Transcript - Doorstop at the 5th International Energy Agency Conference on Unconventional Gas

Subjects: energy security; gas shortages; clean coal; Queensland renewable energy target; Tony Abbott

E&OE 

MINISTER CANAVAN:

Well look, it's great to be here to help open the 5th International Energy Agency Conference on Unconventional Gas. It's an extremely important industry for Queensland. It's provided billions of dollars of investment and thousands of jobs over the past few years. And at the moment, while we have never produced more gas in Australia, we are facing looming shortages because of declining fields in the south and this extra demand we have to export gas in Gladstone.

The Federal Government is very concerned about the energy situation this country. We need to make sure that we have reliable, affordable gas so the households can pay their own bills but also so we can help support the thousands of jobs that occur in manufacturing and rely on access to affordable and reliable power, including gas. So that’s why we don't think it's particularly logical for State Governments to be seeking to ban all types of gas development, including conventional gas that has safely been extracted for more than 100 years in Australia. These policies are nothing but crazy. They are putting at risk our country's economic prosperity. They are putting at risk thousands of jobs in Australia, and state and territory governments need to think again before they put the price of power up for everybody and put at risk people's jobs.

REPORTER:

You've said when you were speaking here this morning that there needs to be some out-of-the-box thinking about how to, if you like, sway the social licence. So what are you thinking of?

MINISTER CANAVAN:
Well I think there needs to be a look again at how we split the benefits of gas development between landowners, between communities, between industry and governments. We're all players in this field. I think clearly at the moment we are not building the widespread community support we need to develop an industry.

While governments stand to benefit though higher royalties and largely state and territory governments, while the industry of course will invest only if they can make a profit, we also need to make sure that our communities get a decent return as well.

And the Nationals Party has always felt that while we can do gas development where it's safe to do so, where it won't damage aquifers, where it's not on prime agricultural land. If we don't give a proper return, not just compensation, but a proper return back to landowners for having assets on their land, we won't get gas development. Now that is exactly what has happened. If communities don't feel it's in their benefit, they're going to oppose it. If they oppose it, their local representatives will oppose it. If they oppose it, you'll get laws coming forward in the Victorian Parliament like we see at the moment.

REPORTER:

So what do you actually do to make sure there's a proper return? What are you talking about in a tangible sense?

MINISTER CANAVAN:
Well as I said in there I think we need to look again at the way we divide rights up for this resource. Now this is a matter for the state and territory governments. But the Federal Government has raised how we might need to think again about allowing landowners to have more of a say about the development that occurs on their property, to get more of a return. And I'm encouraging the industry in particular to take a lead role here, because I think they have every interest in ensuing we have responsible gas development in this country. And I need the industry to be out there talking about how their production does produce jobs, how they will respect landholder rights and how they will exactly provide those returns to landowners.

REPORTER:
So when you say more rights, what are you talking about?

MINISTER CANAVAN:
Well at the state level, my Victorian Nationals Party colleagues have a policy to let farmers say no and have veto rights. Of course, I'd say to my Greens colleagues that if you're going to give farmers the right to say no, they should also have the right to say yes as well. Now it's a matter for the state and territory governments how they translate those into particular laws. But those are the kinds of things I think we need to look at now.

REPORTER:
Is that a position that the Federal National Party could adopt?

MINISTER CANAVAN:
As I said, our the Federal Nationals Party position is that a proper return should go to landowners, and that can happen in lots of different ways.

REPORTER:
But if that doesn't happen, and if it hasn't been happening to date, because in many areas there is not the social license, does it then have to be up to the legislators to make those changes?

MINISTER CANAVAN:
As I said, I think if we don't get more gas developed in this country we're going to see policies change. We're going to see perhaps the emergence of more calls for reservation policies so people have access to gas. And I think we will see more parties like the Victorian Nationals talk about landowner rights. Now I support that conversation. But I need industry to be part of that. It's not for me as a Federal Minister to start writing state legislation. I'm not going to do that. But what I am going to do is reflect the views as I'm hearing them on the ground, from farmers, from landowners and from businesses impacted by this looming crisis. And it's up to them, the state and territory governments, how they might change their laws to adjust. I do think there needs to be change.

REPORTER:
So what are you going to do to try and, you've talked about a National Gas Strategy, but you have a moratorium in the Northern Territory, you have a potentially permanent ban in Victoria, so how is that going to work?

MINISTER CANAVAN:
Well the Federal Government remains willing and able to cooperate with state governments at every turn here. We do have a gas supply strategy nationally, which involves our officials working together, which involves investments we've made in the CSIRO to produce more research to help support the development of the industry. I'm willing to do more. I do have to do it in conjunction with the state and territory governments. I have been in contact with the Victorian Labor Government recently, with the Northern Territory Government in the last couple of weeks, talking about how we might move this element forward.

REPORTER:

And how do you move it forward?

MINISTER CANAVAN:
A lot of it's going to come down to the decisions they make. Of course, the tighter and more restrictive the legislation is in Victoria or the Northern Territory, the narrower the options are, the less able I'm able to support and help. I'm not going to invest money in geo-scientific research or general research if there is not a pathway to actually producing gas molecules that can help industry and help business. That's what I need.

So the first port of call here, and the ball is in the state and territory government's court - if they're going to ban all gas development, that's their right, and their decision under our constitution, but then there's not much I can do. If they allow to have a sensible pathway forward, I'm willing and able to invest, use the resources of the CSIRO and do everything we can at the Federal Government level to get a good outcome for manufacturers, who need gas to support jobs, and to ensure that people have reasonable gas power price bills. Particularly for the southern states where there's a lot of gas at a household level.

REPORTER:
Does there need to be guaranteed domestic component of any gas development?

MINISTER CANAVAN:
Well that's not something I support. As I said, there are increasing calls for that. And if we continue to have shortages, those calls will only get louder. But I don't think that will be the solution, because as the ACCC has pointed out, as the Federal Government position is, if we have a domestic gas reservation policy, that will only make investment in gas less economic. It can't make it more economic. And we need more gas development. So if we have domestic gas policy, particularly if it's in a clumsy way, its not necessarily going to lead to the best outcomes. I think the best outcomes here would be allowing those interested parties that have a direct stake, the landowners, the industry and the State Governments, to work it out in a cooperative manner. If that doesn't happen of course though, the clumsy heads of government will get more involved and we might not get the best outcomes.

REPORTER:
Minister just on the coal debate, should the Government be subsidising clean coal, carbon capture and storage? And if so, where should that money be coming from?

MINISTER CANAVAN:
Well look, I think we should be seeking to invest in our energy infrastructure. We do already have sizeable incentives and subsidies for renewable energy. We should be ensuring that Australians have access to cheap, affordable and reliable power. That's our goal and it's always been government's role to provide basic infrastructure, like roads, like rail and energy infrastructure. We've got to find ways and means to do that. I'm a pragmatic person, we're a realistic party. I just want to get the solutions to get people the cheapest, most affordable energy that we can while still meeting environmentally sustainable goals.

So sure, we should look at investing in clean coal. We should look at investing in carbon capture and storage. We should particularly be looking at investing in those technologies which are the most advanced in coal, that can help spur the more commercial rollout of these technologies around the world. We have every incentive to be at the frontier of coal technologies given that we are the world's largest exporter of coal.

REPORTER:
Queensland is committed to a 50 per cent renewable target by 2030. Is that a realistic goal? The State Government believes it is able to produce more stable solar power facilities, so that we won't see the problems that South Australia has seen.

MINISTER CANAVAN:
Look I am extremely concerned about the Queensland Government's push here to try to move Queensland from five per cent renewable energy, to 50 per cent renewable energy in just over a decade. We are right now at five percent. We do not have the same wind resources that South Australia has. That is why the renewable energy that has been invested under the Federal Government's target has not come to Queensland, because we don't have as cheap renewable energy sources as some of those areas down South. If we did, the investment would be coming here.

Now we do have good solar resources in some areas and that will be an increasing part of our mix. But let's be clear. The Queensland Labor Government chose the 50 per cent target in an election campaign, before they’d done any analysis, any forethought - 50 per cent sounds like a nice round figure. I don't think our energy system should be designed on political slogans that are nice round figures. It should be designed based on the engineering, based on the economics, to ensure that we keep all of these jobs in Queensland. There are so many manufacturers in Queensland facing huge power bills over this  summer. What they don't need is more expensive, less reliable energy.

REPORTER:
Just on Tony Abbott, what do you make of his attack on Malcolm Turnbull last night? And do you see it as him wanting to return to the leadership?

MINISTER CANAVAN:
Look, I don't characterise Tony's contribution as an attack. I think Tony Abbott has always been a very substantial contributor to the policy debate in this country. Now I disagree with much of Tony said last night, or at least what I've seen reported. But that's all okay. We can disagree from time to time. And we in the Liberal and National Parties encourage our backbenchers to contribute to the policy debate, to bring forward ideas. And Tony, as a Liberal and National Party backbencher is welcome to do so. So I don't object to Tony bringing forward these ideas. I just respectfully always keep the right to disagree when I do.

REPORTER:
Would you agree though that from the outside it looks like the party has a bit of an internal problem there with him?

MINISTER CANAVAN:
Well look I think this is always something that comes up whether it's Tony Abbott, whether it's another person in the party room. People always have this speculation, ‘oh you disagree therefore there's something wrong’. Actually, I think it's pretty natural for humans to disagree on things from time to time. Now Tony and myself, and most of the people that are in the Liberal and National Parties will be united about wanting lower taxes for businesses, wanting to respect property rights, wanting to make sure that we make strong small businesses in this country, and also supporting our farming, agricultural and economic development. We're all united on those things. That's why we're in the Liberal and National Parties. But of course sometimes we disagree on various policies. That's a natural and healthy. It's actually only the Labor Party that enforces some democratic centralism and uniformity that I find quite unnatural and also quite comical, because that's not how it works in the Labor Party. But we are more open and upfront with people and I welcome that.

REPORTER:
How much support is there in the party for Tony Abbott to return to leadership?

MINISTER CANAVAN:
Well I'm a member of the Nationals Party so I haven't had a vote on any of the changes to Liberal Party leadership. So I'm not going to start making comments now. It's completely a matter for them. But I think Malcolm Turnbull is doing a fantastic job, particularly this year in focusing the debate around this issue of energy. It is one of the most serious economic issues facing this country and it is right and proper that the Prime Minister is talking about these issues and bringing them to the centre of debate.

REPORTER:
Do you think maybe that's why Tony Abbott’s come out making these comments because there has been some support for Malcolm Turnbull in recent weeks?

MINISTER CANAVAN:
I'm not going to psychoanalyse Tony Abbott. I'm too busy to do that.

(ENDS)

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