KIERAN GILBERT: Welcome to the program now the Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo. As a Liberal, are you comfortable with where things are at here with your free market government basically telling AGL what they've got to do, essentially, either give you that or come up with some sort of alternative?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, we are ultimately elected by the Australian people to make decisions in the national interest, Kieran. It's in the national interest to make sure that we've got adequate baseload power that continues to cover any gaps that might exist in the network. I mean, we are not going to be as reckless as we've seen state Labor Governments being. We're not going to be as reckless Bill Shorten's proposing.
We, of course, want to make sure we're taking concrete steps in the right direction about moving, over time, towards more renewables. But that doesn't mean that we're ideological about it. That doesn't mean we say we shut down these plants even if that means that there's therefore a gap in baseload power generation, because that's what drives blackouts. That's what we've seen happen under the Labor Party.
KIERAN GILBERT: The other thing that drives blackouts, though, is a lack of certainty in terms of policy and a market mechanism of sorts. Obviously, it's been at the centre of a very bitter debate and on both sides of politics caused a lot of damage. But how central is it that you and your cabinet, Mr Frydenberg come up with a market-based solution to this, and soon?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, that's what we'll do. Obviously, we've had the Finkel report and you've seen the results of that. The Government's adopted the vast bulk of those recommendations. We want to make sure that we've got policy that's going to reflect market conditions. Now we can do that because the Coalition understands the market-based dynamics in place in this energy market.
And frankly, it's very different to the approach of Bill Shorten and the Labor Party who absolutely obsessed with this ideology about saying, "we're going have 50% renewables," even though they know that there is not the system-wide battery storage, and other storage solutions, in the market place just yet.
KIERAN GILBERT: Are they all on board in the Coalition? It doesn't seem like that when you've got the Nats already just rejecting outright before they even seen the detail of what Frydenberg has to put to them? In terms that the conference position-
STEVEN CIOBO: I think you're confusing discussions that we're having in the Coalition now with the policy that's put out there. I think, actually, that having robust discussion internally is a big positive. I think that different people can bring different arguments to the table as part of us developing the policy solution - is a big positive. I think it's a real strength.
KIERAN GILBERT: Is it a strength to have governments intervene in terms of export finance for resource projects? Because it-
STEVEN CIOBO: You know what, Kieran-
KIERAN GILBERT: Why are you doing that? Is it because the banks are taking an advocacy role themselves in this?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I guess, a couple of things. Just about every country in the world has an export credit agency and Australia does too. What's the logic behind it? We're doing it because we want to make sure that we can provide support to Australian exporters because we know that exports help to create economic growth, we know that exports help to create jobs. Now what we've seen happening in the resources space for onshore resource projects, is because of a high level of shareholder activism, because we've got some NGOs and others in this space, who are basically screaming at the banks, "Don't do this! Don't do this!" We, unfortunately, have seen the banks cower, in some respects, from providing what would otherwise be commercially-viable projects with the finance that they need. If they're not going to do it, we will do it.
KIERAN GILBERT: Do you feel that the energy companies are doing the same thing? We've seen the AGL company, which is going to be in coal until at least the 2040's, running advertisements saying, "we're getting out of coal."
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I mean, look, it's up to them and they're accountable back to their shareholders about what they do in that regard. As I said, as a Government, we are elected to take decisions in the national interest. That's precisely what the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is doing. We're making clear, rational decisions to make sure that we continue to have the right energy mix in this country. That we can make sure that we have baseload power. We're not going to be blinded by ideology, which leads to the simply preposterous outcomes that we've seen in South Australia, where they have not had the stability of the system. We're not going to allow it to happen federally.
KIERAN GILBERT: Well, federally, sadly, it has already happened, now hasn't it? Due to the bitter fighting that we have, left in this position in terms of the broader certainty in the market, in terms of investment. You talk about the renewable investment in South Australia, but there's also this huge divergence between the renewable energy target, on the one hand, which continues to drive investment in renewables, but no certainty about where else companies should be investing.
STEVEN CIOBO: I reject that.
KIERAN GILBERT: That's what the companies say.
STEVEN CIOBO: I don't think that's accurate at all. What we are doing is making sure-
KIERAN GILBERT: It's what energy market says-
STEVEN CIOBO: What we are doing is making sure that Australia honours its commitments in terms of reducing our CO2 output. So we've always indicated that and we're going to meet those commitments.
What we're talking about now is at the pointy end. How are we going to get that transition right as we continue to see big advances in technology. We've indicated that we must make sure that we've got baseload power generation that will supply and meet the demand. Now, that potentially is a problem and that's precisely why we've had to look at some of these options. It's precisely why-
KIERAN GILBERT: Companies say they need a market mechanism now in order for them to know where to invest. They don't have that now and the government continues to-
STEVEN CIOBO: Kieran, we are seeing billions of-
KIERAN GILBERT: Delay.
STEVEN CIOBO: I mean, we are seeing billions and billions of dollars of investment into renewable energy. What we're talking about now is the tail end of what's happening in terms of traditional energy generation. What we're looking at is whether there's some alternatives. That includes high efficiency, low emissions, coal-fired power stations. This is the whole point. We are not pursuing an ideology here. What we're doing is trying to develop a market-based rational approach. We've said we're happy to look at all options. Put them all on the table and make an informed decision about what, ultimately, is going to get the market - that is the private sector, to make the right choices.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay.
STEVEN CIOBO: That's our approach. It absolutely is going to work. It's going to work a lot better than Labor's will.
KIERAN GILBERT: Let's conclude on the same sex marriage. Postal surveys head out today. Are you encouraged by the numbers here? Some 65 per cent, according to the Fairfax survey, say that they will vote and of that 65 per cent, 70 per cent say they'll vote yes.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, Kieran, we've said all along, let the Australian people have their say. We wanted to do it with a compulsory attendance plebiscite, as you know, and the Labor Party and the Greens stopped us doing that. So now, of course, we're doing it through this postal survey. I just encourage every Australian of voting age to be able to have their say. That's precisely the purpose of this exercise.
KIERAN GILBERT: Minister, thanks for your time. Appreciate it.
STEVEN CIOBO: Good to speak with you.
- Trade Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7420
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