Doorstop - Riverside, TAS

15 Dec 2020
Prime Minister

Bridget Archer MP, Member for Bass: It’s terrific to be here right in the heart of Launceston today. Launceston has got a very proud history when it comes to energy generation and I’m delighted to be joined here today by my mate Gavin Pearce, the Member for Braddon. Also Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Premier Peter Gutwein, Minister Angus Taylor and Minister Guy Barnett. It’s very fitting that we’re here in Launceston. As I said, we’ve got a very proud history of energy generation here in Launceston and it’s a great place to be talking about the future of energy here in Tasmania. Clean, green energy and lots of jobs.

The Hon. Peter Gutwein MP, Premier of Tasmania: Bridget, thank you for that warm introduction and it’s a pleasure to have the Prime Minister with us again for the second time in a couple of months and it’s been a fantastic opportunity over the last nine months to work with the Prime Minister. I must say, on one hand, I think I’ve spent more time on Webex with Scott than I have with my own children. But it’s been a lot of work over the period but it’s fantastic to see him here today. Look, Bridget just touched on the fact that Launceston has a proud history in terms of hydro generation. I think it is worthwhile making the point that here in Launceston at Duck Reach, that was the first hydro generator in the country when it was first developed and importantly Launceston was the first city in Australia to actually have electric power in terms of its streetlights. And so that was the start of the journey that we’re on. Today is another significant step in that journey. Over the last more than 100 years, what we’ve developed in Tasmania is a renewable energy system that is the envy of the country. Already we produce around 25 percent of the nation’s renewable energy and the next steps that we’re taking in terms of Marinus and Battery of the Nation will enable us to turn Tasmania into the renewable energy powerhouse of this country. The agreement that we will be signing today formalises the partnership between the state and federal government as we take forward Marinus. Importantly, with Marinus we’re working the design and approval stage and working towards having a bankable project by 2023-24. And importantly, already the feasibility work that has been undertaken indicates that this project is technically feasible and economically viable. So this next step of formalising our partnership is an important step. From the point of view of the state, the next step as I have said in turning Tasmania into the renewable energy powerhouse of this country. There will be thousands of jobs created as a result of this project and the underlying Battery of the Nation opportunity that comes with it. And importantly, with those jobs will come greater economic prosperity for Tasmania, built off the back of, as I have said, more than 100 years of work to get us to this point now, where we generate 25 percent of the country’s renewable energy. This will take us to a point where Tasmania will stand alone in the country in terms of our renewables. With that, I will hand over to the Prime Minister to provide the detail.

Prime Minister: Well, thank you, Peter, thank you, Premier. It is great to be here with my colleagues. Of course, Bridget and Gav, but also to have Angus and Guy here with me who have really been doing the heavy legwork when it comes to the agreement that the Premier and I are going to be signing today. To Ange and to Ian and to all the team here at Hydro, it is great to be here with you and see the amazing work that you’ve been doing in Launceston for a very long time, since the mid-1950s. And it just goes to show that if you’ve got a good idea, it sustains and it really carries and that’s what we’re seeing here with the hydro industry here in Tasmania.

Our Government is working with state and territory governments to get electricity prices down, to ensure we’ve got reliable energy that can support our industries right across the country to create jobs and how we do that, both within the sector and outside the sector and to get our emissions down. That’s why we’re working with the states and territories. We’ve already signed an agreement with the New South Wales Government and today we’re signing a similar agreement here with the Tasmanian Government. A deal which is about getting electricity prices down, creating jobs and getting our emissions down. That's exactly what we're achieving here. What we're achieving in this agreement is we go to the next phase of the Battery of the Nation and Marinus Link project. The Commonwealth is increasing our investment up to $150 million to get us through the design and approval phase. In the agreement today, we established the Special Purpose Vehicle who will carry the project forward. Of course, there are more hurdles to clear into the future. But as the Premier just said, the technical and economic feasibility is very, very sound. That gives us great confidence, Minister Taylor and I, to go to the next step, to make the further investment. Here in Tasmania, you will be an exporter of clean, reliable energy to the mainland, to the rest of Australia. You will be exporting the sort of energy that the rest of Australia needs. Already there's some 400 megawatts, which sits idle. We want to connect that up to the rest of the economy. We want to connect that up to the rest of Australia. This is really important to ensure Australia emerges from the COVID-19 recession and that we charge up our businesses, not just here in Tasmania, and particularly here in the north of Tasmania, where the bulk of the jobs will be. Some 2,800 jobs in just the Marinus Link project alone, with further jobs coming in the form of Battery of the Nation.

This is a very exciting project and it's the sort of project which says ambition is great, but I tell you what, action is better. I mean, what we're doing here is reducing emissions. What we are doing here is generating energy in a renewable way that is reliable and can power jobs and that's why we're so excited about this agreement. And so we're looking forward to taking the next step and the partnership I have with Premier Gutwein builds on that, that we had previously with Premier Hodgman. I'm sure both Peter and I will join in praising the future vision, supported of course by Guy Barnett, and all of the Tasmanian team that understood the great power of this idea. It's becoming a reality now. I mean, this project will be contributing to Australia achieving and beating our 2030 emissions reduction targets, without even having to draw on our carbon credits, which Australia rightfully earned through our overachievement of the Kyoto commitments that we had. So, this is a key part of our plan. Along with Snowy Hydro, up on the mainland, these projects, this is how you reduce emissions. This is how you actually get it done. When you are focused on doing these things, the achievements then follow, and so we're going to keep focused on the practical on this. We're going to keep focused on investing in the jobs and the lower power prices. I want to thank again Premier Gutwein for partnering with us on this. Look forward to coming to similar agreements with other states and territories in due course. But this is how we're getting it done, Australia, and I really am so proud of what Tasmania is achieving here. I am really thrilled to Gav and to Bridget about the jobs that are going to be created here. Because we're also investing in the training here in northern Tasmania to ensure that people from northern Tasmania can be a part of this special project. Some years ago, when I was here, last year, in fact, with Gav and we were up in Ulverston and we were making announcements about the training that we were putting in locally to ensure that people could be trained to do the jobs here. So Ange, there will be plenty more for you to employ into the future as we go forward with these projects.

It is a very exciting day for Tasmania. The power is on. I will hand it over to Angus.

The Hon. Angus Taylor MP, Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction: Thank, PM. It is great to be here with my federal colleagues, but also by state colleagues, who have been fantastic partners in working on this project together. Guy and Peter are passionate about hydro and the potential of hydro, as of course are Gavin, Bridget and the Prime Minister as you have just heard. Of course, our great challenge as a country is to bring down, contain, energy prices and at the same time bring down emissions. That's exactly what this project is doing. We're seeing a really dramatic investment right now across Australia in solar and wind. $9 billion last year. We expect from the Clean Energy Regulator, what they are telling us, is we will see a similar $9 billion this year. Over 6 gigawatts of new solar and wind going into our grid. Emissions falling in the national electricity market 5 percent in the last 12 months alone and that's in keeping with dramatic reductions we're seeing in emissions right now. The challenge of that is to make sure we have firm, reliable power and we contain prices when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine. That's exactly what hydro projects can do for us and it is why we're so excited about projects like Battery of the Nation, Marinus and, of course, the Snowy project on the mainland.

When the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine, you need a solution and Tasmania has part of that solution which is very exciting for all of us here. Now, the $150 million we have invested in total in this project will get us to financial investment decision in the coming months, then we want to get on and build this project, because it really is needed. As the Prime Minister said, it's about practical action that contains energy prices and brings down emissions at the same time. A balance in our system between the dispatchable power that hydro delivers and the intermittent power from fresh solar and wind. That balance is what will serve us well to get the practical outcomes we want to in the coming years. Our focus is on technology, not taxes. Hydro is an old technology but it is being used in new ways. We are seeing dramatic improvements in efficiency in hydro, 10 percent improvement in the upgrade going on here. But hydro has also come of age in the way it can balance and store energy. That makes it a technology that's time has come. It's been around for a long time, but it's particularly important in our energy system now. These hydro projects create big batteries with dispatchable energy that can balance and ensure that we have the reliability and affordability all Australians need in our electricity grid.

The Hon. Guy Barnett, Tasmanian Minister for Energy: Thank you, Angus and to Prime Minister Scott Morrison for being here. It's so good to have a positive working relationship with Premier Gutwein and our federal colleagues. Strong, strong support from Gavin Pearce and Bridget Archer. It’s absolutely fantastic and to have that recognised today with the signing of the MOU to identify Marinus Link and Battery of the Nation to proceed to the next level, it is so exciting. Tasmania is the renewable energy powerhouse of Australia. We have just reached 100 per cent fully self-sufficient in renewable energy, just announced a few weeks ago. We are so pleased and so proud of that. The only state in Australia to achieve that accomplishment and one of the few jurisdictions in the world. We have now just recently legislated our Renewable Energy Target to be 200 per cent by 2040. This is remarkable. We're leading the way. Tasmania has the trifecta - affordable, reliable, and clean electricity and we have what the rest of Australia needs and wants. We have what the rest of the world needs and wants, and Tasmania has natural assets with our world-class water resource, our world-class wind resource and we're delivering. We're delivering jobs on the ground here in Tasmania, as has been outlined by the Prime Minister and Premier Gutwein. This is all about jobs on the ground. Billions of investment, improved energy security, and downward pressure on electricity prices.

In terms of the announcement today around Battery of the Nation, the Lake Cethana has been identified as the preferred site for work to progress. So congratulations to Hydro Tasmania for the work they’ve undertaken to identify out of Lake Rowallan Power Station and Lake Cethana. Lake Cethana is it. I spoke to the mayor, Tim Wilson, this morning. He is absolutely delighted. In terms of the MOU, it also includes and identifies Tarraleah for a major redevelopment. We're talking a $650 million development with jobs on the ground, hundreds of jobs during construction, a lot of civil construction work down through in the Derwent Valley in the southern part of Tasmania. This is part of the Battery of the Nation. So it's been identified, further work will be required subject to finance and further discussions with between the federal and state government here in Tasmania. So here we are at Trevallyn. This is part of our Battery of the Nation. You can see the improvements. We are increasing efficiencies and offering opportunities for more affordable, reliable, clean electricity. We're delivering in spades in Tasmania, and I say thank you to the Australian government for the commitment to this going forward. It's a very exciting day. A watershed event. I'm absolutely delighted on behalf of all Tasmanians to say we have the credentials to be the renewable energy powerhouse of Australia and to, indeed, lead the globe.

Prime Minister: Happy to take questions. But can I also congratulate you, Guy, on the great work you did to have Teddy Sheean recognised with the VC, which we were able to have invested just recently. I was in isolation at the time but was able to contribute remotely. But to you particularly, Guy, fantastically supported by the Premier and so many Tasmanians. And here Gav and, of course, Bridget, for the tremendous work you’ve done to making sure we work through that process well. It was a great outcome for Australia, it was a great outcome for Tasmania. A particularly good outcome for northern Tasmania, so that was tremendous. Happy to take some questions.

Journalist: Prime Minister what does this deal mean for who will own and operate the finished interconnector?

Prime Minister: We are setting up the SPV to deal with that in an interim way. But ultimately, this is a commercial project. This is a project that has a customer base, that is commercially viable, it has income streams that will support itself, ultimately. What we're doing here as a state government and a federal government is we're getting this thing moving. Now, the Commonwealth Government has been doing this in a number of different ways. The ultimate ownership structure varies, depends on the project, and how it ultimately plays out. In Snowy Hydro, for example, well, the Commonwealth now completely owns that project. With Western Sydney Airport, a big infrastructure project, we currently own all of it, but that’s isn't our intention long-term. So the ownership structure, I think, becomes clearer as time goes on. But what is important is that the project happens. The state government and federal government are very keen to ensure that this project happens and those issues, and the Premier may want to comment on this as well, from their perspective, but what we want to see happen is the project happen. And ultimately, down the track, this will be a project, this will be a business that will stand on its own two feet. Peter, did you want to add anything?

Journalist: So who’s going to pay for the whole interconnector?

Prime Minister: This will be a combination of investments, no doubt. But ultimately a business supports itself based on its customers. That's how it works. And the great compelling idea of Marinus and of also, of course, Battery of the Nation is it's generating lower cost electricity which is reliable and dispatchable. That's something that people need and want. That will support the investment from whichever sector it comes from. We're setting up a special purpose vehicle, that means we expect this to wash its face and the investments that are made from Commonwealth and state entities are supported by the revenues that will come from this business operating as a business, but those revenues will be based on lower-cost electricity. So there are winners everywhere here.

Journalist: How much do you expect Tasmanian taxpayers will pay for this given it’s exporting the power out when we don’t actually need it here in Tasmania?

Prime Minister: There is a great benefit, and the Premier and Minister may wish to comment on this. I am talking about a business that actually earns, so this is something that is not only going to create jobs, but this is something that is actually going to support itself. That is the whole point, which means that the Tasmanian public are double beneficiaries. They will be shareholders as they already are through hydro, in a successful business, but one that is actually producing lower power prices and jobs. So I would say they will benefit greatly, but I will let Peter speak to that as well.

The Hon. Peter Gutwein MP, Premier of Tasmania: Very happy to deal with that. This is a fantastic opportunity for Tasmania. Already, we generate 100 per cent of our renewable needs. In fact, our overall needs for electricity. The Battery of the Nation provides us with the opportunity to increase that opportunity to generate. Importantly, the rest of the country from the point of view of both needing dispatchable power, but also in terms of reducing emissions, wants our green energy and the rest of the country will pay for this as an export out of Tasmania. That is the bottom line. This will provide, importantly, ongoing economic security for the state and, importantly, thousands of jobs as well.

Journalist: How much will Victoria pay for this, then?

The Hon. Peter Gutwein MP, Premier of Tasmania: At the end of the day, what we are working through at the moment is to get to a financial investment decision and, in terms of the project, as I have said, as it stands at the moment, it is technically feasible. Importantly, it is economically viable. But our energy is needed by the rest of the country. Green energy is needed by the rest of the country. No one else can do what we are currently doing in terms of the network of bands we have, the network of catchments. So we are in a prime position to export clean, green energy to the rest of the country. And at the end of the day, customers will purchase that.

Journalist: If we are the only state that can do this, why should we be the ones paying for it?

The Hon. Peter Gutwein MP, Premier of Tasmania: At the end of the day I think you are having a little overreach there. What the Prime Minister has said is that what we have set up at the moment is a special purpose vehicle which will take us to the financial investment decision. This is the next step in terms of the proving of this project as a bankable project. Once it becomes a bankable project, there will be a range of options to consider in terms of who finances it and who ultimately owns it. It could be owned privately, it could be owned by the Commonwealth Government in partnership with the State Government. Those matters will be worked through as we prove up this project.

Journalist: So you want it to be bankable within the next four years, when will construction officially start?

The Hon. Peter Gutwein MP, Premier of Tasmania: As soon after that as we can take the first step.

Journalist: Prime Minister, onto other national matters, on coal exports, the Trade Minister Simon Birmingham says that the Australian Government has not been able to verify the Global Times report but have you got any reason to doubt the report?

Prime Minister: Well, we take official information from the Chinese Government and so that is what we are seeking clarification of and those reports have not been clarified by the Chinese Government. So, until we are in a position to have that clarified, then we can only treat these as media speculation in the Chinese state-owned media. That said, what is important to note here is that if that were the case, if that were the case, then that would obviously be in breach of WTO rules. It would be obviously in breach of our on free trade agreement and so we would hope that is certainly not the case. That is why we are seeking clarification on this. But I make the point that thermal coal is about $4 billion out of the $13 billion in exports to China. China is not our biggest market for thermal coal. That is, in fact, Japan, which is more than double the exports that we have to China. On metcoal, India is actually our biggest metcoal export. Our coal mines and our coal exports have a diverse customer base. But, obviously, we take these issues very seriously. If this were to be the practice, the 4 billion-odd that goes into coal-fired power generation in China, it really is a lose-lose here. Because Australian coal compared to the coal that is sourced from other countries, the other countries have 50 per cent higher emissions than Australian coal. As a result, that would be a bad outcome for the environment. It would be a bad outcome for the trading relationship between Australia and China, that both countries benefit from. So I would hope that we could get to the point of having some mature discussions about these issues. That is what the Australian Government is seeking to discuss that a number of other trade issues that are currently on foot.

Journalist: Can the relationship with China ever be fixed, do you think?

Prime Minister: Well, it takes two parts to achieve that. I have made it very clear that Australia has always participated in China’s economic development and that has particularly been the case as we have been able to free up our trading relationship in recent years. We all have been a proponent of China's economic growth. We are not one of those countries that have sought to contain their growth. We are a country that has engaged with over a long period of time. They have benefited greatly from that and we have benefited greatly from that. That is where the future of the relationship is. What concerns, I think many, not just here in Australia but overseas as well, is if there is any sort of conflation, if a perception emerges that there is a conflation between political issues and a trading relationship, then that can create a lot of uncertainty for many other trading partners. I am sure that is not something that China would be hoping to achieve here. What we are looking for is ensuring that we can continue on with what has been a very mutually beneficial relationship. On a trade basis, I think the proof of that is in the economic performance of both countries. But, of course, Australia's sovereignty is never for sale. Australia's sovereignty and the issues that are important to us a number of those issues have been flagged as concerns, I don't think anyone would have any expectation that Australia would ever consider any changes to things that go to our national interest. No self-respecting country would. So I think there is ample room for this relationship to be able to proceed on a mutual basis because we have both benefited and when we are not engaged in that way, well, then both partners to that relationship lose out.

Journalist: Do you accept you have mismanaged the relationship with China to be the detriment of Tasmanian exporters across multiple industries who now face an uncertain future, especially given our exports to China are three times greater than exports to any other country?

Prime Minister: No, I don't. I don't at all. Because what our Government has done has stood up for Australia’s sovereign interests. We decide who invests in Australia. We have a free liberal, open democracy where members of Parliament can speak their mind and you as a journalist can report in a free press. I don't think these are things that we should be changing. I don't think these are things that we should be bargaining. I think our national security interest, whether it deals with our critical infrastructure or indeed our energy systems, our communication systems, any of these things, are things that we trade away. I think Australia’s long-term position when it comes to human rights issues that this Government and many other governments, together with countries around the world, have always held a consistent position is something that we should be trading away. I think it is important that we work with organisations like the World Health Organisation to understand and learn lessons from global pandemic issues. I mean, these are practical, real things that any Australian government you would hope would do. So those who might make those accusations might want to nominate to me, which one of Australia's national sovereign interests are they thinking the Government should have traded away?

Journalist: Do you think that Bridget Archer’s comments on cashless welfare and then the decision to abstain will hurt your chances to retain Bass at the next election? 

Prime Minister: Quite the contrary. Bridget is a woman who has a deep experience and understanding and she brings a lot to the table in our Coalition and in the Liberal Party. I am incredibly proud of Bridget Archer, as I am with Gav, and our entire team in Tasmania because what they bring is their experience and their perspectives and their views and that makes my Party stronger and it makes my Government stronger. I think the people of Bass can understand that when Bridget comes to the Parliament, she tells people what she thinks and she tells me what she thinks and I greatly respect that in Bridget. She is an extraordinary person, just like Gavin and all members of my team. She is warmly embraced by my Government and certainly by me. Bridget Archer is exactly the sort of person that I want in my team and I am so glad she was elected by the people of Bass because she is making an enormous contribution and I am looking forward to her continuing that contribution. She's exactly what I am looking for.

Journalist: Can you guarantee…

Prime Minister: I will go over here. We have a good go over here, so we might have a fair go over here.

Journalist: Shadow Housing Minister Jason Clare is also in Tasmania. He wants the Government to invest half a billion dollars for urgent repairs in social housing. Is this something you would consider?

Prime Minister: Well, I trust the State Government and they are doing a great job and they are responsible for social housing. And it is $300 million, isn't it, Peter? $300 million is being invested by the Tasmanian State Government. That is a State Government job and they are doing that job. We are doing JobKeeper. We are doing JobSeeker. We are doing the Instant Expensing, which is enabling businesses to invest again. We are doing the job hiring credit which is getting young people back into jobs here in Tasmania. See, what may have escaped the Labor Party over the course of this year is we have built, I think, a great partnership with the states and territories through the National Cabinet and we all focus on doing our job well. Peter is doing a great job when it comes to social housing and building into that infrastructure. We are doing a great job on HomeBuilder and ensuring that first homeowners, in particular, are able to get the finance through the first home loan deposit scheme to actually buy their first house and all Tasmanians are getting the opportunity to go and build their own home through the generous grants program we are running on HomeBuilder. So we are doing our job. Peter is doing his job and the big winners from that are Tasmanians.

Journalist: Back to China, given your ministers haven't been able to speak to their Chinese counterparts, have you any way of speaking to the Chinese ministry and what are they telling you?

Prime Minister: Well, the business relationships continue and the trade volumes, particularly on resources, continue to be at very high levels and very high prices. So look, obviously, we monitor all of those things and there continues to be official diplomatic engagement between the Australian and the Chinese governments. That continues. We obviously would welcome the restoration of direct ministerial and leader-level discussions. Of course we would welcome that and we are totally open to that. But let me be clear about something. Those discussions happen without condition. They don't happen subject to Australia getting rid of a free press. They don't happen with Australia giving away our rules regarding to who can invest in Australia. I mean, that wouldn't be sensible at all. So we would welcome that discussion. We look forward to it. We are open to it. We will see where that goes.

Journalist: When will you speak to the Chinese president man-to-man?

Prime Minister: Whether it is man-to-man, we will have a direct conversation with each other at some point. There will be summits that will occur over the course of the next year. I hope it happens sooner than that, but there is no barrier to that occurring on the Australian side whatsoever.

Journalist: I assume you’re watching the rollout of the coronavirus vaccines in the US and the UK, and when might Australians and Tasmanians expect to…? 

Prime Minister: First quarter of next year. We are in a very different position to the United Kingdom and the United States. We are not in the position of having to do emergency-level authorities for these vaccines. Australia has one of the highest rates of vaccinations in the world and that is because Australians, I think, have great confidence in our institutions, in our health authorities that make decisions about what vaccines are made available to Australians and the Therapeutic Goods Administration and Professor Skerritt who leads that organisation I think holds the trust of the nation. So we will go through the normal processes of certifying and authorising the vaccine. We will have a front-row seat when it comes to what the experience is, particularly in the United Kingdom, through the many relationships that we have with them at both a scientific and medical level to ensure that we learn any lessons that are necessary from the first rollout of vaccines there and in other places. But our vaccine policy and our strategy is right on track and because of the great work done by all Australians, including right here in Tasmania, the great work done by our premiers, including Premier Gutwein here and, of course, the work done by the Federal Government means that Australia is one of a handful of countries around the world to both having suppressed the virus. There won't be too many places around the world where Christmas will be as normal as it is in Australia this year. There won't be too many places where you have got people coming from various parts of the country, whether it is from North Queensland down to Tasmania or across to the west or wherever it happens to be. That is going to be our reality this Christmas, Australia. That will not be the reality in many countries around the world. That is a product of your amazing efforts, Australia, and the governments that have sought to support you to get to this point. But we look forward to the vaccine next year. We are right on track for that and the strategy for how that is being rolled out continues to be confirmed by the Health Department and in close consultation with the state premiers and chief ministers and was a big topic of our discussion last Friday.

Journalist: Joe Biden will be duly elected by the Electoral College today as the next President. What do you especially look forward to working with him on?

Prime Minister: Security in the Indo-Pacific. That has always been the bedrock of Australia’s relationship with the United States. We, of course, have deeply ingrained and shared values and societies and that has been the basis of our relationship. But the United States always has been a key ingredient, the bedrock, if you like, of the security platform that Australia enjoys in the Indo-Pacific. That is not just Australia's view. That is a view shared across our region. I know that is President-elect Biden's view as well and the conversation I already have had with him, quite a lengthy conversation, and that is where a lot of our focus was in that discussion. We look forward to pursuing our economic relationships and many other issues with the Biden administration. Its formal recognition I don't think comes until January or thereabouts, but we already have gauged as appropriate with the incoming administration as we continue to work with the current administration out to the end of 20th of January. But on that note, thank you all very much for coming today and we will wrap it up there. Thanks very much.