Doorstop interview with Chris Bowen, Lily D'Ambrosio and Peter Khalil - Melbourne, Victoria

PETER KHALIL: It’s great to be here in sunny Wills here in Melbourne, my electorate of Wills in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. I want to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of land and pay my respects to elder's past and present and welcome a number of wonderful guests that we have here, starting with Sheena Watt from the Victorian Parliament, Parliamentary Secretary for Housing. We have Minister Lily D'Ambrosio, the Minister for Climate Action. Jenny McAllister, the Assistant Minister for Climate Change. And, of course, the Federal Minister as well for Climate Change and Energy, Chris Bowen, who are going to be announcing some very exciting news here in my electorate of Wills, but it's a national announcement. And as you can see from behind me, the Federal and State Labor Governments have made enormous and are making enormous contributions to things like that quality, affordable housing, in Australia, across Australia. And what's really exciting, is the importance around renewable energy that goes with that affordable housing. And that's why we're here today. So I'm going to hand over to the Federal Minister Chris Bowen, to kick off proceedings. Thank you, Chris, for being here.

CHRIS BOWEN: Thanks very much, Peter. Well, I'm delighted to be here with Lily and Jenny and Sheena and Peter to make three significant announcements, a partnership between the Commonwealth Government and the Victorian Government, working hand in glove on this energy transition, which is so important to Australians and so important to our country.

Firstly, Minister D’Ambrosio and Minister Koutsantonis and I are announcing that we are today embarking on the Victorian and South Australian Capacity Investment Scheme options. These options are important to underpin the transition to renewable energy. As you know, the Commonwealth and State Ministers reached unanimous agreement last year on the design of the Capacity Investment Scheme and we have been rolling it out. In New South Wales the auction has been underway, and today we're announcing the South Australian and Victorian auctions will begin in October.

This will underpin 600 megawatts of dispatchable renewable energy across the jurisdictions. We know we're dealing with challenges. We've had four gigawatts of dispatchable energy leave the grid over the last decade and only one gigawatt come on. That can't be allowed to continue and it is not being allowed to continue. By working together the Commonwealth consulting with the states and territories underpinning investment with guarantees through the Capacity Investment Scheme, through the auction that we are announcing today for South Australia and Victoria is very important, very important in ensuring this transition is as smooth as possible.

So I'm delighted that the 600 megawatt option will commence soon. And I'll invite all renewable dispatchable generators to get their bits ready to sharpen their pencils and to compete hard for this auction across Victoria and South Australia.

Secondly, one of the biggest challenges the biggest conundrums in this transition is how you help renters and apartment dwellers access the benefits of clean, renewable energy. There are challenges here, we should be honest about it, when you're living in an apartment complex there’s Strata to manage, there’s landlord tenant relationships. It's not as simple as if you live by yourself in your own standalone dwelling. Just because they're not simple doesn’t mean we can ignore it. In fact, on the contrary, governments need to work together with the private sector with communities to make it happen. So two important announcements again, in full partnership today between the Commonwealth and Victorian governments.

Firstly, $46 million investment each in social housing. Just because you live in social housing should not mean you miss out on cheaper, renewable energy. Much of our social housing stock around Australia is older housing stock, so it's less energy efficient, doesn't have solar energy. And that can't be allowed to continue. Of course, we announced the package in the budget to deal with this. And today we're announcing the Victorian component of that, $46 million investment from each government. Again, in full partnership. I want to thank Lily for working so closely with me over recent months to make this a reality. We will roll it out in coming years and it'll be important for social housing tenants to be able to participate. And again of course, I want to acknowledge the work of my Assistant Minister Jenny McAlister, in making this a reality.

Finally solar banks. We went to the election with a policy of providing an opportunity for apartment dwellers and others who can't easily access solar panels on their roofs, to be able to participate in the renewable energy revolution. Solar banks is an important part of that. And again in partnership with the Victorian Government, we're announcing the Victorian solar bank rollout today, $8 million from each government, which could benefit people in apartments. It will be capped per apartment building but will enable people to in their apartments when they're contemplating, can we should we go down the solar route to be able to access that support through a joint Commonwealth-State partnership. This is very important. So I just again want to thank the Andrews government for your cooperation and Lily is a very key partner for us in the Commonwealth. She is fully engaged, obviously, in this messy transition and is working in close partnership with the federal government and we couldn't make these sorts of announcements without a close working relationship with states and territories across the board.

So three big announcements for Victoria. Three good announcements for Victorian tenants and renters and dwellers everywhere to ensure: One, the stability of our grid going forward and more dispatchable renewable energy, Two, social housing tenants are part of the revolution and Three, private renters that apartment dwellers are able to participate as well, I'm going to hand over to Lily, and then Jenny will say a few words, then we'll take your questions.

LILY D’AMBROSIO: Thanks very much, Chris. And of course, welcome Chris and Jenny and Peter Khalil, very pleased to be here in your electorate, and also the electorate of Sheena Watt here from the Victorian Parliament. This is a wonderful day, it's a day full of great announcements, and a really strong demonstration of what we can achieve when we work together across the commonwealth government and the state government. And I'm really pleased and want to thank Chris and Jenny for working really closely with us to ensure that we could get to this point of making some really important announcements that are about ensuring that no matter the living circumstances of people in Victoria, that they're able to come along for the journey of the transition to renewable energy, and an energy system that will be a decarbonized one in Victorian. 95% renewable electricity by 2035. That's what we're going to be targeting and we're well on the way to achieving that. But ensuring that the bill savings that cheap renewable energy can deliver to every Victorian household can be enjoyed by every Victorian household.

And so of course to that end, it's fantastic that we're able to today announce, of course, the community solar banks program, which will target those people who live in apartment blocks, where otherwise the split incentive between what the landlord pays, and who gets the benefit of having solid power is almost virtually removed.

And that means of course, doubling the rebates that are typically available to Victorian households today who live in standalone housing units, doubling that. Taking our $1,400 rebate, doubling that with a $1,400 rebate from the Commonwealth and enabling people who live in apartment blocks, whether they are owner occupiers or whether they are tenants to be able to afford and have that easier decision to say “Yes, let's go ahead and get solar panels on our roofs”.

Now the numbers that we're looking at benefiting if you look at a typical five story apartment block, and most people who live in apartments live in buildings that are I think, eight stories or less, I should say, that is pretty much an ideal limiting height limit in terms of the benefits of solar PV to those people living in that block.

So we're looking at absolutely benefiting around about 5000 housing units, if you like through this partnership. And it will mean that in many instances, there will be little or no upfront cost to actually making the decision to get solar on the apartment block and start to get those bills savings from day one.

And of course the energy efficiency and social housing program. Typically, it's about helping those people who are amongst the most vulnerable in the community and making sure that we can add greater value to the rollout of energy efficiency upgrades for solar housing, people in solar homes, some will need less-- sorry, not solar homes but social housing. People will-- there will be a variety of options in terms of those retrofits from light touch draught proofing to deeper energy efficiency upgrades. And also, of course, electrification been able to, in some instances have solar panels attached to that social housing dwelling, or indeed, split system reverse cycle heating and cooling.

Electrification we know is the way to go. We know that it saves money by moving away from very, very expensive gas. But it's also of course, using less energy because that also of course saves on people's bills. So having draught proofing is a really important element of this. And this means of course, we're going to be able to help more Victorians in social housing make those deeper cuts to their bills, but also initiatives.

The Capacity Investment Scheme that Chris has announced today, I'm really delighted, and I'm really thankful to the Commonwealth to Chris, for his leadership here. It's one that will-- is necessary for us to be able to ensure that we've got a smooth transition, one that has the reliable supply of electricity available as we decarbonize the electricity system, moving towards 95% renewable electricity here in Victoria, making sure that we've got that backup storage power that can be ready and available when we need it. And that's, that's the key here.

So we're very delighted to have this announcement, looking forward to those auctions been run out here for Victoria and of course with South Australia. And I do want to thank and reflect on the fact that with strong partnerships that we do have with the Commonwealth, we are able to take even bigger steps in the renewable energy transition. And we're able to take and ensure no Victorian can miss out from the benefits of that transition.

JENNY MCALLISTER: Thanks, Lily, Thanks, Chris. And Sheena, it's great to be with everybody here this morning. And thanks to Nightingale for having us here at your amazing premises offering affordable housing for people here in Melbourne.

We want every Australian no matter where they live, how much they earn, to be able to access the benefits of improved energy performance. This has been a policy area that for a long time, the previous government ignored. And the consequence of that is that for too long energy has literally been leaking out the doors and the windows of Australian homes. And you can't let that continue.

And that's why our last budget contained a significant package to address energy performance, including the energy performance of those tenants in social housing who most benefit from these kinds of technologies but who can least afford it.

And so it's a real pleasure to be here today with the Victorian Government and with Chris and Peter talking about our plans to support tenants in social housing here in Victoria to improve the energy performance of their homes.

$46 million investment from each government. And it will enable very important upgrades, draught ceiling, improved installation, lighting, upgrades, replacement of old appliances. These are all challenges that can help the climate, but can also substantially reduce the bills of people living in social housing.

I visited a social housing premises in Brisbane recently, and the tenants there talk to me about the differences that have been made in their life as a consequence of the challenges to install different appliances and put solar into that community. One man told me that he slept better, he had better mental health, he was able to obtain greater employment as a consequence. Another man told me that the reduction on his energy bills meant he had just that much more in his wallet, when he went to the supermarket and was able to make better food choices. These kinds of improvements can have substantial benefits, for some of the people in our community we most want it.

So I conclude by saying this. This is a renovation revolution, potentially across the country. Now $1.7 billion package will allow small businesses, local governments, private home owners to participate. But we don't want anyone left behind. And so it is a real pleasure to partner today with the Victorian Government on steps that will leverage the work that's already been done in Victoria.

CHRIS BOWEN: Okay, over you guys.

JOURNALIST: Just in terms of the CIS is the Commonwealth underwriting this investment or is it expecting Victoria to...

CHRIS BOWEN: No, this is a Commonwealth underwriting, all underwritten by the Commonwealth. We consult with the relevant state jurisdiction, and AEMO about the needs about the gaps that need to be filled. And there are gaps. as you'd imagine on a transition of this size. This is a Commonwealth program, underwritten by Commonwealth.

JOURNALIST: Do you see this scheme being largely battery? Or do you also see a place with hydroelectric dispatchable?

CHRIS BOWEN: we're open-- that's up to the bids. There are two requirements, or maybe three requirements. Two big requirements and one sub requirements: It's got to be dispatchable. I.e. it's got to involve storage, so we can call on it when we need it. It's got to be renewable. In relation to the storage on AEMO’s advice it’s got to be four hours duration for this particular auction. They are the three requirements.  Now, batteries can compete with hydro. With whatever technologies people want to put in their bids. We will determine the best value for money and the auction will determine what sort of technology, as it should.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, let me just say this about Snowy. We announced earlier this year that there were delays. We did so upfront, and openly and transparently. I also announced at that point that I was expecting an update from Snowy management about costs. Again, upfront. And we know the previous government was told before the last election that he was running late and over budget, they chose to hide. We know the record. Angus Taylor received the briefing, but it was late and over budget, and he said ”Get out of my office. I don't want to hear it.” Well, you do need to hear it. And when you hear it, you're gonna be open about it. I received the costings update yesterday, together with the other shareholding Minister, Minister Gallagher. We will take a little bit of time to work through it, but we'll release it publicly and imminently

JOURNALIST: Can you tell us what that update costing…

CHRIS BOWEN: I’m not releasing it today. But it'll be released imminently, openly and transparently.



JOURNALIST: Not redacted?

CHRIS BOWEN: We will provide the full update.

JOURNALIST: If the price tag continues to grow, is the Government become committed to staying-- committed to Snowy Hydro, no matter what?\

CHRIS BOWEN: Yeah. And part of that update will also look at the benefits and the changes to Snowy. And we'll be upfront about that. And I can tell you it's still a vital project for the gird, vital project for the grid and represents an important return.

JOURNALIST: But is the government reviewing the viability?

CHRIS BOWEN: We have and it remains an important project.

JOURNALIST: Just back to the CIS, is there a preferred method?

CHRIS BOWEN: No, it's got to be dispatchable, it’s got to be renewable and it's got to be four hours at least a duration if it's storage. And you know, people will put in their bids and have sharp pencils. In New South Wales, you know, there's been bids for pumped hydro, there’s been bids for batteries. And, you know, we'll see what comes forward into Victoria and South Australia?

JOURNALIST: Are you confident that you'll make that 82% target by 2030?

CHRIS BOWEN: Yeah, look, this is a challenge. Of course it is. It's a big lift. It's an ambitious target from, you know 33% when we came to office to 82 in seven years, of course, it's a big lift, but it's achievable as well. And you know, saying, “Oh, you're not going to meet it”. It's like, you know, the first quarter of an AFL game say, “Well, this is this is very clear what the results going to be”. Well, there's a long way to go yet.

But we are providing the policy certainty with our 82% target and 43% emissions reduction target. We’re providing the underpinning support with a capacity investment mechanism. We're providing the support to get the renewable energy around the grid. Just yesterday in Perth, I announced with our colleague Bill Johnston, a $3 billion Rewiring the Nation commitment for Western Australia to decarbonize the Pilbara. Western Australia is the hardest state in the Commonwealth to decarbonize because of its mix and the Pilbara is the hardest part of the hardest State to decarbonize. So we're dealing with that. So we're getting on with the job.

But yes, it's ambitious but it's also achievable. And it needs to be achievable because, you know, we've had 10 years of policy dysfunction and delay under the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison/Truss/Joyce/McCormack/Joyce Government. And, you know, that has been brought to an end by the Albanese government.

JOURNALIST: What happens is you don't meet that target?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well I’m working on the basis that we are all Commonwealth at the states are committed to working together to achieve that. Now, you know, commentators sit around and say it can't be done. As I said, in an op ed the other day, they said the same about the 2020 targets. There was a commentator who in 2016 said there is no chance of meeting the 2020 target. We won't come within Cooee. Guess what? It was met one year ahead of schedule. So with the right policy settings, it can be done.

JOURNALIST: Could Snowy Hydro be delayed or scaled down do you think?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, we've announced the delays already. There'll be an update though in the next update that I release with Minister Gallagher imminently and Snowy will release as well. But we are not contemplating any changes to the scale, although there will be an update about how many megawatts.

JOURNALIST: So just to clarify, is the Commonwealth underwriting or providing $10 billion?

CHRIS BOWEN: We envisage it will unlock—the Capacity Investment Scheme will unlock at least $10 billion worth of investment and all of that will be directly underwritten by a Commonwealth, but what it means is that unleashed by underwriting, that's how much investment we envisage conservatively, it unleashes 10 billion or 6 gigawatts.

JOURNALIST: Upfront, how much is the Commonwealth spending?

CHRIS BOWEN: Depends on the auction results. Depends on and for commercial provenance reasons so that we don't provide too much guidance to bidders. We don't really say.

JOURNALIST: Is there a capsule?

CHRIS BOWEN: Because it's an auction process we don't release that because we want to see the best bids come forward.

JOURNALIST: Is there an integration potential with the SEC in Victoria or do you see this as a standalone investment

CHRIS BOWEN: Oh, well, everything complements each other. Lily may choose to add, but everything complements each other. You know, the CIS is not contradictory to the SEC. On the contrary, you know, this is such a big task 82%, such a big task, we need to be all in: Commonwealth, state, local, society, business, industry, unions. Everyone, All in. And the two initiatives just like it's complimentary what New South Wales is doing and complementary to what other states are doing. The CIS underpins that. It's got its requirements. And the State instrumentalities can bid in as well, if they choose. They don't get any preferential treatment but nor are they excluded.

JOURNALIST: A lot of projects nationwide at the moment are being delayed, postponed as a result of I guess what some people might be wanting NIMBY-ism, but just locals not wanting certain infrastructure in their backyards. Whether it's the transmission lines here, or the wind, offshore wind zones in SA. That's something that's a real X factor. That's something that’s a real question mark, I guess on a lot of projects. So how do we control for that variable?

CHRIS BOWEN: I think the key is-- it's a fair question. I think the key is to work with communities to make it a reality. Now, yes, there are some people opposed to projects. And there's some people who've got concerns about projects, but want to see those concerns dealt with. And so you have, if you have a really genuinely consultative process, you can't please everyone all the time. But you can bring people and communities with you. So take offshore wind, just as one example, we've declared two zones: Gippsland and the Hunter. In both of those zones, I've made changes based on the community feedback. We proceeded to declare the zones, but we've listened and thought, “Yeah, those concerns have some validity”. If somebody says, “Look, I don't like renewable energy, and I don't believe climate change is real” that doesn't carry any weight with it, if that's their submission.

But when they put in a submission saying, “Well, look, I'm concerned about the impact of this on this particular bird life”. For example, in the Hunter, there was concerns raised with me about the impact of the Gould’s petrel, I excluded the area around the island where the Gould’s petrel breed, etc, then you can take those concerns into account.

Again, doesn't mean everyone's happy all the time. But it means that you listen genuinely and it's the same-- I just use offshore wind as an example, it's the same with all our projects. We've improved community consultation, state government's done a good job in improving community consultation, we're improving community consultation. Later on today, I'll announce that Andrew Dyer, the infrastructure Commissioner will be releasing Best Practice Guide for offshore wind community consultations for private sectors. So you know, this is a constant battle of improvement, but the states and the Commonwealth are working together to improve committee consultation against a pretty low base of what we inherited from our predecessors.

JOURNALIST: And so just to Minister D’Ambrosio, on the transmission lines, what is the community integrated solution there? I know that a lot of them were wanting it to go underground.

LILY D’AMBROSIO: Well, we’ve got to reflect on the fact that there are many engagement points, many consultation opportunities. And that's what we're going through right now. At the end of the day, we've put out a Victorian Transmission Investment Framework, which has best practice engagement and consultation with communities. We've also articulated in that community benefit sharing schemes that we'll be legislating shortly. We've indicated in that we've announced in that framework, also additional payments to those communities, those individual landholders who host transmission apart from the normal compensation regime that applies. So, in all manner of ways, we've responded to many of the community concerns around transmission, but Victorians also understand that we cannot have the move towards renewable electricity, decarbonizing our electricity system without having transmission in place. Now how those transmission projects position, what their final routes are, so whether they are above ground, below ground, whatever technology's a part of an ongoing conversation, and ultimately an IES, which is an independent planning process. That is underway right now. And we need to remember that there are many points along the journey for communities to put forward their concerns to put forward their preferred route for whether it's WRL or VNI West interconnector. This is about working with communities. Ultimately, we do need to get these projects done, how they are done, and how they are positioned vis-a-vis important landmarks, cultural heritage areas, sensitivities are all part of the conversations that are underway now and they will go through a very rigorous and independent process.

JOURNALIST: At the end of the day though, after all the compensation payments and the delays might it have made it cheaper to run it underground as a lot of the locals are saying?

LILY D’AMBROSIO: Well, like I said, there are many costs, running power lines underground. But it's not just cost. There's also issues about what you can farm above ground. In some instances, you're not able to farm above ground, depends on the farming activity. And so it's not just necessarily a matter of cost, there's a lot of other concerns considerations that need to be taken into account.

But as I said, no final decisions have been made in terms of the final route as consultations are underway, but also how the transmission field will actually occur, whether there's elements of it been underground or above ground, those matters are still in the mix. And people are certainly putting forward their views on that. And ultimately, an independent EES will make the final decisions on that.

JOURNALIST: Do you feel vindicated by decision by Labor not to proceed with any investigations into yourself?

LILY D’AMBROSIO: What do you mean indicated?

JOURNALIST: The Proposal not to go ahead with an investigation, does that sort of indicate what you're saying in response?

LILY D’AMBROSIO: Yeah, I've been really clear in a number of public statements that I've made about my position on it. The party has made its deliberations on this. And there's nothing further I can add, other than having been very consistent along the way, in terms of my views and my positions.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it was right for the Labor party to apologize to these families?

LILY D’AMBROSIO: Do I think it was right?


LILY D’AMBROSIO: Absolutely. Of course. I mean, what happened to those families should never have happened. And so the party has done the right thing, and issued an apology.

JOURNALIST: During the investigation, it was a ten-day investigation, was that long enough?

LILY D’AMBROSIO: Well, it's not for me to decide whether it's long enough. What I understand is that is that the party undertook its review its investigation and concluded what it has concluded.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it’s good enough that the party, John Thwaites has not been able to find out who forged these signatures?

LILY D’AMBROSIO: Well, look, ultimately, these are matters for the party.


LILY D’AMBROSIO: What do you mean my former branch?

JOURNALIST: Well they involve your former branch.

LILY D’AMBROSIO: I'm saying to you, and I've said on the record, what I have said in the last couple of weeks on this matter, I’ve got nothing further to add. What I will say is that the party undertook to undertake a review they've done that. It is concluded. And that's the end of it.

JOURNALIST: Were you part of that investigation process? Did they interview you?

LILY D’AMBROSIO: I'm not going to go into how the party undertakes its reviews or investigations. They've done that. I have welcomed that. I've also welcomed the Jenny Macklin/Steve Bracks review into-- the root and branch review of the Labor party that was undertaken two or three years ago. And there's been massive reforms to the way that the Victorian branch as a whole now functions, and that is for the better.

JOURNALIST: And just in terms of the SEC, my understanding if that there were EOIs for a market search put out in May, and by late May to mid-June parties are supposed to say that they want to get involved at all, and then we'd be assessed in June, potentially deal would be done after that. Have any parties come forward and any deals be signe.d

LILY D’AMBROSIO: Well, we've said all along, that we are working towards awarding contracts or contracts with the successful parties by the end of the year and we are absolutely well on track to do just that. We've had an overwhelming number of people coming forward wanting to participate wanting to be involved in these pioneer investments that will be 100% renewable and helping to accelerate our move towards 95% renewable electricity by 2035, creating those 59,000 jobs and Victorians 6000 apprenticeships, traineeships, we've been overwhelmed by the number of bidders very serious players coming forward. And I can't give any further comment because there are negotiations underway. And for the same reasons that Chris quite rightly said, you know, we're going to be careful about how-- what commentary we provide around things that have been cooked, if you like in terms of baked in the oven. In terms of negotiations, I'm not here to compromise any of that, other than to say that I'm really pleased with the response that's coming from the market. And we're well on course, to have successful projects announced by the end of the year.

JOURNALIST: So just very quickly back on the investigation. John Thwaites had called it “egregious” Do you agree with him?

LILY D’AMBROSIO: I’m not here to make a comment on every word that John Thwaites may have put in his report. I've always been really clear about this. I've always backed the Macklin and Bracks review the root and branch review into the whole of the Labor party that was undertaken by a very much, you know, a very significant intervention by the national office about three years ago. And all the reforms that have now been implemented, have been absolutely welcomed by me, and the party is stronger and better for it.

JOURNALIST: Labor has apologised, as we noted before, but will you apologise to the dead men’s families?

LILY D’AMBROSIO: The Labor Party has done the investigation. They’ve done the review. The conclusions have been made. Apologies have been issued. I’m a member of the Labor Party like many other 1000s are. An apology has been issued by the Labor Party on behalf of the Labor Party. And that is absolutely the right thing to do. And I support it.
JOURNALIST: Since it was your former branch though, an apology from you (INAUDIBLE)

LILY D’AMBROSIO: I’ve been very clear about my position on assertions and inferences that have been made and let's be clear, that's all they have been over all this time. The Labor Party has done the right thing. It's had this review. It has concluded it. It has issued an apology to the families involved and I whole heartedly support that. Thank you very much.