TOM CONNELL: Back home and it’s been a week in federal politics dominated by energy policy again because of this report handed down by the ACCC which is both comprehensive and damning as well. Joining me now, our panel, Liberal MP Tony Pasin and Labor MP Graham Perrett.
Gents thanks to you both for your time and Tony I might start with you and an area you are pretty passionate about. This recommendation that the Government could underwrite new power projects within the system to get more dispatchable power, do you agree with Michael McCormack, he said that this could be a green light for coal fired power stations?
TONY PASIN, MEMBER FOR BARKER: Tom, what this report is, is a green light for government to focus on the price of energy and to be honest I have discussed the report with the Energy Minister and I said it’s so pleasing that there is now a renewed focus on the question of price because as Rod Sims says in the Executive Summary, the national energy market is broken, it’s unacceptable and it’s unsustainable when these 56 recommendations, a very many of which are focused on price and energy policy, is just so important right now in this country and I’m pleased to see he also mentions how regressive it is because people on low incomes are having to pay a disproportionally high amount of their income on energy.
CONNELL: And just on this mechanism, because it is obviously a recommendation at the moment Tony Pasin, should it include when it talks about new projects, should it include extending the life of existing power plants?
PASIN: I think that’s more likely than a greenfield development of new coal fired power stations. We know, it’s clear, from my perspective it’s been clear from early doors that we need to extend the life of our coal fleet as long as possible to enable the new forms of technology to enter the mix and to enter the mix at a price point that’s affordable and competitive.
CONNELL: So, just to clarify, this underwriting the Government could be doing, it’s a recommendation at the moment obviously, you’d like to see that apply to extending the life of, for example, coal fired power plants if they were scheduled to end in a certain year and you can add another five years that should, or ten years, that should be deemed a new project?
PASIN: Well that’s something that the Government should be looking at in my view very clearly because what it will do is put downward pressure on prices and we need to maintain that focus around price. The national energy guarantee is about reliability. The Paris Agreement is about reduction in global emissions or emissions targets if you like. We need also to be focusing on price and Tom you know I’ve been banging on about this for a very long time and I should say you recall I was as bold as to tell a recent meeting in the Parliament and repeated it on your show that we should be looking for a price target in the range of $60 a megawatt hour and I’m pleased to think that the report, as I read it, confirms that that’s about the range we should be focusing on.
CONNELL: Yeah, no-one can accuse you of not speaking out on this policy. Graham Perrett, to you now, what do you make of this report? It is, and even this recommendation that is dominating it, there’s no mention of coal in it. Indeed Rod Sims said that projects that are coming to him about this were either renewables with firming capacity or gas.
GRAHAM PERRETT, MEMBER FOR MORETON: Yeah, and I think that’s what’s happening, technology is staying ahead of the game here and we’ll reach those sort of targets that Tony was talking about. Obviously coal is a part of the mix at the moment but the ACCC is talking about getting certainty, getting investment certainty. Obviously capital is not investing in the energy sector to get the reliability that we need the way it should have and for the last decade politicians have really got this wrong. We haven’t had the certainty and it all comes down to that moment in December 2009 when Tony Abbott used energy policy as a way to leverage Malcolm Turnbull out of the leadership and there’s been this sort of merry-go-round ever since. And sadly, consumers have suffered. We’ve seen incredible prices over the last few years under this Government, now under the Turnbull Government. So if we can get certainty, and Mark Butler and Bill Shorten are working towards a situation where we have certainty, because these are long-term investments, get capital investing back in the energy sector that would be a good thing as far as I’m concerned.
CONNELL: It points the finger at Queensland this report in particular some of the assets and how many are owned by the states, divest them and also it talks about splitting up some of the assets even if you keep them in state hands because they are too big, they are too dominant. What did you make of that?
PERRETT: Well, I think the Queensland Government, the Palaszczuk Government’s already breaking up to have a bit more competition. But we’ve had two state elections based on not selling off big assets, state owned assets. I know the South Australian Liberals got rid of it and then got into trouble when the market wasn’t able to be controlled by government, influenced by government should I say. There is certainly aspects of the national electricity market that are problematic. The ACCC has made that clear. We believe in competition driving down prices so that consumers and businesses, so we want businesses making decisions about long-term purchases of power so that we have Australian manufacturing strong into the future. So the Queensland Government is already doing some of that in terms of making sure that there is proper competition but we are sending power over the border through the interconnectors already. So we’ve got some natural assets, obviously we’ve got some great investment taking place in renewables at the moment but I think it sort of fell off a cliff a little bit when Tony Abbot came into power with his election commitment to get rid of the emissions mechanisms that we’d set up and we need to bring that capital back into investing in the electricity sector. We’ve got great natural assets, you know, sunshine, gas, solar, wave coming on. We need to make sure the market mechanisms are right to invest in those power sources.
CONNELL: We’ll see if the two major parties eventually come together on this. There appears to be a bit of a gap. Let’s talk immigration though. The headline today in the Australian, down ten per cent to about 163,000 on the past financial year. Tony Pasin this comes about apparently because of tighter vetting rules. Your thoughts on this, do you welcome it?
PASIN: Well, security and vetting processes must always be paramount in this exercise. I have spoken before on your program Tom, I’m comfortable with a reduction, a modest reduction, in the rate of inward immigration into our country. I think the more important thing from someone who represents a rural electorate like mine is we need to find ways to get people to live in rural regional and remote Australia. That’s where jobs are. I can take people to parts of my electorate that are at full employment. Where you can actually go to the local Council office and they will drive you out to a job interview, drive you out to a job interview because the labour market is so tight. So, whilst I’m ok with a reduction I’m very keen to ensure vetting and security processes are fulsome, I’d like to see ways of getting people to live in Australia where the jobs are.
CONNELL: Graham Perrett is this an issue in your electorate? Do people talk to you about immigration levels and any concern about it?
PERRETT: Yeah, probably different concerns to Tony. I did notice that the ten per cent drop, it’s actually 15 per cent when it comes to spousal visas. I’ve got a very multicultural community so it’s got implications for some of them but you’ve got to remember Liberal and National political parties are about to start their sixth year in government. So, if Peter Dutton is criticizing anyone he is criticizing either himself or Scott Morrison. These are their numbers, their decisions for the last five years. Obviously it will have some implications because any time you… immigration is linked to economic growth so if they’re decreasing by ten per cent, the number of people coming in, that will have implications for our economic growth. I’m sure that will be an adjustment process that Mr Dutton will take to the cabinet. I notice he didn’t take this policy to the cabinet as far as the newspapers tell me. I’m not sure how he was able to run policies through a different process outside of cabinet. Maybe that’s the power he has over Mr Turnbull at the moment. But, obviously as Tony said I agree with him on this, we need to make sure that we’ve got a secure process that people are fair dinkum when they come to Australia and when they arrive they make an economic contribution and that we are all the richer for it and that if we need to send more people down to Tony’s part of the world that’s not a bad thing. I’m from the bush myself. If you need a job there’s obviously opportunities in the bush
CONNELL: A bit of bipartisanship.
PASIN: If you lose yours Graham we’ll always find you a job.
CONNELL: Ha ha, I thought we had bipartisanship for a second there. Just quickly, Graham can I ask you about the reports Queensland Council of Unions want voters to put a former neo-Nazi ahead of the Liberal Party in Longman. Is it win at all cost?
PERRETT: Sorry, the Queensland Council of Unions?
PERRETT: I thought… the Liberal Party has got a deal with One Nation was my understanding. Obviously Longman is a long way from Moreton.
CONNELL: That’s one of it and the official Labor ‘How to Vote’ card is for the former neo-Nazi to be last but the Council of Unions has weighed in and said put them just ahead of the Liberal Party.
PERRETT: Well, look I can speak for the Labor Party. The Queensland Council of Unions have their own representatives. I know this, we will, you know, any political party that is getting into bed with neo-Nazis and convicted criminals need to have a long hard look at itself. I know what the Labor Party’s position is. Mr Turnbull’s the one that’s getting into bed with Pauline Hanson and all the crazy nutters that are connected with One Nation. I represent a multicultural community, I think the idea that we are going down that xenophobic road for the mainstream political parties is abhorrent, repugnant and I would hope that Prime Minister Turnbull would have a bit of ticker and speak up.
CONNELL: Very quickly Tony Pasin, comfortable with One Nation ahead of Labor?
CONNELL: That was very quick. Tony Pasin, Graham Perrett, thank you for your time today.
PERRETT: Cheers guys.
PASIN: Thanks, Tom. Thanks, Graham.