Australian Prime Minister Television Interview 20 June

Prime Minister

Let’s go live to Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese. Prime Minister, thanks for your time, as always. One of your predecessors, a much loved figure in your Party and beyond that, the late, great Bob Hawke. He said in 2016, nuclear power would be a win for the environment and an essential part of attacking dangerous global warming. Why not at least consider it?

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Let’s be clear here, Bob Hawke can’t speak for himself, so I think it’s pretty tacky that the Coalition attempting to use a quote out of context as well, of my dear late friend Bob Hawke. What we’re dealing with here in 2024 is a Coalition so-called plan that hasn’t lasted a day. They’ve said there are seven sites, but they haven’t said whether they’re going to be compulsorily required. They say there’ll be a community consultation process. One of the Shadow Ministers has said that that’ll have the right of veto. So, will they go and look for other spots? Others have said there’ll be compulsory acquisition. Peter Dutton is now saying, after saying just that yesterday, now saying, ‘Oh, well, we’ll convince them that they’re on board’, even though six of the seven owners of those sites have rejected this proposal. Every state and territory where it’s proposed has rejected the proposals. Even the Queensland LNP are saying they don’t want a bar of this. They’ve made an announcement without any substance, no costings, no real timelines, no idea of what form the reactors will take, how big they will be, what the engagement with the community is. This is farcical, frankly, Kieran. This is economic catastrophe. When we look at the costs of nuclear, what we know is that it’s the most expensive form of new energy. So, my Government is providing $300 off energy bills in two weeks. The Dutton Opposition are saying, ‘In two decades, we’ll give you the most expensive form of energy that there is, new energy. And what’s more, we’ll have government ownership and send all the bills to the taxpayers because there is no way that not a single private bank or financier in this country would go anywhere near this because it’s such a risky economic proposition’.

GILBERT: You say that it’s economic catastrophe, but let’s look at Europe. There are more than 100 nuclear plants. France has dozens. It provides a clear majority of that country’s power supply. Why are you so adamant it can’t be part of our mix?

PRIME MINISTER: Listen to the experts, Kieran. The International Energy Agency that is very much pro-nuclear energy says that Australia is not an appropriate venue because of the comparative advantages that we have. Kieran, if you go outside in Australia, you can fry an egg on a footpath during the summer. We have the best solar resources in the world. We have such a comparative advantage if we seize the opportunities which are there. The CSIRO say that compared with renewable energy with firming, it’s up to eight times more expensive. It is decades away. Not only will this cost more, it will make energy supply more insecure, because there’s no answer either of what happens between now and two decades’ time for how energy supply is secured. They spent almost a decade in office saying that we needed to extend the life of coal fired power. They had proponents like in Collinsville, where they paid the people who wanted to build a coal fired power plant money to do the study and to do the preparatory work, and it ended up in zero, just as they said that Liddell should stay open. Indeed, no new coal fired power plants were built on their watch. And 14 of them announced their closure. Now, they’ve moved away from coal, but they’ve found another destination of denial. And that destination of denial is nuclear. In the meantime, what will happen is that there’ll be issues of more energy insecurity because we know that it is disrupting the certainty that the business community have been crying out for. That’s how you reduce prices, by increasing supply, offering the business community the certainty that they’ve been asking for. And that is what we have done.

GILBERT: But when you look at the cost question, I want to put this to you because this is one of the fundamental arguments Peter Dutton is making is that, say, if you look at something like the Illawarra wind farm, that in itself is going to cost billions. I think the figure out there is about $10 billion, but its lifespan is up to 30 years for wind turbines, a nuclear power facility is up to 100 years. So, the cost comparison needs to factor in the lifespan of the assets as well. What do you say to that?

PRIME MINISTER: Kieran, this is a mob that when they were in government, couldn’t build a commuter car park, but say that government, the Federal Government, that has no experience whatsoever in building government-owned energy assets, energy assets historically were owned by state governments, and Coalition governments were quite happy to flog them off when they found it convenient. Now, you would have us believe that a mob who’d struggle to assemble an Ikea flat-pack are going to start from scratch and be able to develop a nuclear energy industry in Australia, even though they can’t say what form the nuclear reactors will take. Last night, I saw their Energy Shadow Minister struggling to concede the fact that these small modular reactors they speak about don’t exist anywhere in the world right now. Don’t exist. But they’re going to be from scratch, ahead of the entire curve. That’s why the International Energy Agency have said it’s not appropriate for Australia. What we know is that the cheapest form of new energy is renewables. And what we know as well is that the business community have said we want certainty. That’s what we’ve done. A 43 per cent legislated target, a net zero by 2050 legislated target in place. The capacity investment scheme, encouraging investment. The safeguard mechanism to drive that business certainty with the trajectory so that we reach net zero. That’s why there’s no business leaders coming out and saying they support this. In terms of the energy sector, where are they saying, ‘We want to pitch in and build these nuclear reactors’? And that’s why Peter Dutton has had to take the remarkable step for a Coalition government of having a command-style economy approach and building these nuclear reactors from scratch decades into the future, the most costly form of energy. And guess what? Guess what? Taxpayers will foot the bill for Peter Dutton’s nuclear fantasy.

GILBERT: Well, given those numbers and the facts as you see it, would you urge your colleagues, and I point to one of your frontbenchers who tweeted an image of Blinky Bill with three eyes, and Jacinta Allan tweeted a three-eyed fish today, you know, would you tell them to steer clear of some of that stuff and focus on the facts? I ask you that in the context of if that’s the sort of scare campaign they’re going to run, what about the submariners on the AUKUS submarines? And what would you say to our AUKUS allies about our ability to manage nuclear waste? It’s a serious issue, isn’t it? Would you urge your colleagues to steer clear of some of that stuff?

PRIME MINISTER: We’re not going to take lectures, Kieran, we’re not going to take lectures from the Coalition that are out there running scare campaigns about everything. Every issue is an opportunity for them to steer away from the facts. Look, this is an announcement without any detail. I cannot recall a serious government or alternative government coming out with a policy such as this, with not a single costing, with just a media release, which is more than Peter Dutton’s Budget Reply had, which had no media releases, no costings. This is a mob that have not produced a costing for policies in the more than two years now with three budget replies from Peter Dutton. When I was the Leader of the Labor Party and Leader of the Opposition, I produced fully costed policies in areas like child care, in rewiring the nation, in the National Reconstruction Fund, in a whole range of areas. I put them forward with substance. This mob think they can just get through by running. Remember where this has been driven by as well. This is a scare campaign. Worried about a solar panel scaring people is what they have tried. And six of the seven sites have said they don’t want a bar of this. In Port Augusta, the site that they have so-called identified, this is how hopeless they’ve been, has already been taken up with other activity that is creating jobs. And I saw the local Member there saying, ‘Oh, well, we’ll put it somewhere near there and somehow connect it up with the grid’. Liddell is, I’ve been up at Liddell, what Liddell have done is sign deals with Sundrive. They’re going to be doing a range of activities there, including manufacturing the world’s most efficient solar panels there on the Liddell site, employing more people than were employed under the former when the coal fired station, power station that they said they would keep open into the never-never that shut years ago on their watch.

GILBERT: Their polling of those communities suggests that it’s upwards.

PRIME MINISTER: Have you seen it, Kieran? Have you seen it?

GILBERT: We haven’t seen it yet. I’ve been advised of it.

PRIME MINISTER: Exactly. Exactly. Oh, you’ve been advised. You’ve been advised. Seriously? Seriously. What a joke. They’re out there, you know, talking about a half-baked plan. There are no costs. The reason why there are no costings out there is because it is so expensive, because it doesn’t add up. That’s why they’re trying to hide it. Just as Peter Dutton has said, ‘We’ll tell you what we’re going to do on 2030 after the election’. And I’ll make this tip, Kieran. There’s a reason why people hide costings, and that’s because those costings would completely rule out any rational person going down this nuclear road. What we have here is a bloke who’s incapable of leading his party in any serious ways, who just agrees to whatever some of the extreme people in his show who want to, as David Littleproud has said really explicitly, they want to wind back renewables. It’s not clear what they’re saying. I noticed in the person you were speaking to beforehand saying, ‘Oh, they’ve announced this policy and they’ll announce their gas policy and their renewables policy down the road’. Well, we have all of our policy out there. It’s one energy policy. It’s coherent. It has the support of the business community and it’s driving investment. There are more than 50 renewable energy projects underway that have been approved. We’ve seen a 25 per cent increase already in heading towards our target, which is there. We’ve seen more than 300,000 Australians in the last couple of years put solar panels on their roofs. The reason why they’ve done that is because it makes economic sense to drive down costs. And just as it makes sense for households, it makes sense for our entire economy as well.

GILBERT: I know you’ve got to go and get a plane. But I do want to ask you a few other issues. A big week of news and commitments for you. One of them, of course, the Premier of China, the visit. Now, Peter Dutton said you lacked the backbone to strongly criticise the behaviour of those officials when Cheng Lei was blocked at that media event. In hindsight, could you have been more immediate in your criticism?

PRIME MINISTER: Kieran, you were there at that event, I would assume. Peter Dutton was there. He stood up at the lunch afterwards with Premier Li and said absolutely nothing. He was a lion outside and a pussycat when in front of Premier Li and other Chinese officials, said nothing. The truth is that we responded very clearly. It was inappropriate activity. We made that clear. And I made it clear directly to Premier Li, which is more than Peter Dutton did. He left it up to Simon Birmingham to speak up and didn’t raise it himself. The truth is as well, just to put some perspective here, the reason why Cheng Lei was at that press conference is because of the work that we did to ensure that she was brought home. Strongly advocating, as we do, always in Australia’s national interest. We’ve managed to stabilise the relationship without compromising any of our values. And Peter Dutton, for all of his macho nonsense he goes on with, he’s incapable of standing up to his own party. He’s got people in his Caucus room who’ve been out there praising Vladimir Putin. He’s got people out there putting all sorts of extreme positions opposing any action on COVID. He’s got anti-vaxxers sitting there giving speeches in the Parliament that he’s refused to say anything against. He can’t even stand up to people in his own Party, let alone stand up for Australia’s national interests globally. That’s something that I’ve done and that’s why Cheng Lei brought home, Sean Turnell brought home from Myanmar. People in Vietnam taken off death row. The actions that we’ve continued to put. And we always defend Australia’s national interests.

GILBERT: The Putin and Kim Jong Un summit in Pyongyang, that’s quite the spectacle. The two despots having their diplomatic dance. But I ask you a serious question. Should China be doing more to rein those despots in and to ensure world peace like in Ukraine? They’ve got the influence there, why not use it?

PRIME MINISTER: It’s one of the issues that we put forward very strongly when I met with Premier Li. We think that China should use its influence with Russia. Vladimir Putin’s illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine has had a devastating impact on the people of Ukraine who are standing up for their sovereignty. But it’s also had a devastating impact on the global economy. It is one of the major sources of global inflation that saw inflation hit double digits in places like the UK and have a real impact. So, we want all countries to put pressure on Russia. And we do directly, as well, by standing up with our allies, by providing support, now has been over a billion dollars that we’ve supported for Ukraine, that’s so important. It’s a struggle for the rule of international law and for national sovereignty to be respected. And the people of Ukraine, and I had another discussion with President Zelenskyy just a couple of weeks ago and praised the courage of him and his people, as did Bill Shorten when he represented Australia at the important summit that was held in Europe just last week.

GILBERT: And finally, one out of left field. It hasn’t been a major commitment of yours this week or priority, but one of my colleagues reporting on this, the Australian company DefendTex, it’s seeking to purchase a Brazilian weapons manufacturer, Avibras. They want $70 million. It would give us a sovereign capacity. Our own Aussie-owned missile maker. Is the Government considering offering that support as a line?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, Export Finance Australia are looking at that proposal. We’re big supporters of our defence industry. Part of our agenda for a Future Made in Australia is about renewables, it’s about manufacturing, it’s about our defence industry, our pharmaceutical industry. It’s about new high tech as well, and making sure that we’re not only dealing with the immediate issues. So, in less than two weeks now, Kieran, on July 1, Monday week, what we’ll have is not just a tax cut for every taxpayer, we’ll have $300 energy bill relief for every household. We’ll have a wage increase for everyone on the minimum wage and award wages. We’ll also have further cheaper medicines come into play. And in addition to that, we’ve managed to achieve all of that while putting that downward pressure on inflation, which is half of what we inherited. And one of the ways we’ve done that is producing two budget surpluses in a row. So, we’ve done all that in the immediate sense. But we’re also looking for what are the opportunities for new industries into the future. And what we are doing with our Future Made in Australia is in part about defence industry and about us being able to be more resilient as a national economy. And part of that is the examination of proposals such as the one that you’ve raised today.

GILBERT: Prime Minister, thanks for your time. Apologies to your officials. I’ve gone way over the time they allocated. But thank you for being generous with your time. And on a big day in Australian politics. It’s been a big week. I thank you for that.

PRIME MINISTER: Always great to chat with you, Kieran.

/Public Release. View in full here.