Transcript – Drive with Tom Elliott – 3AW

Topics: Tim Wilson’s comments, Bill Shorten’s hypocrisy, electricity security and affordability, nuclear energy, changes to codeine sale

 

E&OE

 

TOM ELLIOTT:

Special Minister of State, Scott Ryan, welcome.

 

SENATOR THE HON SCOTT RYAN:

Thanks for having me.

 

ELLIOTT:

Now had you heard before what Tim said?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I had heard earlier this afternoon.

 

ELLIOTT:

Is there a feeling, given the poor opinion polls recently for your party, that you might be turfed out at the next federal election?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

To be fair to Tim, he was making an observation on events that may happen, he wasn’t predicting the future. I have spoken to Tim and it was part of an [inaudible].

I have been involved in politics for quite a while. I remember John Howard being significantly behind in the polls. It’s not what is focussing our mind at the moment. We had an election six months ago, what we’re trying to do is deliver on the promises that we got elected on.

 

ELLIOTT:

We’re hoping to speak to Tim Wilson later on this hour. We’ll find out what he thought he meant when he said those things.

Can I ask you something else, last week, Malcolm Turnbull launched a blistering attack in the House of Representatives against Labor leader Bill Shorten. He called him a sycophant, said he sat under the tables of billionaires like Dick Pratt, and so forth. Now, has that sort of reaffirmed his control over the party? Has that got everyone back on side? Back behind the Prime Minister?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well I think what we saw last week was Malcolm Turnbull had turned the other cheek to the insults that Bill Shorten and the Labor Party hypocritically directed at him and he fired back. He pointed out Bill’s record. Bill has spent a lot of time with people he disparages when he has a go at Mr Turnbull as ‘Mr Harbourside Mansion’. Shorten took an overseas trip at Richard Pratt’s expense to Cuba, which I’ve never done and I don’t think most of my colleagues have done. He was pointing out Bill’s hypocrisy. What Bill Shorten and Labor have been doing is being utterly hypocritical in trying to target someone for their achievement. As Malcolm Turnbull’s made it clear on numerous occasions, he also considers himself very lucky.

 

ELLIOTT:

When did Bill Shorten go to Cuba?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I actually don’t know the year off the top of my head, but he went to Cuba courtesy of Richard Pratt.

 

ELLIOTT:

It must have been pre-2009 because that’s the year Richard Pratt died.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Oh yeah, I think it was before he came to Parliament.

 

ELLIOTT:

OK, so Richard Pratt flew him to Cuba for reasons unknown.

All right now 96900693.

But just so we’re clear, is this what we can expect now, more of the personal invective going back and forwards across the Houses of Parliament?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well I think what we’ve seen with Malcolm Turnbull is that he has constantly turned the other cheek as Labor has got dirtier and Bill has got more personal and tried to take politics down into the gutter. What we saw last week was, well if you’re going to do that Bill, eventually we’re going to start pointing out your record. When he was a union official, the union he was a leader of took money and then the workers ended up worse off. It’s not illegal, but that Cleanevent deal saw workers ending up worse off and it was outlined in great detail in the Royal Commission.

 

ELLIOTT:

Can we move on to some issues that are directly affecting what’s happening here in Victoria? We saw yet another blackout in South Australia late last week and there are still arguments over what caused it. Was it over-reliance on renewables? Was it gas-fired generators not switching on when they should have? What do you think is the future of power generation in this state, here in Victoria?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well with the closure of Hazelwood in a matter of weeks, Victoria is going to turn into an energy importer, particularly on very, very hot days.

We’ve got to hope when it’s hot in Melbourne or Victoria next summer that it’s not hot in the places we want to import power from. The state Labor Government tripled the royalties on coal, which made business much more difficult for what was a very old power station. It is nearly a quarter of Victoria’s power and we are going to lose it in a matter of weeks.

 

ELLIOTT:

So where are we going to import it mainly from? Let’s say we have a seriously hot day – we’ve actually pretty much avoided that this summer – unless there is one on the way and it doesn’t look like it – but let’s say, next summer, we have a series of days, which we’ve had in the past, of 40 degrees, from where do we import our power?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

We have interconnectors running to Tasmania when that’s up and running – there was a problem with the Basslink interconnector and we’ve relied on it previously – and we can import power from NSW. In my experience, and I’m not an expert on this, when it’s hot in Melbourne, it’s often hot in Adelaide. Given South Australia relies on Victorian power when it has hot days and people are using their air conditioners, my guess is that would not be a place we will be importing from.

 

ELLIOTT:

OK, so what should we do differently to lessen our reliance on NSW or Tassie for extra electricity?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

As Matthew Guy announced this week, we have to get away from this ridiculous bidding war for renewable energy targets because we know it is destabilising the electricity grid.

We’re slowly moving from an old-style electricity grids with massive generators distributing right through our states and cities to distributed generation on windmills and solar panels, but particularly intermittent supply.

In South Australia, the intermittent supply has been a cause of some of the problems because the grid just can’t stand up to shock – it can’t stand up to spikes in demand or rapid drops in supply. As Josh Frydenberg has outlined, we’ve actually dedicated some money towards how we can have more stored power, such as in hydro, because that effectively is a big battery. You can turn on the hydro damn and generate extra electricity from what you’ve pumped uphill.

 

ELLIOTT:

We’ve always known that, but we don’t have that hydro capacity in Victoria at the moment, do we?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

We do have a connection to the Snowy Mountains Scheme, I understand that’s been used in the past. But in particular, when you have a higher proportion going to intermittent supply, and in South Australia the other day, when they had their partial blackout, I understand the power from wind dropped by 95 per cent over the course of the day. That means the grid is simply not as stable or reliable.

 

ELLIOTT:

Should we keep Hazlewood open?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well, it’s not something the Federal Government can do and I’m not sure how far that has proceeded along.

 

ELLIOTT:

But you could though. If it’s closing down, you could just go to Engie, the French company that owns it, and say ‘look, instead of closing this down, could we buy it from you?’

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I’m not sure if we have the power to do that. I think the issue we’ve got to look at with the closure of Hazelwood – apart from taking care of the workers, and we’ve put some money into that as well because it will be a difficult adjustment in the La Trobe Valley – is to urgently look, as Josh Frydenberg is, how do we make our electricity grid more stable with this distributed, intermittent supply?

 

ELLIOTT:

96900693, 13 13 32, Senator Scott Ryan is going to stick around and take your calls.

[Ad break]

With us from our Canberra studio is the Special Minister of State Senator Scott Ryan.

Darren, good afternoon.

 

CALLER:

G’day Tom, g’day Senator. Look I guess there are two things about energy security and there is a solution: two five gigawatt generation fired plants, one in Victoria, one in NSW. However, during the Howard era there was legislation brought in that meant Australia can’t have nuclear power. I don’t understand why that never gets brought up and why it has not been repealed because in our current state, if we don’t go nuclear to get us through until renewable becomes practical and financially responsible, we are going to keep losing jobs. Just to clarify, I’m a Liberal Party member.

 

ELLIOTT:

Well Darren, let’s give the Senator a chance to address this. Senator Ryan, what do you think about nuclear option, that is, nuclear power generation?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Look, we’ve had a longstanding policy, I understand, that it needs to be bipartisan because when you’re looking at nuclear power generation, you are looking at decades and decades of investment. Without the security of bipartisan support, no one would invest in it. We don’t have that bipartisan support at the moment. South Australia did look at it and backed away from it, so it’s basically an assessment of reality.

 

ELLIOTT:

Let’s say the Labor Party and Bill Shorten rang you up and said ‘even though you’ve been very mean to me in Parliament, I’d like to pursue nuclear energy’. Would that do?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I’d tell him to call Josh Frydenberg or the Prime Minister. The policy we’ve always had, and I think Josh mentioned this the other night in an interview, was that it needs bipartisanship. If the Labor Party wants to propose bipartisanship, I’m sure that the Government would have a conversation about it. The Greens, as we know, are religiously and fanatically opposed to it at all costs.

 

ELLIOTT:

Thank you Darren. Joe, hello.

 

CALLER:

G’day Tom. G’day Senator. A minute ago you said you don’t know if the Government’s got the power to buy the power station back. It’s an essential service, you would have to. What would happen if City West Water said ‘we’re shutting down and we’re not going to sell it, no water for you anymore Victoria’?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

There is no doubt that the State Government could do that with Hazelwood. I was expressing a doubt as to whether the Commonwealth, or Canberra, could. There is no doubt the State Government could do that.

 

ELLIOTT:

But why can’t you? The Federal Government owns things in different states, why couldn’t it own a power station?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Honestly Tom, I’m saying I genuinely don’t know. There are limits on what the Commonwealth can do. The point here is the State Government could do that. The State Government could not have increased royalties and you had State Government ministers in the Daniel Andrews Government referring to coal-fired power as ‘disgraceful’. The State Labor Government basically cheered coal-fired power’s closure in Victoria: our historic advantage that we inherited back from the days of Sir John Monash.

 

ELLIOTT:

All right, thank you Joe. Glen, go ahead.

 

CALLER:

G’day guys, just wondering Senator, if you actually personally believe in global warming? If so, do you believe there is a legitimate argument against it?

 

ELLIOTT:

Global warming, Senator Ryan. Do you believe in it?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Look, I think there are legitimate arguments both ways. I tend to think it’s happening. I’m not a scientist and I have always taken the view that if the weight of scientific opinion is one way, I’m not a scientist, so the most intelligent thing to do is mitigate risk. But I’m also conscious that, no matter what Australia does, we cannot change the global situation. That is where you have these ridiculous bidding wars for targets between Labor and the Green that can only cost Australian jobs, cost Australian households and businesses, but we know we can’t change the trajectory of the world on our own.

 

ELLIOTT:

Yes I agree with that. The only thing is though, and this is what people involved in the international sphere tell me about, if you want the big countries – the Chinas, the Russias, the US, the Indias – to commit to reducing pollution and emissions, then the smaller countries like us have to do the same thing.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Per capita, we have either the largest or the second largest reduction of emissions per head listed in our 2030 target and we are one of the few countries that is going to meet our 2020 target with, actually, room to spare. We don’t just make promises in this country, we deliver on them.

 

ELLIOTT:

Adam, go ahead.

 

CALLER:

Good afternoon gentlemen. Autonomous power generation in the home, utilising the elements of heat, wind and water. Putting accessories on your property so that when you do get hit with a spike you’ve got accessories in the home so that you can cope with it by yourself and it takes all the pressure off the grid.

 

ELLIOTT:

So Adam is probably talking about solar panels and for rural properties, you could have a windmill, I guess, connected to batteries so you can store power. Is that the future?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I think we are moving to, what’s called, distributed power generation. So that means solar panels, that means, wind turbines, and that’s one of the reasons we need to look at the security of our energy supply and what Alan Finkel, the chief scientist, is doing in an urgent report for Government. In the old days it was Hazelwood, Yallourn and Loy Yang powering the whole state. Now we’ve got it spread right around Victoria and that changes the way we distribute energy.

 

ELLIOTT:

Yes but you’re asked about global warming before. If it doesn’t matter you could just have coal-fired power till he cows come home and rely on that?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

But I don’t think Australians want to do that. I think Australians do actually want to do what you said earlier, which is contribute to a cleaner energy environment, that’s reflected in most conversations I’ve had. We’re balancing how to transition to that with, we believe, security and affordability of electricity is important. There is no point having people like my grandmother having to turn off the air conditioner on hot day because she can’t afford it or we don’t have electricity supply. That is not what we’re about.

 

ELLIOTT:

Tony, good afternoon.

 

CALLER:

Good afternoon Senator. Just a couple of points to bring to your attention. Basslink actually failed over 12 months ago and it’s been back online now for a couple of months. If you’re going to politicise then I think your facts probably need to be correct.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I thought part of Basslink was still down but I …

 

CALLER:

No, Basslink’s up and going and it was actually pumping at a negative price down in Tasmania on the weekend to compensate for the high pricing in NSW.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Happy to be corrected.

 

CALLER:

Hazelwood was scheduled to be shut down or sold off by the Kennett government for about $2 billion, an $800 million investment [inaudible]. In the last couple of years, it’s actually run at about 43 per cent capacity so there is still a lot of capacity in Victoria. A lot of the issue is due to the gas price increase over the past 18 months, which has nearly tripled in Victoria and NSW and Queensland. There is a lot of supply in the network, it’s just a matter of where that supply is located.

 

ELLIOTT:

Thank you Tony. The way I look at it, we have got an issue with gas pricing and how much we are exporting gas overseas and a shortage. But we’ve also got a ban on exploring for new sources of gas in Victoria. Tony, thank you for the call.

Before I let you go Senator, we had a debate on the program about the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s move in a year’s time to ban codeine-based painkillers over the counter and, instead, you are going to have to get a prescription. Well the pharmacists have said, ‘hey, we can manage that, we manage pseudoephedrine, we’re in a better position to do it because we interact with the public’. Doctors say ‘no, it’s much better to have a prescription’, which by the way, will cost Medicare $34 a pop. What do you think on this issue?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I think it is good these decision aren’t made by politicians or doctors. This was a decision made by an independent delegate of the Therapeutic Goods Administration, I understand. It’s made by experts. I think when it comes to the safety of our medicines or something that you or I might go into a chemist to buy, I think it gives everyone a lot of comfort that these decisions are made by people very well qualified in this field.

 

ELLIOTT:

Senator Scott Ryan, Special Minister of State, thank you for joining us.

 

[ENDS]

Author: senatorryan

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