Press conference with Jenny McAllister, David Smith and Andrew Leigh - Canberra, ACT

DAVID SMITH: My name is David Smith, the Federal Member for Bean. Welcome to Stirling in the heart of Bean on Ngunnawal Ngambri country on a classic Canberra morning where if you were thinking about getting insulation or ensuring that you had solar and double glazed windows you'd be wanting to think about it as soon as you could.

I'm happy to be here with the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen, the Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy Senator Jenny McAllister and also my Canberra colleague Andrew Leigh, the Assistant Minister for Charities, Competition, Policy and Treasury and I think picked up more responsibilities just this week too.

So I'll pass to Chris Bowen the Minister for Climate Change and Energy.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well thank you, Smithy. I want to thank Todd and his family for hosting us here today. Todd and his family have been investing in double glazing and insulation and in solar panels so as a result their energy bills have fallen substantially.

We want that opportunity to be available to many, many more Australians. That's why we invested $1.6 billion in our recent budget to provide various means of supporting households and businesses to convert to more efficient homes and businesses, to convert to electricity where they choose to, to invest in forms of renewable energy and storage. Of course through loans, through the CEFC, low interest loans, directly into social housing through a partnership with the States and Territories and of course tax concessions for small businesses to do so.

That's a big package, $1.6 billion, designed to and will help many people reduce their power bills. The ACT here is on 100 percent renewables and as a result the impact of power price increases has been a lot less here than in other jurisdictions, and just as for a household renewable energy can reduce your bill, so it can for a jurisdiction and we want to see much more of that.

Of course today also the Australian Energy Regulator has released the final default market offer. The draft was out earlier this year and the final is out today. It reflects broadly what the regulator indicated in the draft. Increases of around 20 per cent in key jurisdictions.

Now of course these are big increases but also, as the regulator made clear herself this morning, without the intervention of the Albanese Government they would have been much bigger. Indeed, the regulator Clare Savage this morning said that she was fearing increases of 50 per cent.

And in addition to the coal and gas caps which we introduced in December, we have negotiated with each State and Territory rebates for households, more than 5 million households, to ensure that they are shielded from the worst of the impacts. Indeed, if you're a household receiving a rebate, instead of an increase you are seeing a decrease as a result of the actions of the Government.

So for example, in New South Wales we see after our intervention an increase of 21 percent, but if you receive a rebate, an 8 percent fall in your electricity bills, if you receive one of those rebates.

Now this is an intervention that Peter Dutton opposed and he said at the APPEA Conference last week he would repeal, that he would rip it up. So he's calling for increases to be closer to 50 percent, instead of for those households that received a rebate a reduction of 8 percent. I mean he can't go round saying he's for lower power prices when he's for ripping up the intervention which has seen that sort of an impact.

So we are dealing, as we have been since we came to office, with the impacts of price rises around the world but we were not going to sit by and watch them flow through to households and businesses and we haven't. It might be okay for Mr Dutton. It's not okay for us.

But also importantly, as I said, before I hand over to Jenny to talk about our household savings program in a little bit more detail, the $1.6 billion investment to help Australian families and businesses do what they want to do, check out their options, whether it be heat pumps, solar panels, batteries, double glazing, insulation, check out their options, get their quotes and then be able to invest with the support of low interest loans.

This $1 billion extra will help financial providers provide low interest loans right across Australia to families who want to make that transition, who want to make the choices for themselves and we'll make those choices easier.

So Jenny has been a powerhouse in helping me put this together and I want to thank her for that and also hand over to her for a few more details and then I'll take your questions on matters of the day.

JENNY McALLISTER: Thanks Chris and thanks David and Andrew for welcoming us this morning. We want to make every watt count. For more than a decade there has been no action on this question from the Commonwealth Government. And for too long energy has been literally leaking out the doors and windows of Australian homes or wasted on inefficient appliances. That's not necessary. Australians actually deserve better than two star homes.

There are a range of technologies and upgrades that can support families to make good choices in their homes that will make their homes more comfortable, more affordable to run, and of course save them on their bills and save emissions.

That's what's happened in this home and I'm really looking forward to taking a look around. Insulation, double glazing, solar. These technologies can make a real difference.

It's on that basis that we provided resources in our latest budget; $1.6 billion. A billion for loans to be developed by the CEFC in partnership with commercial partners so that Australians can access both the finance and the technology that can make the difference. A $300 million fund that we'll use to partner with States and Territories to provide upgrades to some of those people in our community who can't afford to pay for these themselves but who could most benefit from it.

And of course tax concessions for small and medium sized businesses who are ready to make that investment to make their business more productive and more energy efficient.

These are important investments. They are investments that will reduce permanently the energy required in homes and businesses across Australia, and I'm really proud to have been able to work on that with Minister Bowen and with so many colleagues in the industry to think about the best way that we can support Australian homes and Australian businesses.

ANDREW LEIGH: I'm happy to hand over to Chris.

CHRIS BOWEN: Andrew's going to take the really hard questions. Okay. Over to you guys.

JOURNALIST: Minister Bowen, the energy package in the budget, or at least the direct house bill relief part of that is essentially a one off. Do you anticipate that more energy relief will be needed going forward?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well I do anticipate that of course as we help households and businesses make this massive transformation that we'll do so over a period of years. When you call it a one off, it's a very big investment, $1.6 billion. This will take time to roll through. I mean we're providing a billion dollars worth of finance. That won't go out the door, you know in day one, week one, month one or year one. The financial institutions will roll it out across the country and it will be available for the families making that transition.

Of course the $300 million investment in social housing will be we've begun negotiations and discussions with the States about how we roll that out, because they own by and large the social housing stock plus community housing.

So of course we will in future budgets make further decisions but this is a big decision and the right one for today.

JOURNALIST: Minister Bowen, the opportunities for power bill savings that we've heard about today require upfront capital investments either through taxpayers for vulnerable households or from homeowners and small business for energy efficiency. But with, you know, increased pressure on power bills likely to continue for some time are you satisfied with the way that retail prices are being regulated? Do you think that they're delivering the best value possible for bill payers?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well I have no plans to change the regulation because it's an architecture which is well established. We're seeing it playing out today. The Australian Energy Regulator after a very exhaustive process outlining the default market offer, which is if you like the fallback, the safety net offer, which is available to consumers who aren't happy with whatever offer they're on.

I see no reason to change that because it's a regulatory regime which provides that safety net, that default, even in times when energy prices aren't under such pressure and in times like today when they are.

JOURNALIST: It's become the most prerequisite of question time, the Opposition ask the Government when Australians are going to get their $275 power bill saving. Will Australians ever pay less for electricity during this term of Parliament than what they were before the election?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well of course yes, you're right, the Opposition does like to say that. They drop out the fact that it was what our modelling showed an impact by 2025. You know, they seem outraged that it hasn't been delivered on 23 May 2022 is what they seem to think. They well know what our policy implications were, what our policy was and what the modelling implications were in 2025.

I will not walk away from efforts to reduce power prices by rolling out more renewable energy, because renewable energy is the cheapest form of energy. Now the alternative, which Mr Dutton and his team propose, is in an act of genius the most expensive form of energy and the slowest to roll out; nuclear. You know, the only thing small about a small modular reactor is the output. Nothing small about the cost. Nothing small about the complexity. You know, a small modular reactor costs $5 billion and it doesn't produce many megawatts. Five billion, that's a lot of billions, for not many megawatts. Well okay, that's your plan, Mr Dutton. Show us the costings, show us the locations, show us where you're going to put the waste, show us the whole plan.

JOURNALIST: Perhaps one for Senator McAllister or one for you, Minister Bowen, I'm not quite sure. Have we got an update yet on who exactly will be eligible for the low cost loans? Remember that was being worked out during the budget but can you even say more broadly as to who the scheme will target?

CHRIS BOWEN: That will be as a result of discussions with the financial institutions. So you've got, say for example you've got Commonwealth Bank offering green loans at the moment, you've got Brighte who specialise in renewable energy loans, they have different criteria. CEFC will enter in discussions with all the financial institutions who want to. I would imagine that the likely outcome of those discussions is not so much means testing, perhaps some limits on the value of the homes involved. But that will be subject to those detailed discussions with each financial provider.

We want to see it obviously targeted appropriately but targeted widely because we want as many Australians as possible to have access to it.

JOURNALIST: Minister Bowen, the regulator this morning said that wholesale energy costs are the driving factor behind the recent, well today's announcement, sorry, of price rises for retail bills. Is further action needed, I guess it would be on the firming fuels that are spiking, coal and gas, to perhaps put downward pressure on those prices?

CHRIS BOWEN: How do you mean, Mike, I'm not quite sure I follow?

JOURNALIST: Would you need, you know, further extension of price caps or even greater extent of price caps if these energy crunches continue?

CHRIS BOWEN: Oh look, you know what we're up to with the gas code of conduct, you know where that's at. You know, we've made that transparent and I'll have more to say in coming weeks about those discussions. So that is, if you like, continuing to play through the system. We've shown we'll act when we need to act. You know, I'm not here to predict what will happen to coal and gas prices over the next five years. Anybody who does so is a mug. Largely they're dealing with the implications of geopolitical forces in Europe and we do not know how that will play out.

The Albanese Government will respond to international circumstances in the best interests of Australians and the national interest and we'll continue to do so.

All done, all good. That's a wrap. Thank you.