7 September 2017
Transcript - #2017172, 2017

Doorstop interview, Canberra

Subjects: National Accounts June Quarter 2017; The Turnbull Government’s comprehensive plan to put downward pressure on electricity prices for households and businesses; Same-sex marriage.

TREASURER:

Today we’ll see in the Parliament whether the Labor Party are going to end this ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ approach to the Parliament and actually focus on the issues that matter to the Australian people – rather than going off into these distractions that they’ve been seeking to push. It’s been 100 days since the Shadow Treasurer has even asked me a question about the economy in the Parliament – the end of May for goodness sake – and it’s time that the Labor Party actually woke up to the issues that actually matter to the Australian people. The way you’d think they’ve been listening to the Australian people over the last few months from the way that they’ve been carrying on in the Australian Parliament, you’d think that their ears were painted on. They are clearly not listening to the Australian people about what matters to them. What matters to the Australian people is what’s going on in the economy, what is happening with jobs, what is happening with national security and the very serious issues that we’re seeing unfolding in North Korea. What matters is issues like energy and electricity prices which the Government is laser-light focused on to ensure that we’re trying to get a better deal for Australian energy consumers and put downward pressure on rising electricity prices and ensure we’re putting in place and securing the baseload capacity of our energy system by keeping our existing coal-fired power stations, like Liddell, open. Labor have put up the white flag when it comes to keeping our existing baseload capacity coal-fired power stations open and the biggest offenders in this year are the Labor Party members sitting in the coal seats, up in the places like the Hunter Valley where they’ve become the ‘no coal coalition’ and that is just unforgiveable for Labor members in those coal seats.

QUESTION:

The number that’s been thrown around is about $50 million for Liddell, is that accurate?

TREASURER:

We’re not in any negotiation to buy Liddell, what we’re looking to do is to ensure that there is a continuity in that station open well beyond its current planned closure date.

QUESTION:

The cost for the power plant for someone else to buy it is about $50 million, is that accurate?

TREASURER:

The people best placed to assess that are those who are actually looking to buy it and those who are looking to sell it and so I think there is quite a process that would have to unfold there, but we’ve gotten into this discussion about the right time. If we’d been in these sort of discussions, potentially about Hazelwood well before then – although I would say that the Hazelwood proposition is very different to the one at Liddell, there are far more complexities associated with Hazelwood than exist with Liddell – so I am optimistic that common sense will prevail on our existing coal-fired power stations and sweating those assets for longer is in Australia’s national interests. And it’s certainly in the interest of people who live up in the Hunter Valley.

QUESTION:

Treasurer, on Liddell, AGL argue that it’s against the commercial interests to sell it because it keeps a competitor in the market against their existing assets. I know you were saying it’s still too early but do you envisage you’re going to have to grease their palms as well to convince them to sell it? Compensate them for it?

TREASURER:

We’ll always do what’s in Australia’s national interests, not what’s necessarily in AGL’s interest. The big energy companies will do what’s in their own interests, that’s understandable, we know that but we’re not going to dress that up as being some sort of national interest activity and that’s how the system works and that’s no criticism of AGL, that’s just a statement of the obvious. So the national interest has to prevail here and the national interest is that Liddell power station remains open.

QUESTION:

Under the national interest, would the Government be prepared to take some sort of stake or offer some sort of…

TREASURER:

I think it’s premature to get into that.

QUESTION:

Can you rule out the Government holding a free vote in the Parliament on same-sex marriage…

TREASURER:

How about we let the High Court decide? The High Court are going to decide these matters, there’ll be a decision later today and I think we can all wait that long.

QUESTION:

Do you have a plan C or a plan B?

TREASURER:

Let’s see what the High Court decides.

QUESTION:

Back to AGL, would you want the New South Wales Government to take a role perhaps in buying? I mean, they’re cashed up. They’ve got a surplus…

TREASURER:

Phil, I think there are a lot of options that can see this issue resolved and there’s no shortage, in my experience, of private interests that are available to this as well and willing to do this, so there are some commercial issues here, there are some policy issues, there’s some national interest issues that have to be addressed, there’s a meeting next week as you know with AGL and I’m sure that will be a positive meeting and can work towards what is in all Australians’ interests and that is that we maintain that baseload stability in dispatchable power. The AEMO report has highlighted that would create for Liddell the need for an additional at least 1000 megawatt hours, we have the same challenge going into the summer and so the strategic reserve initiatives that are being worked on now to put in place are designed to protect against that coming into the summer. I think what this really does demonstrate is the Government, when it comes to energy, is doing its homework, getting its facts right, focusing on the solutions and getting on with it. And the ideology and all that other nonsense – and frankly, the silly games that we’ve been seeing in the Parliament this week I think reflects very badly, not just on the poor political tactics that the Labor Party, who cares about that? What it shows is that they’re more interested in all of these sensational issues than what is really making a difference to Australian households and Australian businesses. Yesterday, we had the national accounts come out and I still haven’t seen the Shadow Treasurer. If he’s the Shadow Treasurer, it doesn’t mean he always has to be in the shadows.

QUESTION:

Should the GST be taking off power bills?

TREASURER:

I just made a comment on that in speaking to Geraldine Doogue. The problem with that is it’s basically a tax merry-go-round so the GST base has already contracted from over 60 per cent when it was first introduced and it’s getting close to 50 per cent now of consumption as we’ve seen and particularly in the services areas in education and places like the bigger part of consumption. So, the GST base is contracting and the figures that are quoted of around $2 billion a year are pretty accurate – I’d say they’re highly accurate – and so what states would then do to make up for that $2 billion loss to their budgets is that they’d put up other taxes which would also hurt households, and if they didn’t do that, they’d probably follow their usual practice and blame the Federal Government and scream at them and demand another $2 billion from us. And if anyone thinks that once you open the issue on the GST base that it would stay still on electricity prices, well, I doubt that any of you would give us a leave pass on that issue – that’s not a criticism, that’s just a statement of fact – and you just see the GST base further eroded, other taxes rise and the balance in our tax system of consumption and income and other taxes would become worse, not better.

QUESTION:

Treasurer, is it realistic to expect that someone would want to pay money to something that AGL has clearly said is at the end of its life?

TREASURER:

That’s what AGL is saying and I think it’s fair to say that AGL would be saying that in their own interests. If it’s not worth anything according to AGL, then I’m sure they’d prepared to sell it for nothing and there would be plenty of takers on that, I’m sure. Thanks very much.