic relationship, our strategic cooperation for security and stability and development. It’s an important relationship for Australia. It’s one that we have built since the change of government. My visit to Kokoda to pay tribute to the relationship between our two great nations was really forged or taken to a different level during that period, when PNG was still part of Australian territory. So, we owe a lot to the people of PNG who helped defend their nation, but also ours during that period and were so good to our diggers. So, when we see a natural disaster like occur with the landslide, we have a responsibility to pitch in and to provide that support. And today’s announcement is consistent with that.

GLOVER: Enjoy Tasmania and thank you very much for your time.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much.

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