Renewable energy in Far North Queensland

March 14, 2019


SUBJECTS: Renewable energy, power prices, National Energy Guarantee, Neanderthals in the LNP, federal election, Great Barrier Reef.



PAT CONROY: Good morning, I’m Pat Conroy, Labor’s Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Shadow Assistant Minister for Climate Change. I’m joined by Elida Faith, Labor’s Candidate for Leichhardt, and Nita Green, Labor Senate Candidate. And we’re here inspecting the Barron Gorge Hydro power station because this is an example of the clean energy jobs that will be generated out of Labor’s 50% renewable energy commitment. We will drive 50% renewable energy into the grid by 2030, we’ll take strong action on climate change, and that will drive up to 71,000 jobs for people in Australia, principally in regional communities like the one of Leichhardt. So that’s great news for Far North Queensland, it’s great news for the environment, and it’s a sign of Labor taking action, combatting climate change, driving jobs into the local economy. As I said, Barron Gorge is one example of it, the Kidston solar farm and pumped hydro further south is another example. These are jobs that we can grasp in the next 20 years if we have strong leadership from Government. Labor will provide that. Warren Entsch, the current member for Leichhardt, has stood in the way of that transition. He has failed to stand up to the Neanderthals in his party room who are trying to drive more coal-fired power stations into the community rather than investing in clean energy jobs that will deliver dividends for Leichhardt. And I’ll hand over to Elida.

ELIDA FAITH: Thank you Pat for outlining Labor’s energy policies. I think we see a stark contrast between the united, stable Labor Government and what we can deliver when it comes to energy policies for Australia, as opposed to the chaotic rabble that is coming out of the LNP Government at the moment. Let’s be clear, the big stick policy is again a chaotic LNP Government trying to sell off our energy assets. Queenslanders were very clear in the last two state elections. They made their voices heard that they will not allow any government to sell off their energy assets. How out of touch can this LNP Government be, because we know that if you sell off your energy assets it’s going to lead to higher energy prices. I think it’s time Mr Morrison called this election. We need to end the cuts; we need to end this chaos and we need to let Australians decide who they want to govern Australia. Any questions in regards to our energy policies? I know Pat will be more than happy to answer.

JOURNALIST: Just in relation to Labor’s energy plan, how essential is the Barron Gorge power station here?

CONROY: It’s fundamental to it. Projects like this are really important because they provide dispatchable energy that complements what’s happening with renewable energy and solar farms, so we would expect more projects like this and pumped hydro, such as we’re seeing down at Kidston. Part of the 71,000 jobs that will be created as part of our 50% renewable energy commitment will be projects like Barron Gorge, and that’s great news for Leichhardt and Far North Queensland. You’ve got great solar resources and you’ve got great water resources, so you can take advantage of solar and wind and our investment in the hydrogen economy that will produce another 16,000 jobs. So you’re in the driver’s seat for this transition.

JOURNALIST: How achievable is the renewable energy target that has been set?

CONROY: We’ve already got 23% renewable energy in the system thanks to Labor’s actions last time we were in government and the modelling from the Australian Energy Market Operator says that we can achieve 50% renewable energy by 2030, with strong investments in renewable energy and transmission infrastructure. And the great news is, besides cleaning up the environment and driving up to 71,000 jobs, this will lower power prices compared to what they would be otherwise. Because renewable energy is cheaper than new coal-fired power and in fact in some instances it is cheaper than running existing coal-fired power. So that means lower power prices for households, more jobs for Far North Queensland, and a cleaner environment.

JOURNALIST: Is this move to renewable energy in response to big organisations moving away from the dirty power of coal?

CONROY: Absolutely. The private sector have joined with the policy experts in recognising that renewable energy is the cheapest form of power, as well as the cleanest. So, the fossils in the LNP party room that are standing in the way of that transition, these people live in an alternate reality where they think that new coal-fired power will deliver lower power prices. That is absolutely wrong. The market has said ‘we will not build another coal-fired power station in this country, absent a massive government subsidy’, so if you want new coal-fired power in this country, you want higher power prices. If you want lower power prices and more Aussie jobs, you should support 50% renewable energy, as Labor does.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that this election will be fought on the grounds of power prices for the average family?

CONROY: Absolutely. The two key issues that people are really worried about, besides health and education, are living costs and power prices, which have gone up very significantly under this government. So they want action to lower power prices, and the other part of it is they want action on climate change as well. People are really passionate about combatting climate change. We’ve got kids walking out of school tomorrow as an example of that. So they want action on climate change, and they want lower power prices. And our 50% renewable energy commitment will drive both of those things.

JOURNALIST: When there is investment in state and federal governments in big projects like Adani, though, does that counteract this argument that we need to move towards renewables?

CONROY: Labor has committed to not providing a single cent of assistance to Adani at a federal level and I know our state colleagues in the Queensland Government have said the same thing. So, we’re not providing financial assistance to Adani. We’ve said we will apply the environmental laws to that project like we will apply them to every other project. Our focus is on supporting decarbonising our economy, combatting climate change and massively increasing investment in renewable energy which will drive good well-paying jobs for Australians in Far North Queensland.

JOURNALIST: On a different topic, this morning in Cairns it came out that China Southern Airline were suspending their flights into China from Cairns. That is disappointing news. What do you think could be done to attract more tourism to Far North Queensland?

CONROY: I’ll let Elida handle the local aspects. But, we had a meeting yesterday with the CEO of the airport and we are really excited about the plans he sees for the area. And it’s a fabulous place to visit. I was up here with my family only in August last year. So, 5 million tourists come through that airport each year so it’s a great asset, the sixth largest airport in the country, and Labor is committed through our $1billion Northern Australia Tourism Infrastructure Fund to help support the growth of those facilities and the economies that depend on them. I might let Elida add to that.

FAITH: Thanks Pat. Pat is right. It is a beautiful place to visit and our Cairns airport is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, and as Pat said, we see millions of tourists come and go through there every year, and it’s an export hub for our produce. And it is really disappointing to read this morning that China Airlines is cutting back on their flights. We had some really great conversations yesterday, Pat and I, at the airport with the CEO. He has some really great ideas and plans for our airport and they are in ongoing discussions. We’re going to be speaking to Kate Jones when she comes up next week as well.

JOURNALIST: What assistance can be provided by governments to attract more airlines to fly into Cairns?

CONROY: As the Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure, I’m Anthony Albanese the Shadow Tourism Minister’s deputy as well, we’re committed to a $1billion tourism infrastructure fund to help improve facilities to help attract people to this area. Obviously, marketing is really important as well to get the word out there that this is the only area where you get two World Heritage areas in connection with each other. All the selling points are there, we just need a Federal Government that is intent on driving that infrastructure investment through our billion-dollar fund and getting the word out there. But the other part of it, quite frankly, which comes back to renewable energy and climate change, there are 64,000 jobs that depend upon the Great Barrier Reef. They are in peril if we don’t make the transition to a low-carbon future. So, those in the Liberal Party, like Warren Entsch, who stand in the way of combatting climate change, are putting at risk those 64,000 jobs.

JOURNALIST: Will your party revive the National Energy Guarantee if elected?

CONROY: That is our first policy. So, we’ve committed to driving 50% renewable energy and we said our first preferred policy option is revitalising the National Energy Guarantee, a policy supported by almost every stakeholder in the energy industry. We’ve said we’ll try to get that through Parliament. It’s a policy that only as little as nine months ago the Liberal Party supported. So, I don’t see how they could oppose it now. They’ve had 12 energy policies in two-and-a-half years, which is ridiculous; it’s a national embarrassment. We’re committed to the National Energy Guarantee, to deliver our 50% renewable energy.

JOURNALIST: Do you expect plans to use $10 billion in debt to finance renewable projects will be a worry for voters?

CONROY: Not at all, because they see that as nation-building. We established a $10billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation when we were last in Government. That clean energy corporation is delivering real benefits; $6 billion to drive investment in renewable energy, and it’s making a return to taxpayers. So, this is an area where you can make investments that drive renewable energy in a way that actually returns money to the taxpayers and reduces power prices. We just need a visionary government to do that.

JOURNALIST: So the Coalition has also said your party’s energy policy could cripple manufacturing. Do you think that is correct?

CONROY: Absolute rubbish. This is a party that has had 12 energy policies in two-and-a-half years. Power prices have skyrocketed under them; wholesale energy prices have doubled under them. Our policy not only will clean up the environment, produce up to 71,000 jobs, but will reduce power prices versus what they would otherwise be. That’s according to the independent modelling that said our policy will reduce power prices by up to 25% in the wholesale market. That’s a great boon for manufacturers, and that’s why they’re marching with their feet. Manufacturers are investing in renewable energy. And that’s why you won’t see another coal-fired power station built in this country unless they get a massive government subsidy, which we are opposed to. If you want coal-fired power in this country, you want higher power prices. That’s a fact.

JOURNALIST: There are some concerns, though, with the reliability of renewable energy from some sectors. Do you think that is a reasonable concern?

CONROY: With proper planning, you can have a reliable grid, founded on 50% renewable energy. In fact, the Australian Energy Market Operator did a massive study that looked at what we need to put in place to replace our ageing power stations and they found that the cheapest form of replacement power and the most reliable was massive investment in renewable energy, backed up by pumped hydro and batteries, and hydro like the Barron Gorge dam behind us. So, you can have reliable, renewable energy, as long as you plan for it, you put in place the transmission investment, and you have pumped hydro like the Kidston pumped hydro project and Snowy Hydro 2 to back it up. So this is a furphy. You can have reliable energy that is renewable and clean, and drive jobs.