The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

15 July 2011

Joint Press Conference with
Senator the Hon Chris Evans
Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations
Leader of the Government in the Senate

Doorstop Interview

Perth

15 July 2011

SUBJECTS: Renewable energy; clean energy future; Abbott's threat of a double dissolution; carbon price; calls for a media inquiry

TREASURER:

It's good to be here at Carnegie Wave Energy. This is Aussie innovation at its best. It's a very exciting project that we've got here. It's also good to be here with my colleagues Chris Evans and Melissa Parke.

I just wanted to say a few things about reform in Australia. And I wanted to say a few things about carbon pricing because I think this week we've written a new chapter in Australia's reform history. The great reforms of the '80s and the '90s of floating the dollar and bringing down the tariff wall, national superannuation – all built a much stronger economy for Australia just as pricing carbon pollution will build a stronger economy for Australia for years and years to come. But what it will do is unleash a new wave of investment in clean energy technologies. And you can't be a first-rate economy in the 21st century unless you're powered by clean energy. And what you see here today is the projects of the future. Wave energy, wind power, other forms of renewable energy are absolutely critical to be a successful economy in the 21st century. This is how we reduce carbon pollution. This is how we drive the jobs of the future.

Looking around here today you can see how that is done. You can see the tradies over there. You can see all of those involved in building this type of kit, plant and equipment. This is where the jobs of the future will come as well.

JOURNALIST:

It's going to be a long time before renewable energy such as this can take over the base-load power needs, isn't it though?

TREASURER:

But what we've got to do is put a price on carbon to drive that investment. This is the starter's gun, if you like, to a new wave of investment in clean energy technology. Now before we go on a bit I might just ask Chris Evans to say a bit and also Michael from Carnegie.

EVANS:

Look, I'll just make one point which is that traditionally people tend to view Western Australia as a mining state and as part of that I think typecast us as being solely reliant on mining. What this project I think establishes is that Western Australia can provide smart alternative energy sources, that the carbon price can be a huge boost to projects in Western Australia where the advantage of having lots of gas available to power our electricity needs but we also have cutting edge technology like this that will be advantaged by a price on carbon that will give companies an edge in providing alternative fuels and the wave technologies are an exciting part of that.

And I think what you'll see is the carbon price will ignite interests in these projects, will support their commercial viability. But also the investment we're making in clean energy finance will see the support that they're looking for help provide the breakthrough, if you like, in terms of scale that will allow them to be a serious supplier of energy in Western Australia.

So I think it's important that we don't just see Western Australia as a mining state. It's a state with clever technology. It's a state that's going to have huge demands for energy as it grows and part of that solution is providing clean energy sources, and this is a slightly exciting part of what will need to be a move to rely on some more renewable energy. And we have lots of wind, we have lots of waves, we have huge potential here in addition to our gas reserves. So I think this is an exciting signal that Western Australia can get an advantage out of the move to more renewable energy, but I'll let the company talk more about that.

OTTAVIANO:

I'm Doctor Michael Ottaviano.

JOURNALIST:

Do you want to make a statement or do you want us to ask you a question?

OTTAVIANO:

So we're standing at Australia's and the world's only privately operated onshore-offshore wave energy test facility. Carnegie Wave Energy is developing its technology which will generate electricity from the ocean swell, generate power from the ocean swell, turn it into electricity and also fresh water. The equipment that's around you here today has been invented and developed by Carnegie, an internationally leading wave energy company. It's just completed its first trials off the coast of Western Australia off Garden Island and what we're now moving into is the final design and the start of construction for a five megawatt wave energy project. It will be Australia's largest wave energy project and indeed the largest wave energy project in the world. The power will be coming into the West Australian grid by the Department of Defence's site there at Garden Island, which is HMAS Stirling, the largest naval base in Australia.

JOURNALIST:

Doctor, how long is it going to be though before renewable energy such as yours can take over the base load needs like coal and gas do at the moment? Is that a fair way off yet still?

OTTAVIANO:

Not at all. I mean there's already renewable technologies today producing power 24/7 and in fact literally in the last month there's been a Spanish solar thermal plant successfully store the energy it generates for 24 hours. And really the base-load concept is almost a last century paradigm. What you really need to be doing is matching supply and demand. So what's far more important is having predictable power supply because if you can predict it you can match with demand. Wave energy is predictable. So you can predict the swell in the ocean two or three days in advance. So today being a Friday you'll know what power our project will be producing on Sunday for example and you can then blend that power in with other forms of energy, be it solar wind or even gas and match the demand much better than a fixed coal-fired power station could ever possibly match supply and demand.

JOURNALIST:

When will you start producing to actually put back into the grid?

OTTAVIANO:

About 18 months.

JOURNALIST:

Okay and how long has it taken to get to that point all up in terms of all the…

OTTAVIANO:

This is 10 years worth of R&D here. About $50 million we've invested here from our Australian shareholders. We've got 6,000 Australian shareholders. We are by far the most advanced wave company in Australia doing what we're doing and we're now considered the global leader.

JOURNALIST:

Can you explain how you believe a carbon tax will assist the development of your project?

OTTAVIANO:

Look in a couple of ways. In a simple way a carbon price will effectively allow us to be able to sell the electricity from our renewable energy project for slightly more than we otherwise would do without one. So that's a benefit straight away but in the short term for us it's more about the signal to the investment community about the certainty that their regulatory environment will now have going forward. Our investors know that they can invest with confidence that the regulatory framework that's in place will support the investment for 10, 20, 30 years, which is the life of a power station.

The other bit of this as well for us, which is really critical is the renewable energy funds component that were announced last Sunday. For a new emerging renewable technology, you need support to get into the market in the first place. The traditional private investor can't afford to risk this capital in the same way you would for a traditional power station for an emerging renewables one. So that's where you need Government support initially to allow you to get into the market place initially and beyond that you shouldn't need any more support other than just the macro environment measure like a carbon price.

JOURNALIST:

Just on carbon tax, is the sell winnable? The carbon tax sell, is it a winnable sell?

TREASURER:

Absolutely because putting a price on carbon - as Michael was saying - sends that signal to the investment community to invest in clean energy and particularly in renewable energy. This is a fundamental change that will set Australia up for the future. You know, what would we say to our kids and grandkids in 20 or 30 years time if we say that back in that critical decade we weren't game to price carbon pollution because we were worried about opinion polls? The fact is this will make our economy strong for the long term. It's a fundamental reform to make this country a first class, first world economy in the 21st century. Otherwise we'll be a technological backwater.

JOURNALIST:

Tony Abbott's pledge to get rid of the carbon tax or roll it back – whatever terminology you want to put on it – do you have any understanding about what level of compensation he might be exposed to companies who have already bought permits?

TREASURER:

Well so far Tony Abbott's been arguing for one election and now I notice this morning he's arguing for two elections. I mean, what could wreck confidence in our economy more than an Opposition Leader running around saying he doesn't want just one election, he wants two elections. What this country needs is certainty and certainty is provided by putting a price on carbon pollution so we can drive the investment in the renewable energy of the future, drive the jobs and drive the wealth creation. Tony Abbott just wants to run around and wreck things.

JOURNALIST:

Will the carbon tax force people off public transport and back into cars as is being claimed by some?

TREASURER:

Hardly. The fact is that we are putting a price on carbon pollution. That will have a modest impact on prices but the fact is the impact on prices will be 0.7 per cent in terms of the CPI. What it will do is drive investment in clean energy technologies and that can only be good for all of us.

JOURNALIST:

So we were just talking about Abbott's two election claims. I mean your actual reaction, at this stage the polls show that the Opposition would claim government if there was an election today. He's saying call a double dissolution to get rid of the carbon tax. How does the Government feel about that?

TREASURER:

Well, what the Government is doing is the right thing by the country in the long term. Far-sighted reforms by far-sighted governments in the '80s and the '90s have made our economy strong. Putting a price on carbon pollution is a fundamental reform which will drive jobs and prosperity in the long term. Now because it's a big reform, because it's a tough reform, you lose a bit of paint along the way but it's the right thing to do. The Prime Minister spoke yesterday about this with passion and conviction. She is a leader with courage and conviction. Mr Abbott just wants to run around and wreck things. He's playing politics and he's not interested in the long term national interest. He's putting his own selfish political interests ahead of the national interest.

REPORTER:

Just on another issue. Do you think News Limited has a campaign to topple the Labor Government?

TREASURER:

Well, I've seen a lot of debate about the media, its structure and what's gone on in Great Britain. If I could just repeat what the Prime Minister said yesterday: what we've seen in the United Kingdom is absolutely unacceptable. I've seen statements from Mr Hartigan, the Chief Executive of News Limited, last night saying that News Limited in this country has not in any way been involved in those sorts of practices and I welcome those statements.

I think it's pretty clear that there are a number of media outlets that are opposed to the introduction of a price on carbon. That is their right. If they want to go out and oppose a price on carbon, they can do that. The fact is those media outlets should not pretend that their coverage is balanced. It clearly is not. It's their right to do that, but they can't pretend that the coverage is balanced when all they do is oppose a price on carbon continuously and include that in their coverage in a way which isn't balanced.

REPORTER:

Can you name names about what those outlets are?

TREASURER:

Well, there's a couple of outlets. I think the Daily Telegraph in Sydney is constantly opposing a price on carbon. It doesn't care how it does it. By and large, the dealings that my office and I have with journalists are very professional. Journalists do a very good job overall but there are some media outlets which oppose a price on carbon. That's their right, but people shouldn't pretend that the coverage is balanced.

REPORTER:

Do media owners here require more scrutiny then?

TREASURER:

Look, I think we're going to have a pretty healthy debate, you know, about ethics and standards. That's a good thing for the country.

REPORTER:

Do we need an inquiry then though to get into whether we do have those practices that have been going on in Britain here?

TREASURER:

No, look I accept the statements from the Chief Executive of News Limited that they have not engaged in these practices, and I note that they're having an investigation of what's gone on in terms of their organisation. I think it's good to have a healthy debate about the quality of journalism, about ethics, and I'd leave it at that.

REPORTER:

Can we trust them to actually look at that themselves though? Or do you need some sort of independent investigation?

TREASURER:

Look, I think it's good to have a public discussion about the quality of our media. I think by and large, journalists do a good job. I think by and large, journalists are very professional. There are some outlets that have got a political agenda. They've made that very clear. They say it openly. They just shouldn't pretend that they are balanced.

REPORTER:

Mr Swan, have you been approached by anyone over the [Australia Network] deal? Have you been approached anyone?

TREASURER:

No.

REPORTER:

And just one more on Mr Abbott. Is it inappropriate for him to attend a digger's funeral on the same day he does an interview with Channel 9?

TREASURER:

Oh, look I'm not aware of that and I wouldn't be making any comment on those matters at all. I think it's a day where we should observe the service of our servicemen and women and all our thoughts today are with the family.