Doorstop interview in Sydney

ED HUSIC: Hi everyone, I'm Ed Husic. I'm the Federal Member for Chifley, the local member for this area, and I'm also the Federal Minister for Industry and Science. I just wanted to thank Manu and Kirsty for allowing us to be here today and being able to see the type of changes that do make a difference in the energy efficiency of homes. They're part of 200,000 people that are moving into this part of the world in northwest Sydney. And most of the new residents are taking the opportunity to think ahead with the design of their homes about the type of changes they can make to not only make a difference to the environment, but obviously lower the cost of running their home into the future. And we certainly, as a federal government, want to back that type of decision-making in. That's why in August, I chaired the Building Ministers' Meeting, which brings together Federal and State and Territory Ministers to look at things such as the codes, construction codes for new homes as they get built. And we made a big step in August, encouraging for the first time seven-star energy ratings, looking at the design of homes and the way in which you can put in appliances that lower your electricity bill, encourage the uptake of solar very quickly, that can use double glazing to be able to keep homes warm through winter and cooler through summer and make a big difference on bills. And the future work of the Building Ministers Council will look at things like, for example, new homes having installed straight away charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. If it flows both ways, it charges the vehicles, but also allows homes to tap into the batteries in their cars and again, make a difference to reduce costs. And the whole electrification of homes can also create a lot of new jobs as well, in terms of the manufacture of that. It's something that Chris Bowen and I talk quite a bit about, about joining up work across portfolios. So, Chris, Jenny McAllister, myself very focussed on that work. And we think we can reach a trifecta. The trifecta is lower emissions, lower energy bills, more jobs. It's something that's definitely worth doing. And I just want to thank my colleague and friend, in both Chris Bowen as the Climate Change and Energy Minister and also Assistant Minister Senator McAllister for being here today. While new homes, we are setting the standard now. It's taking effect from May and the transition will happen until October this year. It's going to take some time. And this Budget, under the leadership of Chris and Jenny, is taking steps for existing homes and how they can also take part in making much more energy efficient homes and reducing bills in the process. And I wanted to invite Chris to make a comment about those big moves in the Budget this week. Thanks, Chris.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, thanks very much, Ed. It's been great to be here in Marsden Park with Manu and Kirsty, talking about the difference they've made to their bills and their emissions by investing in solar panels and battery, in double glazing and in other initiatives. This is a choice that we want available to more Australians and in the Budget, our $1.6 billion package does just that. A billion dollars to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to enable more people to take out concessional, low interest loans to make the sort of choices that Manu and Kirsty have made. They made their investments through a loan from a provider. We want those sorts of loans available to many, many more Australians. Many Australians looking at solar panels, batteries, double glazing, other energy saving initiatives. Of course, they're not going to, in most instances, be able to pay for those upfront, and nor do we want them paying full interest rates, particularly in the era of rising interest rates. So, this is an important investment, of course.

Also, we're investing $300 million in social housing. People who live in public and community housing should not miss out. We'll be partnering with the States to ensure that those houses, much of the housing in the community and public housing stock is very old. It's very energy inefficient. We know that leads to higher bills and to poorer outcomes. And also, of course, our tax concessions for small and medium sized businesses to invest as well as part of that package. So, this is a big package for a big job - giving Australians more choices, which enable them to reduce their bills. In some cases, people get a positive return from their energy companies when they make these sorts of investments in some of the seasons, but in every case, they're better off. We know that lifting your house from a one to a three-star  rating, for example, can reduce your power bill by around 30%, and three to five and beyond makes all the other differences. So, together with the work that Ed is leading and pushing through, which we very much welcome and endorse, this is a big step forward. I want to thank Jenny for all the work she's done in helping put this package together. Then I'm going to ask Mike Zorbas from the Property Council to say a few words, and then we'll take your questions. Jenny.

JENNY MCALLISTER: Thanks, Chris. And thank you, Ed, for welcoming us here. Well, we want to make every watt count. After ten years of delay, denial and neglect, Australians are literally paying for energy that they are not even using. That energy is leaking out of fully constructed homes or being used or wasted in insufficient appliances. Australians deserve better than that, and that's what our Budget investment is all about.

It's terrific to be here in Kirsty and Manu's home this morning. When they moved in, they had foot cycle air conditioning and they had double glazing, really great start. But they're big energy users, so with a pool and three kids, they wanted to do more. In fact, Manu said they couldn't afford not to do it. So, they went to an innovative provider, a finance provider that brings together both finance and technology. It gave them choices. The choices to install a battery, the choices to put in more solar, and they are reaping real dividends from the investment. Like Chris said, we want more Australians to have more choices. And that's what the $1 billion that will be allocated to the CEFC is designed to do. To catalyse more products, more loans, more opportunities for ordinary Australians to reap the benefits of high performing energy systems in their houses. Mike.

MICHAEL ZORBUS: Thank you. Mike Zorbas, I'm the Chief Executive of the Property Council of Australia. I'd like to say just a couple of things.
This $1.6 billion investment is a game changer. This will make houses across Australia cheaper, more comfortable, and more resilient. It really makes a huge difference to be able to renovate for energy efficiency. And when you think about the built environment in our country, the fact is, it is a large consumer of electricity. About 50% of the electricity in this country is consumed by buildings. So, being able to make energy efficient choices in our homes is a massive turbocharge to our ability to run more comfortable housing across the country. And we're really hoping that in the next few years, this money will go towards retrofitting these houses in a way that really does turn this into a decarbonization renovation revolution. It's going to be a really fantastic first step on the journey for Australians.

CHRIS BOWEN: Thanks Mike. All right. Over to you, folks.

JOURNALIST: Yeah. I might just ask if that's okay. Treasury forecasts a 10% increase in energy bills next financial year, but that's just a fraction of what was forecast in the October Budget. Where does this figure come from?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, it's Treasury analysis. It includes the impact of the government's intervention last year, both the coal and gas caps and the rebates. And of course, it's an average across the energy markets. And that's how the Treasury looks at these things to assess its impact on inflation. But we know, we were facing increases last year in energy prices with a four or a five in front of it. The Albanese Government was not going to let that happen, and we did not let that happen. We intervened. We acted. No support from the Opposition. We acted, got the numbers in the Parliament to get it done and as a result, when you combine the coal and gas caps and the rebates here in New South Wales, for example, if you receive the rebates, you can have a 5% reduction in your bill as opposed to the increases we were facing. And that's all that averaged, is reflected, of course, in the Budget.

JOURNALIST: Is that 10% increase just for those who receive the $500 subsidy?

CHRIS BOWEN: It's an average. So, the Treasury have done their analysis and they average prices across all people.

JOURNALIST: And so, what happens to energy prices after this temporary relief ends?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, of course, this is an intervention which is designed to deal with a specific circumstance caused by the spike in energy prices around the world, caused by the illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine. And so, we have catered the policy for the circumstances. Now, of course, we have ongoing, Minister Husic and Minister King and the Treasurer and I have been working very closely together on the ongoing work on the gas code, which we'll have more to say in a little while. We said that the rebates, of course, were a specific policy for a specific time, but of course, ultimately, we continue on the transformation of our energy grid because the most, the cheapest form of energy is renewable energy and under this government that is the energy which will get support.

JOURNALIST: Peter Dutton has put nuclear power at the heart of the coalition's future energy blueprint. Would Labor consider that?

CHRIS BOWEN: It's a fantasy, it's a unicorn. Nuclear energy is the most expensive form of energy available in the world at the moment. Why Peter Dutton wants to get the most expensive form of energy into Australia's energy grid is a matter for him. Small modular reactors around the world are expensive. The proponents of small modular reactors have said we'd need 80 for Australia. Well, I look forward to Mr Dutton, one outlining the cost, and two outlining where they're going to go. I can't wait for that press release where he's going to outline the cost of every one of those nuclear reactors and where he's going to put them. If he doesn't do that before the next election, he's engaging in a damp squib of a faint of a policy. If he stands by nuclear policy, tell us where they're going to go, Mr Dutton, and tell us how much is going to cost.

JOURNALIST: Just on the fund obviously, there are more than 10 million homes in Australia who probably fall short of the quality performance needed to have a low carbon future. That's what experts are saying. This only deals proportion of that. So, is there a chance that this program could be scaled up? And, when are people going to be able to apply for loans?

CHRIS BOWEN: It's a very, very good start up from zero, in effect. I mean, the CFC has done some good work with some of the banks, Commonwealth Bank and others, but it's been nowhere near what we need. A billion dollars is a big investment for any government to make it. I thank my colleagues for working with Jenny and I on this investment. Of course, now CEFC will start engaging with the banks and other financial services providers and we want to see this rolling out as soon as possible. Anything you want to add, Jenny?

JOURNALIST: Just on some of the other news from today. There was a big protest in Melbourne this morning attended by neo-Nazis. They were particularly aggrieved at the immigration forecast in the Budget. Would you be able to give a reaction to that display this morning?

CHRIS BOWEN: I've seen the pictures from this display. It's unspeakably un-Australian. It's unacceptable. It's not on. This is pure and simple racism. And neo-Nazism is pure and simple evil. It has no place in our country. It needs to be condemned, and it is condemned by this government.

JOURNALIST: Just on the immigration debate, obviously, that these figures have come under a lot of public discussion between the Opposition recently. Is there a way that we can have this debate in a way that's responsible and that doesn't delve in these stereotypes?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, I believe there can and must be. What we're seeing in Melbourne is not that, what we're seeing in Melbourne is a fringe of political lunatics who have no place in modern Australia. In relation to immigration more broadly, there have been I believe there's been a discussion about the net overseas migration numbers, which are primarily led by the return of international students to Australia, which most people would agree is a good thing that we're opening up here universities and getting international students back into Australia. We have a range of policies to help manage that, and that's where the government will continue to focus. But I think, with respect, I wouldn't see this sort of, I know that these characters in Melbourne are conflating the two issues. I think the vast majority of Australians can have a sensible conversation than this conga line of lunatics in Melbourne who think it's okay to be neo-Nazis in Australia in 2023, because it's not.

JOURNALIST: And just on migration, obviously, Peter Dutton's made the attack line that it's going to cause a crunch on the housing market. I'm might ask this to the Property Council as well if you can. What is your rebuttal to that?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, Mr. Dutton, I've heard Mr. Dutton say he doesn't know where these people are going to live. Okay, if you don't know, Mr. Dutton, how about you work with us to build more houses? That's the government's policy, the National Housing Fund. Build more houses. Mr. Dutton's against it. He's so far succeeded in blocking it in coalition of the Greens. This government wants to build more houses. Every time Mr. Dutton says, "I don't know where these people are going to live", the next question should be, "why won't you support the Government's housing policy to build more houses?" That's the question that Mr. Dutton has to answer. Mike.

MICHAEL ZORBUS: Far be it for me to leap into the partisan politics. There is a big challenge for Australia, and what we really need across the country are much clearer housing targets for each state and territory. And it's the states and territories that are going to have to do the heavy lifting here to meet that very welcome influx of new skills around Australia. We want to create those houses. There are new asset classes that are opening up, Build to Rent is a fantastic example that should deliver around about 150,000 new dwellings over the course of the next ten years. This is a very exciting opportunity for Australia. We're behind the rest of the world, or have been up until this year, in allowing that asset class to flourish and I think that's a big part of the solution. But again, I would say state and territory governments really need to step into the Federal Housing Accord with an open mind to really turbocharging the productivity of their planning systems and making sure they [indistinct] over the next five to ten years.

JOURNALIST: This morning that approvals were on the way down and they've forecast that they're going to continue to slide. What do we need to do to pick that up? And your thoughts as well on what's happening with the housing fund that's stuck in the Senate?

MICHAEL ZORBUS: Yeah, we certainly need the housing fund to pass the Senate as quickly as possible. Any delay there while there is this supply deficit across the country is unnecessary. I would certainly urge all Senators from all parties to consider passing that bill as quickly as possible. We do not want any more delay there. That is directly impacting the delivery of new housing across the country. I'd also say for the broader challenge, there's no question that there are some states here that are doing some heavy lifting. Places like Western Australia under Premier McGowan are really taking this housing challenge seriously and I urge all state Premiers to follow his lead and to really make the supply of new housing and the reform of their planning systems a number one priority over the course of the next 12 to 18 months. It is absolutely a national need around the country.

CHRIS BOWEN: Anything else, folks? Anything on the phone, on the line, I think.

JOURNALIST: Hello? Have you got me?

CHRIS BOWEN: I've got you.

JOURNALIST: Perfect. Hey, could I just ask you obviously Don Farrell is returning from those big trade talks in China which he held late yesterday. He's come out, he said that both Ministers have agreed to step up dialogue moving forward. Are things moving too slowly with China?

CHRIS BOWEN: I wouldn't share that characterisation, I think the relationship with China, it's no secret, has been in a very bad space for a very long time. Under this government, we are seeking to normalise relations with China, to have engagement on issues we agree on and disagree on, and engagement is a good thing. And this, Minister Farrell's welcome visit of course comes after dialogue with Minister Wong and the Prime Minister's meetings, and of course a number of Ministers, of course, will enter into further discussions with Chinese counterparts. I had my first meeting with my Chinese counterpart at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, which was the first time Australian Climate Ministers had met I think in five years - Australian Chinese Climate Ministers had met in five years. But it's step by step. We'll always under the Albanese Government - our foreign policy will be determined by our values and our interests, but engagement is always a good thing and I think that the steps that have taken place so far have been welcome but appropriate. Not too fast, not too slow. Just the right pace.

JOURNALIST: Thank you.

CHRIS BOWEN: Okay, I think that's a wrap. Thank you, everyone.