Press conference with Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Jenny McAllister - Alice Springs

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, thanks for coming. I am delighted to be here with my friend, Jenny McAllister, to talk to elders and to talk to the community about how our energy savings plan, which we announced in last week's budget might work here; it will work right across Australia.

We're allocating $300 million across Australia to help social and community housing, and of course that includes town camps to make the transition to renewable energy, that's good, of course, for the climate. Many of these places work on diesel, which is high emissions, but it's wonderful also for reducing bills. And we've been talking to the elders about that too and how that might work, about how it might work with pre payment and other things.

So we'll enter now into discussions with the Northern Territory Government about the exact implementation of our package. The $300 million is the most relevant part here today, of course we also have the billion dollars of investment on low interest loans, and more than $300 million in tax concessions for small business.

But we believe every Australian, regardless of where they live, regardless of what form of housing they live in, whether it be privately owned, rental, social, community, Government owned, has a right to be involved in this transition, and it's good for everyone involved to be involved in this transition, and that's what we've been talking about today.

I'm going to ask Jenny to add to my remarks, and then we'll take any questions.
JENNY MCALLISTER: Thanks, Chris. Well, we want to make every watt count, and the truth is that many Australians are living in homes where energy is literally leaking out the doors and the windows or being wasted in appliances that are inefficient and poorly performing.

We also know that technologies, like battery and solar, have real opportunities to assist people put downward pressure on their bills.

That's what our save energy, save on bills package is all about. It includes a billion dollars for financing to help people finance upgrade to their homes, but it also includes a $300 million package for social and community housing.

We want to make sure all Australians can take part in the changes that are coming before us and take advantage of the new technologies that are available, and we're looking to partner with State and Territory Governments to see what's possible.

We heard today that many of the people living here of course experience a lot of heat in summer time, and some really cold times in winter. There are lots of improvements that can be made, simply, to houses to make them perform better and put down the pressure on bills. We're interested in learning more about what that means here in the Territory, and of course all around the country as we seek to implement our package.

CHRIS BOWEN: Okay. Thanks, Jenny. Over to you.

JOURNALIST: Thank you. How does your deal about Beetaloo scope 2 and 3 emissions actually work?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, I don't know about a deal, but we are committed in the Federal Government to implementation of all Pepper recommendations, including 9.8, which refers to the offsetting of all emissions from Beetaloo. We've implemented that by the Safeguard Mechanism in relation to Scope 1 emissions, direct emissions, which must be net zero.

What we've done is referred how we would deal with a very substantial challenge of offsetting scope 2 and 3 emissions to the Energy and Climate Ministers Council. We have the Energy Ministers sub group of that meeting in Alice Springs tomorrow, the Energy and Climate Ministers Council will meet later in the year and work those issues through.

These are cross border issues but let me be very clear. Our involvement in Beetaloo at the Federal level has a couple of legs to it. Minister Plibersek will consider any environmental approvals. No applications have been received at this point. So it's at a very early stage.

My involvement is to manage implementation, if it's possible to do so, of recommendation 9.8. All recommendations will be honoured, as far as, we're concerned at the Federal Government level.

JOURNALIST: Your colleague, the Member for Lingiari, Marion Scrymgour, has criticised the NT Government, and calls on urgent calls to production approvals in the Beetaloo Basin. Do you agree, and do you think the NT Government's jumped the gun on this?

CHRIS BOWEN: I think Marion's obviously a wonderful and strong advocate and local member. Now, as I read her op-ed she was particularly concerned about water issues, which again Minister Plibersek is moving towards implementing the water trigger and is committed to doing so. I think that's the appropriate thing to do.

As I said, our involvement federally is, one, to ensure that Pepper is implemented; two, environmental approvals, and three, moving towards the water trigger. They are things that we'll continue to work on and will implement.

JOURNALIST: There's concerns that 9.8 hasn't been implemented with respect to the scope 2 and scope 3 emissions. Do you think that until that is firmed up, production approvals should be paused?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, in terms of my role as Climate Change Minister, I'll be ensuring that it is implemented, absolutely, before anything further occurs in relation to our involvement, and the climate change portfolio.

JOURNALIST: On the water trigger, it is your Government's responsibility to implement that. Why hasn't this process been sped up with the progress in the Beetaloo Basin, and what's the timeframe for actually implementing.

CHRIS BOWEN: In terms of the timeline going forward, I'm going to have to refer you to Minister Plibersek, it's her portfolio. But, you know, we've been in office a year, we've got a lot of achievements under our belt, but obviously you need legislative changes, you need regulatory changes, and these things do take time to work through.

JOURNALIST: How much gas do you actually expect to go to the eastern states from the Beetaloo?

CHRIS BOWEN: That's entirely   it is way too early, in my view, to make that sort of conclusion. We'd need to see actual proposals. At the moment we have exploration and concept, we have no actual proposals before us as a Federal Government.

JOURNALIST: Have you had any conversations with the eastern states about them or customers over their offsetting Beetaloo emissions in terms of… 

CHRIS BOWEN: Not yet, but that is something that the Energy Ministers would work through.

JOURNALIST: No worries. In terms of some more Federal comments: Opposition Leader Peter Dutton's told the oil and gas industry the Coalition would abolish the Government's market intervention measures if elected, and Mr Dutton has accused the Albanese Government of an all out attack on the gas sector. What's your response to this?

CHRIS BOWEN: Peter Dutton makes Tony Abbott look like an optimistic constructive player in Australian politics. I mean this guy knows who he's against. He's against lower power prices. I mean we know from the Australian Energy Regulator that power prices would be a lot higher without our intervention. And Peter Dutton says, "Well, I'm for higher power prices cause I don't like the intervention." I mean he's just against everything he sees.

He gave that speech; I've read the speech. He complained about the Safeguard Mechanism, which reduces emissions, he complained about the intervention in the gas market, which has seen power prices moderated, he's complained about the PRRT which provides a fairer tax take to the Australian people; would he abolish that? I mean he's just always against something.

I'd like to see some plans from Mr Dutton now. He's been Leader of the Opposition for 12 months. He's got a chance now to start laying out his alternative vision. With this guy it's just carping criticism, and he clearly knows what he's against. He's against lower power prices. He just wants to give silly speeches. Well, we'll just get on with the job. We'll act in the national interest. He wants to act in the interests of certain companies. We'll act in the national interest at every turn.

JOURNALIST: And bringing it to your visit today, you've been hearing from locals about what they want in terms of renewable energy in this place, but a lot of the houses here are actually linked up with pre paid models. And you've heard also that those models actually drop out sometimes up to weekly, so they're really not reliable. How is the Federal Government actually going to be able to be able to play a role in fixing that issue, if you're linking solar panels to something that doesn't really work?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, that was a really interesting part of the conversation, and you know, your comments and questions are fair enough. I make this point though: when you have solar panels, and particularly if you have it accompanied by a battery, you'll find that's less of an issue, because you'll be drawing on the pre paid scheme less often. It's already happening here at the community centre. When the panels are working they're paying less for the pre paid scheme.

Imagine if that was on every house. Imagine further if we could get to the stage there would be batteries. It's distinctly possible that you wouldn't need to call on the pre paid system at all or very rarely, so that would be part of the solution as well as part of the problem.

But this scheme is going to work across the country. One of the reasons we're here today is we're committed to it working across the country. Of course it's going to work differently here as it would in Tasmania. Of course that's the case. That's one of the reasons that Jenny and I are here, to learn and to hear about some of those complexities as we go through the process of now negotiating with each Government and implementing it.

JOURNALIST: But we know those pre paid meters, I mean they're dropping out at really high rates, 90 per cent a year, that's at least once a week. How can you actually make sure that, you know, in the interim, until you can actually jump through the loops to get solar panels on houses that people aren't having heating drop out in the cold winter?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, I mean, you know, obviously we're happy to talk to the Northern Territory Government about what's happening there, but I'd make this point again: ultimately, one of the best answers to that is to move to a renewable system here, in a town camp, which would just really reduce the reliance on that pre paid system, and might not need it at all, or certainly very rarely.

JOURNALIST: Do you feel the houses here are set up to actually accommodate for renewable electricity?

CHRIS BOWEN: I see no reason you couldn't. I mean the rooves are perfectly capable of taking solar panels.

JOURNALIST: But they're chronic issues, and they're going to amount to   and of course there's overcrowding, there's houses not really fit for purpose. Adding solar panels on that, does that resolve those issues?

CHRIS BOWEN: It doesn't resolve those issues, but it helps resolve other issues, like power bills.

JOURNALIST: And overhearing your conversations, people actually said that they would like to continue on those pre paid meter systems. How do you balance that need, to actually accommodate for the needs, and the unique needs of people who live in town camps in remote communities across the Territory with a progression to renewable energy?

CHRIS BOWEN: Perfectly manageable problems to deal with. If somebody wants to stay on pre paid, I understand why the reasons they would, in terms of managing their budget. As I said, if you can integrate that with solar panels, as they do here at the community centre, so we've got a real life example of it here working on one building.

JOURNALIST: One building in a town camp with many buildings.

CHRIS BOWEN: Sure. But you've got to start somewhere. And they've started somewhere here, and what we want to do is provide support for them to roll it out across as many buildings as we can as quickly as is possible and prudent.