Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Monday, 10 February 2020
MICHAEL ROWLAND: There are reports this morning that Nationals MP Llew O’Brien has sensationally quit the party, putting the government's majority in a potentially perilous position. To talk about this, we're joined from Canberra by the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Minister, good morning to you.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Have you heard anything from Michael McCormack about Llew O’Brien?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As I understand it, Llew O’Brien will continue to sit in our Coalition joint party room as a member of the LNP in Queensland and that he continues to support the Government. I am not aware of the ins and outs of National party internals. But in terms of the fundamentals, Llew O’Brien remains a member of the LNP, he remains a member of our joint party room and he continues to support the Government.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay, as far as you understand he hasn’t quit the National party?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not aware of what the arrangements are with the National party. But what I can tell you is that he remains a member of the LNP. He has spoken to the Prime Minister about that. He remains a member of our joint party room. He continues to support the Government.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Is it your understanding, even though he might remain a member of the party room, he will now sit on the crossbenches?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. He remains a member for the Coalition joint party room. He remains a member of the LNP in Queensland. In Queensland the LNP holds 77 per cent of House of Representatives seats. He continues to support the Government. That is what he has made clear to the Prime Minister.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. This comes on the back of the leadership tensions within the National party last week. We have tensions continuing over what to do about coal and Australia’s energy future. We had your government commissioning that $4 million feasibility over the weekend into a proposed coal fire power plant in Collinsville in Queensland. Is that something you’d support?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The feasibility study is part of an election commitment that we took to the Australian people in the lead up to the last election. We always said that we would support a feasibility study like the one that has been announced. Coal will continue to be an important part of our energy mix in the foreseeable future. A high efficiency, low emissions coal fired power station can be an important part of helping us meeting our emissions reduction targets. Ultimately, a project like that will have to stack up commercially. It will have to stack up in its own right. That is a matter for after the feasibility study.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: It has to stack up commercially as you rightly say. And you Mathias Cormann as Finance Minister would know more than most that there is no investor appetite for coal fire power plants at all either in Australia or around the world. So why spend $4 million of taxpayers’ money on this in the first place?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You are making an assertion here that is not informed by work that is yet to be undertaken. The reason we have committed to the feasibility study is to demonstrate that this is able to stack up. A whole range of exporting industries, manufacturing exporting industries in Australia do need access to reliable, affordable power. We also want to ensure that power is environmentally as efficient as possible. In that context, this feasibility study, hopefully, will be able to demonstrate that this project can stack up based on private sector investment.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. But I’m making that assertion not based on predicting what this feasibility study may or may not produce, but on the observation about what mining companies are doing. Just last week, Anglo American announced it was hoping to be out altogether of thermal coal within five years.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is an entirely a matter for them, but Australia continues to … interrupted
MICHAEL ROWLAND: They have the bucks to invest or otherwise in plants that may or may not go ahead in Australia.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Australia is responsible for about six per cent of global coal production. I think you will find Australia will continue to be a significant producer, exporter and consumer of coal into the future. Australian coal is environmentally much more efficient than the coal alternatives from other parts of the world. Our black coal has lower moisture content, lower ash content, higher energy intensity and it is in the interest of the environment for more Australian coal to be used and for it to displace coal from other sources which is more polluting.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: The former Resources Minister Matt Canavan has written a fairly strongly worded in the Courier Mail this morning and he says, quote, ‘Renewables energy are the doll bludgers of the energy system. They only turn up to work when they want to’. What do you make of that statement?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not agree with that description. Renewable energy is a significant part of our national electricity supply. About 25 per cent of the energy supplies into the national electricity market today comes from renewable energy. That will increase to about 50 per cent by 2030. It is important that we have an energy mix that can help ensure reliable, affordable energy supplies to Australians in a way that is environmentally as efficient as possible. That is what we are working towards.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: As the Sydney Morning Herald is reporting this morning, is the Government weighing up committing to net zero carbon emissions by 2050?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are on track to beat our 2020 emissions reduction targets agreed to in Kyoto. We are on track to meet our 2030 emissions reductions target and… interrupted
MICHAEL ROWLAND: But I’m asking about the 2050 targets …
MATHIAS CORMANN: If I may, I was going to get to that. We are working our way in an orderly and methodical fashion through what we might do other the next 30 years. As is indicated in the media today, we are assessing what is both environmentally appropriate and economically responsible because in the end we want our policy agenda to be environmentally effective and economically responsible. We will make those judgements in time before COP 26 in Glasgow later this year.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Eighty other countries have committed to this target, including the conservative-led UK government. Is Australia a bit of an outlier on this one?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. If you look at our 2030 emissions reduction targets, committing to reduce emissions on a per capita basis by 50 per cent, committing to reduce emissions intensity in the economy, emissions per unit of GDP, by two thirds, we have one of the more ambitious agendas around the world, more ambitious than the European Union on those indicators and more ambitious than Canada, New Zealand and others. We will continue to make our judgements based on Australia’s national interest. We want to ensure that before we sign on to a target that it is economically responsible for us to do so. We will want to understand properly the cost because Australia, unlike perhaps some others, when we commit ourselves to a target we deliver on it. We know we need to ensure the targets that we commit ourselves to are appropriate for the Australian people.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay, Mathias Cormann, Finance Minister, we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you so much for joining us on News Breakfast.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.