Press conference with Nothern Territory Minister for Renewables and Energy, Selena Uibo

SELENA UIBO, NORTHERN TERRITORY MINISTER FOR RENEWABLES AND ENERGY: It's fantastic to be the host jurisdiction here in the Northern Territory for the Energy Ministers meeting nationally. We've had Energy Ministers from right around the country come to Mbantua, Alice Springs, to discuss important issues around clean, green, affordable energy for Australians.

One of the key highlights for us here in the Northern Territory is our First Nations transition to clean energy, and I'm very happy to say that following a two day round table discussion, this has been a part of the agenda item that Energy Ministers across Australia have been focussed on.

It's been wonderful to be the host jurisdiction here, and I'm very proud to be able to pass to the Federal Minister for Energy and Climate Change, Mr Chris Bowen.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, thanks very much, Selena and thanks for doing such a wonderful job in hosting us, Australia’s Energy Ministers, in Alice Springs over the last two days.

Well, this has been a good and important meeting. Good progress was made across the board.  I'll report on a few matters that Energy Ministers agreed over the course of today.

Firstly, ministers received updates on a whole range of matters, but we also made some key decisions. Firstly, we agreed to increase resourcing to the Australian energy market operator, AEMO, in coming months to ensure that renewable dispatchable investments are connected to the grid as soon as possible.

There's a lot of investment into our grid, a lot of good work occurring in renewable transmission, but some of it is encountering delays in being connected to the grid, receiving approvals to connect to the grid. So we've agreed to increase resources jointly between the Commonwealth and the states for AEMO mow to get that work done more quickly, particularly overcoming months to ensure we have maximum capacity in the lead up to next summer.

This is good work, it's important work; it will see a rise in AEMO's resources of about $3 million. Also ministers agreed to work very carefully and closely together on any obstacles to any of the new transmission or generation coming online in the next couple of months.

Secondly, we agreed that the Energy Security Board, which has done good work since 2017 has now reached a period in which it can be replaced by a new body.

The Energy Security Board, which consisted of the regulators and market operators, was designed for a particular time. A new Government with a new agenda has new needs. 

Now there will be an Energy Advisory Panel which will consist of the Chief Executives of AEMO, of the Australian Energy Regulator, and of the Australian Energy Market Corporation with ACCC as an observer to consult with each other, and for ministers to ask for advice from time to time.

But the concept of an Energy Security Board which would receive regular referrals for policy work is no longer one that is fit for purpose and one that ministers unanimously agreed to move on from.

Then ministers received an update on progress on incorporating emissions reduction in the National Energy Objective, something we agreed to do several meetings ago. Minister Tom Koutsantonis is steering legislation through the South Australian Parliament to give that effect, and then we commissioned and agreed to do further work in the lead up to our next meeting in July on how that will be implemented; how that will be reflected in the work that our regulators and operators do in achieving the objectives which go to now emissions reductions, to energy security, reliability and affordability.

That's very important work. It is well overdue, that the emissions reductions be included in the National Energy Objectives, and we've made good progress on that.

Finally, of course, we gave our State and Territory colleagues an update, of course, on our national green hydrogen strategy, the $2 billion that was in the ambiguity a little more than a week ago, which was very well received by those who see Australia as a green hydrogen superpower which, of course, we have the capacity to be.

We had previously agreed, the States and Territories, to refresh our National Hydrogen Strategy, the Federal Government investment is an important part of that, that will work towards releasing an updated strategy, taking into account all the State and Territory initiatives and what we can do and agree on together over the next few months before the end of this year, which will be another big step forward for Australia's green hydrogen potential.

So these are important matters. I was also separately to today's meeting pleased to join with Minister Uibo to announce a significant Commonwealth investment partnering with the Northern Territory, $15 million for the Darwin big battery, a contribution from the Commonwealth, $15 million for microgrids across remote communities, renewable microgrids.

It's often struck me as one of the least logical things that remote communities which have such abundant resources of sunlight are also running on diesel in many instances we can fix that.

It will take investment, we can move remote communities to cleaner, cheaper, greener energy, better for the health of the communities, much cheaper, but it will take investment, the Commonwealth’s partnering with the Northern Territory Government, and we have $15 million of investment there, and also $5 million commitment from the Commonwealth to develop solar banks in the Northern Territory, which are really community solar farms for those who can't have solar panels for whatever reason; they are available to communities to access solar energy without having solar panels on the roof.

So that's the summary of the Energy Ministers meeting together with things that Selena and I have been working on together for some time, and we're pleased to announce together today. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Minister, you just spoke then of the power in remote communities, and again, obviously, you know, the big end of town’s looking at gas, the Beetaloo Basin, but you quite rightly pointed out that remote Aboriginal communities have a capacity to be self supplying their own power. And there's also opportunities there to employ local people. I mean big companies have fly in fly out workers, so as part of the big equation do you see going forward in remote Australia the employment of more Aboriginal people on Country?

CHRIS BOWEN: I certainly hope so, and I'm sure the Northern Territory Government has strong views about that and policies that they'll implement, and Selena can add if she would like to. But certainly this is about not Canberra coming in and saying, "This is what will happen," it's about Canberra coming in and saying "We'll help you do what you want in your community."  And certainly I know communities are ready to make this transition.

I had a great meeting with elders yesterday talking about solar panels in town camps, for example. They are ready to make this transition. They know that it's cheaper energy for them, and they agree with me that, you know, here they are, in one of the sunniest parts of the world, and yes, there would be local employment opportunities which we'd work with the Northern Territory Government to realise.

Have I missed anything, Selena? Do you want to add anything there? All good? Okay. Other questions?

JOURNALIST: In the meetings today, did gas from the Beetaloo Basin come up? What was that discussion, and were there discussions about a deal between the NT Government and the eastern states on how to actually offset emissions if gas is to feed into that demand like it’s been touted to do?

CHRIS BOWEN: No, that wasn't on our agenda today. It has been referred to Energy and Climate Ministers. Today was a meeting of Australia's Energy Ministers. There's also an Energy and Climate Ministers Council, related by different, which consists of all the Energy and Climate Ministers across Australia which will meet in July. As I indicated on radio this morning, that will be the first opportunity for ministers to consider that.

This is a big and complex task. The Northern Territory Government has their responsibilities, we have a separate set of responsibilities, we're working through our responsibilities. We have amended the Safeguard Mechanism to require net zero scope 1 for all shale gas, which the Beetaloo is, but we also recognise that for scope 2 and 3, it's a much bigger and more complex task, and ministers will look at that.

But let me make this point: the Commonwealth is a hundred per cent committed to implementing recommendation 9.8 of the Pepper Review. That is what needs to happen. That is what we're working towards.

JOURNALIST: But again, even around that going forward, I keep coming back to, you know, promises are made to people on Country about work going forward, being a part of this big equation of helping supply the power for the country, but historically, you know, Aboriginal people have always been left behind. I mean, I know it's not you directly that's involved in that, but you know, the mob are saying, "Well, look, we've heard all this before."  What is the reality of going forward with the Beetaloo Basin for us?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, just in terms of your question about First Nations people, and perhaps I should have given a bit more detail about this in my opening remarks too, we received great updates from Selena, from other State and Territory Ministers about their efforts in terms of First Nations energy strategies. I provided ministers with an update on the Commonwealth's First Nations Clean Energy Strategy; I've appointed a 17 person advisory committee on that, which consists of First Nations peoples.

I then had the first two round table discussions, one in Port Headland, and one in Alice Springs. The Port Headland one had an early dividend in terms of very strong feedback from that, that we needed to help First Nations communities on how they interact with green hydrogen projects, and how they get informed about them and how they involve themselves with them.

We've allocated $2 million to help that. So we have a very real commitment to real engagement with First Nations peoples, and that's reflected in our First Nations Clean Energy Strategy, it's reflected in the matters in the budget, and we want Indigenous people to have a real say in matters that affect them.

Of course that leads to a conversation about the broader of The Voice which we strongly support and are advocating for in a national vote later this year.

But on this particular matter the matters that Selena and other ministers talked about today are all entirely devoted to First Nations people having a real say in the energy future.

JOURNALIST: Just quickly on The Voice, what do you make of Noel Pearson's comments this morning, calling Mick Gooda a "bed wetter"? How concerned are you by any divisions within the yes campaign?

CHRIS BOWEN: Look, I don't particularly propose to comment on individual commentary between two eminent Indigenous Australians; that's a matter for them. I'll simply say that the case for The Voice is overwhelmingly strong.

I mean, you know, New Zealand reached a constitutional settlement with their first peoples in 1847. They guaranteed a voice for Maori people in their Parliament in 1860. Canada recognised their first peoples in their Constitution in 1982. 2023 is Australia's time. We'll get this done.

Now, there will be some arguments along the way. I know that, I understand that and respect that. But we're focussed on getting this done in 2023. 

JOURNALIST: What about big business though that's opposed to Aboriginal people being at the table and having a voice?


JOURNALIST: Big business right across the country. Historically, where there's been, you know, many, many cases of, you know, "We're here to be seen, but you don't have a voice." 

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, we welcome the support of many businesses and business groups for the yes campaign, just as we welcome the support of sporting groups, the codes and Australians from all walks of life.

JOURNALIST: And talking about the logistical challenge of actually implementing renewable energy in remote communities, building effective and reliable housing is a challenge enough. How do you actually manage that and mitigate those concerns while actually ensuring that the housing is reliable and fit for purpose and actually even? You heard those concerns from locals yesterday about concerns with their housing, you know, in town camps close to Alice Springs. How do you actually manage that in adding solar to it?

CHRIS BOWEN: I think, with respect, everything's complicated. I mean getting diesel in remote communities is complicated and difficult and provides logistical challenges and is not always reliable. Obviously building grids in this part of the world is not feasible. That's why microgrids have such potential.

And I know you were there for our meetings yesterday, which I appreciated, but there was a very positive atmosphere around yesterday's meeting. I mean, yes, implementing renewable energy in a town camp or remote community is different to doing it in Sydney or in Tasmania, of course it is; that's why we're here, to learn about the differences.

I have seen nothing which stops that happening. I've seen issues which need to be managed and worked through collaboratively and consultatively with communities. I've seen nothing which would stop a progression towards renewable energy in remote communities, in town camps, and indeed in this part of the world it's more reliable, you know, it is with the right storage, with the right systems in place, a microgrid can improve energy security for these communities, can improper affordability, 'cause it's a lot cheaper. It doesn't have the immediate air pollution that diesel can have. It's a win win win. So we just want to get on with.

All right. Thanks for your time today. Do appreciate it, thank you.