Press conference - Canberra

CHRIS BOWEN: Thanks for coming, everyone. Since the last election, the party which spent ten years telling us we didn't need to worry about climate change says they've found a solution for climate change and it's nuclear. They didn't bother for their ten years in office to promote a nuclear agenda, but as they desperately search around for an alibi for their hatred of renewable energy, they settled on this since the last election.
Peter Dutton made a nuclear plan the centrepiece of his Budget reply, but there was no actual policy, and nothing costed. Peter Dutton said at a speech earlier this year that it's easy, you just plug and play nuclear in to replace coal. Well if it's so easy, Mr Dutton, where is your plan?

To help the Opposition, we've released today the costings of what it would look like to just simply replace coal-fired power with nuclear. 21.3 gigawatts of coal-fired power in the Australian system at the moment, if we were just simply to replace it with nuclear, it would be $387 billion. 71 nuclear reactors spread across Australia.

Now, if Mr Dutton and Mr O'Brien say they have a different set of numbers or a different plan, they should front up to the Australian people and come clean. They say they want a conversation, that conversation has so far not included any detail, any costings, any locations. So we're up for this debate.

Every time you look at Mr Dutton or Mr O'Brien, they're talking about nuclear. Well, it's time to put some meat on the bone. We've assisted today with the releasing of these Government costings. If Mr Dutton and Mr O'Brien are serious, they will respond with their costings and they will tell the truth to the Australian people where will the nuclear reactors be - these 71? Or will they not actually replace coal? Will they have fewer nuclear reactors and, therefore, still need the other policies that the country's putting in place? It's a matter for Mr Dutton and Mr O'Brien to finally come clean with the Australian people. Happy to take some questions.

JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen this is fairly strong, pre-emptive action from the Government. Is this an indication that Peter Dutton's suggestion is getting traction amongst voters, and you want to kill that off?

CHRIS BOWEN: I think it's an indication that the Government takes this debate seriously and, you know, Mr Dutton and Mr O'Brien, we've given them time. You know, we've given them since the last election. As I said, I mean, Anthony Albanese used his Budget replies for costed, detailed policy announcements, every one of them. Mr Dutton spent a lot of time talking about nuclear in his Budget reply, but he hasn't revealed the costs, so we've revealed the costs for them.

JOURNALIST: The argument basically coming down to the need for reliable power, battery technology does provide some of that but only for a brief period of time. We've got problems or slowdowns or delays with Snowy 2.0. Batteries can only offer enough dispatchable power from limited amount of time. If it's not nuclear, what's going to be the answer to provide that baseload reliable power? Could it be more coal-fired power stations in the future? 

CHRIS BOWEN: No, only the LNP at their worst suggested a new coal-fired power station. They had one, Collinsville and remember what the audit office said about their management of that? Nobody serious would suggest that a new coal-fired power in Australia, but to run through your points, David, nobody's suggesting that batteries can take all the load, batteries have a very important role to play and nobody's suggesting the batteries would take all the load. That's why we have Snowy 2.0, for example, that's why the Queensland Government's pursuing their pump hydro plans for example. But, a firmed renewable grid, as AEMO has said time and time again, is the cheapest way forward for the country and the lowest emissions.

So some people say our plans aren't ambitious enough, 82% renewables. We point out that you need that firming capacity, that 18%, certainly on the 2030 timeframe. The Liberals are saying we have too many renewables and are too focused on renewables. They say they would have a slower and less forward-leaning renewables plan. They say their answer is nuclear. They think the answer is to put the most expensive form of power available into our grid when we have no nuclear industry, we have no regulations in place, it would cost even more than replacing other countries and around the world it's facing cost blowouts and time blowouts right around the world. Well, you know, it's time for the Liberals to put up or shut up, answer these concerns, or reveal what the alternative is.

JOURNALIST: The Nationals in particular have spoken about those modular nuclear facilities and whether they could be put near a big user of power, like an aluminium smelter or something like that. Is there a role at all for nuclear play as part of our mix, not replace coal, but as part of the mix?

CHRIS BOWEN: Let's look at small modular reactors so-called and alleged. There's two in the world operating at the moment. One on a barge in Russia and one in China. Neither of them commercial. Mr O'Brien likes to go overseas and look at nuclear things. I'll tell you one thing he hasn't been to look at - a commercially operating small modular reactor because there isn't one. It doesn't exist. I'm sure he'd go if he could. It doesn't exist. So nuclear is the wrong fit for Australia. It's not a flexible source like gas, you can turn up and down. Nuclear has not been that. Certainly not cheap. And it's not on the timeframe.

I mean, 2029 and 2030 are the most optimistic forecast for small modular reactors in the United States and Canada. Nobody serious, apart from Mr O'Brien, suggests that we constantly meet that timeframe in Australia starting from a standing start. So we're talking, you know, late 2030s, early 2040s, at best. Are they really suggesting we do nothing until then? Seems like maybe they are.

JOURNALIST: If there are only two small modular reactors, how can we make any legitimate assessment of how much it would cost?

CHRIS BOWEN: We know the cost of nuclear, though. The work's been done, and it's conservative work. It's conservative work, it's been done on the cost of small modular reactors in 2030. 

JOURNALIST: The Opposition's pointing to three times cheaper energy prices in Canada for consumers. Do you accept that?

CHRIS BOWEN: The Opposition's pointing to three times cheaper power in Canada? They also said nuclear power was 60% of Canada. It's 15. I mean, if Mr O'Brien and the Liberals want to use the Canadian example, they can. It's 15%. Energy Canada points out the reason why Canada has cheap power prices by international comparisons is because they have so much renewable hydro. That's the fact.

JOURNALIST: Minister, just a question on the Inflation Reduction Act response. Last week, $100 billion proposal from a consortium, what's your take on that particular proposal and is $100 billion sort of the ballpark of what is needed?

CHRIS BOWEN: With due respect, I'm not making budget announcements at this press conference, but we had the Green Hydrogen Headstart program in the Budget, $2 billion. You will see that was a deposit, a downpayment, a first tranche of the IRA response. We said we'd have more to say this year and we will.

JOURNALIST: The Greens have called for a similar rollout to what we saw with rooftop solar but for household batteries. Some sort of subsidy to help households pick up that technology and attach it to their existing rooftop solar. Is that something the Government would consider?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, I mean, what we have in place is we're rolling out our plans to give 82% renewables. Some of the Greens don't like that. There are some Greens who oppose the Marinus Link and Snowy 2.0, for example. I mean, I don't know how you call for more renewables and oppose the two biggest renewable projects, but some Greens find a way to do that.

Obviously, household batteries have a role to play. So do community batteries which we’re rolling out. So do grid-style batteries which we are working with State Governments on. There's eight that we're funding, including we've made a contribution to some very big ones. So everything's got a role to play. Household batteries have a role to play. But household batteries, even with some support and subsidy, could still be quite expensive for many households. 

JOURNALIST: Queensland has a higher supply of coal-fired power stations which often export their power to the southern states. Are they likely to be opted - required to stay open for longer in order to maintain their reliability?

CHRIS BOWEN: Queensland has the youngest coal-fired power fleet in the country. I think everybody will accept therefore they are going to be in the grid for the longest because they're the youngest. But the coal-fired power closure schedules have been by and large announced. But, of course, governments will, from time to time, look at those, as New South Wales are doing with Eraring to make sure any fine tuning or calibration is necessary will be done. 

JOURNALIST: Minister, just to your earlier answer, you said that nuclear is not the right fit for Australia. Are you ruling it out for future decades as well that it wouldn't be part of the mix?

CHRIS BOWEN: No, I won't be part of Australia's - I can't think of a worst fit, a worst fit for Australia's energy needs than nuclear power. It's slow to build, it's not flexible, generates a lot of nuclear waste. I mean, SMRs actually produce more nuclear waste as a proportion than large nuclear reactors. A Stanford study shows that. It's not the right fit for Australia. So anybody who is serious about Australia's capacity to harness our massive renewable energy resources knows that firmed renewables, with the appropriate support through firming, is the way to go for Australia and as I said, I just very much look forward to this debate in the election. Last question.

JOURNALIST: The Greens talk about coal and gas in the same voice as if they're both equally evil but is it not a case that without gas we can't get this transition done? Does the Government do enough to push gas?

CHRIS BOWEN: I made a similar point, Phil, that when you get to 82% renewables you need firming and increasing that would be gas as coal-fired power leaves the system and the benefit of gas-fired power stations is that they are very flexible. You can turn them on and off now at very short notice. It used to be 15 minutes and now you can turn them on and off at 2 minutes' notice. That's a very useful thing with the right investments and tweaking to the technology. Two minutes' notice, that's very useful when you've got a renewable grid.

So gas has a role to play but is a difference, I made that point repeatedly. Gas has a role to play. Coal-fired power stations and gas-fired power stations are very different to your point and have a very different role to play. Got a meeting to get to. 

JOURNALIST: Does that mean we need new gas-fired power stations, more of them?

CHRIS BOWEN: You've got Kurri Kurri, you've got Energy Australia's work, but I think that's, you know - 

SPEAKER: Will that be enough?

CHRIS BOWEN: That is what is underway, and I believe that's enough.