Transcript of doorstop interview, Newcastle
WED 08 AUGUST 2012
Prime Minister, Assistant Treasurer
Subject(s): Power prices; London Olympics; National Broadband Network; National Disability Insurance Scheme; Manufacturing; Federal election; Northern Territory election; Investment in the Hunter
E & O E – PROOF ONLY
PM: I’m delighted to be here in Newcastle. I’m joined by David Bradbury, from Sydney, our Assistant Treasurer who is also very focused on consumer and competition issues and he’ll say a few words in just a moment.
Newcastle is home to the Smart City, Smart Grid project. It’s about learning the best way of making sure we are using the power in the most efficient fashion and consequently generating the cheapest bills.
What we want in our nation is a smart electricity network which gets power where it’s needed. We don't want a dumb network that costs us more and more because of more and more investment in the poles and the wires.
What’s happening here in Newcastle is helping us envisage that smart electricity network for the future. It’s been a great pleasure to see what is happening here and how it’s informing this local community about how to better use power and moderate the costs of using power. The more information people have about the power use, the better they can manage their use and the cheaper the bills they’ll get.
It’s been a great pleasure to meet with Paul and Nicole and their daughters Emily, Amy and Georgie. They are participating in this trial. They are living the experience of understanding their electricity use, of still using all of the appliances that they want to use and we have been joking about hair straighteners, amongst other appliances, but using all of the appliances, all of the power that a family needs to use, but doing that in an efficient way.
Yesterday, I spoke about the burden that ever rising electricity prices are on families around the nation. Many people, families, pensioners, get a rude shock when they open up their electricity bill. They’ve lived through 50 per cent increases in the last four years.
Of course, carbon pricing has caused a 10 per cent increase in electricity pricing and that’s come with pension increases and tax cuts and family payment increases. But the 50 per cent increases people have lived through haven't come with a cent of compensation or assistance.
I want to make sure that state governments, territory governments work with me, the Federal Government, in December to get solutions. So we don't see power bills escalate another 50 per cent in the next four years.
Part of the solution is empowering consumers, giving them more choices and more information than before and I’ll turn to David Bradbury for some comments on that.
ASSISTANT TREASURER: Well thanks very much. It is great to be here with you, Prime Minister, at the smart grid smart city facility and I think we’ve all learnt something more about energy use and how we can become more efficient.
Obviously, the rising costs of energy is something that’s impacting on families and businesses right around this country and that has been the case for a number of years. As the Prime Minister indicated, we’ve seen increases here in New South Wales in the order of 50 per cent over the last four years. We are determined to try and ensure that increases in the future are minimised and that families and businesses do not face those same increases into the future.
Now there are a number of things that can be done in trying to tackle rising energy prices and of course that 50 per cent increase over the last four years, that’s occurred separate, independent of the carbon price, these are increases that are happening regardless.
But the things that we can do and one important thing that we can do, is to implement a range of measures that have been agreed by the states and territories – the national energy customer framework.
This is a framework that sets out a number of important principles that will provide important protections for consumers. They will make sure that there are fair contract terms under which consumers enter into agreements. They will ensure that there is better information in relation to both bills that are provided and contracts that are entered into, so that consumers know what they're signing up for, and importantly they provide for national consistency, in terms of the arrangements that are in place to provide accommodation and payment plans for people that are experiencing hardship.
And in addition to these important protections, this is also an important part of ensuring that all of the relevant pricing information is available on the Internet, on the web, so that families and businesses can have a look at the web and work out exactly what the best deal for them is.
It is important that we empower consumers to give them the opportunity to get the best deal. It is disappointing that in May this year, the O'Farrell Government decided to defer implementation of the national energy customer framework here in New South Wales. This is one important thing that Mr O'Farrell and his government can do to help provide protections for consumers.
I call upon him to take immediate action in committing to the implementation of these measures. He made an announcement out of the blue without any indication as to why that was the case, but the longer he delays, the longer it will be that consumers here in New South Wales have access to the basic protections that even he has agreed they deserve.
Let's be clear about this, Mr O'Farrell and all of the states have agreed that these are sensible things to do, they’ve just decided not to implement them. It’s about time they implemented them, that’s what consumers deserve and I’m calling upon him and his colleagues to deliver just that.
PM: Thanks you David. Just before we turn to questions, can I also say this. A very big congratulations to our golden girls, to Anna and Sally. I’ve had the opportunity to speak to both of them by phone.
They're celebrating, absolutely rightly, they should be celebrating and we're celebrating with them. What terrific achievements, Anna and Sally have made for themselves and made for our nation.
So it’s pretty joyful day. Two very excited women and very big congratulations to them.
JOURNALIST: Still on that Prime Minister, two local boys from Lake Macquarie, the forty-niners, they’ll take home gold tonight. Any comments on that?
PM: I think everybody here locally and right around the nation has got fingers crossed and we’ll be watching tonight.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on the power price rises, there has been an historical level of underinvestment in infrastructure as we know and Energy Australia and the other power companies around the country have invested heavily in poles and wires to bring us up to the level that we need.
Isn’t it hypocritical to now turn around and say you shouldn't have spent the money when it was well-known that it was needed? And also that the large part of the power price increase has also been to subsidise the cost of otherwise inefficient green power schemes?
PM: I’m happy to take both questions. Of course we need investment in infrastructure. We need the right investment, the efficient investment.
What I’m concerned about is, at the moment, there is an incentive for state governments that reap dividends from power assets to keep investing in the poles and wires, to overinvest in the poles and wires. Because the more they invest in the poles and wires, then the greater the dividends they get.
So let's look here in New South Wales, a 70 per cent increase in prices over the last four years. That’s separate to carbon pricing. And we have seen a 60 per cent increase in the dividends that the state government gets. And we see a marked difference between what’s happening with state-owned assets, as opposed to privately-owned assets.
And so all of that says to me we can do better than this. We can do better than seeing consumers suffer through spiralling prices year after year after year.
So making sure that we get all of it right, so the right investments are made, efficient investments are made, that we do not see overinvestment. That we are dealing with peak demand in a sophisticated way which includes some of the things that we’ve seen here right now.
You probably heard me say, as I walked through chatting to Paul and his family, we at the moment, do the equivalent of building a ten-lane freeway, where two lanes of it are only used one weekend a year.
That is effectively how we're running the electricity grid at the moment. I think we can do better and more efficiently than that and stop the flow-through impact of that onto the prices that families pay.
JOURNALIST: The Hunter's National Disability Insurance Scheme pilot. Are you confident that’s going to be a great success for the rest of the state?
PM: I’m very confident that the National Disability Insurance Scheme is the next huge social reform we need for people with disabilities.
For far too long people with disabilities here in the Hunter and right around the nation have lived with what’s a very cruel lottery. Depending on how you got your disability, you will or won't get the care that you need.
People who have got a disability at work get worker’s compensation, people who are injured in transport accidents get assistance through the transport accident system. But people born with a disability, who acquire it through just an accident, at home or in social circumstances, someone who gets a disability because of a debilitating disease, they haven't got the care they needed.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme is about changing that and I think it’s great news for the people of the Hunter that this is going to be one of the trial sites.
It was pretty hard fought for and I’m glad that we are able to roll it out right here.
JOURNALIST: The NBN didn't do so well in Armidale. Will it do well in areas that are larger such as the Hunter?
PM: Well I don't agree with the premise of your question.
The National Broadband Network is rolling out in various places around the country: Tasmania, Armidale, in South Australia, Victoria. Right around the nation we're seeing roll-outs in different kinds of places: metropolitan corridors, country towns.
The NBN is rolling out, and the three-year roll-out plan is there for all to see. The NBN is important enabling technology so we can do things like we're talking about today.
For us to have the smartest use of big infrastructure, like our electricity system, the National Broadband Network is an important component. We can move information quickly, about things like power usage and with that information consumers can make a difference to how much power they're using and consequently what they're paying and they can do that without any dramatic changes to their lifestyle.
Getting the benefit of using off peak prices to do things like run the dishwasher or the clothes dryer.
JOURNALIST: Overall will it be delivered on time and on budget?
PM: The Minister for Communications and the head of our National Broadband Network company Mike Quigley will be dealing with some of these matters in some detail a little bit later today.
JOURNALIST: Regardless of whether it is on budget or not, surely the tens of billions of dollars that have been spent on that are the same sort of gold plated overspending that you're criticising the states for in the electricity system?
PM: Completely wrong. Your analogy is completely wrong. We need the National Broadband Network so our nation doesn't get stuck with second-class technology. We compete with nations in our region and around the world that have got the productivity benefits of a broadband network. It is absolutely proven and clear that broadband enables you to increase productivity, that means you can increase your national wealth and prosperity. That is what having the NBN is all about. A stronger economic future for our nation.
It is also about delivering services in a new way, health services, education, and enabling us to do things like you're seeing here.
JOURNALIST: Mass job losses in the manufacturing industry. In the Hunter it was all aluminium. Are you happy with the level of Federal Government support?
PM: I am very determined as Prime Minister to keep working with our manufacturing sector. I want manufacturing to have a strong long-term future as part of our strong diversified economy. The Australian economy is a world beater. We should be very proud of that. How we came out of the global financial crisis, how we kept our economy strong, we should be proud of it because we did it together.
But there's nothing about being a world beater now that happened by accident. We had to make sure we were in this position, through thoughtful government action and working with the business community, unions and communities around the country.
We're going to take that same spirit to ensuring we keep our economy strong for the future. It is about clean energy, it is about the NBN, it is about skills, it is about other forms of infrastructure, but it is also about working with manufacturing. These can be tough days for manufacturing because of the strength of the Aussie dollar. I understand that and that is why I asked a taskforce to work with me to chart the future of manufacturing.
JOURNALIST: Some Labor MPs are not showing any ALP branding on their pamphlets coming up to the Federal election. Is Labor being coy and why?
PM: People will do their local pamphlets the way they want to do them. I have certainly had a look at some of Sharon Grierson's on the way up today – a great way of getting information to the local community. There is no one way of doing it.
JOURNALIST: In terms of the election, are you worried? The Libs have put a lot of effort in. They’re going hard, and in terms of the state election, they did very well. Are you worried about the Hunter heartland and Labor in the federal?
PM: People will make their decisions in 2013, whether it is here in the Hunter or other parts of the nation, on who’s got the best plan of the future to keep the economy strong and to make sure we share the benefits of that strength, that we bring the new opportunities that people today need, whether they're people with disabilities, kids in our schools, people who want jobs in manufacturing or jobs in other areas. Here in the Hunter we have got a proud track record of investment.
We have worked alongside this community as it’s diversified its economy so we can see the sorts of strengths that are being brought to bear in this centre. Your expertise in renewables, the presence of the CSIRO here. The importance of the University to your economic future.
All being brought together with private sector companies to do things like this Smart City Smart Grid initiative, so we’ve brought that passion to working with the Hunter and we will be continuing it, and in 2013 people will exercise their right to decide.
JOURNALIST: Will you be campaigning in the Northern Territory?
PM: The Northern Territory election will be decided on Territory issues. People in the Territory know that they're voting for who will be their local government.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Paul Henderson hasn't invited you up for the campaign. Is that because he thinks you'll do more harm than good?
PM: It's because Territory election are about Territory issues. The people of the Northern Territory understand that, and the choice they will be making is between Paul Henderson and his team or the alternative.
JOURNALIST: Business and industry groups in the Hunter say we're the powerhouse of the state and for some parts of the rest of the country. Do you feel happy with the amount of money the Hunter sees coming back into the region?
PM: We have invested $2 billion into Newcastle. $2 billion into Newcastle and further investments into the Hunter region because of the importance of these communities to our nation. So it's been investment in hard infrastructure, like the Hunter express way, it's been investment in local schools, because of their importance to the economic future of this place and our nation. It’s been investments into universities, into health, into things like this like this Smart City, Smart Grid project, a hundred million dollar investment.
I'm very proud of the investments we've made in this area to enable it to keep leaping ahead. I've always felt when I've visited here that there's a very special combination here in the local community, a very special combination about being prepared to deal with the challenges of change, about bringing together with that sort of courageous spirit, the intellectual powerhouse of the university, the can-do spirit of the business community, the community leadership of which Sharon Grierson has been such an important part, so it’s a great place and it's got a great future.
Thank you very much.