"Let's get with the program": Renewable energy and housing prices - Sky AM Agenda TV transcript





SUBJECT/S: Renewable energy policy; housing affordability; sugar tax.

KIERAN GILBERT: With me now is Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh. In regard to the mandate for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, should Labor open its mind to it given just a few years ago that Mr Rudd was one of the strongest advocates for pursuing carbon capture and storage?

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Kieran, we'd all love it if carbon capture and storage worked, because it would mean you'd get to enjoy coal without having the emissions. The trouble is, like cold fusion, it's a technology that hasn't lived up to the promises of its boosters. Any solution is likely to be decades away and indeed it also costs quite a bit of the energy of the power plant in order to do the carbon capture and storage. Some of these models have suggested that carbon capture and storage might add another 40 per cent to the price, which then means that the cost advantage of coal would pretty much go away. This isn't a technology that the private sector is backing, it’s not a technology that the rest of the world is piling into, it's not a proven technology. Unlike wind and solar which really are. Let's focus on those and battery technology- 

GILBERT: That's right, they are proven in the sense that they can generate power but they can't sustain it in the baseload sense so that battery storage that you refer to is critical, is that there yet?

LEIGH: Battery storage, tidal, these are all technologies that are making incremental gains year on year rather than putting taxpayer money into a moonshot. This isn't a technology that I think ought to be the focus of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. 

GILBERT: What about the fact that the Japanese for example have the super hypercritical power plants that apparently have much less emissions than legacy power stations across this country?

LEIGH: Well so called clean coal technology still has 80 per cent of the emissions of dirty coal. The fact is that when you build these things Kieran, you're building them for 50 years. Does anyone really think that in 2070 people are still going to be running coal-fired power plants? That's going to be a period in which the entire world has moved to low or zero emissions technologies. So let's get with the program. The vast majority of new electricity investment has been in renewables over the course of the last decade. That's where the rest of the world is putting its money, and really the only reason the Liberal Party is ploughing money into coal is in order to keep their corporate backers happy.

GILBERT: But there's still a big gap in this period of energy insecurity – with the closure of Hazelwood April the 1st, we've seen the impact of the closure of the Northern power station in South Australia. We need something in the interim don't we before we get to this green zero emissions future that you talk about?

LEIGH: Well that's right. And gas has an advantage over coal and it's more readily turned on and off and it's got about half the emissions of coal. It's a more sensible transition technology.

GILBERT: But we're exporting it all, and the prices are inflated as a result?

LEIGH: All of these things come at a price. But it makes sense for gas to be part of the mix. Our coal-fired power plants are operating well beyond their natural life. If you look at when they were all blasting in order to try and keep things going in Queensland and New South Wales, a whole lot of them had problems and weren't able to operate as intended. We need to keep on updating our electricity generation mix and looking to the future, which is what this Government ought to be doing.

GILBERT: On another issue, one of the things the Government has been looking at is a Government-backed bond scheme to help with social housing and low cost housing. Apparently it's already in the UK, and it’s working, and Angus Taylor indicated that he was in Britain just a couple of weeks ago and saw that this was working. He and the Treasurer both seemed very positive about this sort of idea, do you welcome that?

LEIGH: Indeed, the National Rental Affordability Scheme was a scheme of this character. Where you allow private sectors to invest in providing social housing. We've got to do measures across the board Kieran, and what's striking about the Coalition's approach to this is that if you ask most economists what should we do in order to promote housing affordability? They'd say you have to tackle the tax concessions. And yet the Government says they won't tackle negative gearing, and who knows what's happening on capital gains? The Prime Minister says they have no plans. One of his backbenchers – John Alexander – says, 'Ah, you have to listen to his words very carefully – he says we have no plans, but that's because we're working on the plans right now.' So, John Alexander's basically called the Prime Minister out for a liar on this. Honestly, it would be good if they were working on sensible tax reform.

GILBERTThere is scepticism as to whether anything is really going to rein in the sort of extraordinary pricing situation in Sydney, for example. The clearance rate at the weekend was upwards of 80 per cent still! It's amazing what we're seeing – particularly in Sydney and Melbourne – as those prices continue to rise.

LEIGHWe’ve got the lowest home ownership rate that Australia has seen in six decades. We've seen a rise in the share of the population who are renters, and a report last week suggesting that those renters are being moved from home to home more frequently than many of them would like. This isn't the way that the Australian social compact ought to work. We oughtn’t to be a nation where young Australians working as teachers and police officers can't afford to buy their own home-

GILBERTThere's no guarantee that even your policies will work here is there? You're hoping that it would work, but there's no guarantee that it would put a lid on prices is there?

LEIGHHere's my challenge to you Kieran, get a half a dozen academic economists on your show and ask them whether they support Labor's plans? My guess is the vast majority of them would not only support the proposals to rein in – in a grand-fathered way – negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount. But they would also say that that was one of the top ways in which you could tackle this challenge.

GILBERTCan I ask you finally about this idea of a sugar tax, and bans on vouchers for fast food and so on going to kid's sports, bans on junk food in sporting venues. You heard Angus Taylor before the break saying it's not about just putting in a new tax. Instinctively, he doesn't like this idea. What are your thoughts on it? To encourage less obesity, which costs our country, amazingly, $56 billion dollars every year.

LEIGHSchool canteens are changing a lot. When I was at school the favourite lunch item was a hot cheese roll, and then we'd be tucking into the ice-creams afterwards. 

GILBERTBut then you'd run for an hour afterwards.

LEIGH: Not when I was that age! Talking to my kids – they have a much better diet than I had, increasingly we're recognising that sugar may have roles apart from just delivering calories but actually might be something we want to cut down on itself. But that's something that I think is best tackled by families having those conversations with kids. Just making sure you've got kids in the right habits. So much of life is getting into good habits.

GILBERTAnd the sugar tax though? Is that something you'd be open too?

LEIGHLook at the Grattan Institute's report, which is clearly the best bit of work that's been done on sugar taxation. They suggest very modest drops in calorie consumption as a result of a sugar tax. And that's true of the Mexican experience as well. People seem to substitute to other forms of calories. You need to be sure that sugar is an inherent bad rather than just a calorie delivery mechanism in order to really come on board with this.

GILBERTSounds like you’re of a similar view to Angus Taylor than in this regard – believing that it's more a family and individual decision-making here and a behavioural thing, as opposed to something you can have a trickle-down impact on via government?

LEIGHIt's obvious that families have more impact on their kids' diet than governments. As a parent myself I guess Kieran, I'm reflecting the challenge of ensuring that kids eat well. It's my eldest son's 10th birthday today and he started with ice-cream for breakfast. We'll try not to do that every day!

GILBERTHappy Birthday to him. You're allowed to do it on your birthday. 


GILBERTThanks a lot Andrew Leigh. Appreciate it.



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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.