Radio interview with Rebecca Levingston and Bill McDonald - ABC Radio Brisbane

Transcript
12 Jul 2018
Prime Minister
ACCC electricity review; State of Origin; Longman by-election; Thailand rescue
E&OE

REBECCA LEVINGSTON:

Prime Minister, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning, great to be with you.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON:

Will you adopt the recommendations from the ACCC?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well certainly we're going through them very carefully, there's some great merit in them. But there's 56 of them and people would expect us to consider them very carefully. I think there’ll be very strong support for the vast majority of them.

And obviously we'll be working closely with the states because energy policy is, as you foreshadowed, is shared between the federal government and the states. In fact, it's largely a matter of the state responsibility.

BILL MCDONALD:

Would you consider it a fairly damning assessment and report?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look it really chronicles the failures of policy. It chronicles frankly, the failure of I have to say, Labor policy over a long period of time. Force feeding renewables into the grid, without any attention being paid to the need for backup or storage.

The most egregious case of course being South Australia, where they got to the point where their wind assets could generate more than 100 per cent of the state's energy demand when the wind was blowing and then 0 percent when it stopped, and no thought for back up or storage.

Now you know, the gold plating of electricity networks that was done by state regulation, but that was right across jurisdictions in the NEM.

Look, there's been a lot of mistakes made.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON:

Well, if that is the case Prime Minister, are you actively considering calls for a Royal Commission into the Energy Sector?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well no. There has just been, we’ve just had a thorough and comprehensive inquiry by the ACCC, which started in March last year and it's had access to all of the books and financials of the energy companies. I think before we think about a new inquiry, I think it'd be good to read the report of the one that's just been completed. So I'd encourage everyone to do that.

But it is a great piece of work and I can tell you that my focus is unrelentingly on getting energy prices down.

We have turned the corner. They are starting to come down here in South East Queensland and around the National Electricity Market, which is most of Australia except for the NT and WA.

But, what we need to do is continue the pressure. Rod Sims has made some very good recommendations, which we're taking on board. We've had them for a little over a week.

But I can assure all of your listeners, my focus is on getting their power bills down. That's what they want me to do, and I'm working on it and I'll be expecting cooperation from state and territory governments to do so.

BILL MCDONALD:

So, that obviously is going to be critical to getting anything rolled out. I guess that's the thing people at home are going to want to ask. You’ve got to review this and have a look at it, when will it roll out? When will they start to see the possibility of having their bills come down?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we've already started to see them coming down.

I mean, just to run through the things that we’ve done. One of the biggest mistakes that was made - which was again - I'm just being factual here, I'm not trying to be partisan – was a mistake made by a Federal Labor Government and the Queensland State Labor Government to allow exporting gas from the east coast - from Queensland in fact - without any attention being made to the impact it might have on domestic gas users.

We got to the point, and of course this was contributed to by Victoria and New South Wales not allowing domestic gas exploration at the level they ought to have done. We got to the point where we were short of gas on the East Coast and we were exporting gas at a lower price than it was available domestically. I had to intervene, in a fairly forceful way, threatening to restrict gas exports unless more supply was made available.

It was made available, gas wholesale prices have about halved in the last 18 months.

We've seen, as a result of that, generation costs have come down substantially in the last 12 months. And we've also taken action to reduce the charges the network owners can make on their poles wires – which were gold plated.

All of that has fed into a modest reduction in household and business electricity bills.

We're also taking action to deal with the confusing set of, you know, plans and different options that energy companies make, they basically confuse their customers in many cases, and by ensuring that we do everything we can that customers can get onto the right deal for them. Again, people have been able to make hundreds of dollars of savings a year.

So look, I just want to again repeat this; my focus and the test of everything we do is lower electricity bills. That's what I'm seeking to achieve, that’s what we’re working on.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON:

In order to do that Prime Minister, one of the main recommendations relates to restructuring of Queensland generators into three separately owned entities to improve competition, then for two of them to be sold off to maximise competition.

The challenge is, in Queensland Prime Minister, Queenslanders don't like asset sales. What will you actually be asking the Queensland Government to do?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, I think the important thing is to split them into three companies and so that they operate independently and compete. They don't have to be privatised - and I'm not advocating that they should be - that's the ACCC’s recommendation, but they should operate independently.

Let me just remind your listeners that last year, again an example of the action I've taken to get electricity prices down, we intervened, got the ACCC to investigate the conduct of the Queensland Government-owned generators, who were gaming the market. And this is all set out in the ACCC report. You can read it all there, don't take my word for it.

They intervened and the Queensland Government gave Stanwell and CS Energy a direction to stop gaming the market, and you saw a very significant reduction in wholesale generator costs.

I mean, they were basically playing the electricity market in order to maximise revenues for the state government.

So you know, whether a company is government-owned or privately owned, either way they can do the wrong thing, and the Queensland Government-owned generators were doing the wrong thing. And you know, to their credit when they were called out, the Queensland Government did intervene and give them a direction to behave.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON:

You're listening to the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Fresh from State of Origin last night, where I understand you sat next to Peter Beattie, any titbits of conversation you want to share with us there, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I was sitting between Peter Beattie and Peter O'Neill, actually, the Prime Minister of PNG, and next to him was Rick Hou the Prime Minister of Solomon Islands. So we had a very diplomatic evening there, we had a good discussion.

But, gee what a game! Those two intercept tries, I cannot recall a game of football that was as dramatic as that, you know where you get an intercept and the player runs the whole length of the field to score - twice!

[Laughter]

One for each side.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON:

The right result according to all Queenslanders and no doubt a few voters in Longman as well, which we’ll get to in a moment.

But just briefly –

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, congratulations to New South Wales on winning the Origin Series. But, as a New South Welshman, I have to say Queensland dominated that game and deserved to win, as did Slater deserve to be man of the series.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON:

Yes we did and yes he did.

Just briefly, to finish off on the ACCC’s recommendations; they've called for your Government to help underwrite the cost of new dispatchable electricity generation to leave the way open. Does that leave the way open for new coal-fired power plants?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the important thing as Rod Sims says, is that you've got to be technology agnostic. Picking one technology over another will only result in higher prices.

It's very straightforward and I'll just quote what Rod said, “only a technology-neutral approach will get power prices down, whenever governments prescribe that the technology should be one thing or another, that's when you get higher prices”.

Now my government, my party, is the party of lower electricity prices.

We're not advocating one technology or another. We don't need to subsidise one technology or another. We've got to get lower prices. That's what I'm on about, lower electricity prices.

BILL MCDONALD:

Prime Minister, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is going to be in Longman today. Plenty of promises are obviously being made to the locals out there, plenty of big high profile politicians have of course been visiting ahead of the Super Saturday July 28 poll.

Is the Longman by-election a test of your leadership?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the Longman by-election is obviously a test of the candidates, a test of the parties, but really it is about deciding - for the people of Longman to decide - whether they want to vote for Bill Shorten and his higher taxes, fewer jobs, lower wages, less economic growth.

I mean Bill Shorten’s going to be in Bribie Island today-

 REBECCA LEVINGSTON:

So if the Labor voters are about Bill Shorten, are those in the LNP voting for Malcolm Turnbull?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course. The head-up, the contest is between me and Bill Shorten as the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader.

But let me be clear; Bill Shorten is going to be on Bribie Island today. There's a lot of self-funded retirees there and he'll be able to tell them why he's going to take up to 30 per cent of their income. In one of the most shameless, disgraceful tax grabs he is going to fleece those retirees.

These are people who have got investments. They're invested in Australian shares, they have for years been able to get the cash in cash, the refund of the franking credits, if they are wealthy people with big portfolios they'd be able to offset those franking credits against other tax liabilities. But they've got modest savings.

Bill Shorten is going to come after them and take their money, let me be very frank about this-

REBECCA LEVINGSTON:

Prime Minister if you're candidate gets-

PRIME MINISTER:

Just, wait a minute - please let me finish.

This is what it's about; higher taxes is what Shorten is going to Bribie Island to talk about today. And he's going to be seeing retirees who'll be saying to him: “why are you taking my savings?”, and I'll be interested to see what he has to say.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON:

If your candidate wins in Longman will you call a general election?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there'll be a general election next year.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON:

Okay.

PRIME MINISTER:

There will be a general election in the first half of next year.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON:

Okay. So you’re ruling out an election this year?

PRIME MINISTER:

The election will be next year. Yes, the election will be next year in the first half of next year, I get asked this every day. I don't know, do you want, would you like to have a general election this year?

[Laughter]

I think most people like elections to be held when they're due, every 3 years.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON:

[Laughter]

Well let me ask you in the final 20 seconds we have with you, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Sure.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON:

You’ve spoken to Dr Richard Harris in Thailand, passing on your love and congratulations. What did he tell you about the rescue that will stay with you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well just the extraordinary heroism of the boys, of all of the divers.

I am inspired by the remarkable international cooperation. You know, you look around the world there's a lot of tension. What an extraordinary thing.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

British, divers, American divers, Australian divers, working together.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON:

A wonderful story.

Prime Minister, I'm sorry to interrupt but I've got to leave it there. We are hard up against the news. Thanks so much for your time.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON:

Great to talk to you, speak again. Bye.

[ENDS]