June 21, 2024

RICHARD KING:  On the shortest day of the year, it's 19 past 6 now, Friday morning with Richard King. Politicians of, well, all persuasions have had a bit to say on the policy put forward earlier in the week by Peter Dutton about going nuclear, and one of those joins me now, the Member for Shortland and Minister for Defence Industry, Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Pat Conroy. He's a local, and he's on the line. Good morning, Pat. Hello, Pat. Good morning.


KING: Good, thanks, good, good. Just back from PNG, a couple of announcements there. This money going to help internal security within PNG, what was all that about, Pat?

CONROY: Well, internal security is the number one issue for the Papua New Guinean Government. We've seen tribal violence ongoing and unrest in Port Moresby, and our security is dependent upon security in Papua New Guinea, they're only four kilometres away from Australia, and as the primary security partner for Papua New Guinea we have announced support through the Bilateral Security Agreement, so that funding will go to training more police in Papua New Guinea, support for more judges, support for forensic laboratories.

We'll be helping them get their law and order sector in better shape, because ultimately a more secure PNG, a more prosperous PNG means a safe Australia.

KING: And I believe you and Richard Marles also attended the site where that horrific landslide happened, and I believe we're giving them $2 million to help assisting with that, which I think most people would agree is ‑ well, it was horrific what happened, and I think most people think of a landslide as a little bit of soil, but it was massive boulders, et cetera, and it's destroyed several villages. I don't know that too many people would be against that $2 million.

But a lot of our listeners have reacted negatively to this, you know, the $600 million that's apparently going there for a Rugby League team. But as I understand it, the next team might be in Perth, not PNG, Pat.

CONROY: Well, we're still negotiating with the NRL about this, and that figure hasn't been confirmed, but whatever the figure is, it will be over a 10‑year period. Importantly, this is not about sport, this is about national security. This is about how do we bind the people of the Pacific and Australia together with a shared future.

I think everyone would agree that having a Pacific that sees Australia as their primary partner is in our interests, so we'll use temporary labour schemes, we'll use foreign aid, we'll use policing cooperation, we'll use sport, to support those people‑to‑people links. That's in our national interest. 

I think people may remember the disastrous impact of the security pact between the Solomon Islands and China that Mr Morrison allowed to happen under his watch, and the Albanese Labor Government is committed to using every lever at our disposal to bring us closer to the Pacific. That's in our national interest and it's in the interests of the people of the Pacific.

KING: All right. On the subject of nuclear, you, like a lot of your ilk, have labelled Dutton's nuclear policy a fantasy that's only going to drive up electricity bills, but do you think we should at least be having a conversation about nuclear rather than just, as you and the Prime Minister have done, just dismissed it out of hand, and Chris Bowen.

CONROY: Well, Mr Dutton hasn't released any details, he hasn't been clear what will be built, when it will be built, and most importantly what will be the cost. What we do know from independent studies, particularly by the CSIRO, is that nuclear power will cost anywhere between five to eight times more than renewable energy made completely reliable with batteries and pumped hydro.

So what they're arguing for is to do nothing on climate change for the next 15 years and then build whopping big nuclear power plants that will sky‑rocket people's power prices, and that's unacceptable, and we're calling that out.

Secondly, in our community, we're going to bear the brunt of this. I don't think the power station they're proposing in the Liddell area will be the end of it for our community, and our community doesn't want it. We don't want power that's eight times more expensive where there is no social licence.

My community are telling me they don't want a nuclear power station next to their kids' school, and we're going to fight this every day because it's unacceptable. It's not about a conversation, it's about what's the best plan for our community. Renewable energy, complemented by our $300 energy rebate that will start being paid on 1 July onwards, versus power eight times more expensive.

KING: And the fact that this has popped up now, do you think it will drive investors away from putting money into renewables?

CONROY: Absolutely, and I'd really hoped after the 22’ election that we'd finished the climate wars. We need reliability and predictability in our grid so investors can make investment in renewable energy, which is the cheapest form of new power, which will drive new jobs in our community especially.

Look at the announcement that we made only a few months ago about a factory building solar panels at the old Liddell Power Station that will employ hundreds of people, more than were actually working in the power station when it was operational. All those sorts of investments are under threat with Peter Dutton's expensive nuclear fantasy.

KING: All right. Good to hear from you, Pat. I hope you have a great weekend, and we, no doubt you do too, hope The Blues win down in Melbourne for State of Origin 2 next Wednesday night.

CONROY: Fingers crossed Richard, have a great weekend.