Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

Radio interview with Charlie McKillop, ABC Queensland Country Hour

17 March 2017

Prime Minister

Subjects:

Snowy Mountains Scheme 2.0; energy security; protecting the Great Barrier Reef; biosecurity

E&OE

CHARLIE MCKILLOP:

Prime Minister – thanks for being with us. And shoring up Australia’s future energy security will be complex and difficult won’t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Charlie, the object is to ensure that all Australians have access to affordable and reliable electricity, and of course gas, and delivering that is complex as you say.

But a big part of it is the expansion of the Snowy Hydro Scheme and this going to add at least 50 per cent to the capacity of Snowy Hydro. It will deliver a massive amount of additional storage which will back up the system, provide stability to the system right across eastern Australia and, of course, it provides the backup that renewables in particular need.

CHARLIE MCKILLOP:

Well some say that you have jumped the gun on the Snowy Hydro though, Prime Minister - its policy on the run. How will you do it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me say this to you Charlie - these projects, these storage projects in the Snowy are all fully designed. All the engineering was done decades ago. I have the plans here in front of me.

And what we’re doing is really picking up the great work that was done by a previous generation. We need to, with the feasibility study, obviously look at the financials but the company is very confident that this is a highly commercial project.

But the main thing is to update it for 21st century technology – you’ve got tunnel boring techniques and so forth.

But this is a very well designed, well thought through project, well there is a number of projects, but the major one that we are looking for is 2000 megawatt augmentation and is fully detailed and designed - designs updated as late as the early 90s.

CHARLIE MCKILLOP:

What does it all mean for Queensland? What role potentially might we play in meeting the country’s energy security needs?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Queensland already plays an enormous role. In fact, I’m just looking at the national electricity market on my iPhone at the moment and I can see that Queensland is exporting energy into New South Wales on both interconnectors.

What the augmentation of the Snowy will provide is more stability right across the national electricity market. It will enable us to - Snowy Hydro to take some of those big price peaks out of the market - to reduce the volatility and that will in due course increase affordability. It will put downward pressure on the prices because we have seen increasing volatility in the energy market over recent years.

CHARLIE MCKILLOP:

You want Queensland gas producers to supply more to that domestic market – can you make them?

PRIME MINISTER:

The gas exporters from Curtis Island, two of them have already committed to be net contributors to the domestic market. That is to say that they will sell more into the domestic market than they buy from it. The third, GLNG has taken that, this is the Santos consortium, they have taken that matter on notice and we are looking forward to them making a similar commitment.

But I am absolutely determined to ensure that all Australians, whether it is families, homes, businesses, industry, have access to reliable and affordable gas.

Exports are very, very important and we will shortly be the largest exporter of LNG but fundamentally we need to ensure that there is gas available for Australians.

CHARLIE MCKILLOP:

You are hearing from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on ABC Radio Queensland.

Mr Turnbull, it will inevitably mean more conflict between landholders and those who seek to exploit those gas and mining resources. How can you ensure that there is a level playing field for all users of the land and most importantly finite water resources?

PRIME MINISTER:

Water has been a great passion of mine. I was the Water Minister in the Howard government and I am very committed to the sustainable use of water in every area, whether it is agriculture or industry or in cities.

CHARLIE MCKILLOP:

And at the moment you would know that legislation permits gas developers to have an unlimited take?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the use of water has to be managed sustainably. I think a very important step also is to ensure that landowners are properly rewarded for the extraction of gas from their properties, from underneath their properties. So we welcome the decision in South Australia, by that State Government, to allocate 10 per cent of the state’s royalties to the landowners and we’d encourage other states to do the same.

I have to say that Queensland is producing gas. We’ve got here, where I am at the moment in Victoria, the Labor Government here has locked up the onshore gas resources. An extraordinary thing to do because there is a lot of gas down here in Victoria, I can tell you.

CHARLIE MCKILLOP:

And there’s a lot of gas in Queensland and landholders who are worried about the development of those resources, are rightly asking why should Queensland carry the can for the rest of the country? For states that are unable or unwilling to meet their own energy needs?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well again, Charlie, it’s a question of getting the balance right. There’s no one answer you can apply generally because you’ve got to take into account the circumstance in each district, in each area – you know, the hydrogeology in each area, groundwater characteristics vary from place to place. But the fact is you can get the balance right with goodwill and the right science.

And it is important that Australia has access to the gas it needs, but we’ve got to keep the pressure on the southern states, in particular New South Wales and Victoria – and especially Victoria – to pull their weight and unlock their enormous gas resources.

Here in Victoria, it’s not a question of fracking, they’ve banned the exploration and development of conventional gas.

CHARLIE MCKILLOP:

You’re hearing from Malcom Turnbull the Prime Minister of Australia on the Queensland Country Hour today on a day when your state counterpart, Prime Minister, is in India talking to the proponents of Australia’s largest proposed coal mine, the Adani Carmichael Mine.

It’s also a day on which conservationists have released a survey showing seven out of ten Australians are effectively opposed to the coal project. They would prefer to see investment in solar rather than coal. Why is the Federal Government so determined that the Adani coal mine must go ahead?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well ultimately the decision for the mine to go ahead will be Mr Adani’s decision. It’s a commercial venture.

But the reality is that coal is one of our biggest exports. It creates and supports thousands and thousands of jobs across Australia.

I know that there are green groups that would like Australia not to export coal but believe me, Charlie, if Australia stopped exporting coal tomorrow it would just be picked up by Indonesia and Columbia. The same amount of coal and actually dirtier coal would be burned in the power stations and plants overseas that we’re currently addressing.

The reality is that coal is and will be for a long time, a very big part of the world’s energy solution.

Now I believe that our approach to energy should be based on economics and engineering, not ideology.

Certainly, the idea that if you were to ban or prevent coal being exported from Australia it would somehow reduce global greenhouse gas emissions is just wrong. All that would happen is that the countries with whom we compete, would export more.

CHARLIE MCKILLOP:

Those conservation groups want you to look at alternative sources of energy and they’re worried about the environmental assets. The value of the Great Barrier Reef for example, an icon whose resilience and health, we’re told by scientists, we can no longer take for granted. What cost or value do you put on that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Charlie, no government has put more resources into protecting the Great Barrier Reef than mine. We are absolutely committed to it. Whether it is in terms of science, whether it’s in terms of the protected areas, whether it’s in the term of preventing runoff into the reef, all of those measures are being undertaken.

In fact, we have been complemented globally for our management of the Great Barrier Reef.

But clearly, as with many environmental assets, it is under pressure.

But you know, you talked about renewable energy. Certainly there is a big increase in wind and solar. I was just recently up Barcaldine in Queensland looking at a big solar farm there that’s about to triple in size, inspecting that - I was very impressed by it.

The storage solutions that we’ve been proposing, and the one we’re going to support, whether it’s the smaller scale one in South Australia, a pumped hydro project there, or whether it is the massive increase in the Snowy Mountains Scheme, these actually make renewables reliable.

The reality is that the sun doesn’t shine all day and the wind doesn’t blow all day. So you need to have backup. You need to have storage. You need to have something to keep the lights on when the renewables are not performing and that is why storage is so important. So for those people who are passionate about renewables, what I’ve announced yesterday at Snowy Hydro is the best support for renewables you could imagine.

CHARLIE MCKILLOP:

This is the Country on ABC Radio Queensland.

Prime Minister, I know that time is against us but can we just move to biosecurity because you’d be aware that authorities in Queensland are battling on many fronts. White spot disease affecting prawn farmers and now commercial fishes and cucumber green mottle mosaic virus found on another farm in Bundaberg - effectively a vegetable and salad bowl in Queensland. The biosecurity risks are increasing but successive governments at state and federal level have cut biosecurity frontline resources. Are you going to be the Prime Minister that turns the pendulum back?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Charlie it is a matter of whatever it takes. Protecting Australia’s biosecurity is vital, it is part of national security. National security, energy security and indeed you are right, biosecurity. It’s an element in border security, in fact - it is ensuring that we keep Australians safe.

Now I’ve been advised that all the prawn farms on the Logan River have been affected by white spot and the disease has been detected in Moreton Bay which is very disappointing news. So we are withdrawing product from retail outlets where uncooked prawns are confirmed as white spot positive. We don’t know yet the cause of the white spot disease outbreak in the Logan River area. We are taking action to support those impacted by the outbreak.

We’ve announced $1.74 million in emergency response funding to assist the Queensland Government and industry with response costs and future preparedness activities.

CHARLIE MCKILLOP:

But it’s reactive isn’t it? It’s having to respond to an emergency rather than stopping it and the fact that this infected product has ended up on our supermarket shelves and now subsequently is being recalled, does that indicate that our import risk assessment process has failed.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Charlie, our biosecurity system is good and we have maintained very strong biosecurity measures but this has been a breach, if you like, of the system. People have done the wrong thing so we are dealing with it. And you’ve said it’s reactive, well of course we have to react to it and we have to deal with the outbreak and respond, fix it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

CHARLIE MCKILLOP:

Prime Minister, thanks for your time. Just want to let you know that I had the opportunity to catch up with the boys from the Betoota Advocate last night and they were a little bit sheepish about the fact that they managed to down four schooners to your one when you met at Woolloomooloo the other night!

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, but did you notice the way they were carefully shuffling the beer glasses on the table in front of us to make it appear that I was keeping pace with them? It was very clever. But I’m glad they acknowledged I only had one.

CHARLIE MCKILLOP:

They are clever boys.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks a lot Charlie.

CHARLIE MCKILLOP:

Thanks very much for being with us.

PRIME MINISTER:

No worries. Thanks.

[ENDS]