Television Interview - Sky News First Edition

17 Jun 2022
Prime Minister

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Prime Minister, good morning to you. Thank you for your time. So, I will get to health in a moment. I want to start with the energy crisis which is going to dominate, no doubt, your first National Cabinet. I know you have been asked this a few times, but I am going to ask you again. How long do you expect AEMO to keep the market suspension in place?

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Well, they are making the decision on a day-by-day basis. We support them doing that. They will put in place these emergency measures for as long as is necessary to make sure that we maximise the chances of business and households not being in a circumstance where they can’t get the energy they need.

STEFANOVIC: Does another week sound about right?

PRIME MINISTER: That is a decision for the Australian Energy Market Operator. They have intervened appropriately because of market failure and because of a failure in the system. That isn’t their fault. The Australian Energy Market Operator outlined a plan to fix transmission in this country, its Integrated Systems Plan. It was the basis of our Rewiring the Nation plan that we announced in my first Budget Reply almost three years ago. And the Federal Government had failed to listen. We had 10 years of denial and delay. And as a result, we find ourselves in a situation whereby the grid isn’t fit-for-purpose for the 21st century. We haven’t had the investment we need in new energy. And our ageing coal-fired power plants, some 25 per cent of the east coast at the moment, isn’t actually producing any supply because it is ageing infrastructure. So, we find ourselves in this difficult circumstance. But AEMO are intervening, and we support that intervention.

STEFANOVIC: And they may have to intervene again, beyond this.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they're maintaining their intervention. They're not lifting it until they're satisfied that the issues that required the suspension of the market have got better.

STEFANOVIC: Was it a mistake to privatise generators all those years ago?

PRIME MINISTER: That's done. And I think what people are interested in is not so much an analysis of what happened all those years ago. What has been a mistake has been a failure to make sure that the new investment that was required, occurred. And that hasn't occurred because you've had 22 different energy plans under the former Government, and none of them landed. You haven't had that investment certainty. And it certainly has been a mistake for the former Government to not do something about transmission. We know that the energy system, put simply, the transition that's occurring to cleaner energy means that you need an upfront payment. But once that upfront capital investment occurs, then you get cheaper energy into the future. And you lower your costs. The same reason why people watching this program have put solar panels on their roofs, made that initial investment, is because over a period of time, once that's paid off in a short period, then they get cheaper power bills and they get improvements in their cost of living. The same principle applies to the whole system of energy around the country. That's why businesses have been crying out for that investment certainty. We're going to give them that. But you can't fix 10 years of denial and delay in just 10 days.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, but what about the states? Have they got a role to play here too, and I'm citing here, Victoria's ban on gas exploration?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the states and territories, of course, all have a role to play. Gas will continue to play a role in the future as we transition. Gas will be important in providing that security for the system. I was in Gladstone just a couple of days ago. Rio Tinto are Australia's largest energy users. They're looking at, for their three plants there, powering them with solar and wind power, but they need gas to provide that security, particularly while they're also looking at green hydrogen, down the track in the medium term. They're looking at investing billions and billions of dollars, because they know that that's the key to their future, but it's a 20 year investment. They needed that investment certainty to be able to go forward. And I'm pleased that businesses have responded so positively to the new Government's plan. We signed up yesterday to a 43 per cent target by 2030. That is at the core of our Powering Australia plan that will provide that investment certainly, so we lower power bills, so we produce jobs, some 604,000 by 2030, with five out of every six of them in regional Australia.

STEFANOVIC: WA reserves 15 per cent of its own gas. Will you make any moves to match that for the east coast?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, WA got it right all those years ago, the Carpenter Labor Government got it right when they made that decision. The decision on the east coast is one that was made by former governments to not go down that track where we're considering what you can do in terms of securing supply. And the Energy Minister, Chris Bowen, as well as the Resources Minister, Madeline King, considering everything that is required for the system. It's not as simple once you have contracts issued and in place, you have issues of sovereign risk. And it's not as simple as being able to intervene halfway through a process.

STEFANOVIC: Sorry to interrupt. I'm just running out of time. Prime Minister, I have got to race through these final questions. But the Energy Council on a short time ago said that it could take a few months to be able to change and adjust those long-term contracts to try and to increase that gas reserves. So, is that something that you could move towards?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we want gas to be provided. And we're talking with the companies in a constructive way to make sure that can occur. We'll have those discussions. We want to make sure that we deal with the immediate crisis, which is before us.


PRIME MINISTER: That we have inherited.

STEFANOVIC: Are you being pressured into a 50-50 split by the states when it comes to funding hospitals? And will you do it?

PRIME MINISTER: No, it's a very constructive arrangement. There's a range of issues with regard to hospitals. It's not as simple as a figure out there of funding, the 45 per cent funding is in place, but during COVID, there's a 50 per cent deal that's in place until September, because of the pressure that's there on the hospital system. But as well, the states and territories who are interested in health reform, in how we stop people who are now fronting up to emergency departments in hospitals, who should really be just going to see their GP but a GP isn't available. There are all sorts of pressures as well with the aged care system, with nurses not being available in aged care facilities means that residents sometimes who couldn't get that care as residents are ending up in hospital as well. There's a range of pressures on the system. We discussed that informally last night. And we'll have further discussions today.

STEFANOVIC: All right, on China, Prime Minister, how much of a priority is it for you to get Yang Hengjun and Cheng Lei out of jail?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we know that there are real issues with human rights in China, including the treatment of Australian citizens. What we will do is continue to have that conscious support through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and continue to make representations to ensure that people are treated properly.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, but in terms of your priorities, is it up there?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, obviously, these issues are priorities, but sometimes diplomacy is better done without allowed hailer, Peter.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, last 20 seconds. Are you going to Kyiv?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I read about it in the paper. That is the extent it has come at this time.

STEFANOVIC: Will you go if you are asked?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm going to NATO. I'm going to NATO as a priority, because Australia is actually the largest non-NATO contributor to the efforts to support sovereignty in Ukraine and to support the people of Ukraine standing up against this thuggish illegal behaviour of Russia. It will be an important meeting at NATO. With regard to other issues, we'll deal with them appropriately and get appropriate advice.

STEFANOVIC: Okay. Anthony Albanese, the Prime Minister, thank you for your time. I know you've got to go. Appreciate it. I'll talk to you soon.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, Peter.