TED O’BRIEN – SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY
FEDERAL MEMBER FOR FAIRFAX
INTERVIEW WITH ANDREW CLENNELL, SUNDAY AGENDA
16, October 2022
Subjects: Energy prices, gas supply, gas deal, energy, small modular reactors, nuclear energy, energy technology, regional communities
Andrew Clennell: They’re still making fun of your push for nuclear power. What do you say to that?
Ted O’Brien: Well, look, the prime minister can make as much fun as he likes. But when Australian households are struggling right now, because their power bills are going up, they’re not laughing. When businesses are looking at closing their door because power prices are too high, they’re not laughing. The prime minister can get all the giggles he likes from his own rank and file within the Labor Party, but in the real economy, people are hurting and he had promised people the Labor Party promised 97 times that they would reduce power bills to the tune of $275 for households, but what we’ve seen is prices are skyrocketing. And I’m not seeing any one of the real economy giggling about that.
Andrew Clennell: Alright, I’ll get to that in a minute. But we recently had a CSIRO report that found there was no prospect of small modular reactors in Australia this decade that future cost reductions were possible, but that a small reactor typically cost more than $16,000 per kilowatt hour, and wind and solar came in at 1/8. Of that cost. Doesn’t that show that? The road to nuclear is some way off?
Ted O’Brien: A few things to say about that, Andrew? Firstly, Australia’s own agency, including CSIRO do not do their own assessments at all on nuclear energy. They never have and that is because nuclear energy is banned from Australia. And there have been a lot of question marks over the Gen cost report where CSIRO has provided that figure, I personally do not accept it. Secondly, we have 32 countries in the world right now that are nuclear countries for them the economics stackup we’ve got 50 other countries that are embarking on nuclear programs seriously assessing it for them the economics stackup the difference between Labor’s approach and our approach is they are very selective with technologies we believe there needs to be a balance. What hits your power bill is the balance of the entire system cost. So the way labor tries to talk about comparing the cost of, of creating energy through one source versus another is an absolute furphy. What matters is what hits people’s power bills. And that’s the entire system. What other countries find is that nuclear actually helps balance up especially renewables and costs come down. So this is a debate we need to have in this country and that’s why we have not been shy of it.
Andrew Clennell: Mr. O’Brien, do you want a full scale nuclear reactor or are you interested in small modular reactors or both?
Ted O’Brien: First and foremost, we want a national conversation about the possibility of nuclear energy being part of our mix going forward. Our priority is not the old technology. So anyone who says you know, what about Chernobyl? What about Fukushima? We hear that no one wants to see old Soviet era technology in Australia when it comes to nuclear energy. We are looking at new and emerging technologies. And in the midst of an energy crisis when we are seeing prices skyrocket when we’re seeing the authorities in Australia saying if we’re going to have blackouts and brownouts, why wouldn’t we consider all technologies, including this one, which represents about 10% of energy across the world today?
Andrew Clennell: Where do you see nuclear reactors being based in cities?
Ted O’Brien: Ultimately, there are going to be a few options for how we consider nuclear for Australia, you can have on grid and off grid. On grid one of the suggestions that has been put to us is the possibility of converting old coal fired power stations into nuclear power stations. Off the Grid. There are suggestions of looking at mining sites so that you can have small almost micro reactors in regional rural areas looking after mining sites. Now all of these things need to be looked at and we need to do it in an open way Andrew, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a renewables project, a transmission line or nuclear energy. There has to be a prerequisite here and the prerequisite is the community comes first you need a social license. No matter which major project you’re looking at. Nuclear is no different. And that’s exactly the approach we’ll be taking.
Andrew Clennell: I wanted to ask about gas prices. Now clearly, the government seems pretty exercised on the issue. Even might be a cabinet split on the issue, it seems to me, should they revise the code of conduct was the heads of greement enough, adequate enough? What’s your view on this?
Ted O’Brien: Look, I think the government’s botched it. I really do. We were saying from day one in opposition that they need to engage with the gas CEOs and sort this out. Firstly, they refused to do so. The Energy Minister decided to say that the gas trigger was not a waste, only to find the resource Minister tried to use it two months later. The Energy Minister sacked the CEO of of Snowy that looks after Kurri Kurri the peaking plant for gas because he didn’t like the idea of having more gas in the system. The energy Minister is trying to take gas out of the potential capacity mechanism. That the whole thing has been botched. Now, wekept prices down when we’re in government prices were coming down 8% for for households between 10 and 12% for businesses. Australian manufacturers, over 40% of their energy comes from gas. I’ve been out there Andrew on the shop floor. I’m talking to foundries to steel makers that are telling me they might shut their door because of gas prices. And if they do, we know where that business goes. It’ll go to the likes of China and India high emitting countries. So it’s not good for the environment. It’s not good for the economy. It’s not good for intellectual property. It’s not good for our competitive advantage. It’s bad news industry is struggling. They’re on their knees. And the only solution that the Labor Party has come up with is to reallocate gas not to get more gas into the system. We need more gas. Not just a reallocation of it.
Andrew Clennell: Mr O’Brien, just just on some of those points you made. I mean, obviously the current government blames the previous government for not doing enough when it came to creating the investment certainty around energy policy. And they say you hid a price rise until after the election asking the AER to delay that determination on prices. What do you say to those two points?
Ted O’Brien: Well, I disagree with both the government. The now government was very clear all the way up to the election, that they had a plan to reduce prices and to keep the system reliable. They have delivered the polar opposite.
Andrew Clennell: But, the AER did delay that determination. The AER did delay that the determination. Presumably on the behest of the Energy Minister.
Ted O’Brien: It doesn’t matter whether the AER announced the determination early, late, as it always did. It made not one iota of difference as to what the price increase was going to be. Labor made a commitment to the Australian people last December that they would reduce power prices. Now I don’t think it’s too much for the Australian people to hold the government to account for that which they promised them. I think we all know the truth. It’s a broken promise. They said they had the plans to do it. Now you know, the
Andrew Clennell: Yeah, but if they knew they were going up 10% would they ever have I mean they might have revised it might they but promising a 10% reduction. Not knowing that a 10% increase has been put off.
Ted O’Brien: Well, well, Andrew, they made the announcement last December. There was no advice at that point about any price increase because that advice comes later on in the next year. And they’ve had ample opportunity by the way to revise it. How many times have Peter Dutton and I asked the prime minister in question time whether or not he stands by the $275 decrease he’s he’s never said he does’nt, never said he doesn’t nor will heconfirm it. He can come out today and revise it if he likes.
Andrew Clennell: I’m sure they will eventually be revising it. I’m sure he’ll eventually be revising it. Just on a couple of other issues. The PM announced this extension of paid parental leave what’s the opposition’s view on that?
Ted O’Brien: Well, we’ll have to wait to see the detail the full details and the costings. But overall, it looks pretty positive because it builds on on our legacy about what we’re really proud, by the way, you know, the coalition at the end of the day, saw women’s participation at record levels. And were able to sort of narrow that gender pay gap which is so critical and unemployment for women at the lowest level in 48 years. Now, paid parental leave is an important part of that. So long as the government is looking at ensuring it provides a balance for families a balance so people can look after work, life and caring responsibilities. That’s key. Liberal Party is always about choice and about flexibility. So it looks good, but we do need to see the details.
Andrew Clennell: The PM announced there would be a referendum on an indigenous voice next financial year. What’s your position on this? And on the speculation in this morning’s papers that the coalition might just allow MPs to have their own views on this. Might not have a unified view.
Ted O’Brien: And it’s too early to start talking about whether or not MPs get a free vote. And that is because the Prime Minister has not been clear. About what it is we’ll be voting on. We’ve always been very positive about the voice. The problem is the prime minister even in his speech yesterday that sky just showed it’s just about the vibe of the thing. He cannot tell us how it’s going to work. He cannot tell us who’s going to be on it cannot tell us how they’re going to be chosen. To be on it. He cannot tell us the powers that would be bestowed on those who are on the body. So it’s complete mystery, and you cannot go to the Australian people asking for a referendum asking for constitutional change based on the vibe of the thing we need to know the detail in the absence of the detail. He’s compromising the very cause that he is trying to promote. And it’s too early to say where the opposition would stand on issues for which there’s no detail. So look it’s with the Prime Minister. He’s got to stump up with it.
Andrew Clennell: Just finally, what do you think of the prospect of the treasurer cutting programs in the region’s National Party secured in exchange for the net zero emission deal?
Ted O’Brien: We know that the the government the Labor government has a track record of ignoring the region’s already in the few months they’ve been they have ignored regional Australia. So we’ll be watching out for that. You know there whether it be road projects or rail projects across regional Australia, in my portfolio of energy we know regional Australia has been ignored by this government. Let’s see if they also ignore them in roads and rail. If they do, they’ll be held to account. It probably won’t surprise some people, but this is what they do. Labor’s back so are taxes, and so are the region’s being ignored.
Andrew Clennell: Ted O’Brien thanks for your time.
Ted O’Brien: Thanks very much, Andrew