Television interview, ABC Q&A

DAVID SPEERS: I want to pay my respects to the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, on whose lands we're meeting. Tonight, counting the cost of nuclear power; too expensive and risky? Or worth a fresh look? What the energy transition means for regional communities? And is Australia ready for an EV revolution? Joining our panel: Will Shackel. He's a 17-year-old year eleven student and founder of Nuclear for Australia. Allegra Spender; The independent member for Wentworth who calling for a shakeup of the tax system. Chris Bowen, the Minister for Climate Change and Energy, and the Labor Member for McMahon. Nicki Hutley, an independent economist who sits on the Climate Council, and Ted O'Brien, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy and the Liberal Member for Fairfax. Also tonight, is big tech endangering our kids' mental health? Welcome to Q&A.

Hello. I'm David Speers. Remember, you can livestream us around the country on iview and all the socials, qanda is the hashtag; please get involved. Now, to get us started tonight, here's our first question from Hasliza Omar.

HASLIZA OMAR: Hi panellists, so, my question is, are we taking a huge risk in achieving net zero with 100 per cent renewables when the global renewable supply chain is currently under pressure? Should the nuclear ban be lifted to allow for early work development to ensure a sufficient backup energy option if the renewable pathway could not get us to net zero?

DAVID SPEERS: And Hasliza, I should point out, you're a committee member of the Australian Nuclear Association. Minister, let's start with you on this one.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, thanks for your question, Hasliza, but we are not going to 100 per cent renewables anytime soon. But we are going to massively increase our renewable share, as we absolutely have to, if we are going to play our role in arresting climate change. But to your question about nuclear, I can't think of a worse fit for Australia than nuclear energy. It's extraordinarily expensive. We don't have a nuclear industry in Australia, so we'd be starting from scratch. There's no plan on what to do with the waste. It's very slow to build. There are only two small module reactors at the moment anywhere in the world. One on a barge in Russia and one in China, neither of them working commercially. I don't know why, with all our abundant renewable energy, which sure has to be stored, and we need the transmission and we need to do all the work and we're doing that. But with all our abundant renewable energy, the best renewable resources in the world, I can't think of a worse thing to do than to then take the most expensive form of energy and try and retrofit it in to a country with so much cheap renewable energy. It's just the wrong plan for our country.

DAVID SPEERS: So, Chris Bowen, you've released some figures today, some costs your department's done on what you think it would cost to replace the coal fleet with nuclear. I suppose cost is really up for market to work out if it's too expensive for them. The question is about the ban, though. Will you ever lift the ban?

CHRIS BOWEN: No, because it's a massive distraction. I mean, this is a big job, to be fair, to lift our renewable energy. We wasted ten years debating about whether climate change was real and we had 22 different policies. And now, frankly, the side of politics which told us we didn't need to worry about climate change is now the side that says they've got the solution and it's nuclear, but it's a massive distraction. It would take a lot of our public debate, it would take a lot of government energy to go down that road, when in fact, we should just put aside the last ten years of denial and dysfunction and get on with the job of getting more renewable energy into the system, storing it, firming it when we need to at night. That is the best plan for Australia.

DAVID SPEERS: Just coming back to the question, what's the reason for the ban? Why do you want to keep the ban?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, the ban was put in by John Howard.

DAVID SPEERS: So why do you want to keep it?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, because it's a massive distraction from the task we have in front of us and we have renewable energy investors right around the world lining up to invest in Australia. We just got to get on with that job. I'm not being knocked over by nuclear energy investors. $387 billion would be the cost to replace the coal-fired power in Australia with nuclear. That's an enormous amount of money. It's $25,000 per taxpayer, if the taxpayer funded it, or indeed those proponents would need to know they get their money back and they get it back from Australian energy consumers.

DAVID SPEERS: Ted O'Brien, is that the cost? Do you agree?

TED O'BRIEN: Well, no, I don't, David. And I think the last time Minister Bowen released some economic modelling on Australia's energy system, it was to predict a $275 reduction in household power bills.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well what’s your costing?

TED O'BRIEN: We know where that went. Today he released a new set of economic modelling and if he can't get the modelling right for his own policy, then he certainly can't get it right for a policy that hasn't even been released.

CHRIS BOWEN: Okay well, Ted, which bit do you disagree?

DAVID SPEERS: Minister, let's just let Ted O'Brien have a go. Now, you've had your shot about the $275, right? So, if that cost on nuclear power is wrong, what is the cost?

TED O'BRIEN: So, it depends on which way you model it, David. You see, I think what's most important is to learn the lessons from overseas, where they say the most important method when it comes to an energy system plan is a total system cost, because when we open up our bills at home, what we see is the total system cost in that bill. Now, it's only with that methodology that you can get the right mix of technologies, a balance of technologies in a grid, to get the prices down.

DAVID SPEERS: So what's the cost?

TED O'BRIEN: Now, now, that is why Canada is using that sort of a methodology. Ontario, province of Canada, they have up to 60 per cent of nuclear energy. Now, their electricity grid is one 10th as dirty as ours. Or, put it differently, ten times as clean. Their energy prices at home, they're less than half of ours.

DAVID SPEERS: Okay, so what's the cost in Australia? Can you clear that up? What would it cost in Australia?

TED O'BRIEN: If I gave you the specific cost, I'm pre-empting the exact design and policy.

DAVID SPEERS: Do you know what the cost is?

TED O'BRIEN: I can give you the range, David, because I think that's fair, because the range is where people are looking. So, Chris Bowen came out today suggesting that it's around about $8,000 a kilowatt, right? $18,000 a kilowatt. 18,000. And then he said that 18,100 is going to apply for how many? 71?


TED O'BRIEN: 71 reactors. And then it's far more expensive than the others, he says. So, the experts predict that the cost is somewhere around about some say six, but let's say 8000. The absolute upper end is 18,000. And even if you accept the 18,000 at the upper end, even the GenCost report he's taken it from says that the costs come down by the number of units you do, but he hasn't made that assumption.

DAVID SPEERS: I'll just jump in, that's a big range; surely you're not committing to nuclear power without knowing the cost?

TED O'BRIEN: Absolutely not. And here's the thing -

DAVID SPEERS: So what is the cost?

TED O'BRIEN: And here's the thing, David. We haven't announced our policy.

DAVID SPEERS: You don't know, you don't know the cost?

TED O'BRIEN: You'll be one of the first ones. You'll be one of the first ones to know. However, however.

DAVID SPEERS: You've given us a very big range, though. Surely you must have an idea what the cost is if you're committing to this?

TED O'BRIEN: Yes, we do.

DAVID SPEERS: And what is it?

TED O'BRIEN: I'm not going to pre-empt our policy.

DAVID SPEERS: It's a secret, is it?

TED O'BRIEN: But here's the thing. It is... until we release our policy, David, I'm not going to get the specifics.

DAVID SPEERS: But have you worked it out or not?

TED O'BRIEN: We are doing the modelling right now -

DAVID SPEERS: So you don't know.

TED O'BRIEN: And we are doing the modelling right now, based on actual data. Based on actual data.

DAVID SPEERS: What does that mean?

TED O'BRIEN: Well, good question. What Chris Bowen has worked his out on is hypothetical.

DAVID SPEERS: But you're the one committing to it.

TED O'BRIEN: We are the one formulating the policy. He's the one who's released the modelling, so GE, Hitachi, Westinghouse.

DAVID SPEERS: Plenty of work -

TED O'BRIEN: All of these I've visited, we're getting data from. We are basing it on real data, not on a hypothetical, that Chris Bowen has. And when we release the policy -
DAVID SPEERS: But you still don't know the cost. Nicki?

NICKI HUTLEY: But it doesn’t cost the same in Australia as it does overseas.

DAVID SPEERS: Nicki, what is the cost in your view?

NICKI HUTLEY: Well, I am not an expert, so I look to the experts. And like the Minister, I look at the CSIRO report, which was done in conjunction with the Australian Energy Market Operator. I don't think anyone in this room there may be one would know more than they would on this subject. Quite frankly.

TED O'BRIEN: They don’t model it though Nicki, they outsource it.


TED O'BRIEN: The outsource it, because they don't know.

NICKI HUTLEY: Well, that's not entirely correct.

CHRIS BOWEN: That’s not true.  

NICKI HUTLEY: They have their own experts. The average cost at the moment is around 16 to 18,000. The average cost, okay, if we have solar it's 1000 per kilowatt, it’s wind is double that too. There is no universe, and if you have your modular, your small modular reactors which don't exist anywhere and haven't been proven, you still don't. I would love to think that there was a silver bullet to the climate crisis.

TED O'BRIEN: Nobody’s saying there’s a silver bullet.

NICKI HUTLEY: Well, you kind of are.


NICKI HUTLEY: You're saying this is essential to solving the climate crisis.

TED O'BRIEN: Nicki, we're not, we’re saying what we need is an all of the above approach, not just one technology.

NICKI HUTLEY: But why would you take as a Minister, why would you take the very most expensive, you said you want to take a whole of system approach.


NICKI HUTLEY: You need to take into account distribution, generation -  

TED O'BRIEN: Correct.

NICKI HUTLEY: As well as the retail costs that go towards everybody's energy bill.

TED O'BRIEN: Correct.

NICKI HUTLEY: Why would you take one that is going to make the generation cost something like eight times or possibly 16 times as much as renewable energy?  

DAVID SPEERS: Will is - sorry guys, Will.

WILL SHACKEL: This is clearly getting us nowhere. The cost of nuclear is clearly highly contentious. And you know what the best way to find out the cost of nuclear energy is? It's to lift the nuclear energy ban. Because at that point, because at that point, you can actually see nuclear reactors, what they will cost. Because at this stage, no company is able to propose for a nuclear reactor to be built in this country. And to what the Minister for Climate Change and Energy said about it being a distraction. Well, look, we should have all options on the table. And what I would say is I'd bring out this is the ban on nuclear energy. It's a single A4 piece of paper. And if the government was serious about reaching net zero and having a guaranteed path to net zero, well, they'd get rid of this. They'd get rid of this prohibition. And I think that is how you solve climate change, is having all options on the table. That's how you end the climate wars.

And I think it's particularly disappointing when, I think everyone had great hope when the Prime Minister came out and said that this government would end the climate wars and that's myself included, I was really optimistic for that. But when you look to a government which has prejudices against certain solutions, I think it's disingenuous to claim that the climate wars are ending and, you know, I'm not going to let the Coalition off it either because obviously the nuclear energy ban was introduced under the Howard government, like the Minister said. I think this should be a uniting issue around nuclear. The facts are in. You can see the global evidence. And I think it's time that at very least Australia considers lifting the ban on nuclear energy.


ALLEGRA SPENDER: I think honestly, the truth is, I think the sort of obsession around the ban or not is actually a distraction because the real reasons we don't have nuclear right now, I think, and they are not the short-term solution is basically it's too slow, it's too expensive. And the small modular nuclear reactors, which many people are saying are the right things to do, frankly, are not commercially available. So, I'm generally an open mind kind of a person and say if over time we can get the cost down, if over time we see these small modular nuclear reactors broadly around the world and they've rolled out and done that, if they can come down in terms of timing, we should consider that.

DAVID SPEERS: But to Will's point, aren't they matters for the market to decide? Why does the ban need to be there?

ALLEGRA SPENDER: Because I think this is about, honestly, the action we need to take is in the next ten years. I think the ban is honestly irrelevant. The action we need to take, though is in the next ten years.

DAVID SPEERS: So you wouldn’t mind, if it’s irrelevant, getting rid of the ban?

ALLEGRA SPENDER: I think we should always consider options on the table.


ALLEGRA SPENDER: But the options, nuclear is just not the right option right now. And I think that, honestly, if the Coalition wanted to overturn the ban, they absolutely could. But it will make no difference to what we need to do now because we know that climate action is urgent, it's in the next five, ten years and there is no estimate that we can bring in nuclear that fast, even if it was on time, even if it was the right thing to do.

DAVID SPEERS: The Minister's costing today is based on 71 of these small modular reactors that's to replace the existing coal fleet. Can you give us any clarity, Ted O'Brien? I'm assuming you wouldn't need that many. Are you talking about fewer than 71?

TED O'BRIEN: Well, again, David, I'll have to be vague because we haven't released the policy.

DAVID SPEERS: That might be more than 70?

TED O'BRIEN: No, here's what the Minister's assumed, right? He's assumed that you replace retiring coal fired power stations with nuclear. Fair assumption, because that's what a lot of the experts say. What he's failed to point out in the modelling he did was advice to even the Department of Energy in the United States talks about the reduction in capital costs because you are leveraging the existing infrastructure in doing so. He also fails to point out that one of the beauties of these small modular reactors is you can have multiple reactors on the one site -

DAVID SPEERS: So an old coal, a reactor there you mean? 

TED O'BRIEN: So therefore -

CHRIS BOWEN: It’s still different reactors.

TED O'BRIEN: So therefore you can leverage the one site and that one set of connectivity. The other thing I'd point out, David, is we've been very clear from the get go this hasn't changed where I have said on behalf of the Coalition, we're looking at next generation zero emissions nuclear energy, only generation three plus and beyond. Generation three plus and beyond. Now, that means, because they’ve got passive safety features and so forth. So, is there generation three plus existing today? Absolutely there is. The small modular reactors. The generation three plus small modular reactors. That's not new technology. That technology has been around for decades. It's just in a smaller version.

DAVID SPEERS: So, what do they cost then? Can we come back to some clarity?

TED O'BRIEN: Again, it depends on who you ask, David. Here's why I don't want to give you a straight answer on it. If you ask some of the vendors, I'm not sure about the joke there, mate -

CHRIS BOWEN: Then maybe give a straight answer might be the way forward.

TED O'BRIEN: But if you ask some of the vendors they will say $1b. They will say $1b, some of the vendors, $1 billion USD.

DAVID SPEERS: Per reactor?

TED O'BRIEN: Per reactor. Now, the reason why I don't use that figure is that is not the only cost that goes into it. You've got the cost, the overnight capital cost, and then you've got the owner's cost. The figures that Chris Bowen have come out with, I mean, I think he's just made them up because it doesn't make sense. It doesn't make sense. Canada, Allegra to your point, you might say it's expensive. Canada says otherwise.

ALLEGRA SPENDER: We’ve got the best solar and wind resources in the world. Plus the average nuclear storage cost is 240 per cent above what it was predicted to be. That's the average overrun on cost.

DAVID SPEERS: You're talking about the storage of the nuclear waste?

ALLEGRA SPENDER: And the average nuclear building cost is 120 per cent cost overrun. And that's over, of course many, many, many nuclear reactors.

DAVID SPEERS: It brings us to our next question but before we get to that, I just want to point out this is the topic of the online poll that we’re asking tonight. Should Australia drop its ban on nuclear energy? Keen to see what you think. You can cast your votes anonymously on the QandA Facebook, X and YouTube accounts or on the ABC News Instagram account. We'll bring you the results of that poll a little later this evening. Let's keep this discussion going, though. It picks up on what Allegra Spender was just talking about. Our next question from Noah Jones.

NOAH JONES: Hi, panel. My question is specific to Mr. Shackel. What strategies do you propose for managing and safely disposing a potentially large quantity of nuclear waste?

DAVID SPEERS: Mr. Shackle?

WILL SHACKEL: Well, thank you for your question, Noah, and I appreciate it. What I would say is the first thing as part of your question is the quantity of waste or spent fuel, as it's referred to with nuclear energy is incredibly small. In fact, all the spent fuel from every single nuclear reactor in operation from the beginning of nuclear energy to now could actually fit easily inside a stadium like the Sydney Cricket Ground or another stadium like that. And if you look at the high level waste, the spent fuel which is created to, if someone was being powered for their whole lives from nuclear energy, the size of it is about the size of a Coke can or like the glass of water I've got here. So, it's incredibly small volume of waste we're talking about.

DAVID SPEERS: But it's radioactive, isn't it?

WILL SHACKEL: Yes, but for decades we've been able to safely manage it. And the thing is, what about the waste from other energy sources? You look at fossil fuels, the waste that is emitted into the atmosphere from fossil fuels that we have to breathe in every day. There are consequences to that, or renewables. And I understand that there are innovations in this space and I think that's a great thing. But let's be honest, the majority of renewables solar panels, wind turbines end up in landfill today. Specifically in regards to strategies about spent fuel management; basically, they're stored in canisters around the world today. It's incredibly safe. There are videos, which you can search up on Google, of trains running into them. They've tested it on jet planes to make sure it's secure. And there's never been an incident attributed to high-level waste nuclear management. And the last point I'd make is the government is inevitably going to have to deal with high-level waste or spent fuel as a result of their AUKUS announcement, which they're spending hundreds of billions of dollars on. So, at one point or another, the government's going to have to work out a solution for this. And I think because of that, it makes sense to also open up the opportunity for civil nuclear power reactors.

DAVID SPEERS: Look, Nicki, let me bring you in on this. Will's certainly right, that we're going to have to sort out storage of nuclear waste, not just for the low-level stuff that we've been using for a while, but for the AUKUS nuclear submarines, the high-level radioactive waste that will come down the track too?

NICKI HUTLEY: Yeah, I find this interesting that the idea that even if you got rid of the ban, even if you ignored the economics of nuclear, which doesn't stack up. We're having huge arguments already between the states because no one wants the waste from AUKUS. In Australia we have yet to be able to get a permanent nuclear storage facility, even though we've had Lucas Heights and we do have low-level and some mid-level waste in Australia for what, 40 or more years. Australians don't want this. I mean, you say it's simple, but we've had in planning, some of the transmission lines have been stuck in planning for decades. If a new transmission, imagine what the planning processes are going to be like when we start talking about nuclear reactors. Whose backyard is that going to be in? The nuclear waste? Where are we going to store that? Because literally, it is sitting around on shelves in laboratories at the moment. We don't have a way of doing this in Australia. This is absolutely true in other parts of the world. We even export a lot of our waste over to France for them to process and then bring it back here. We do not have the capacity. This is highly politically contentious. When you have, and I will actually say I do support nuclear, because the sun is all about nuclear power and that's the only nuclear energy we absolutely need and it has no waste.

DAVID SPEERS: Ted O'Brien, do you think when the Coalition does announce a detailed policy on this, will that have to include details around the storage of waste?

TED O'BRIEN: There's no doubt that waste is critical to what we're looking at, at the moment. I think what a lot of people don't realise, David, is Australia has been managing nuclear waste for well over 60 years.

DAVID SPEERS: But not particularly well, because we still don't have a permanent storage facility.

TED O'BRIEN: David, I don't want to be disagreeing with you, of all people tonight, but I tell you what, I have to on that.

DAVID SPEERS: But we've just gone round and around for ten years.

TED O'BRIEN: Well, to be honest, we have been managing including high-level waste for over 60 years in this country. We have demonstrable expertise. We are well renowned globally as being a successful nuclear country. Because we have a reactor, it's about 30 kilometres from where we are today.

DAVID SPEERS: Where does it store its waste? There's some on site.

TED O'BRIEN: Yeah, on site.

DAVID SPEERS: That's close to capacity.

TED O'BRIEN: On site. Well, the rules are they're meant to be moving that to a site which was going to be Kimba.

DAVID SPEERS: This is my point. But we still haven't sorted this out. It's just been knocked back by the Federal Court. So, would you have to identify a site to permanently store not just the Lucas Heights’ waste, but the waste that your nuclear reactors would also?

TED O'BRIEN: Again, David, we're taking our lead from best practice. Globally, most nuclear waste is stored on site. Some countries are looking at having, potentially having a central repository for the life of the reactor you can typically store it on site.

DAVID SPEERS: And that'd be your preferred approach?

TED O'BRIEN: Now, learning the lesson from there. Also, because of the AUKUS deal, the Albanese government has agreed to manage high-level waste in Australia.

DAVID SPEERS: Let me ask the Minister about that.  

TED O'BRIEN: Now we know from the UK.

DAVID SPEERS: Yeah, we know the Minister -

TED O'BRIEN: Where's it’s going to be permanently? I think right now that is a matter for the Albanese government.

DAVID SPEERS: No, it is. This has to be sorted out. Look at maybe some decades before that, nuclear waste stored from the submarines. But it sounds like the Coalition might be suggesting on-site storage for any small modular reactors. When are we going to see the government settle on a permanent facility?

CHRIS BOWEN: I'm none the wiser after Ted's answer, to be honest. But in relation to waste, we know a small modular reactor actually creates, the Stanford study shows up to 30 times more waste proportionally than a large nuclear reactor. And you're 100 per cent right. Australia hasn't resolved this. The previous government, to their credit, tried, points for trying, the Kimba site. They had a good go. The Federal Court overturned it. It does underline just how complicated it -

DAVID SPEERS: You could have challenged it in the High Court, you didn’t.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, the fact of the matter is, it wasn't landed, not the previous government's fault. They tried, but the Federal Court knocked it over. And, yes, we've taken a decision not to argue with the Federal Court, and I think that's the right decision. I think it shows how hard it is. Now in relation to the submarines. Remember when the previous government announced AUKUS, they said it had no implications for the civil nuclear industry, there was no need to go down that, there were no links. That's what Scott Morrison said. That tune has changed since the election. Now they say, oh, you've got the nuclear submarines, you might as well have a nuclear power industry. There's a complete change of tune. Now you're right. Yes, the nuclear submarines will generate some waste, only at decommissioning. Unlike a nuclear reactor, which generates waste every day, a nuclear submarine generates the waste at decommissioning. We're a decade or so from getting one. We're many decades from decommissioning it.

TED O’BRIEN: I have to -

DAVID SPEERS: Alright, we need to, just very, very quickly,

TED O'BRIEN: The Minister sits on the National Security Committee, the peak body for our strategic defence in this country. He has given commitments to the United States and to the United Kingdom that we can effectively manage high level nuclear waste. Here he is on national television saying that we can't. That is a serious concern.

CHRIS BOWEN: Just because you can take -

DAVID SPEERS: Just very quickly Will.

WILL SHACKEL: May I have a word? I don't think the issue here is the science. The issue here is politics. I think that's really clear. We have the solutions of how to manage spent fuel, high-level waste around the world. And I think it's a shame we're still having these discussions and fear-mongering about high-level waste spent fuel, because I'm sure they wouldn't be having these discussions in France or in all of the other countries around the world which are able to successfully manage nuclear waste. And it's not an issue to them, but for some reason, it is here in Australia, and I think that says a lot about our politics today.

DAVID SPEERS: All right, we do need to move on. Next, we're going to hear from Hillary Morrissey. Hillary.

HILLARY MORRISSEY: Should the NSW State government pay between two and 400 million to keep Australia's biggest coal fired power station, Eraring, open for two more years? Or simply give every NSW household a solar and battery package?

DAVID SPEERS: Allegra Spender, let me hear from you first on this, this is in your home state.

ALLEGRA SPENDER: Yeah. Look, I think that I don't want to see Eraring stay open beyond when it's currently closed, set to be closed, and I think it's time for us to actually take action to support households for this transition, because, frankly, households are suffering from high power bills, from high petrol prices and high cost of living. And I think we have a great opportunity to support families, renters, a lot of renters in my area, a lot of people in apartments finding solutions that help those households lower their power bills in a way that is both good for the environment and it's good for their hip pocket. So, that's where I think we should be driving our money.

DAVID SPEERS: Nicki, the NSW Government argues it needs to do this, pay to keep it going because it's obviously worried about supply, energy supply. What do you think?

NICKI HUTLEY: Yeah, look, supply is obviously an issue and if we just got off our backsides and went faster with renewables, we wouldn't be in this position. We've, as the Minister said, wasted ten years across states and Federal Government in failing to make decisions, and particularly with the build-out of transmission lines, which is a big problem. But the one thing that I just cannot countenance. Look, I'll get a bit emotional here. I became a grandmother ten days ago to the most beautiful baby girl, and all I can think about is her future and what sort of planet. You look at the Intergenerational report, you look at what climate change is going to do to our planet, not necessarily in my lifetime, but in her lifetime. And we cannot, we cannot, we cannot expand coal mines, we cannot keep putting more LNG facilities there. Fossil fuels have to come to an end. The International Energy Agency, just this week, the CEO said this is the end. He's already called out coal, he's now calling out oil and gas. We can't expand. We have to find alternatives. If you do a cost-benefit analysis of any of these decisions and you put a fair price of carbon, the damages cost, a social cost of carbon on it, you would never make any of these decisions because economically, it does not stack up.

DAVID SPEERS: Chris Bowen what do you honestly think about your Labor colleagues in NSW using taxpayers' money to keep Eraring going?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well they haven't said that they will do that yet, so let's just look at the -  

DAVID SPEERS: Well, they're in negotiations.

CHRIS BOWEN: They're in discussions with Origin Energy. So, we are in the middle, I completely understand, Hillary, why you'd asked that question, and I understand where you're coming from. I don't think it's as simple as a transfer of supporting households onto solar, but I completely understand where you're coming from. Now, we are in the middle of this massive economic transformation as coal fired power leaves our system, and hardly anybody would suggest we need new coal fired power. Ted's party does from time to time.

DAVID SPEERS: But what do you think of this decision Chris Bowen?

CHRIS BOWEN: I'm just getting to that point. What I do think of this decision is that I understand that in managing this very delicate transition, governments, our government and state governments will, time to time, look at it and make assessments about whether something should happen a little bit faster, a little bit slower, just to manage it.

DAVID SPEERS: And what's your view here?  

CHRIS BOWEN: Penny Sharpe, the state Minister has said she doesn't want to see Eraring stay open a day longer than it needs to. I agree with her. And it can't shut a day earlier than it has to, and I agree with that as well. So, none of us want to see a lengthy extension. Certainly I don't, a lengthy extension of Eraring, but I completely, I'm not going to second guess what the government's trying to do here, state government –

DAVID SPEERS: It does have impacts, with respect, Minister, on your emissions targets. Right. So, can you shed some light on that for us? Will running Eraring for another couple of years, biggest coal fired power station in the country, make it harder for you to achieve your targets?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, it's scheduled to close in 2025. Our target is, of course, 2030, but look.

DAVID SPEERS: Does it make it harder?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, our 2030 target is, we're on a trajectory.

DAVID SPEERS: But does extending Eraring make that harder?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, nobody's talking about extended to 2030.

DAVID SPEERS: No, but to 2027.

CHRIS BOWEN: Nobody has suggested that. And the target is 2030.

DAVID SPEERS: I'm asking if extending it its life for two more years makes your target harder to achieve?

CHRIS BOWEN: No, not necessarily, that wouldn't but the state government has said that they don't want it to stay open for a day longer than it needs to. They don't want to pay Origin any money. They want to have a discussion with Origin. And Origin has said in meetings with them and with me, they don't want to see it leave earlier than would provide any that would create any instability in the system. So, look, there are going to be times when coal fired power station and closures are brought forward. Some of those have been announced in the last little while. There's going to be times when people say, look, I think this one we just need to look at. Is that exactly the right time? Is August 2025, was that handed down from the mount as the exact time it must close? Or would it make sense to talk to Origin about a staged withdrawal? That's the discussion that the New South Wales -

DAVID SPEERS: And is this largely being driven and perhaps, Nicki, you'd be able to answer this, is it driven by the problems with the transmission line rollout? Is that the reason why decisions like this are going to happen?

NICKI HUTLEY: Supply is definitely a factor in that, and if you look at there are a lot of renewables that are projects that are ready to go in the new zones, but the basically existing transmission is kind of full, can't take new projects.

DAVID SPEERS: And there's community backlash.

NICKI HUTLEY: So there's a backup. But the NSW Government was supposed to have the new lines in by 2025. It's now out to 2028. Now we've just got to get better at, so many of our problems today are caused by bad planning systems. You think about housing affordability and certainly the climate crisis. We just don't get the planning right. And we have got to find some way to make these decisions better and quicker with consideration for the natural environment. I don't want to see my favourite birds, a magpie falling out of the sky because we've cleared all the land or koalas gone from anywhere. We have to be able to consider that, but, we've got to do better to go faster.

DAVID SPEERS: Clearly, there are concerns about the impacts climate change is going to have on more severe weather events as well. And we know there are concerns about the summer that's coming and the bushfire risks. And in fact, we have in the audience Stephen Lightfoot, who's a specialist anaesthetist, who wrote a piece just last week about the bush, not the bushfire, but the back burning haze that really affected Sydney. What's your concern there, Stephen?

STEPHEN LIGHTFOOT: Yeah. Thanks, David. Thanks for raising this really important issue, because climate change has such important and significant impacts on human health. And what we saw with the smoke pollution from prescribed burning, but also just from the wildfire events, is an increase in the health implications directly from this impact of climate change. So, we're talking about things like an increase in respiratory and cardiovascular disease, presentations to hospitals, with things like people not being able to breathe, with asthma exacerbations and with heart attacks. And in fact, the University of Sydney looked at the smoke pollution that we had from the tragedies of the 2019 and 2020 bushfire summer and they found that if you're aged over 65 and lived in Sydney at that time, you had an increased risk of death directly due to that smoke pollution. So, these are sort of some of the impacts that we're seeing in health from climate change and we really need our politicians to get in there and do something quickly. There's a really sobering statistic that's come from the World Health Organisation and they've said that by 2030, and we've heard that year mentioned a few times already, by 2030 there's going to be 250,000 additional deaths per year throughout the world due to the impacts on human health from climate change. So, this is something we have to address now. We have to do it now. We have to ramp up our renewable clean energy today, because every day we delay is a life lost. And as a health practitioner, that's unacceptable.

DAVID SPEERS: Stephen, thank you for sharing that with us. Allegra Spender, I guess it brings it back to something very real, doesn't it, when we talk about our own health?

ALLEGRA SPENDER: It does, and I think you're absolutely right. I looked at the statistics from that black summer and it looks like that 33 people died from directly from the fire and it's estimated over 400 people died from smoke inhalation and that's just from those bushfires. But it's around the world and it is a question for the Coalition who was in government at the time, why they didn't do more to support families and to prevent those fires happening to the extent that they did. But I think the point that you also made, it's urgency and I want to come back to that nuclear debate that we started with. The truth is what we do now really matters. What we do in the next five years, the next seven years, really matters. And nuclear is not going to come riding over the hill as a knight in shining armour in that time frame. So, we need to take action now.

DAVID SPEERS: If you are just joining us, you're watching Q&A live with Will Shackel, Allegra Spender, Chris Bowen, Nicki Hutley and Ted O'Brien. Plenty to get to tonight. Let's hear now from Ruby Piper.

RUBY PIPER: So, my question is on teenage mental health. I myself am a high school student and see firsthand the growing issue of declining mental health in teenagers. Therapy is an incredible tool that could be so useful but is out of budget and not an option for so many teenagers. Is there enough being done to actually support teenage mental health? And what is being done to address the issue?

DAVID SPEERS: Will, you're the only teenager on this panel, so let me go to you first. Is enough being done?

WILL SHACKEL: Look, I think the fact that I can't sit here today and recall to you all of the services that are available to young people, I think that's probably not a great sign. And I think that there probably does need to be more done because it's a huge issue, the mental health of young people and it's been exacerbated by things like the lockdowns that we all had to experience and also the fact that our future is really so bleak. When you look at the climate crisis, the energy crisis, the housing crisis, crisis, crisis, crisis, it's really hard, I think, for us to see our place in the world in the future. So, I think certainly more needs to be done to solve the issue. I'm not sure how to solve it, though, whether it's just more investment or whether it is trying to solve some of those issues, which I guess is the hardest solution to it. But either way, we'll have to take leadership from government, I think, if we're going to see any action on that issue.

DAVID SPEERS: What sort of support do you get in the school setting these days? I guess every school is different, right? But I saw the national curriculum authorities announce that they want to embed more mental health resources and teaching in things like English, humanities and arts courses at school. Would that make a difference? Do you think it was more normalised in your day-to-day schooling?

WILL SHACKEL: I think it would. We certainly don't have any of that at our school and I can't comment for other schools because I know the situation is very different. But I'm lucky to go to a school which does support people and provides those services and can direct us to organisations if we are experiencing difficulties with our mental health, but I guess integrating it more into the curriculum could be useful to start having that conversation. Because I think a major part of mental health is removing the stigma that surrounds it and I think maybe that is something.

DAVID SPEERS: And is social media making it worse, do you think these days?

WILL SHACKEL: There's no doubt that social media is making it worse. I'm sure everyone's had a very bad experience with social media, probably myself included. And I think it's whether it be from online hate, from bullying, body image issues, social media is not helping and I think something seriously needs to be done if we want to help young people and alleviate some of those issues that young people are facing.

DAVID SPEERS: Yeah. What needs to be done about that, do you think? Or what can be done about mean?

ALLEGRA SPENDER: I think you've raised two really important points. One is what is the support that we can give people when they're facing mental health challenges, but also, what can we do to prevent that and you know, one of my colleagues, Zoe Daniel, actually had a forum last week in Parliament bringing together some of the social media and a lot of people around eating disorders and body image because it's a startling statistic that on TikTok, if you are recovering from an eating disorder, the algorithm delivers many, many more dieting and that sort of content to you. So, I think there's a lot that we need to do on the prevention side, but also making sure that we actually have the support as well.

DAVID SPEERS: And if this discussion is raising any difficulties for you or anyone, you know, the numbers for Lifeline and Kids Helpline are there on your screen. Let's get back to the energy debate. Our next question from John O'Brien. John?

JOHN O’BRIEN: G'day. As we transition from fossil fuels, what happens to small local communities?

DAVID SPEERS: John, I should point out you're from the Upper Hunter, where the Liddell coal fired power station closed earlier this year. What impacts that had locally?

JOHN O’BRIEN: It hasn't had a major impact in that there's a lot happening in the Hunter anyway. There's the conveyor belt of coal is still delivering coal to Newcastle. We at Arts Upper Hunter are running a programme called Liddell Works, which is 16 artist residencies at the power station as it closes, it's marking the transition, it's marking the legacy, the double sided legacy of the Liddell power station. Amazing workplace, CO2 into the atmosphere, all those sorts of things. We're running workshops, community events, because we see this is the time when we should be asking that really important question. So, we're transitioning from coal, what's that future going to look like? What's this community, that community, this community that's been involved with power generation or coal, what's that going to look like? And what can we do now to put in place some of the building blocks to make sure those communities are vibrant, vital that they have opportunities built into them as well. You can have a big infrastructure, but you can also have better education system, creativity brought into the heart of the debate.

DAVID SPEERS: John, it's a very good question. Thank you. Nicki, let me go to you on this. Are we getting it right when we talk about transitioning coal communities?

NICKI HUTLEY: Yeah, look, I think we're having a lot of really intelligent conversations, and that includes the Hunter region. The NSW Government has done a lot of work in looking at what the transition pathway might look like, looking at what are all the strengths and opportunities for that region, the different sectors, obviously, agriculture is incredibly strong, tourism as well, renewable energy zones, trying to work out how you patchwork in the new sectors of our economy, in the older sectors that are inevitably going to disappear over time. But I just say we have done it badly. I think we haven't done it well in the La Trobe Valley, for example. There are some serious problems there where there was some planning, but it was perhaps a little bit optimistic in what they could and couldn't achieve there. But it's been done in other parts of the world and done successfully. And Australia has done this many times.  We used to ride the sheep's back, we used to make cars in this country and we used to have textile factories in this country. And every time we changed tariffs or we did something new that let an industry disappear, everybody said it's like, what's that poem Hanrahan, “We’ll all be rooned”. But we weren't. In fact, we found new ways to do things. We're a much more services-based economy now and services can actually be done more flexibly in different regions. What we do need to do, though, is to make sure that we have the right infrastructure. So, Upper Hunter, particularly, making sure you've got really good roads so that people can get to and from if they need to, and trucks to and from the city, hopefully electric trucks, of course, but also communications. I mean, that is a huge problem at the moment. Still in lots of regional areas, we don't have great NBN connectivity. So, if you get the infrastructure right and you support and you're totally right around skills, we need to match those, but we absolutely can do this. And I know the Climate Change Authority is about to do some modelling around the impacts of the transition and what that might mean for sectors and regions. So, I think we are having the conversations, we just need to make sure we're having them at the right speed.

DAVID SPEERS: Chris Bowen, what do you say to that?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, thanks, John. It's an enormous challenge, but it's also an enormous opportunity. And as Nicki said, we've been through this before. You probably lived through the closure of the Newcastle steelworks a few years ago, and everybody said that was the end of Newcastle. With the right policies, the right investments and the right framework, Newcastle didn't look back, as tough as that was to manage, create new jobs and help people in the transition. And that's exactly what we're doing. We've set up a new government body and we don't do that lightly. We don't set up any new government bodies. We've set up the Net Zero Authority just for this task to focus like a laser on areas like the Hunter, the La Trobe, Central Queensland, et cetera, recognising that there's enormous opportunities. The renewable energy and the energy of the future will be made in those regions. The regions that have powered Australia for so long will power us for generations into the future and indeed power our region and export renewable energy. We'll always be an energy country and that energy will always be made in those regions. But the energy will change. It will become renewable. That requires management. That's why the Net Zero Authority, which we've set up, chaired by Greg Combet, who knows the Hunter very, very well. They have the job of identifying the obstacles to investment in regions like yours, knocking them over, working with me and Ed Husic and the other Ministers to knock them over to work with communities on building the skills necessary. It's not just about retraining. Retraining's got a role to play, but more identifying the skills, working with individuals, working with communities. There's great work being done in the Hunter. You're all doing great work. The Hunter Jobs Alliance. I'll give them a shout out. It's doing excellent work working with government, managing this transition.

DAVID SPEERS: Let me just jump in there, Allegra Spender. You're one of those who wants to move faster in getting away from coal fired power. What do you say to communities like that directly affected?

ALLEGRA SPENDER: Look, I think it is a difficult transition and I take my hat off to you and your community for what you're doing and the imagination and resilience you're putting together to go through this. We can't change that we need to go through this transition. The whole world does. Right? Like, we have to look that face that straight on.
DAVID SPEERS: It's harder in some communities.

ALLEGRA SPENDER: It is. And I think that's the truth is that Australians are good at coming together and saying, if we have to do something, pulling together, but then saying how to make sure that the communities that are most affected get supported. And so I absolutely wholeheartedly support the actions doing that, because it will affect different communities differently. But we just need to make sure that we all can get through this and to the other side.


TED O'BRIEN: Look, I think it's the same regional communities, John, who are seeing industries close, baseload power stations close, that are being asked to host tens of thousands of kilometres of transmission lines, the notion of installing 22,000 solar panels a day, 40 wind turbines a month all the way through to 2030 predominantly in regional areas. It's regional Australia that's feeling it the most right now. I take Allegra's point about the need for speed and I take that seriously. But if you go again and learn from international experience and you look at the top ten case studies for speed to decarbonise a grid, six of those ten did it with zero emissions nuclear energy. The speed at which you can do it is faster with nuclear. Another two were hydro, another two were wind, by the way. And so where speed is key, well, nuclear has to be on the table. And I learned from Wyoming in the United States earlier this year, this is a coal community. One of the reasons they're excited about their retired coal-fired power stations going to nuclear is the workforce moves over by and large the exact same occupation, which means they don't need to move home, they can stay together. And as one person said to me in Wyoming, and a similar thing was said to me in Ontario that went from coal to nuclear, you know look at the coal-fired power stations, you look at the car parks and they looked over at wind farms and solar farms and they said, I can't see the car parks. And for me that went to a point because when Liddell closed, the majority of that workforce was either moved to another coal-fired power station or they finished their job. So, they were made redundant. There was only a handful that found jobs in the clean energy system. Right?


TED O'BRIEN: So there's a lot to unpack in that. And I'm pro-renewables, by the way. This is just all about we need all of the above.

DAVID SPEERS: But clearly, pro-nuclear, as we've heard. Next we're going to hear from Darshan Sachdev.

DARSHAN SACHDEV: Thank you. I'm an eye surgeon and as a professional person do believe in environment and pushing these alternative source of energy. And you heard from our anaesthetic colleague how bad things have happened because of the environmental. What's happening now. There are concerns and my question explains asks that question now my question is what is going to happen with all the wind turbines and solar panels material when it's out of date and not functioning? What would you do with them?

DAVID SPEERS: So, yeah, there's a lifespan for solar and wind. What happens to that material?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, there's a lifespan with everything. Thank you for the question, Doctor, and thank you for your question. I'm sorry I didn't get to answer it. I'll try and sneak an answer in if I can as well. But to the question about the future of renewables, it's a legitimate question and you're asking it very legitimately. Other people use it as an excuse not to go down the renewable path. It's like saying in the 1920s, let's not invent cars because they'll all go to landfill; solutions get found. Now, the fact of the matter is every element of a solar panel can be recycled today. Every single element. It's a little complicated to separate them. But the technology exists and it's becoming increasingly commercial and it will be commercial. There's around six companies in Australia working on it. Great companies to visit. There's a company in my electorate, which actually slightly differently, but does that extraction process with motherboards and gets all the minerals out. So, it's technically possible. With wind turbines, 85 per cent doesn't need to go to landfill today, today, all the metal can be recycled. Again, there's a slight complexity with the coating that goes over the wind turbines, extracting that. But that is, in many instances raised as a reason by some not by you, sir, but by some for not going down the renewables path.

DAVID SPEERS: I'll just jump in there. The concern is these wind towers are huge. Even to reuse some of those materials, it's expensive to pull it down, decommission it. Who carries that cost?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, the companies carry the cost.

DAVID SPEERS: So, never the farmer?

CHRIS BOWEN: No, the company is running the wind farms. It's part of the arrangements. And with offshore wind, that'll be part of the licence conditions as well, where we have a bigger role to play. But I just want to make this point about the transition, because your question was, I think, very well put. I mean, the bushfires are an example I use of why we have to move fast. Some people say we're moving too fast, some people call for a pause in parliament. But those 2019 bushfires we all live through, if we don't hold the world as close as possible to 1.5, they will become the average result by the 2040s, the average result and a good year by the 2060s. We can't do that to our country. That's not an acceptable outcome for our country. So, hence we do need to move fast. I make no apologies for moving fast. Yes, it's a challenge. We have a lot of catching up to do, but we have to move fast. And that's just bushfires. We could run through, you could run through better than me. Multiple health examples; heatwaves. I represent an area where people are doing it tough, many don't have air conditioning. We're adding a day of heat waves every five years.

DAVID SPEERS: I just want to hear from a couple of others on this.

CHRIS BOWEN: That's the reason for moving fast.

DAVID SPEERS: Thanks, Minister. Ted?

TED O'BRIEN: I've got no criticism of moving fast. The problem is when you're running in the wrong direction. And that's what I think the situation is today. I noticed the Minister didn't give you an answer. There is no solution. The only thing he said was -

CHRIS BOWEN: I think I did actually.

TED O'BRIEN: Well, it's like saying, let's not drive motor cars years ago -

CHRIS BOWEN: No, I ran through, actually, they can be recycled.

TED O'BRIEN: However, he is happy to reject nuclear on the basis of waste, even though there is a solution in play today.

CHRIS BOWEN: You’re obsessed Ted, you’re obsessed.

TED O'BRIEN: Right. This is the problem we have. You need consistency. And my view is pretty simple. We need to have all technologies on the table. But we can't just double down on one technology. No other country in the world is trying to do it like we are. And if we do, we are going to have an inordinate amount of waste from renewables. And there is no solution today.

NICKI HUTLEY: That is not right.

DAVID SPEERS: Just very quickly, yes, Nicki.

NICKI HUTLEY: The government has a 2030 circular economy strategy. Now, I do a lot of work in this space. We are doing all sorts of initiatives in circular economy of how to reprocess things. Yes, it is true that with some of those things, as the Minister did say, 85 per cent can be extracted from the wind turbines. We have the technology for the solar panels at the moment. Australia has to get the volumes through, but we can do it.
TED O'BRIEN: I accept -  


WILL SHACKEL: I know it's really interesting because, yes, there are solutions to recycling renewables, but it's not happening today. But you know what is happening today? Spent nuclear fuel is being reprocessed and recycled. And I think that's an interesting point, because it doesn't have to be waste if you don't waste it. And I think the fact is that this is an issue. I think it's good that the government is onto this issue, but you have to look at it. The volume of this waste from solar panels, and wind turbines is quite profound, because of the fact that for wind turbines, it requires about ten times more the materials compared to nuclear, and for solar panels, it's about 150 times the materials. And you have to replace those solar panels, and those wind turbines every 20 to 30 years. Obviously, that's going to accumulate a lot of waste. And look, I just hope that there is a solution found to it and that they are being reprocessed. But if you want a guaranteed solution, then I'd go nuclear, because that doesn't have the same issue with the waste, I think, as I've already probably established.

DAVID SPEERS: I do want to get to our final question, because it's a good one. But let's first bring you the result of our online poll, which is on that very question. Should Australia drop its ban on nuclear energy? Here are the results. More than 11,000 of you responded. Should we drop the ban? 59 per cent say yes, and 34 per cent say no, seven per cent are unsure. There you go. To finish tonight's discussion, here's Giselle Moore.

GISELLE MOORE: My question is, is the government working towards decreasing the cost of electric cars and if not, why?

DAVID SPEERS: Chris Bowen let's go pretty quickly here.

CHRIS BOWEN: Thanks, Giselle. We've introduced an electric car tax discount, a tax cut which has cut the costs of electric cars, particularly for fleet purchases. That's important because those fleets, those company cars, then get sold in a second-hand market in three or four years time. And the real way to get affordable cars is to get second-hand affordable electric cars for young people in particular. So, we're driving it that way. We've seen electric car sales lift from 2 per cent when we won the election to 8 per cent today. I want to see more, but that's not too bad for the first 16 months or so, and then we're going to introduce fuel efficiency standards as well. That's a fancy way of saying we're going to make the car manufacturers send more affordable electric vehicles and no emissions vehicles to Australia. At the moment, Australia and Russia are the only two countries that don't require that. It's been a problem for years. Previous government didn't fix it. We're going to fix it.

DAVID SPEERS: I'll get your thoughts in a moment, Ted. Allegra Spender fuel efficiency standards being worked on. It's coming. What do you want to see there?

ALLEGRA SPENDER: Look, I want to see us to take really strong fuel efficiency standards, and to be honest, I wish the government had gone faster and taken that to the election, because it should have been part of the election platform. Frankly, we should have fuel efficiency standards. There's no reason why we should get the dirty cars in this country, so we should be taking action.

DAVID SPEERS: This is getting a little technical, but should it incentivise hybrids or only electric cars?

ALLEGRA SPENDER: Look, I think fuel efficiency standards are about the sort of range of cars, and the idea is to get a range of cars that are overall less and less and less polluting. And so I think you can have a mix of those sorts of cars. But I think in general terms, we should be pushing for faster action here. And I'm going to take this opportunity to go back to Ted and this question on nuclear and cars. Cars is an opportunity for us to decarbonise quickly. As I said, I'm open to the idea of what the role of nuclear could be in the future, but this is just not the fast opportunity for the next seven years.

DAVID SPEERS: So have you got an electric car yourself?

ALLEGRA SPENDER: I have one on order. I don't have a garage or a driveway, so I'm like a lot of people in my area who don't have that infrastructure.

DAVID SPEERS: What are you going to do? Because you're right, a lot of people have this problem, right. You might be in a building where there's no -


DAVID SPEERS: What are you going to do?

ALLEGRA SPENDER: Well, I'm going to do is there are more and more charges coming up. We're working with the states, councils and federal government.

DAVID SPEERS: So you're getting a car that you won't be able to charge at home.

ALLEGRA SPENDER: I'm working out where to charge it around the suburbs, but that's the truth. 60 per cent of my community live in apartments.

DAVID SPEERS: All right. Will?

WILL SHACKEL: You know what I would love is to do my L plates in a Tesla, but unfortunately they're too expensive, so that's a bit way off. But what I would say is, when you look at electric cars, it poses a bigger question of electrification, of everything, whether that be our cooking, our heating and cars. And that creates a huge imperative on the reliability of electricity. And when you look at a solution like renewables. And when the government is pursuing a renewable-centric approach, inevitably they are just inherently less reliable than the current baseload generation we have. And of course, less reliable than nuclear, which is the most reliable form of energy.

DAVID SPEERS: I thought you might get back to that, just stick with cars for a moment. Ted O'Brien, do you support some of the things the government's doing, including this fuel efficiency standard they're about to announce?

TED O'BRIEN: Well, David, there's no doubt that despite multiple years of Australia's emissions coming down, since Labor's come to office, despite all their talk, emissions have gone up. They've gone up. They've gone up, haven't they, Chris? Haven't they? And transport actually has a lot to do with it.

DAVID SPEERS: But just quickly.

CHRIS BOWEN: 0.1%, what are you going to do about fuel efficiency standards? Do you support fuel efficiency standards? 0.1 per cent.

DAVID SPEERS: Okay, Chris Bowen, just a quick answer on why fuel efficiency standards. 

CHRIS BOWEN: I just answered, you weren't listening.

TED O'BRIEN: Has it gone up or not?  

CHRIS BOWEN: 0.1 per cent.

TED O'BRIEN: Was that a yes?

CHRIS BOWEN: 0.1 per cent it has gone up.

TED O'BRIEN: I think I got a yes out of him, how’s that? So, I think on EVs, if I can, though, David, firstly, I think on EVs, we have to make sure that there is a genuine reduction in emissions. For those who say we're going to have EVs and then we're going to basically suck electricity off the grid that is predominantly coal, then, is it really in the short term? So, there's a timing issue there. Secondly, what's important is choice, consumer choice. I believe consumers must have choice. Now, there are going to be some people in some parts of this country that will not be able to have an EV do the job they need.

DAVID SPEERS: Doesn't a fuel efficiency standard, though, give people more choice if it brings down the cost?

TED O'BRIEN: It depends on how it's designed, David, because that gets to the third one of cost. Right? And so, out of a principle, I think we should say that with the increase in EVs, whatever the government seeks to do, it shouldn't place a higher cost burden, especially on those who can afford cars least. And how you design the mechanism is key for that. Right? Because if you're saying to the car manufacturers, when you import your entire fleet, we want more of this type and less of that type, then that might force changes in prices. We've got to be really careful. We're in a cost of living crisis. Everything's going through the roof, including energy, that we can't -

DAVID SPEERS: Isn't the problem, though, that we're in a global market, we don't make cars here anymore, and that if we're the only ones with Russia who don't have an efficiency stand, we get dumped with all the old clunkers.

TED O'BRIEN: There is no doubt that we need more choice of everything. I think my point, though, David, is we need to take a principled approach, or should I say the government actually should, right? In terms of the Opposition, what we want to hold them to account on has to be genuine emission reduction. It must maximise consumer choice and it must not increase cost, especially for people and families that just can't afford it right now.


NICKI HUTLEY: Look, the economics of EVs at the moment are difficult for some people. That's true, the charging infrastructure is not accessible to everyone, but we are moving faster. We're going to have more and more Chinese models on the market, bringing down the price so that Tesla isn't your only option. They will become more accessible. But part of the problem has been we had a previous Prime Minister who said that EVs would ruin the weekend. And I had people in the ACT Government say to me, what can we do? When the last government was in, saying because they have moved so fast and they have so many fantastic policies that they have rolled out to provide incentives. They have interest free loans so households can put in batteries, so they can charge. They're doing research as to where are the best places to put the infrastructure for charging. If we're sensible and we plan this, there is no reason why 2030, in fact, I'd like the government to go harder. I'd like us to have a deadline, like so many countries around the world do, on non-EVs or hybrid by 2035.

DAVID SPEERS: Internal combustion engine, so don’t sell any internal combustion engine cars after 2030?

NICKI HUTLEY: We got rid of lead free petrol, we should be doing the same thing. And it's not just sucking it from the grid, by the way. If you look at what ARENA's studying at the moment, cars will actually be a means of storing energy and putting it back into the grid.

DAVID SPEERS: Chris Bowen just on Nicki’s call there for a target, a year by which we stop selling new petrol and diesel cars.

CHRIS BOWEN: No, we won't be doing that, but manufacturers are doing it. 

Manufacturers are announcing their exit plans from ICE vehicles.

DAVID SPEERS: Okay, but why won't you do that?

CHRIS BOWEN: No, because we're focusing on getting the design of the fuel efficiency standards right. And that is a complicated exercise. We've made very good progress, the Minister for Transport and I. But it's quite a complicated, as you can tell by this conversation design process. But it's absolutely essential. Ted's not correct when he says if you're taking the power off a grid which is powered by coal, you're not reducing emissions. You still are. Of course, you're taking more emissions out if you're taking off renewable energy, but you're still reducing emissions if you're taking it off even the grid, as it is at the moment. And electric vehicles will ultimately become batteries on wheels because they will store energy and they are equivalent to five Snowy 2.0s if every car in Australia was ultimately electric.

DAVID SPEERS: Well, perhaps once you've finished finalising that fuel efficiency standard, we could all come back and talk about the detail and see if, Will, you might end up with an electric vehicle one day.

Look, that's all we have time for. Please thank our panel, Will Shackel, Allegra Spender, Chris Bowen, Nicki Hutley and Ted O'Brien. And thank you for sharing your stories and questions.

Next week, Patricia Karvelas will be with you live from Melbourne. Joining the panel author and child protection advocate Madeline West, chair of the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee Peter Khalil, liberal Senator for Queensland, Paul Scarr and the CEO of Get Up Larissa Baldwin Roberts and broadcaster Tom Elliott. You can head to our website to register to be in the audience. Thanks for your company. Good night.