Interview with Jolene Laverty, ABC Darwin

JOLENE LAVERTY: Chris Bowen is the Federal Minister for Climate Change and Energy and is currently in Alice Springs. Good morning, Minister.

CHRIS BOWEN: Good morning, Jo. Good to join you.

JOLENE LAVERTY: Yeah, thank you for joining me. We've been looking forward to this moment we've been asking for twelve months and so pleased to have a chance to speak with you. But let's start with why you're here in Alice Springs.

CHRIS BOWEN: Yeah, today is the meeting of the National Energy Ministers' Council. So, all the energy ministers from all the different states and territories, together with me, meet once a quarter. Lots on the agenda today, lots on the agenda for our meetings, including some changes to the architecture of our energy system dealing with making sure that we've got the transition well underway. And also, Selena Uibo and I are making some announcements today about some important federal government investments in the renewable transition in the Northern Territory.

JOLENE LAVERTY: Well, that sounds like welcome news. Just how much money are you putting into renewables in the Territory?

CHRIS BOWEN: In this announcement today, 35 million. So, we've got 15 million to support the new big battery in Darwin, which is a very big and important project. We've got $15 million to support micro-grids. This will be particularly focussed on remote communities. Many remote communities have this terrible conflict, I think that they have plenty of sun, but they're working on diesel, which is, I think, several different levels of crazy. If we can fix that, we'll work closely with the Northern Territory Government. The Northern Territory Government's got their own program, so we're contributing to that. And then $5 million for solar banks in the Northern Territory. Now, a solar bank is a solar farm which is then available to people who for whatever reason can't have solar panels on their property. Whether it's because their property just isn't suited or they can't afford them, they can sign up for a community solar bank and we'll fund $5 million worth of those here in the Territory.

JOLENE LAVERTY: Tens of millions of dollars for renewables in the Northern Territory. It's a vast amount, but it's not very much compared to the amount of money that federal governments have committed to accelerating gas production in the Beetaloo Basin. So, just in the days before going into caretaker mode, the previous government signed an $872 million deal to accelerate fracking. And as part of the agreement, the federal government said it would contribute $660 million to the project. So, there's a lot of money to be spent on fracking. It has just been given the green light by the Northern Territory Government. They've said they've managed to tick off all of the recommendations of the Pepper Inquiry.

Minister, I would like to talk to you about one of the trickiest topics in the Pepper Inquiry and that's recommendation 9.8, which states that the Northern Territory and federal governments ensure there is no net increase in greenhouse gas emissions emitted in Australia from any onshore shale gas produced in the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory Government has been really open, we cannot achieve 9.8 without Commonwealth support. So, Minister Bowen, what will you be doing to make sure there is no net increase in greenhouse gas from onshore shale gas produced in the Northern Territory?

CHRIS BOWEN: Look, we're 100% committed to that recommendation. But let me just, Jo, in answering that question, also just run through what our involvement here is as a federal government, of course, environmental approvals. Now, Minister Plibersek has not received any applications for any development in the Beetaloo, so we're not at that level. So, that has some way to go. There's the water trigger, which Minister Plibersek is reforming and in the course of reforming at the moment. So, that's an important involvement. But then secondly, there's the offset question, the no net increase in emissions question, which I'm responsible for. And that is right, that is the recommendation of Pepper Review, which we are 100% committed to. Now, that is a big task. I accept the Northern Territory can't do it by itself.

But when you talk about support, that word support, that does not mean the federal government helping financially or leaning in in that way. What it does mean is facilitating a conversation across the board to say, well, if these projects do develop, how would we ensure no net increase in emissions? There's a number of ways that could be achieved depending on where the gas is sent and what technology is used. And obviously, onsite emissions reduction is by far the most preferred option. We also have offsets available, but how you would manage that across jurisdictions is an important and complex matter, which is a long way to go on. So, I've referred that to the Energy Ministers' meeting. In addition, our recent safeguards reforms which passed through the parliament required all scope one emissions from any shale gas development, which Beetaloo is, to be, in effect, net zero. So, scope one is dealt with through that. Scope two and three is a bigger task which energy ministers and climate ministers will deal with over the course of the next few months to see what is the best arrangement possible to ensure that that objective, that 9.8 recommendation, is met, which we remain fully committed to.

JOLENE LAVERTY: So, if I'll go back to the language again, Minister, so it says, "the Northern Territory and Federal Government ensure there is no net increase." Ensure. And what you're telling me is that, well, your role in all of this is facilitating conversations and that there's a long way to go. It seems…

CHRIS BOWEN: They're not in conflict, though, Jo. They're not in conflict. An important conversation to ensure a no-net increase. Absolutely. So, those two statements are not in conflict, with respect.

JOLENE LAVERTY: But it does seem that 9.8 hasn't been resolved. Knowing that you need to resolve it is quite different to having resolved it and ticking it off and giving it the go-ahead, which the Northern Territory Government has done.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, the Northern Territory Government has their role. Our role is to ensure 9.8 is met and we are in the process through the Energy and Climate Ministers' Council that is well underway.

JOLENE LAVERTY: So, your hands are clean in all of this. But is the Northern Territory Government right to say that they've implemented all of the recommendations giving fracking the green light, when, well, you're still at that stage of, we need to talk this through?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, they have their responsibilities and they're confident they've acquitted those. That's great.

JOLENE LAVERTY: Are you confident as the Federal Climate Change Minister, are you confident that the Northern Territory Government has acquitted 9.8?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, with respect Jo, acquitting, 9.8 isn't solely their responsibility. They have acquitted their responsibilities. I have confidence in the Northern Territory Government. I have a separate set of responsibilities which I have very clearly, openly and transparently referred to the Energy and Climate Ministers' Council. I did that several weeks ago, issued a press release to that effect as part of our broader safeguard reforms. Yes, scope one have been dealt with. That's a big step. Scope two and three, that work will happen through the Energy Minister's Council. So, Northern Territory, by referring it to us and us dealing with it through the Energy Ministers and Climate Ministers Council means that that work is progressing.

JOLENE LAVERTY: With respect, you've said it's not just the Northern Territory Government that has to offset 9.8. The Pepper inquiry only names two bodies: the Northern Territory Government and the Federal Government. There's no and all other parties. So, who else are you imagining, or envisaging will have to…

CHRIS BOWEN: Every jurisdiction is involved in Energy Ministers and Climate Ministers Council in Australia. Now, of course, some jurisdictions will be much more involved than others, but look, there's a discussion to be had with my state and territory counterparts. It depends partly about where the gas is sent, what processes are underway, as I said, Jo, we haven't even received an application yet. Let's not assume that this process has concluded. We have not yet received at the federal level an application for development of any particular Beetaloo project.

JOLENE LAVERTY: That's because they've been waiting for the recommendations to get the tick of approval, which has only just happened very recently.

CHRIS BOWEN: But it's a statement of fact. It's a statement of fact, though, that we have not yet received any applications. There are no applications…

JOLENE LAVERTY: That’s not to say that there are already deals in place with Santos and there are already big deals - huge amounts of money already deals ready to go, just waiting for the Pepper Inquiries to get the big tick, which they've now got. So, I imagine you'll be getting those applications sometime very soon.

CHRIS BOWEN: That's a matter for them. But I'm just giving a factual update to your listeners that no application has been received at the federal level.

JOLENE LAVERTY: And when it comes to offsetting scope two and scope three emissions. You also said yesterday the Energy and Climate Minister's Council will meet later in the year to work through those issues, these cross-border issues. What do you mean by cross-border issues?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, I mean what I've just talked about. That it depends where the gas is sent, where the scope two and three emissions occur. Again, that will be more relevant for some jurisdictions than others. But look, Jo, the Energy and Climate Minister's Council works very well together, regardless of political parties. We're here in Alice Springs today dealing with big issues. Labor, Greens and Liberals are all represented at the table today. You could walk in, you would not be able to tell the difference between the ministers because we're all just got our sleeves rolled up working on big projects. And this is one of them. It's one of many things that are on the Energy and Climate Ministers' Council agenda. This particular item isn't on our agenda today because there's more evidence and work to do to come to us. Our next meeting will be in July. That's when the next substantive discussion would occur.

JOLENE LAVERTY: I appreciate that there is a lot of work going on and I think most listeners will also understand that. But if I may echo, some of the major concerns that we've had from our listeners is that the Pepper Inquiry - fracking would not go ahead without the Pepper Inquiry being implemented in full. There are some questions as to whether or not it has in fact been implemented in full. And I'm sure that you heard yourself from Dr David Ritchie, who also has concerns about 9.8.

Here is Dr. David Ritchie, who is the independent overseer of the government's implementations of the Pepper Review.

DAVID RITCHIE: There has been talk about it. The new Safeguards Mechanism provisions probably do include a way of doing it, but there's been no indication from the federal government that that's what they are doing. They talked about scope one emissions. They have not talked about scope two emissions. And so that is still something that has to happen.

JOLENE LAVERTY: So, it's again, in the words of Dr David Ritchie, this has not adequately been met.

CHRIS BOWEN: I think, with respect, I've just dealt with that by saying we remain fully committed to all elements; one, two and three of Recommendation 9.8. Jo, with respect, I've just spent the last six or seven minutes reaffirming that point. So, our position as a federal government is crystal clear. There is no watering down of Recommendation 9.8. From our point of view, it must be met.

JOLENE LAVERY: So, in terms of scope two and three emissions, these are the ones which are largely produced outside of the Northern Territory, overseas, in different jurisdictions and whatnot?

CHRIS BOWEN: That's my point. That's my point. That's right, yes.

JOLENE LAVERTY: How do you intend to make sure that other countries that receive our gas, they're going to be fully offset once they go offshore?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, that's not the Recommendation 9.8, with respect. Recommendation 9.8 is about what we do in Australia. Again, Jo, I full respect and understand…

JOLENE LAVERTY: I know, it's about all the gas emissions created during fracking. It's all of it. Not just what we create here, it's what's created overseas as well.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, Jo, with respect, ministers will work through Recommendation 9.8. From the Commonwealth's point of view, it must be met. We will deal with the powers and the responsibilities we have in Australia to do that. There is some work to go yet, but I've made the point now several times, the Federal Albanese Government is fully committed to recommendation 9.8. If you're concerned that that's maybe not the case, I think I've corrected that misapprehension.

JOLENE LAVERTY: The question really is - I can hear your commitment, you've said that a number of times, I can definitely hear that you're working on it. But I also hear very much that you don't have the answer. And this has been given the big green tick of approval by the Northern Territory Government when there is no answer to this question.

CHRIS BOWEN: The Northern Territory Government has dealt with the matters that they are responsible for. As you said yourself, they are not responsible for Recommendation 9.8 in its entirety because they can't be. They don't have the facilities to do that. Right? That's a separate question. I've explained to you the process by which we are dealing with 9.8. It is a big and complex matter. I've referred it to the ministers to deal with, to work through. It won't be rushed. I hear your sort of hunger for immediate answers, but with respect, I will not rush such a big and complicated question that it is so important.

JOLENE LAVERTY: Well, I think that's part of the criticism, Minister, is that it feels like it's being rushed when it's such a big and important question that hasn't been resolved.

CHRIS BOWEN: I think I've just dealt with that matter by explaining that we are not rushing. We are dealing with it very carefully and methodically.

JOLENE LAVERTY: Chris Bowen is the Federal Minister for Climate Change and Energy. This is ABC Radio Darwin. I'm Jo Laverty. Let's just have a look at, we were talking about the Northern Territory and the government not being entirely well, they can't be responsible for how other jurisdictions may use the gas that's produced here and the subsequent emissions.

Our Chief Minister, Natasha Fyles, is confident that the gas is actually going to be staying here in Australia. Quite a lot of it. This is what she said to me on Tuesday.

NATASHA FYLES: It's easy to walk around and say, "no gas, no fracking." But actually, when you have the responsibility to deliver energy for the Northern Territory and energy for the nation can go to the Territory's energy source, it can go to the East Coast's energy source.

JOLENE LAVERTY: Do we have responsibility for supplying gas to the nation? Is that where you anticipate the nation is going to get its gas from, Minister?

CHRIS BOWEN: That's a question for me?

JOLENE LAVERTY: Yes, Minister Bowen, thank you.

CHRIS BOWEN: I got confused if you continued to play the clip or not.


CHRIS BOWEN: Yes, well, look, it's part of the mix. Look, I've been very clear. We are in the Albanese government. We're taking our renewables to 82 per cent of our grid by 2030. That's a big lift from where we are today. That's seven years, 80 months away, to move our grid across the country, the different grids, to 82 per cent renewables in 80 months. Now, that still means that there is 18 per cent, which is non-renewable. And we have coal-fired power stations leaving the grid and there are still gas-fired power stations in the grid, in the various grids across the country. So, that means we need to ensure continued gas supply. Now, Beetaloo is one of the things under discussion. It's one of the more remote developments, as you'd understand, self evidently. It's further from any markets than, say, some of the others that are being considered and promoted around the country. It has water trigger issues that need to be dealt with. It has offsetting issues that we've been discussing at length today. So, there's a range of issues to be dealt with there. It's not the only development under consideration.

So, if I interpret your question correctly, is all the pressure on Beetaloo? No, there are other projects that have been well under development and probably further down the development road than the Beetaloo.

JOLENE LAVERTY: There is a sense that we're responsible. In fact, that was the word of the Chief Minister, that we're responsible for energy in other parts of Australia. But that's not the case by the sound of it?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, the Northern Territory has, I think, both an opportunity and a responsibility across the broader national energy needs, along with every other jurisdiction. It is not the Northern Territory's responsibility alone, but of course they are entitled to put plans and processes forward, which we then, as a Commonwealth, have a similar responsibility to process and work through.

JOLENE LAVERTY: Minister Bowen, I appreciate you have to go. I just have one more question and it's something that you've raised a few times about the water trigger. And federal members in your party, in the Labor Party, Marion Scrymgour, who is a federal member for Lingiari, and also Senator Malarndirri McCarthy have expressed concern about the Northern Territory going ahead and giving that big green tick to the Pepper Inquiry when the federal water trigger legislation is yet to pass. Has the government, the local government, Northern Territory Government, put the cart before the horse?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, again, we look after our own responsibilities. We're committed to reforming the water trigger. Minister Plibersek is doing that. She's got a process underway. I'm sure she'll make considerably more progress this year. It needs legislation that always has some complexities, getting it through the Parliament that she's got that well under hand. And I know that she's been talking to Malarndirri and Marion, who are both very fine representatives, and they'll continue to ensure that we do our part there. Reforming that water trigger.

JOLENE LAVERTY: Well, Marion Scrymgour in particular was quite almost scathing that this had been done without the federal government's involvement in terms of the water trigger. And I know you have to go, but in summary, with things like the water trigger not being in place before the big announcement that all of the Pepper Inquiry recommendations had been adhered to with 9.8 evidently still having a lot of big and complex questions that are going to take time to resolve. Is the Northern Territory right to have given that big green tick to the Pepper Inquiry, saying, yes, we have adhered to all the recommendations?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, again, Jo, the Northern Territory Government has their responsibilities…

JOLENE LAVERTY: So, you want to distance yourself from that? You don't want to say yes or no.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well please don't, please do not put words in my mouth.

JOLENE LAVERTY: Can I have a yes or no? May I have a yes or no?

CHRIS BOWEN: I'm answering your - the Northern Territory government is acquitting their responsibilities. We have a different set of responsibilities which I've run through water trigger, offsetting, environmental approvals. The ball will come to our court when we receive applications. The ball comes to our court on offsets. I've explained the process on that ball is in our court on the water trigger, which Minister Plibersek is working through. So, different governments have different jobs. Northern Territory government's doing its job, we're doing ours.

JOLENE LAVERTY: So, you support the Northern Territory Government and what they've done in saying yes we've implemented recommendations.

CHRIS BOWEN: I have absolute confidence in Northern Territory Government.

JOLENE LAVERTY: Do you support them? I know confidence a bit different to actually supporting this.

CHRIS BOWEN: They have their responsibilities, we have ours.

JOLENE LAVERTY: And do you support them?

CHRIS BOWEN: Of course I support.

JOLENE LAVERTY: Let me finish my sentence, please. Do you support them in saying that they have adhered to and implemented all the recommendations in…

CHRIS BOWEN: They have acquitted their responsibilities. We are acquitting ours. They are separate jobs.

JOLENE LAVERTY: Appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today. Thank you.

CHRIS BOWEN: Always a pleasure. Great to be back in Alice. Great to be back in Alice. And I'm excited to be making the investments we are today in the transition and the battery and solar banks and the microgrids which are very important for northern territory of my communities.

JOLENE LAVERTY: And let's not leave it until another twelve months to catch up again. Thank you, Minister.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, I'll talk you when I'm in the Northern Territory. Nice to chat.

JOLENE LAVERTY: Okay. Chris Bowen, when's that going to be? Minister for Climate Change and Energy.