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'With the right policy settings, we can actually increase our investment in Tasmania and renewables.' ABC Hobart Breakfast Radio Interview, Wednesday 4 October 2017





SUBJECTS: Energy policy; Lobbying ban; Diwali celebrations; Break O’Day Council; Tasmanian state elections.

LEON COMPTON: In the Senate there's plenty of political spin, but in space there isn't. There's lots of contentious issues around today, so I'm not sure how much political gravity we'll be able to avoid. Maybe it'll be heavy, like some of those planets where it’s three times what the gravity here on Earth is. Could be? Let's find out.

Liberal Senator for Tasmania, Eric Abetz – good morning to you.


COMPTON: And Labor Senator for Tasmania, Lisa Singh – good morning to you.

LISA SINGH, LABOR SENATOR FOR TASMANIA: Good morning Leon to you and your listeners.

COMPTON: Senator Abetz, I'm mindful of the fact that you might have to go at 9.45! What will happen when the bells ring? What will be the issue that you'll have to run in to discuss?

ABETZ: We're currently considering a bill in committee about the regional investment body that the Federal Government went to the last election on, so in the committee stage there are amendments being put and if there is a division I sadly will need to depart and leave it all to Lisa who I'm sure will do a very good job.

COMPTON: We're listening for the bells as we talk this morning. Thanks to both of you for joining us from Canberra. Senator Abetz, yesterday you announced the National Energy Guarantee. It'd promote dispatchable power as part of the energy mix. Senator, we have the best dispatchable power in Australia, and the opportunity to export more of it to the mainland. How is in Tasmania's interest to make that equal to coal or gas?

ABETZ: I was in fact speaking with the Minister for Environment and Energy, Josh Frydenberg, this morning, and he believes that this package is exceptionally good for Tasmania because we have both renewable and dispatch able energy. And that's the great thing about hydro-energy, unlike solar and wind which is very intermittent and in South Australia they discovered that in a couple of days in February – where one day from wind and solar they were getting 91 per cent of their energy needs and two days later it was right down to three per cent. So at all times you need dispatch able energy.

COMPTON: Sure, but to be clear, wind investment in Tasmania might actually add to our dispatchable energy because it can pump water back up the hill for hydro to benefit from, into the mainland. How is ending renewable energy subsidies good for the $2 billion investment that's on the table at the moment here in the state?

ABETZ: The intermittent wind power will of course be the back-up to providing the dispatchability that hydro provides. It provides certainty. If the wind doesn't blow, if the sun doesn't shine, we know that water will run down hills and create energy for us. And that is why hydro will be a very important part, along with coal, along with gas, in providing dispatchability. Because what the Australian people want first and foremost Leon, is affordable electricity, a reliable supply, and of course if we can, reduce our emissions. And with this package, affordability, reliability, and reduction in emissions will all be achieved. And I, for one, am extremely pleased with the developments thus far because the Clean Energy Target has been removed, and as the Prime Minister's quite rightly said, we are concerned about affordability. And affordability goes to our pensioners, our household budgets, small business, the farmers, our manufacturers. And what we're doing at the moment with the renewable energy targets and the big subsidies is making our electricity unaffordable-

COMPTON: Senator Abetz, as you look across the table this morning at Senator Lisa Singh, is she looking like she is nodding away in furious agreement with you? 

ABETZ: Err...look, as it happens, she is sitting to my right which most of your listeners won't believe, but that is our geographic position, but of course the Labor Party are committed to a 50 per cent renewable energy target which will absolutely mug household budgets and our business sector.

COMPTON: Senator Singh, let's get you in here. One of the things perhaps that the market needs more than anything in terms of policy nuance is certainty going forward. You could get on board, support this to the extent that it is important, and at least provide certainty to the markets. Will you do it?

SINGH: Leon, I think the public have had enough of all of this over the last five years – infighting in the Coalition on energy. And yes, they want certainty. They want certainty going forward, but as you rightly put to Senator Abetz Tasmania has the opportunity to be a renewable powerhouse – indeed for the nation – and I actually wrote about that in the Mercury a couple of weeks ago. That with the right policy settings, we can actually increase our investment in Tasmania and renewables. We are a renewables state in the main and have been for the last hundred years. So I am deeply concerned by this policy that has just been released yesterday.

The problem though, Leon, is that we just don't have any detail as to what this really means. We don't know what it means for Tasmania beyond 2020 when those subsidies end for renewables. There doesn't seem to be any modelling. Yesterday we had the Prime Minister saying that it's going to reduce power bill by $100 a year. Then about half an hour later the Chair of the Australian Energy Market Commission was saying that it was only going to be maybe up to around twenty-five dollars a year. So, I know Eric has been on about affordability as being important – and of course affordability, reliability, and reducing our emissions are what, I think, we all want to see in a good energy policy. But it is so unclear if that's what is being delivered here. In fact, on the affordability front, twenty-five dollars a year – that's fifty cents a week! Now, after five years, you'd think the Government would do a lot better than that. So we are up for a mature debate and of course bipartisanship is important for investment in the energy sector going forward. But we haven't seen any modelling and a regulatory impact statement is a pretty basic thing that a government does when it puts out a policy that has such an economy-wide impact on our nation. There doesn't seem to be one.

COMPTON: Senator Abetz, just on the numbers, there's a $1.2 billion proposal for a wind farm on Robin's Island. Then there's Wild Cattle Hill at the moment which looks closest to getting up in the air, and another proposal for the West Coast. Can you guarantee that your policy won't threaten those projects and make them less likely to happen in the next few years?

ABETZ: Well, first of all we've got to ask what are our policy objectives? If it is to get wind turbines up everywhere, then of course you throw subsidy after subsidy at it, and the Labor policy is a $66 billion extra cost. Let your listeners be fully aware that whenever anybody talks about a renewable energy target or a subsidy, ultimately it comes out of their pockets as taxpayers, or as higher energy prices. So, my first concern is affordability. Now, having dealt with that, in relation to the projects that are currently underway ­– the cut-off is 2020 and I'm not fully alert to exactly the timetable, but at the end of the day what the Australian people need and deserve is affordability and reliability of the energy supply source, and the sort of blackout that South Australia suffered is not something that the rest of Australia would want and we have now had the lesson of South Australia that the – as the Prime Minister called it – the idiotic ideology that led to this South Australian situation should not be allowed to be replicated elsewhere.

COMPTON: Senator, wouldn't you be concerned if this policy threatened those windfarm investments in Tasmania which could be used to actually boost our storages here and produce more dispatchable power? Marc White from Goanna Energy has this morning said it raises questions about those investments. Wouldn't that trouble you?

ABETZ: Of course, it troubles me but at the end of the day, believe it or not, my commitment is to the pensioners. It is to the household budgets. It’s the small businesses and our manufacturers that need energy affordability. 

SINGH: But Eric, how is-

ABETZ: It is not to these companies that are making big money out of the renewables. And, let's make no mistake, they're in the renewables sector because there's a big buck to be made, especially with the current subsidies, so let's be under no misapprehension about that.

COMPTON:  Senator Singh?

SINGH: Well, how is 50 cents a week less on power bills "affordable"? That's your hallmark. "Affordability". Where is it in this policy? It's just not there, Eric!

ABETZ: Lisa, Lisa-

SINGH: So to go out there and say that this is an affordable policy – it really does, to me, reek of an outcome of ending this division that's been going on within the Liberal Party, that Malcolm Turnbull's had to deal with for so long.

ABETZ: Oh please, please Lisa!

SINGH: He's initiated the Chief Scientist of this country to do a report and the key recommendation in it – the Clean Energy Target – is one that you just couldn't live with. And you, along with Tony Abbott and a few others, have pressured Malcolm Turnbull into abandoning that, coming up with something that doesn't seem to have the detail to know whether it's going to be affordable, and yet today you're telling Tasmanians this is an affordable policy?

ABETZ: Oh look, first of all Leon, in relation to divisions – I think most of your listeners will recall the carbon tax we were not going to have, then the carbon tax we did have, that it was the greatest moral challenge of our time according to Kevin Rudd, then it was dumped, so please don't talk about policy shifts to me, Lisa. In relation to affordability, at least the Coalition policy talks about reducing energy prices and sure, modelling needs to be done, but I think everybody is agreed that it will be more affordable. The only question is by how much. But Leon, the important point is the Labor policy is writ large, that you will have a lot higher energy price without any shadow of a doubt, so on the Coalition side reduced energy prices- 

COMPTON: But don't both of you agree?

SINGH: We were happy to agree to a Clean Energy Target!

ABETZ: Whereas with the Labor party, you've got huge costs, and I know why the Labor party wanted a Clean Energy Target-

COMPTON: But hang on, stop please Senator Abetz! Don't both of you agree that what industry is saying, what commercial ventures that are investing in this sector are saying, is that they want agreement that you will both stick to over the twenty year investment window, so they know what's going on? That investment will solve a lot of these problems and they require certainty- 

SINGH: That's exactly right Leon, they do want certainty.

COMPTON: Don't you agree that you both need to, that you need to come up with something together on this?

SINGH: Yes, yes, absolutely.

ABETZ: And that is what industry is saying; that this will provide investment certainty because the dispatchability concept – which is just so vital to keep the lights on – will be part and parcel of the mix, so we don't have the disaster and the huge economic cost of the black out in South Australia. If that were replicated in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, the economic cost to Australia would be huge. We simply cannot afford such a situation to be allowed and that is why the dispatchability element of this policy is so vitally important for the maintenance of energy supply.

COMPTON: It will be very interesting to see if the States decide to get on board with this because it doesn't need to be ratified in Parliament, we understand, it does need to be ratified by the States.

SINGH: That's true. The Premiers have been left in the dark on this – they haven't even been consulted about it. But the thing is Leon, as you know, Labor's policy was for an emissions intensity scheme, but when the Finkel report came out in June, we said okay in the interests of bipartisanship and providing that certainty of investment to the sector, we were happy to compromise and sit down and work with the government on implementing a clean energy target. But that is something that this Coalition government couldn't even agree on themselves, and that's coming out of their own commissioned Chief Scientist report, and even though the Prime Minister at the time was saying he was supportive of a Clean Energy Target. That's why we were coming on board and now look where we are!

ABETZ: Leon, the reason Labor were coming on board was that they wanted to get off the silly sticky paper they'd got themselves onto in relation to the 50% renewable energy target-

SINGH: No, that is still our policy. That is still our policy!

ABETZ: Because they knew the consequences-

SINGH: That's good for Tasmania!

COMPTON: This is the question for you, Senator Abetz, I mean this is the question for you that renewable energy policy, whatever it might mean for the mainland, might be overwhelmingly good for Tasmania, and you're a senator for Tasmania. Isn't it your job to argue for what's best this state, rather than others?

ABETZ: I don't think you heard what I said at the very beginning, Leon, and that is that I spoke with the minister for energy and environment, Josh Frydenberg, this morning, who believes that this will in fact be exceptionally good for Tasmania because we do have dispatchability from our hydro and that is why it links in so exceptionally well with wind power in Tasmania.

COMPTON: You're on Mornings around Tasmania. It's Senators in Space. Our guests this morning, Eric Abetz and Lisa Singh, and we're talking about a range of issues. What do you think about the proposed ban for five years? This was the ban proposed by Jacqui Lambie the other day, a ban on politicians moving in to lobbying positions where they'd be lobbying government, for five years, rather than whatever the policy is at the moment. Senator Singh, to you?

SINGH: This is obviously coming out of the fact that we've had recently a government minister in Bruce Billson, who was actually receiving a lobbying payment whilst he was still a minister in this parliament. Now that is just an incredible egregious outcome there, and I think that that in itself erodes the trust, right-

COMPTON: But let's also agree that it's an issue for both sides, but that is a more specific instance, would you both agree to a five year ban?

ABETZ: If I might quickly comment? Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet, looked at that and said that there was no breach. So in defence of Bruce Billson, that needs to be said. But look there is a principle here that needs to be discussed, as opposed to making cheap political shots like Lisa Singh. I believe that there is good reason to have a window – I think 5 years, quite frankly, is too long – but I think it makes very good sense to have, let's say, a twelve month cooling-off period so that if you have been Minister for Defence, you cannot then immediately slip into a lobbying role for a defence industry because of all the inside knowledge that you take with you. I think there is a very good reason and rationale for that ministerial code of conduct. Five years, yes five years I think is too long.

COMPTON: Twelve months from your side Eric Abetz, what about you Lisa Singh?

SINGH: Well I think it's currently set at eighteen months.

ABETZ: Oh, eighteen, my apologies.

SINGH: That’s currently, yes. But I think that this goes to the heart of the breakdown of trust of politicians because of these actions. It may be actions like Bruce Billson, but it may also be things like Bronwyn Bishop in helicopters. All of that breaks down and erodes our trust with the public.

COMPTON: It might also be Craig Thompson sitting on the backbenches defended by your party for years on end and sitting there. Let's agree that blame sits on both sides.

ABETZ: Come on, we're in space at the moment, no spin Lisa. Come on.

SINGH: I think there's been a lot of spin this morning on both sides, Eric.

COMPTON: I think today we've accepted we're on planet Mars and the gravity centre is heavier than normal. But there is blame to go around on both sides Lisa Singh, it ties in with the issue of political donations – again an issue for your party and the Liberals when it comes to donations from China and corporations or unions depending on who you listen to.

ABETZ: And might I add, the Greens as well. The Greens as well.

SINGH: Yes. Look, well it does feed into all of that. It's all about the integrity of our democracy, and we have a bill on the table at the moment to ban foreign donations – political donations – and I'd be happy if the government would support us to get that through the Parliament so that we can end that. All of these things add to ensuring there's trust with our community. It goes though, into the standards of conduct that need to be enforced and implemented by leaders of political parties and that's a question for Malcolm Turnbull in terms of his ministers and how they behave. I don't agree with you, Eric, I think that what happened with Bruce Billson shows very clearly that the bills that Jacqui Lambie is bringing on are a result of some of that breakdown.

COMPTON: Can I ask you both a-

ABETZ: Look at Sam Dastyari-

COMPTON: I've got a question for you both. Jacqui Lambie puts her donations up in real time. I mean there are some interesting donations up there from a range of optometrists and a couple of unions, but whatever else is true, they're up in real time. You can hold her to account for them. Is that why people like she is so popular versuss the major parties at the moment who benefit from opacity?

ABETZ: Look, let's get something into perspective here. Senator Lambie has a degree of popularity, but if you had the Liberal and Labor vote together in Tasmania or anywhere in Australia, I think that there would be – that would put into context the alleged popularity of Senator Lambie. But in relations to foreign donations, I've been a supporter of banning them for a long, long time. It was one of my failures as Special Minister of State in the Howard Government. I sought to achieve that and did not achieve it. I'm now pleased that I think there is a consensus view around the Parliament that that should happen and I am looking forward to that happening.

COMPTON: Quickly, I want to give you a moment each to talk about the issues that you wanted to bring to the table. Maybe Senator Singh, briefly, you wanted to talk about Diwali this year?

SINGH: I did, yes. Diwali is the Indian festival of Lights and it's also the Indian New Year and it starts this Thursday. And of course Franklin Square in Hobart has the Franko Market on this Friday night starting up, and they've combined with the Multicultural Council of Tasmania to actually have a Diwali festival in Franklin Square. So I think it will be great display of multiculturalism and learning about the Diwali festival, which is all about light over darkness, hope over despair, and good over evil.

ABETZ: And what a great segue to come to a Liberal Senator.

COMPTON: Liberal Senator Eric Abetz.

ABETZ: But I wish it all the best.

COMPTON: And just briefly, you wanted to congratulate the East Coast Council Break o' Day for thinking about looking for a bit more coal in a fairly coal-rich part of Tasmania? 

ABETZ: Yes. Councillor John Tucker moved a motion at the Break O'Day Council on Monday – which was successful – that they write to the State and Federal Ministers to prove-up the mineral and coal wealth of the Break O'Day municipality to see the job prospects that might arise from that, and I just think that's the sort of proactive leadership we need in our local communities – looking for opportunities so that the economic development that Tasmania has seen over the last few years – that momentum can be maintained. So a big tick to Councillor John Tucker and the Break O'Day Council.

COMPTON: And just briefly we've got seconds left until news, Eric Abetz, will you be out door-knocking for Sue Hickey as she campaigns for Denison?

ABETZ: Look, you are presuming something there and I've always been very circumspect that endorsement is a matter for the Liberal Party membership-

COMPTON: She still has to get endorsed.

ABETZ: Yes. And once the Liberal Party membership makes its-