TRANSCRIPT: Interview with Sabra Lane and Andrew Broad ABC AM RADIO

Feb 28, 2017






SUBJECTS:  Committee on the Environment and Energy inquiry into modernising the power grid

SABRA LANE: There is a small spark of hope this morning that the major political parties can put aside the bitter rancour that’s defined the electricity debate in recent weeks, to stop the blackouts and load-shedding. The House of Representatives standing Committee on the Environment and Energy has this morning launched a new inquiry into modernising the power grid. Nationals MP Andrew Broad is the Committee’s chairman, the deputy is Labor MP Pat Conroy whose seat of Shortland is close to coal country in Newcastle, New South Wales. I spoke to both men earlier. Gentlemen, thank you very much for joining AM. Are you on a mission impossible? How can you take the political heat out of an issue that’s become absolutely turbo charged? First to you Pat Conroy.

PAT CONROY, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY: Well, I think what we’re trying to do is agree on what we can and not have an argument about how much renewable should be in the system but recognise that there’s going to be some in the system and the system has to change to deal with that and that’s what we’re trying to do and I’m confident the Committee can work together well on that.

LANE: Andrew Broad?

ANDREW BROAD, MEMBER FOR MALLEE: The way the discussions get lost in the debate is about, you know, they talk about renewables versus coal but there is actually the grid, you know, how do we make a grid that is going to be for the 21st century that recognises that we’re going to have different forms of new technology that is going to come our way and the House of Representatives Environment and Energy Committee is bipartisan and I hope that in us doing some constructive work like this, it instils some confidence back in the Australian people that Parliament can work.

SABRA LANE: Pat Conroy, hand on your heart, there won’t be a dissenting report when you publish your report down the track?

CONROY: Well, I certainly hope there won’t and that will really depend on how we work with the Coalition MPs but I’ve been heartened by Andrew’s approach and the broader Committee. I think we’re very conscious that we will have different views on many things but on this, we have to recognise for example, we’ve already got a million homes with rooftop solar and that has a profound impact on how the grid operates and we need to make sure we’ve got a modern grid to deal with that. So I’m very hopeful we don’t have a dissenting report and I’ve been really very optimistic given the approach we’ve seen so far.

LANE: In recent times both sides have been really eager to blame the other for blackouts that have been witnessed in South Australia and New South Wales. Do you think, Andrew Broad, the blame game has really distracted the political leaders from finding solutions now because we confront these problems now and with Hazelwood closing next month, if we have another hot summer next year, Victoria is going to be added to the list of states in trouble.

BROAD: Well, I think there is a cynicism out amongst the Australian people about a blame game. You know, people just want it fixed, they want their power bills to be affordable and part of the power bill is now just the generation, it is also the distribution. What I’m hoping to do as chair of this Committee and working with Pat as deputy chair, is to instil a bit of confidence back to the Australian people to say that there are cross-party Committees that work in the Parliament, that ultimately deliver good recommendations that get taken up by successive governments and so, you know, hopefully, I don’t know where the blame game will stop. I’m sure the politics will continue but just being recognising that the future will have new technology, the grid we’ve got now is built on the old technology and coal will still be part of that technology but we need to build the grid that is going to work for the future.

LANE: Andrew Broad, you want to hear from members of the public. What do you want to hear?

BROAD: Well, I mean, what we want is ideas. This has been quite a technical process. There will be a survey that people can fill in. We’re talking to a lot of key stakeholders but really we’re going to try to learn from what some of the other countries are doing. You know, there is different states in the United States that have got a market based approach, one has got a regulatory based approach. There is different opportunities of what they’re doing in Europe where they’re moving the mix. I think that at the end of the day, technology is going to take us as a country in a direction that we never thought fathomable with battery technology, with wind, with solar, with stored and pumped hydro but also with clean coal but our current grid is not set up for that.

LANE: You want to try and take the politics out of this, Pat Conroy?

CONROY: As much as possible and look at issues where it is not about an ideological discussion about coal versus renewables, it is about we’ve got a network, we’ve currently got a bipartisan goal of having 23.5 per cent renewable power by 2020. That is going to require changes to the network and we need to look at where else in the world have they dealt with these changes. I’ve heard from very large energy manufacturers that simple tweaks to the way our network works would improve the reliability and security when integrating wind power around synchronicity and inertia. They’re tweaks that can be made that shouldn’t be about politics. They are technical fixes so our job as this Committee is to try and I’m hopeful that this will be a first stepping stone to breaking through the partisan gridlock and say this is an example of Parliament working together to help solve the energy crisis we’re currently facing.

LANE: To both of you, lots of Committees make recommendations that never see the light of day.

BROAD: Yes, but also, 50 per cent of the legislation that comes into the Parliament has come through the work of the Committees. We actually started, Pat and I, having a discussion around this long before the South Australia blackouts, long before this became a political issue because we both had identified that the future is going to take us in a direction we’re not set up for that and we need to make some changes and you know, we’re probably one step ahead of everyone.

CONROY: And I’m hopeful that in what I consider the most hyper partisan issue in the entire political scene, if a Committee can come up with some bipartisan recommendations that really reflect consensus, that actually makes it much more powerful so hopefully this can be seen as a first step in that process and it’s a brave minister or a brave shadow minister who doesn’t engage in recommendations that have the combined support of the National Party, the Labor Party and the Liberal Party.

LANE: MPs Pat Conroy and Andrew Broad. Public submissions to that enquiry close on the 28th of April.



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