DEBORAH KNIGHT, HOST: And we also catch up with our politicians, Energy Minister Angus Taylor and the Member for the Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon every Friday for Friday Question Time. Fellas, good to talk. Thanks again.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: G'day Deb.
ANGUS TAYLOR, MINISTER FOR ENERGY AND EMISSIONS REDUCTION: Thanks Deb.
KNIGHT: Now I want to start off with National Cabinet, which is meeting today, the focus, of course, on the vaccine rollout and the hotel quarantine system. And Angus, this breach at Brisbane International Airport is a worry. One of the travellers from PNG, who went into the green zone mingled with up to 400 others, some who then went on to fly to New Zealand. Is this going to burst the New Zealand travel bubble?
TAYLOR: Well, look, I certainly hope not, Deb. I think we want to see a continuation of the opening up we are seeing with that New Zealand travel, travel bubble. Look, you know, for the most part, we've done this extremely well. It's clearly been situations that, that haven't been perfect when you've been under the sort of pressure that the system has – there's an inevitability about some of that. But ultimately, we've done extremely well. And it's crucial that we do everything we can to try and maintain that, that outcome that we've been able to achieve.
KNIGHT: Yeah, and Jeannette Young, the Chief Health Officer in, in Queensland has made it clear that it's a low risk, but it is still a venue of concern, the Brisbane International Airport. But Joel, we've had some state governments – Queensland, Victoria and WA – calling on Canberra to pay for custom built quarantine hubs. Are we dropping the ball with the hotel quarantine system?
FITZGIBBON: Can I just very quickly, Deb, just comment on your little cancer scare, and both wish you the best, but congratulate you on the messages you've been sending to your listeners broader listening audience about taking care of yourself, checking these things and prevention, etcetera, etcetera. So well done. Deb, we're having all these debates about borders etcetera, and India, none of this would be happening if the government had got the quarantine facilities thing right in the first place. There were many options, some of which were recommended by Jane Horton about Commonwealth facilities in remote locations. And they were never pursued and the government, the federal government put all the pressure on the states to ramp up their hotel quarantining processes. And of course, mistakes and errors were made along the way, you'd expect that in such confined locations in our capital cities. So, we can't change history, but it would be a good thing now the Commonwealth took responsibility and started funding some facilities in remote locations.
KNIGHT: Is that something that government will consider Angus?
TAYLOR: Well, can I just say in response to what Joel said, can I echo his initial comments there Deb, very much so.
KNIGHT: Thank you, much appreciated
TAYLOR: Beyond that, of course, hotel quarantine has achieved 99.99 per cent effectiveness. Now, there are lots of proposals around for community quarantine stations. I was up in Toowoomba and west of Toowoomba just in the last couple of days and there was one up there. But the truth is the community doesn't want it. Yeah, they, they want to stick with the current system and make it work, and it largely has worked. So we've got to make sure it's part, we've got to make sure that state governments are doing the right thing. We've more than stumped up financially through the course of COVID with programs like JobKeeper and JobSeeker of course. But this has mostly served as well and we should continue down the same track we have been.
KNIGHT: Is there scope to expand something like Howard Springs though? Because obviously there are, there are key elements that it meets, which you can't achieve in every area – being in Darwin, close to a hospital, with an airport direct flying in and out and close to you know the health services too. It ticks a lot of boxes in Howard Springs and it's gone without a hitch, you haven't had any quarantine breaches, is there a scope to expand it or to, to at least have more like that in other areas?
TAYLOR: When it comes to alternative proposals, we are happy to consider them. Obviously hotel quarantine will remain the main way of doing this. But we are happy to consider them and work constructively with states and territories. But communities have got to be on board. And the Toowoomba example I just gave you is a good example, where the community wasn't on board, the state government was pushing it but it was very clear that community didn't want it. So we'll look at proposals that are put up by state governments that are serious, and that have the support needed to succeed.
KNIGHT: And that's true, isn't it Joel? There is a degree of nimbyism here; people don't want it necessarily in their own backyard?
FITZGIBBON: Deb, Angus sounds like a Texan at the Battle of Alamo saying everything's going fine. I mean, the tens of thousands of Australians who were told they'd be home by Christmas, who are still locked out of their own country. Things are not, things are not going fine. We still are having problems with hotel quarantine and we need to get these people home. Now, the government – I mean, mining companies can put up mining camps virtually overnight, Deb. You know, the Commonwealth is capable of doing these things close and around its remote defence bases, which I know well, but it just refuses to do so. And Angus says: oh yeah, we'll have a look at these things. Well, we're more than a year into this pandemic, Deb. And the government's still looking at it, we need them to act.
TAYLOR: Deb, can I just say on defence bases, they're operational facilities and the risk of critical defence personnel is not, not acceptable. It's not one we will consider, but we will consider sensible proposals from state governments.
KNIGHT: All right. The one area though that is a real concern is the vaccination rollout. And, you know, we know that people have real concerns because of the blood clot issue, even though the health advice is that there is no direct link at this stage between the two more recent deaths – the man in his 50s and 70s. And the advice still is that the risks of the COVID, getting COVID and the risks of the vaccine, the benefits far outweigh those. Despite all of that, people are concerned. They're cancelling their bookings in droves. You've got to do something to achieve a bit more confidence, don't you, Angus?
TAYLOR: Well, we've seen over 2 million Australians vaccinated, we've been working constructively with the states and territories,
KNIGHT: But you'd know from people in your own electorate that they are really worried.
TAYLOR: It's important we all say, including on this program, of course, that it is crucial people get the vaccine. I mean, the end of the day, Australians have a choice. We – that, that is the nature of our country. But I firmly believe Australians should get the vaccine when they're eligible. I certainly will be doing that. And I very strongly encourage everybody else listening on this program to do exactly the same.
KNIGHT: Well, I'm with you. I'm going to be you know, there as well. I think it's really important. And I'm hoping I mean, we're good adopters of vaccinations here in Australia, across the board, and I think once we see more people getting the COVID vaccinations, then the confidence, you know, that'll sort of play out in itself. But again, it's not happening as quickly as I think many would hope. I want to talk about China too, because we've heard warnings this week from Mike Pezzullo, Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs, of the drums of war beating louder and referring to, in large part, the tensions with China. Will you, Angus, take another look at these deals with China for the ports of Darwin and Newcastle, owned by Chinese interests, because you talk about the standing up for our own national interest; they are a threat to our national security aren't they?
TAYLOR: Well, you raise a good question. But we have seen in recent weeks that Minister Payne with the new powers she has, is prepared to use those powers where necessary and in the national interest. And we've seen the Belt and Road deal with the Victorian Government ripped up. That was an important first intervention, first step taken on the back of the legislation we put through the parliament. Now, we want constructive relationship with China where we can discuss our differences, where we can work together for our mutual benefit. But we're not going to compromise on the national security and those powers are there to be used where appropriate. And we've seen Marise Payne do exactly that in recent weeks.
KNIGHT: So, will you review the deals for the port of Darwin and the port of Newcastle?
TAYLOR: Well, that is a question for her. She has those powers. But we've shown...
KNIGHT: ... do you think we should?
TAYLOR: We've shown no reticence in using those powers where the intelligence information and advice we have is that there is an issue for Australia's interest. We will use those powers as necessary. We obviously take advice on what the risks are in any particular instance. But there'll be no hesitation to use those powers when necessary. But we do, as I say, we want to have a constructive relationship with China where we can discuss our differences and work together.
KNIGHT: And Joel, the port of Newcastle in your neck of the woods, these assets should never have been sold off in the first place, should they?
FITZGIBBON: No, the port should never have been privatised, Deb. It was in public hands and it was profitable. And of course, it was a Coalition Government in New South Wales that fobbed it off. But this is the rub, Deb, it's alright to say the government should intervene, but governments have given up the will to operate these profitable businesses. And if weak kneed company directors in our public listed companies won't stand up to these climate change activists and invest in fossil fuel related facilities like the port of Newcastle, then who is left standing, Deb? Now, Angus talked about the Belt and Road memorandum of understanding, it doesn't cost anything to rip it up, and that's a bit of a beat up, that's about all it was – a memorandum of understanding. But if you want to change the port of Newcastle, you've got real property rights here and someone would have to purchase it. And that would need to be the government. So the government needs to say whether or not it's prepared to do so.
TAYLOR: Well, at the end of the day, as I said, I mean, I'm not going to speculate on decisions that Marise Payne has within her authority to make in the right circumstances. But what I will say is she's shown no hesitation to do it and I think ripping up that deal with the Victorian Government was very material, and certainly it was seen that way by many commentators, quite rightly, Joel. And we are prepared to step in where we need to. But obviously, you've got to look at each instance on its own merits.
KNIGHT: Alright, energy policy and Angus, you're promising cheaper and more reliable energy under the government's planned overhaul of the electricity system. It's a promise we have heard before. But I tell you what, a lot of listeners say they haven't seen the prices actually fall. What's the difference this time around?
TAYLOR: Well, it is important to know that they are falling and if people haven't seen it fall in their bills, ring around because the cheap deals are out there, get onto the Energy Made Easy website, and there are great deals around right now. Because the wholesale price has come down for 19 months in a row, Deb. Now, we want to see that continue, continue to be passed through to consumers. And that means having the right balance of generation in our system, we can't run on solar and wind when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining, you've got to have that balance. And what we've announced today, through ESB is work that will continue down the path we've been going down, to reward that dispatchable, reliable generation, to retain the dispatchable generation in our system, prevent it going out early, as we saw with Hazelwood in Victoria, for instance, and make sure there's enough investment in it for the future. Getting that balance right is the key. It's been working. It'll continue to work if we have the right policies in place. And that's exactly what we're talking about today.
KNIGHT: So you're not backing away from coal?
TAYLOR: No, absolutely not. I mean, it's over 60 per cent of our current energy mix, it's going to continue to play a big and important role. We are seeing a bigger role for technologies like household solar, and many of your listeners will have household solar on their roofs and that's a good thing, but we've got to have balance and ripping all the coal up tomorrow is not balance. Deb, that is not what we're proposing here, I can assure you of that.
KNIGHT: That'll be music to your ears, Joel and as part of the government's plans, they do want to build this gas generator in the Hunter, which we have spoken about before. But the ESB says that it's commercially unviable.
FITZGIBBON: Well, we certainly want those additional gas-fired generators, particularly here in the Hunter Valley, Deb. Look, I need a little bit more time to do my homework and provide myself with reassurance that this is going to put downward pressure on prices not upward. I think it's very feasible that it can put downward pressure. But what we do know, Deb, is that we're going to have a big gap, we've got all this renewable energy rushing into the system, and they're pricing the coal generators out of the system. And they'll be forced to close before the end of the physical lives. Ninety per cent of our coal generation in New South Wales comes from generators more than 30 years old. So we have a problem here. So if this is a scheme, to allow our coal generators to continue to compete fairly in the system, without putting any upward pressure on prices, then I will back it in.
KNIGHT: Well, let's see the fine print and see how the response is to that announcement from you today, Angus. I want to end on this. Now, I know you always deal with a lot of people who might disagree with you as politicians and sometimes you have to make unpopular decisions. I wonder if you've got any unpopular opinions, though, about movies, because according to the website, Rotten Tomatoes, or tomatoes, as they call it in America, they've looked at movie reviews and Paddington 2 the movie, which I've seen with my kids – it's okay – but it's considered the perfect movie. Citizen Kane though, is being tipped pip to the post. Paddington 2, better than Citizen Kane? What have you got, choices wise, with movies that are really going against the tide, Angus?
TAYLOR: Well, I've got an admission to make, which is that I absolutely loved the Austin power movies.
KNIGHT: They're great. Don't be ashamed of that.
TAYLOR: But, my wife absolutely hates them. Anyway, that's one we have to agree to disagree on.
KNIGHT: That's a good choice. You stand by that choice, Angus Taylor.
TAYLOR: I stand by that choice.
KNIGHT: Very good. Very good. What about you, Joel?
FITZGIBBON: Well, Deb, I have no idea what the critics said of it at the time, but my mind immediately turns to that movie that spoils every Easter, or used to, King of Kings. It went for almost three hours. Now, I don't want to be accused of blasphemy. I'm not showing any disrespect for the storyline.
KNIGHT: You're treading on eggshells here, yeah.
FITZGIBBON: But, it is a, was a terrible movie. And in the older days, when we only had free-to-air and limited channel choices, you were always almost stuck with it for almost three hours every Easter, so I'm going to nominate King of Kings.
KNIGHT: I have never seen that movie. So they you go.
FITZGIBBON: Don't bother.
KNIGHT: Don't bother. Okay. Alright. I'll take your word for it. Alright, fellas, look, I appreciate your kind words. And I just want to reinsure the BCC on my nose. It is not serious; it's small, we got it early. And I just wanted to let people know about it as you said, rightly Joel, that it's a good way of raising awareness and I've been told by probably four or five people since then that they are now going to get their skin checked as a result of me talking about this. So that is the good news as a result of it.
KNIGHT: Thank you guys. We'll talk again next week.
TAYLOR: Good on you, Deb.
FITZGIBBON: Thanks team