Television Interview - Sky News the Kenny Report

17 Jan 2023
Prime Minister
Voice to Parliament; Australia's relationship with China; Kevin Rudd; energy; Jim Molan; Australia Day

CHRIS KENNY, HOST: Anthony Albanese, Prime Minister, welcome. And thanks for joining me on Chris Kenny tonight. I want to start off, if I can, by asking you to share your thoughts on the passing of Liberal Senator, retired Major-General, Jim Molan. A great Australian?

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Well, Jim Molan was great Australian. He was a great patriot. He's someone who served his country in the Australian Defence Force. He is someone who is very passionate about this country and about its security. He's someone who I didn't always agree with all of his views, but I always had respect for them, and that they were motivated from a good perspective from the national interest in the way that he saw the world. He's someone who was also very engaging. We had a good personal relationship. And I rang Erin Molan, one of your co-colleagues there at Sky, this morning and left her a message of condolence. Jim Molan will go down as one of the great servants of Australia.

KENNY: Well, Prime Minister, I absolutely agree with you on those sentiments. Let's stay on issues that we agree on. As you know, I'm a supporter of an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. I was involved in previous efforts to put together a model. But isn't Peter Dutton right when he says that if you want Australians to support this notion at a referendum, you are going to have to give them more detail?

PRIME MINISTER: But, of course, Chris, there are two points I'd make there. One is, there is a lot of detail out there. We know what a Voice is. But we also know what it isn't. It's actually a very conservative proposal. As you've said, it's someone that respects our institutions, doesn't try to override them. It simply is a matter of common courtesy that where something is going to have a direct impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, that you would consult them. We know that you'll get better outcomes if that occurs. But there will also be, on the structure, more detail as the groups that are working these issues through in a considered way have further deliberations. But we know already that there's enormous agreement across the board, including, of course, the Calma-Langton report that you did such important work on. It had very broad agreement. One, that is not a third chamber, it's not a funding body, it won't be able to make any decisions that are binding on any government. It's just an advisory body.

KENNY: Sure. But if the referendum succeeds, you'll have to legislate a Voice, you'll have to provide detail, provide laws that decide who can nominate how many people will be on the Voice, how a national Voice will interact with the state voices and all the like. Surely, you would have to put out some of that detail, either a draft bill or some key fundamental guidelines, before you put the referendum to people?

PRIME MINISTER: And those details, in terms of the broad principles, will be out there for all to see, Chris.

KENNY: When?

PRIME MINISTER: There's already enormous detail out there. Well, it's not my proposal, Chris. It's something that comes from directly involving people who are involved in this. We've set up those referendum advisory groups that are giving advice to the Government. And one of the things that will occur, Chris, is there will be two debates in the Parliament. One is the nature of referendums and how they're held. That will be held very early on. But secondly, as you know, and other Members of Parliament should know, what will occur is there will be legislation before the Parliament in order to enact the referendum itself. Now, in order to do that, the words and the constitutional changes will be a part of that legislation. But a part of that debate will be what a Voice looks like. That will be something that will be considered as part of that process. So, it will be there for all to see.

KENNY: We'll bring it on. I think the more debate about the detail, the better. So that people can be informed in the debate and in their decision making. Tell me, if the referendum were to fail, would you go ahead and legislate a Voice anyway?

PRIME MINISTER: I will follow what Indigenous people said. This is a process that began in 2012, there was five years of consultation leading up to 2017. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people meeting at Uluru and coming up with the statement that they wanted.

KENNY: Yes, sorry to interrupt, but we understand the process. If it failed, would you legislate a Voice anyway?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm not contemplating failure here. What I'm doing is being as optimistic as the Australian people are themselves. This is an opportunity to unite the nation, Chris. And I want Australians to take up that opportunity. It is a generous, gracious offer for non-Indigenous Australians to join with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

KENNY: But surely if the referendum failed, you would want to legislate a Voice anyway? You can do that. Why wouldn't you do that if you believe in a Voice, regardless of a referendum?

PRIME MINISTER: The former Government could have done that at any stage.

KENNY: They were slack.

PRIME MINISTER: They had been in government for a very long period of time. And they didn't do it. What I'm doing now is what has been requested by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and which there is a very broad range of organisations, from church organisations, the AFL, the NRL, at the Australian Open there will be a bit of a focus from Tennis Australia in the next fortnight on it, the Basketball Association, all of these groups in society, business groups, the Business Council of Australia, the Minerals Council, individual companies, are all coming together. And I want this to be a movement that unites Australians in a positive way. Just as in 1967, Australians united to make sure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, that the discriminatory issues that were there in the Constitution were removed. This is a chance for something positive to happen to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our nation's birth certificate. And I'm confident that Australians will take up that opportunity.

KENNY: Well, there's so much to talk about. We better move on to other issues. You've had a very strong start in foreign policy, especially in standing up to China. It looks like there's going to be a thawing in relations there. Have you privately given any ground to China at all in the thawing of this relationship?

PRIME MINISTER: What we've done, Chris, is continued to stand up in Australia's national interest. But I've said that we'll cooperate with China where we can, we'll disagree where we must, and we will engage in our national interest. We will continue to engage in a respectful way. But we will always stand up for Australia's national interest. And that is what I have done.

KENNY: Kevin Rudd is speaking at Davos in the next 24 hours on China. Obviously, he's no longer just a former Prime Minister. He's the prospective, the appointed, or designated Australian Ambassador to the US. Are you worried about him free-ranging on issues like China?

PRIME MINISTER: Not at all. The fact is that Kevin Rudd will bring to the US ambassadorship a great deal of experience and, of course, knowledge in international affairs, not just as a former Prime Minister, but a former Foreign Minister, and the current Head of the Asia Society. And that is the job in which he's doing for the moment. We haven't finalised a date.

KENNY: Prime Minister, no one could question his qualifications for this Washington appointment. But also, we've seen that since he's been in politics, he's dabbled in domestic politics, he's intervened in domestic politics in a way that shows a lot of bitterness about what happened in the past. He's free-ranged on a number of issues. He seems to have a particular obsession with News Corp, the owners of this organisation. Have you had a word to him and asked him to sort of rein-in his extraneous activities, if you like, and focus on your agenda, on Australia's agenda, in Washington?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, he's not in Washington. He is not Australia's Ambassador. Arthur Sinodinos is Australia's Ambassador in Washington. And we're continuing to engage with Arthur, who's done a very good job on the arrangements with AUKUS. When Kevin Rudd is Australia's Ambassador that will be his sole focus.

KENNY: But have you given him that pep-talk already?

PRIME MINISTER: I don't need to. Kevin Rudd is fully aware of the responsibilities that he has. And he will fulfil them.

KENNY: Let's go to energy policy. And we're seeing more evidence of supply constraints in Australia today when it comes to gas. Is this evidence that the price cap is the wrong approach? What you really need to do is do everything you can to boost supplies rather than cap prices?

PRIME MINISTER: Not at all, Chris. If you can come up with a way in which supply can be increased and a new gas field come online in the next month, then I am welcome to hear it. It is a bit of a silly argument, frankly.

KENNY: Well, the states, Labor and Liberal, have been very antagonistic towards gas projects. And you can't fix it quickly. But surely, additional supplies are the answer.

PRIME MINISTER: Of course, additional supplies are important, and we're working those issues through. But the former Government was there for nine years, three terms. Can you tell me what the new gas fields that were opened when they were in government were? I will wait a while, Chris. I've seen the comments from the Opposition.

KENNY: Well, I've been very critical of Opposition and Government energy policies. And I suppose, it gets to this net zero agenda and the renewables push we've seen from everyone. You talk about Australia as a potential renewable energy superpower. We've seen what's happened to the Sun Cable project, which seems to put the lie to that. And I just wonder, given that no country on the planet, if we put aside a couple of hydro-electricity lucky nations, no country that's tried to deliver renewables plus storage as a viable energy option, no one has succeeded. They've all run into problems. And they're now desperately getting nuclear or additional gas or additional coal. Why do you think Australia can succeed if no country has in the past?

PRIME MINISTER: I'd encourage you, Chris, to have a look at Ticky Fullerton's article in The Australian today about what's happening with gas and the response that is taking place in Europe, in places like Germany. But what we're seeing, of course, is a spike in gas prices as a direct result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That is what we're dealing with at the moment. And we have, with regard to gas supply, we have a guarantee, through the Heads of Agreement that was made with the gas suppliers, to supply some three times what the shortfall was going to be seen to be in 2023. That agreement is in place, the price cap was agreed.

KENNY: But I am talking about your ambitions.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you want to talk about what other countries have done, Chris.

KENNY: I am talking about the ambitions of a renewables plus storage model, it hasn't worked anywhere. Why do we think it will work here?

PRIME MINISTER: What other countries have done on the issue in which you raised of gas, and what we haven't done, is do the UK Conservative Party Government model, which is a massive tax, a windfall tax, and then rebates. What we did was a sensible proposition of price caps that were agreed, not just by Labor, but by the New South Wales Liberal Government, legislated across the Chamber. It was supported by the Liberals, the Nationals, as well as the Labor Opposition in New South Wales. And we've regulated in Queensland as well to deal with the immediate issue that we were confronted with. In the medium and long term, what we're having is increased investment in renewables. I do note, in the national energy market, the ACT, where I'm speaking to you from here in Canberra, they haven't had the problem with energy spikes because the growth of renewables here in the ACT has been so successful. Now, you need a combination of renewables, you need storage, you also need some stabilising fields, particularly gas plays a role in that. That's why when we announced the safeguard mechanism that you'd be familiar with, it was founded by the Abbott Government that came up with that proposal. That is the structure we are putting in place.

KENNY: As I say, we all support the aim, but I'm checking now on my phone, the national electricity market at the moment, over 65 per cent of the energy is coming from fossil fuels, coal and gas. You promised to reduce electricity prices by $275 in the election campaign. They're now going up by that much and expected to go up that much again. Will you take responsibility for the electricity prices that exist at the time of the next election?

PRIME MINISTER: Newsflash, Chris, there's been a war in Ukraine, a land war in Europe that has had a global impact on prices. And because Australia didn't do what Western Australia did and reserve a portion of its gas for domestic use, Australia has been exposed to the international price. So, even though the costs of production have not increased in Australian gas or coal, you had a considerable increase in the price. That has had an impact for consumers of households, but also of businesses. That's just a fact. We wasted 10 years, Chris, as you know, in not having an energy policy. Australia now has one. It is one that's supported by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Australian Industry Group, and the Business Council of Australia, as well as conservation groups and sensible people in the mainstream of Australian politics. It's not supported by the Greens. It's not supported by Peter Dutton's Liberals. But it's supported by the mainstream of Australia.

KENNY: I think we got rid of a hell of a lot of dispatchable energy, which has been a big problem.

PRIME MINISTER: And who that occur under, Chris? Who did that occur under for nine years?

KENNY: I keep telling you, I don't have a dog in this fight. I think Coalition and Labor governments, state and federal, have messed up our energy policy for a long while.

PRIME MINISTER: Because the market, Chris, remember years ago, they used to say, Josh Frydenberg used to stand up in Parliament and say, 'What about Liddell Power Station and everything else'. And they've shut on the former Coalition Government's watch. There wasn't a single new coal-fired power station built during the last decade.

KENNY: They were blowing them up.

PRIME MINISTER: That's not our fault. The market was heading in that direction. And business make decisions based upon the market. And it's a market economy we live in. And that had consequences for our supply, because four gigs left the system and only one gig came on. And that had an impact on supply here in Australia. What business wants is certainty. We are giving them that certainty.

KENNY: And what we all want is reliable, affordable energy. We've taken up a lot of your time, Prime Minister. Just finally, how will you be celebrating Australia Day?

PRIME MINISTER: I'll be celebrating it, firstly, here in Canberra with the night before where we have the Citizen of the Year awards at the Arboretum. I was there last year when Dylan Alcott was appointed as the Australian of the Year. I look forward to the appointments. I don't get a say in any of that, of course. But I'll be there the night beforehand. So, I look forward to the day. I might even get to watch the ferry race, if it occurs in Sydney. It is always a pretty good occasion as well.

KENNY: Go easy. They burn diesel on those ferries, I think. Anthony Albanese, Prime Minister, I really appreciate you joining us here on Chris Kenny tonight. You've been generous with your time. Thanks for that. Have a good year ahead. And hopefully, the Sky News After Dark audience is a very engaged very important one, hopefully you can pop back every now and then.

PRIME MINISTER: My pleasure, Chris. And Happy New Year. And coming up, of course, 2023 is the Year of the Rabbit. So, I regard that as a very positive omen going forward for my footy team.

KENNY: As you would. I was hoping it'd be the Year of the Crow. Thanks for joining us.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Chris.