Press Conference - Sydney, NSW

31 Jan 2020
Sydney, NSW
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, everyone. Some important announcements today but before we come to those can I first welcome Premier Berejiklian here with us today for an important announcement regarding our energy partnership. 

But before I do that, can I just want to say a couple of things about the important declaration that was made last night by the World Health Organisation. They have advised that it is expected that further international exportation of cases may appear in any country and thus all countries should be prepared for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention, along with spread of the infection and to share data with the WHO. What I can tell you is that Australia has been acting in advance of this decision. Australia has been acting and our states have been acting with an abundance of caution and working in close cooperation. I particularly want to thank the New South Wales Government as I do the Victorian Government, the Queensland Government and others who have been working very closely with the Commonwealth as we've been managing this very serious issue, but one that Australia was well equipped to deal with. All of the issues of isolation, case management, contact tracing, the prevention of onward spread, active surveillance, early detection, all of these things are the things that Australia has been doing. We will continue to do as we work together to ensure we contain and address any impacts to Australian health and wellbeing. Border isolation, surveillance, all of these things already in place. Human coronavirus with pandemic potential is now a listed human disease under the Biosecurity Act 2015, which enables the use of enhanced border measures. All travellers from Hubei province or people who have been in contact with a confirmed case are being advised to self-isolate for 14 days in their homes and we are making available up to one million surgical masks to GPs and health workers via the PHNs in each state and territory. DFAT has raised the overall level of travel advice for China to Level 3, reconsider your need to travel, and travel advice for Wuhan and Hubei province in China is raised to Level 4, do not travel. And we are making arrangements to assist isolated and vulnerable Australian citizens to leave Wuhan and we are well prepared and will continue to follow the expert medical advice. The National Security Committee will meet again today to go over again all of our arrangements, all of our preparations, all of our cooperation, all of our pre-planning and all the precautions we're putting in place and in particular, working with our state government partners who I have said are doing an amazing job on the ground with their tremendous facilities.

But to the reason for us being together today, today we are announcing an agreement that we have reached between New South Wales and the Commonwealth, which is about getting electricity prices down, getting emissions down, getting more power into the system and getting the gas to make that happen. I said that earlier this week that this was important as a transition fuel to support our longer-range future planning to ensure the health and strength of the Australian economy and to ensure that we meet the targets and beat the targets that we have set for emissions reduction. Working with the states is absolutely critical to that process and this partnership provides for that. The MOU that we have signed just this morning is a strong step forward on all of these priorities. It unlocks new gas with the New South Wales government setting a target of injecting 70 petajoules a year of new gas into the market. Now, to put that in context, New South Wales annual gas consumption is around 120 petajoules a year. So this is a significant and forward-looking commitment by the New South Wales government that we welcome. 

This puts downward pressure on prices, supports manufacturing jobs and backs up our record investment in renewables as we undergo a responsible energy transition. The MOU commits both governments to do even more to encourage investment in reliable energy generation and transmission, I should stress, in transmission. This will help stabilise the grid, increase competition and reduce the risk of blackouts. The MOU sets out an ambitious technology-focused plan of practical action to reduce emissions, including $2 billion co-investment in clean technology, hydro research development and commercialisation, energy efficiency to reduce your power bills and reduce emissions and coal innovation to commercialise and employ technologies to reduce emissions from extraction, preparation and the use of coal and primary industries productivity and abatement to support farmers and landowners to commercialise low emissions technology and participate in carbon offset programs. 

So this is a forward-looking leadership agreement between the New South Wales State Government and the Commonwealth Government which is about getting prices down, getting emissions down, meeting and beating our targets and ensuring that Australians can go about their jobs, the jobs they have today, the jobs they're going to continue to have in the future as a result of the agreements we've been able to reach here practically. And I thank you, Gladys, for the great issue you have shown on this issue and appreciate your strong cooperation. 

THE HON. GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN MP, PREMIER OF NEW SOUTH WALES: Thank you, Prime Minister. New South Wales is extremely pleased with this MOU that we've signed today because for our citizens, it does mean both the federal and state governments are working together to reduce bills, to reduce emissions, but also to secure our energy into the future. Three critical things which provide for the future of our state and our nation. And I'm thrilled to be able to sign on behalf of our citizens because we are in New South Wales already engaging in many strategies to reduce our emissions, to invest in renewables and of course, most importantly, to secure our energy. And that means having a very clear plan for the future and what this arrangement has allowed both of us to do is come to the table and really sort out what we need to do, not just in the next two years or three years, but the next decade and beyond. And that's why I'm so pleased with the arrangement, because our citizens can be assured that we have a clear plan for the future, a clear plan which I believe satisfies the vast majority of our citizens in relation to not just securing our energy and reducing bills, but also in reducing our emissions, which we know many people feel strongly about. So thank you, Prime Minister, for you support.


PREMIER: A $2 billion deal is nothing to sniff at. So the state government  is putting in a billion, the federal government is just coming to the table as well and supporting us in our initiatives and encouraging us to go down that path. And we also took up the challenge the PM gave us in relation to gas and we look forward to meeting those arrangements that are currently part of the deal. So thank you.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Gladys. Questions? 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can you give us an idea of the possible extent of the reduction in bills and in emissions as a result of this deal?

PRIME MINISTER: What I can tell you is that electricity prices are down 3.5 per cent in the past year because of the work we've already been doing and what we're looking forward to is seeing further reductions in electricity prices. You’d know, John, this is not a precise science, but what I do know is this - you get more gas into the system, it drives down prices. That's what happens. And this is about working together to drive down prices, working together to reduce emissions, working together to get the gas.

JOURNALIST: So it is your expectation that we'll see, for instance, exploration bans go in New South Wales as a result of this deal? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what the states ultimately decide to do, there are a range of projects, there is import terminal projects, there are different ways that the state government can achieve this. What's important is 70 petajoules of gas is on its way. I said on Wednesday we've got to get the gas and we've been working so well together with New South Wales, working through those issues for them to be in a position where they have made this great commitment today. I'd like to see other state governments make similar commitments. I'm happy to work with them to achieve it. We've got to get the gas because that's what gets prices down. 

JOURNALIST: How much will carbon emissions be reduced under this plan?

PRIME MINISTER: We're going to meet and beat our 2030 targets. That’s what we're going to do. We've already been able to reduce our emissions since 2005 by 12.8%, that’s just a click short of what the United States has achieved over that period of time but it’s better than most other countries have achieved. So we’re just going to keep beating and beating our targets. And how do I know we're going to do that? Because we do deals like this. I mean, everyone said we weren't going to meet the Kyoto targets, it’s never going to happen, it can’t be achieved. And we've beaten them by 411 million tonnes. And we’re going to meet and beat Paris too.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, does this agreement mean that the Commonwealth has effectively agreed to underwrite the renewable energy zone in the state's central west? And if so, does that mean... does this represent an acceptance from the Commonwealth that renewable energy is a key part of Australia's energy future? 

PRIME MINISTER: We always have. That's never been in dispute and I’ll tell you why - because we lead the world in renewable energy investment. I mean, one in five Australian households has panels on their roof. Very few... I don't think any country can claim that. So the suggestion that you're making that Australia and our government doesn't embrace that is just completely wrong. 

JOURNALIST: How would increasing coal supply to Mount Piper, as this deal suggests, help to reduce carbon emissions? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you might want to speak to that, Gladys, I’m happy to.

PREMIER: Sure. We need to make sure that we maintain our energy security into the future and lowering emissions doesn't mean getting rid of every form of energy that we currently use. It's important for us to have a stable future. Unfortunately, other states moved too quickly and have had to load share and New South Wales hasn't had to have that challenge because we've made sure that we have a very smooth transition to other options in terms of our own energy supply, and gas is critical to that future, both in increasing supply and lowering prices. But also if you do want to use more renewables, you need more gas, because when you're moving from peak to off-peak, you actually need gas to facilitate that. So this plan makes perfect sense to us. It's a good balance and Mount Piper will be in operation until at least 2042. So we rely on that as a critical energy source. But it also means that we can expand our renewable platform, expand our gas supply, reduce emissions, reduce household bills and so I’m really pleased with what we’ve got today.

JOURNALIST: Can you commit to getting rid of gas exploration bans in order to find these 70 petajoules? 

PREMIER: Well, we don't need to change our policy position at all. So we already have a number of projects in the pipeline, which we’re hoping will satisfy these arrangements. Of course, we'll meet our end of the bargain, but we're confident that there's sufficient projects in the pipeline to satisfy…

JOURNALIST: Can you nominate some of those projects?

PREMIER: Well, obviously the government's in the final stages of considering the Narrabri gas proposal that will meet these targets.

JOURNALIST: But just to clarify, so this deal is about the Commonwealth underwriting the renewable energy zones in the state’s central west?

PRIME MINISTER: What it is is a series of investments that the Commonwealth and the states are making together. Now, we're doing it through ARENA, we're doing the Climate Solutions Fund, we're doing it through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, we're doing it with the Grid Stability Fund. We're doing it through all of these areas and they are all existing policy areas where we will continue to extend that support through those channels into these projects. I said on Wednesday that our government, when it comes to reducing emissions, is about technology not taxation. I don't think Australians should be taxed more to reduce their emissions. And I know they don't have to be taxed more to reduce their emissions. They don't have to be punished to reduce their emissions. Australians should have available to them and Australian industry have available to them the technologies that enables them to move forward into the future and keep jobs here, keep jobs here and get prices down. 

JOURNALIST: But part of that $2 billion is the underwriting of that renewable energy.

PRIME MINISTER: The details of those funds have not changed. They’re the same.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you previously set a goal with Angus Taylor of reducing wholesale electricity prices by 25 per cent by 2022. To what extent does this deal and others like it make it more likely that that will be achieved? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, of course it does, because it means more gas. It’s the law of supply and demand.

JOURNALIST: Premier, coal seam gas has been quite a politically charged issue in New South Wales. What are your Nationals partners and some of your backbenchers are they going to have concerns about this if it means more coal seam gas extraction? 

PREMIER: Well, it doesn't. We don't need to change any of our policy positions on that front. That's the beauty of these arrangements. We have two or three options for us, including import terminals at Port Kembla and potentially as in Newcastle in addition to the Narrabri project. One of those three things will satisfy our arrangements. So the beauty of this deal for New South Wales is we don't need to change our policy position. We can give confidence to our citizens that we’ll maintain every policy position that we've announced, but we’ll also meet our commitments because it is important for us to pull our weight when it comes to energy, especially in relation to gas. And that's why these arrangements are really good for our citizens.

JOURNALIST: But there are concerns that Narrabri... Santos have said it's going to produce these 70 petajoules which coincides with this particular plan. Is that not the easiest course of action, then? Is that something that means it is a done deal? 

PREMIER: It may very well be, but we have to go through the last stages of the planning process. So if that project is successful, we've met our arrangements. If not, we have other options through Port Kembla and Newcastle without imposing any additional policy paradigms on our citizens. 

JOURNALIST: When will that process be finalised, when we are we…?

PREMIER: We've always say in the first half of this year is what we anticipate. So we're hoping in the next couple of months. 

JOURNALIST: Premier, can you explain specifically what you're going to do in terms of the coal supply at Mount Piper? 

PREMIER: Well, obviously, we have arrangements in place. Part of this arrangement means we have to maintain that production and that supply to 2042. And there are a number of options before us. So we’ll provide more information on that.

JOURNALIST: Isn’t it having trouble getting coal right now? 

PREMIER: Well, look, that's part of the challenge that we have. We have to make sure that we source our [inaudible] we need to make sure that we do supply for that coal fired power station. But we should also have in mind that other states, other power stations will be coming to the end of their life in the next little while, so then there are opportunities for us to transfer those arrangements to Mount Piper. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, does this mean you're saying you're hopeful of signing similar deals with other states and territories? Is this your way of getting around having to introduce a National Energy Guarantee? 

PRIME MINISTER: We've already established the National Reliability Guarantee, that was already achieved together with the states through the COAG process. And with each and every state we will sit down and put the best arrangements we can in place. And I think the agreement that New South Wales and the Commonwealth have reached today sets a great bar, a great standard for how these things should go. And I really appreciate the work that's being done with New South Wales and by our ministers supporting that along the way. But this is an arrangement that the Premier and I have signed because it's important to New South Wales, it's important to the Commonwealth that we get these arrangements in place. This is the practical stuff, this is the practical stuff. You want to get emissions down? You've got to get the gas. You want to get emissions down? You've got to invest in the technology. That's what actually changes things. That's what actually delivers climate action. It's this stuff that gets this done. Thank you very much everyone.

JOURNALIST: Can we ask some questions on other topics?

PRIME MINISTER: Very briefly, because I have to get to Canberra for NSC.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, why are we charging people who are going to be evacuated from Wuhan $1,000 when in previous instances, both with the Arab Spring and Lebanon situation, there was no charge?

PRIME MINISTER: That's not true. They were charged on those arrangements. These are the standard arrangements that are put in place by DFAT for assisted departures. As I said on the day when I announced it, I said it’s done on the normal arrangements and the United States applied the same arrangements for their consular and families who were assisted with their departures recently and we're continuing to work through those arrangements right now. There's been very strong interest in participating in these arrangements, but we still have a bit more work to do. But we're making very good progress.

JOURNALIST: Are you closer to knowing when that plane will be able to get in? 



PRIME MINISTER: I said we're getting close to knowing that.

JOURNALIST: Annastacia Palaszczuk has been highly critical of your response, saying that she's frustrated at the lack of information coming from your government. She wants you to have a meeting with the premiers so they've got the most up to date information. What's your response to that? 

PRIME MINISTER: The Chief Medical Officer and the state health minister are in constant contact on this issue. There would not be an issue the Commonwealth knows that the Queensland government does not. 

JOURNALIST: Have you received the Gaetjens report and if so what were the findings?

No I haven’t. Thanks everyone.