SKY NEWS: 24/9/20

September 24, 2020



TOM CONNELL, HOST: Just on these comments, do you see gas as a transition fuel at all and for how many years if so?
MARK BUTLER, SHADOW CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY MINISTER: What I did say was not that it doesn’t play a role in our prosperity, it’s just that we’re not going to be able to base our prosperity entirely on fossil fuels in the way we did in the 20th Century.
Around the world we are seeing countries move onto a pathway to net zero emissions by the middle of the century and that will obviously have an impact on Australia as a very big exporter of coal and gas. But gas is a critically important part of our economy and society here in Australia. This morning almost all of the millions of Australian households would have used gas in heating their water, perhaps in heating their house, it was cold in the south, and certainly using it on the stove. Many of our businesses rely very heavily on gas, a number of manufacturers very heavily, employing thousands and thousands of Australians.
We’ve been making the point for five years now that our traditional supply of reliable, affordable gas for Australian households and Australian businesses has stopped under this government. There is a very deep gas crisis and has been for a number of years here, and over the last several days, in a series of announcements on energy policy, we’ve seen nothing from the government to deal with that crisis.
CONNELL: Where there is plenty from the government in terms of what it would do on gas, talking about subsidies for example for pipelines and perhaps even a gas power station. Let me ask you about your policy though, $1.5 billion to unlock gas reserves in the Northern Territory and Queensland is what you took to the last election. Is that still a good policy fit for purpose essentially, that’s a policy to get more gas into the system?  
BUTLER: All of our policies are up for review as Anthony Albanese has said, but I’ve been saying very consistently since 2015 when this gas crisis emerged that we needed to find more reliable, affordable supply for Australian households and Australian businesses. That is still the case and, if anything, the crisis has gotten worse over the last several years as this government has done very little.
What I’ve complained about over the last several days with this series of announcements is that it doesn’t deal with the gas crisis that saw prices triple and very serious concerns about reliable supply emerge. It also doesn’t deal with the fact we’re in the deepest recession in almost a century and we don’t need jobs off in the never-never, potentially in the second half of this decade that this plan maybe promises. We need jobs now, and that’s what we saw lacking in the series of announcements over the last several days. Not a single job they could point to that would be created in the timeframe that we need, which is now.
CONNELL: I’m just trying to clarify why you say this doesn’t deal with the gas crisis at all. The government money would come for pipelines. It would seek as Labor did to try and unlock more domestic gas reserves, so encourage development to try and reduce the cost of being able to transport that gas. That would have to make gas cheaper in Australia and more likely to get cheaper sources of it for our use wouldn’t it?   
BUTLER: Well perhaps in the very long term, well into the second half of this decade this new gas if they prove to be prospective, would come onto the market. What we’ve been calling for for several years is drastic action around export controls. Export controls that would stop so much of our affordable gas being sent overseas - the ACCC says sometimes still being sold more cheaply to our overseas customers than customers here in Australia can access it for. Export controls based on supply triggers and price triggers.
All we got last week was another review of prices. Well; we know prices are out of control, they’ve been out of control for years - and, in a development I’m sure had gas industry executives shaking in their boots, a voluntary, industry-led code of conduct that might give customers a fair shake. Well we know based on the last several years we need something more than a reliance on the goodwill of the big gas companies to deliver gas customers, households and the manufacturing industry, a fair shake. All we’re getting is more announcements, no delivery from this government to deal with the gas crisis and to create jobs in the short term.
CONNELL: The use of gas itself, obviously it’s still a fossil fuel, the broad summary of it over the years has been it uses about half as much (CO2) as coal, yes there are a lot of variables in there, but do you agree with that, or do you share increasing concerns that perhaps because of fugitive methane emissions it might be quite a lot higher than that?
BUTLER: Well it produces about half the amount of greenhouse gas emissions when it is burned. There are potentially fugitive emissions that are more significant than that. That depends really on how disciplined the industry is being in controlling leakage from wells, leakage from pipelines - and I know from the gas industry itself they think they need to do much better than that all around the world, not just here in Australia. But there’s no question it is a cleaner source of electricity generation than coal by a significant way, and it also plays a really critical part in the electricity generation industry because it can be started very, very quickly.
I have five gas generators in my electorate. They’re being upgraded, we’ve got a new one that was opened last year – the Barker Inlet Power Station, that replaced a very old gas fired power generator with a state of the art, fast start peaker that is able to support what in South Australia is now a very renewables-heavy electricity system. So there is an important role that this fuel is going to play in our electricity system.
CONNELL: Just finally, Angus Taylor was asked about whether or not there would be a transition out of coal-fired power, and he said; look it’s just up to the market. Is that the right approach?
BUTLER: Investors have made it very clear, the electricity industry has made it very clear, they will not invest in new coal-fired power stations in Australia. The only plan for a new coal-fired power station is the government’s plan to support Collinsville up in Queensland that investors won’t touch with a barge pole.
CONNELL: I’m talking about existing so at the moment I think that coal will be in Australia until 2048 and the Minister essentially says if the market wants to continue down that path then that’s fine. Would Labor seek perhaps in an orderly way to wind up earlier than that?
BUTELR: Well that’s a matter for the market. I mean the market has really got to decide that and our coal fleet particularly in NSW and Victoria is pretty old. It just so happens that most of it was built in the 70s and very early 80s, it’s becoming increasingly unreliable and struggling often to compete against renewable energy in the market. But as the electricity industry itself has said that’s really a matter for those companies that operate those generators to work out how they work in the market.
What you will see though is no new coal-fired power stations built in Australia. I think everyone understands that. You’re going to see renewable energy built, which will increasingly be firmed particularly by new battery technology, by pumped hydro and by these gas generators that will stay in the system for some time to come.
CONNELL: Mark Butler, appreciate your time today.