SKY NEWS, AM AGENDA
MONDAY, 6 FEBRUARY 2017
SUBJECTS: Trumbull’s year so far; Bernexit; Clean Energy Finance Corporation investing in coal.
KIERAN GILBERT: With me now is Labor frontbencher, Andrew Leigh. There were reports over the break that Cory Bernardi will be leaving the Liberals and setting up his own Australian conservative movement and now the ABC is suggesting that is going to happen within 48 hours Your thoughts and reaction on that story?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: We thought Tony Abbott had set the benchmark for a bad start when he knighted Prince Phillip but it seems Malcolm Turnbull is able to go one better. He has had a catastrophic start to the year, Kieran. A lack of policy direction, losing his health minister and now with Cory Bernardi and George Christensen clearly off the reservation. This is a Prime Minister who isn't even able to lead his own party let alone to tell the nation where he wants to go. Nor to answer that fundamental question: what's the point of the Turnbull Government?
GILBERT: Bernardi has been within the Liberals for some time even if he moves along his own separate movement but this has been part of Australian discourse and we've seen the One Nation vote rise in the latest Newspoll. What do you make of politics in this country at the moment when you've got such a splintering of the major party vote? 29 per cent of those surveyed at the moment suggesting that they would support a minor party; One Nation, independent or someone else.
LEIGH: Well if you look at electoral results over the last 20 years we've seen a tripling of the share of Australians who give their vote to somebody other than the major parties. As a centrist, that's definitely a concern to me. The centre needs to hold in order to deliver results for Australians. Bill Shorten's focus in the Press Club on jobs is a centrist message.
GILBERT: Are we seeing the end of the two party system? Is that what we're seeing evolve right now?
LEIGH: Columns predicting the death of the two party system get written about once every six months in Australia and have been for the last century. But what's important is that the centre continues to hold, that we have a strong constituency for those values of markets and multiculturalism, and that good economic policy gets pursued. Labor's focus on an emission intensity scheme, to take one policy example, was done not only because it deals with climate change but also because it brings power prices down. Malcolm Turnbull's bizarre decision to try and use Clean Energy Finance Corporation money to fund new coal plants will cost Australians more and we'll end up with higher carbon emissions in the future. That's another example of Malcolm Turnbull kowtowing to the right of his party.
GILBERT: If you don't have a baseline power and battery and storage isn't sufficient. Just on this policy of energy security are you worried that there might be a gap, a black hole in terms of stable power supply that energy security the Prime Minister advocates for in terms of clean coal?
LEIGH: The Prime Minister's own experts say that an emissions intensity scheme would put downward pressure on power prices, here he has chosen to ignore it. Round the world, 70 per cent of new electricity generation is in renewables. We know that the creation of a new coal fired power plant which would last maybe 50 years would be a significant risk. That's why energy companies won't finance them off their own books, it's why banks won't finance new coal companies. The idea that the Australian Government should step into that void-
GILBERT: It's also a risk not to have sufficient base load power. When you've got moratoriums by state governments in terms of onshore gas, we need to look at something don't we? Given the large coal reserves, why not?
LEIGH: We need an energy mix but let's be clear, the Australian Government shouldn't be stepping in where banks are refusing to finance to back a coal-fired power plant that will cost more. And these new coal-fired power plants still produce about 80 per cent of the emissions of the old fashioned ones. They're hardly clean, Kieran, compare to renewables which produce 0 per cent of a coal plant’s emissions.
GILBERT: That's true but the renewables don't have that capacity for storage which provides the consistency of power supply that we need.
LEIGH: That's absolutely right, and until battery technology fully steps into that void that will be a challenge. Battery technology is increasing very quickly, if you look at some of the breakthroughs that Elon Musk has been making and some of the predictions for battery changes are looking extremely positive, especially over the 50 year horizon we're talking about.
GILBERT: If you look at the situation over the last few years in this country and the discussion around clean coal, Kevin Rudd put in hundreds of millions of dollars into carbon capture and storage. He thought it was a worthwhile initiative. Why does Labor now not support that sort of approach given if you came up with an appropriate carbon capture and storage approach to coal that would make these coal reserves a powerful resource into the future.
LEIGH: In theory carbon capture and storage is an exciting technology, so is cold fusion. The problems is they haven't shown the fruits of the investment that has been put into them. They haven't shown them to be viable and economical technologies. So called ‘clean coal’ plants produce emissions that are just 20 per cent lower than old-fashioned coal-fired power stations. We do need to be investing in renewables, it's what the rest of the world is doing, China is running apace with its investment in solar and wind. Australia ought to be doing the same.
GILBERT: Mr Leigh, thanks for your time as always appreciate it.
LEIGH: Thank you, Kieran.
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