Transcript: ABC Afternoon Briefing





Subjects: Qantas; Voice to Parliament referendum; Eraring power station; investment in renewable energy infrastructure

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Jenny McAllister, always good to have you on the program and great to see you back in the studio with us. A few issues rattling around this building today, some of which were asked, at least in the Reps, I'm not sure about Senate Question Time today. The Qantas-Qatar decision, Wayne Swan, Party President, has suggested a review might be necessary. A Senate Inquiry is being proposed by the Opposition. Why not clear the air and allow one or both of those options to occur?

SENATOR JENNY MCALLISTER, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE & ENERGY: Well, I don't think there's any reason to think that Minister King has done anything other than what she's required to do in her capacity as Minister. She's made it really clear that her job is to evaluate applications that arise from time to time from different countries who want access to our market, and to do that evaluation having regard to the national interest. She's made it really clear that that was the process she went through on this occasion. Not thinking about individual commercial interests, but national interest. That's entirely the right approach. I will say this too though, people, of course, are concerned to see the airline sector and the aviation sector return to something like where we were before COVID. There's no doubt the pandemic had a really significant impact on the aviation sector. Minister King has initiated a white paper-green paper process to look more broadly at the structure of the industry and that seems to be a really important policy initiative that will go to some of the broader questions that are being wrapped up in the conversation that's happening at the moment.

JENNETT: Sure, she may well have executed this decision correctly and legally. Isn't the implication, though, at least in the Opposition's questions, as couched today, that the Prime Minister might have been heavily influential in the making of that decision? That is the allegation, what's the response?

MCALLISTER: I think Minister King has made it entirely clear that this was her decision and a decision for which she takes full responsibility. More generally, it's difficult to take the Opposition seriously on this. I mean, they were confronted with a request from Qatar Airlines back when Mr McCormack was the relevant Minister. They put a pause on that same application and took an extended period of time then to resolve it. From time to time other countries will seek access to our aviation market and Ministers do need to look at those applications as they arise and take decisions. And not every decision, not every application will be accepted and that's entirely consistent with the history of the way this has worked in our country.

JENNETT: All right, well, I think there'll be many more questions asked by others, if not here on that issue. Let's move on to the Voice referendum. Again, we ask questions about polls, always with the caveat that you don't rely on individual ones, but Newspoll has a national slide in yes support to 38 per cent. These questions went into the field before and after the naming of the date last week with each passing day and week now this must be cause for concern, this constant slippage in report - in support.

MCALLISTER: We always knew that this would be tough. It's never straightforward to achieve success at a referendum. But for us, we recall that this is at the end of a very long process. First Nations people have been through a long period of consultation and discussion. They came together many years ago now at Uluru and asked us to make this change. And in the end, it's a simple proposition, it's about listening so that we get better results.

JENNETT: As campaign messages are distilled and sharpened, which is the exact point of a campaign, you would expect people to lock on and appreciate that argument more, but seemingly they're not. Why is that?

MCALLISTER: Well, I do think that as we move towards October 14, we will see more and more Australians engaging more deeply with the question that's to be put before them and asking questions about it, looking for more information. I'm really confident that the nature of the proposal - to establish arrangements where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can advise government about issues of concern to them, and government can listen in order to get better results. I think that's a pretty clear proposition and I think Australian people will respond very positively to it.

JENNETT: You'd be very aware by now, Jenny, that Peter Dutton is again suggesting, not for the first time, but again suggesting if this referendum fails, he would be up for another one that dealt solely with recognition of Indigenous Australians. So, again, if this failed, why not seize the bipartisan moment that would stem from that failure and lock in a referendum on a recognition question to be held in conjunction with the next general election? That could be a good way to salvage defeat on this one, couldn't it?

MCALLISTER: We're not planning to fail; we're campaigning to win. Because this proposition comes from First Nations people. It is a fair and reasonable request from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that they've asked of us. Mr Dutton had a very long period of time when he was part of a government that could have established just such a referendum. It's hard to accept this suggestion in good faith.

JENNETT: All right, let's move on to areas in your own climate and energy space. Origin Energy's Eraring generator in your home state of NSW is supposed to be decommissioned in 2025, and yet there might be some vulnerability to the grid if it goes ahead with that. Is the Federal Government working with NSW in its assessment of whether to prolong Eraring's life in order to stabilise the grid?

MCALLISTER: Well, you're right that the NSW Government, as I understand it, has initiated a process to examine their own energy resources within their state. They've indicated that they'll make those results public at some point, and we'd expect to engage with them on that. I think more broadly, this points to the challenge and the opportunity that we face in the energy sector. For a long time, governments have been warned that older generation is coming to the end of its life. These older coal-fired power stations will close. Under the previous government, no serious effort was made to prepare for that. And so, since we've come to government, we have been working at speed to put in place the certainty, the arrangements that will support the replacement generation that is necessary. And we know -

JENNETT: But that investment may not come in time, though. This is the problem that NSW is wrestling with. Indeed, the east coast of Australia and the National Electricity Market, isn't it, that if the stabilised, firmed generation is not retained or brought online quickly enough, you might have to do something with coal fire to extend it? Do you appreciate that that may be necessary in this case?

MCALLISTER: Look, we'll wait and see what the advice is to the NSW Government and how they propose to respond to it in that specific example. But more generally, of course we know that we need to bring on new firmed capacity and we're really pleased by some of the early indications that there is more and more dispatchable capacity being committed to and being brought on. It's a real contrast to the past, where the previous government allowed four gigawatts of dispatchable capacity to leave the system and only brought one on.

JENNETT: Would you rule out federal financial support if NSW determined that Eraring, or at least some of its capacity, needed to be extended beyond 2025? Would you support that financially?

MCALLISTER: I don't think we can speculate about what the NSW Government will conclude when they receive their report and work through it. More generally, though, we are providing significant support overall to the National Electricity Market to bring on exactly that firmed capacity that you're talking about. Minister Bowen and I were in Melbourne just last week announcing the process that we'll step through to bring on new capacity in the southern states across Victoria and South Australia. We've provided financial support to extend the auction process that the NSW Government is going through to bring on dispatchable generation. We are building out the transmission infrastructure necessary to connect it to the system. These are all substantial contributions and incidentally contributions that the Market Operator has said are really important in managing some of the risks that would otherwise occur in the system and that weren't being dealt with by the previous government.

JENNETT: 'Urgently important,' I think, was the description used by the Energy Operator last week. Jenny McAllister, much more we could talk about, and will in the future, Snowy Hydro included. We'll do that next time.

MCALLISTER: Thanks, Greg.