SUBJECTS: Aluminium; power prices; renewable energy; climate change; coal fired power; hydrogen industry.
JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR REGIONAL SERVICES: Okay, well first, a big thank you to Boyne Smelters for welcoming us to their facility today and showing us around. My name is Jason Clare, I’m the Shadow Minister for Regional Services and it’s great to be back here in Gladstone with Albo, the new leader of the Australian Labor Party as well as Murray and Anthony, the two Queensland Labor Senators who are here as part of our trip through Central Queensland. Over the past few days we’ve been talking a lot about mining and a lot about beef and agriculture. They’re two big important industries here in Central Queensland but so is manufacturing. It employs a lot of people, we’ll see a bit of that in Bundaberg later today, we’ll see it in Maryborough tomorrow. But this is a facility that employs almost 1,000 people here in Gladstone and thousands more right across the country. It employs dozens and dozens of apprentices and the aluminium that’s made here, you’ll find it in almost every home in Australia. A good example of the products that are made here and how universal they are is going to your wardrobe and have a look at your duds or dresses with zippers on them. And no doubt that zipper is made from aluminium that’s made right here in Gladstone. But Gladstone is a town that needs more jobs. Unemployment here is higher than the national average. The number of apprentices has dropped by about 50 per cent under this Government, and that’s what this trip’s about. More jobs for people in Queensland, more jobs for people in Central Queensland, more jobs right across Australia. That’s why we’ve said hydrogen and developing a new hydrogen industry is a big part of creating more jobs here in Central Queensland and it’s the obvious place to base this new industry for Australia. I’ll hand over now to Albo to say a few words.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Jason. It’s been great to be able to have a look here at Boyne Smelters with not just Jason but also Senator Anthony Chisholm and Senator Murray Watt, Senators for Queensland, and this tour is about jobs. And right here, almost 1000 people work directly at this site. But indirectly, there’s 12,000 jobs created in the region, because of this smelter. Good quality jobs. Australia is producing some $5 billion of product at this plant, $4 billion dollars of which is for export, producing income for Australia. This is a good thing. But there are challenges and one of the challenges here is energy. And in the briefing that we’ve just had, what the company is looking at is renewable energy to power this site. Up until 2017 what we had was much larger operations here. And part of section one of this plant isn’t currently being used. There’s a capacity to expand production here. But to do that they need to deal with the issue of energy prices and what they’re looking at is renewable energy. Renewable energy, particularly solar, backed up with the coal fired generation that is currently here in Gladstone in order to improve production, improve efficiency, but importantly, reduce power prices and increase the viability of this site here and employ more people, more apprentices, more jobs for Gladstone and for Central Queensland. It’s a great example of how people and companies are looking towards renewables at a time when the Federal Government is letting business down. They’re letting business down by not having an energy policy. We haven’t had one since 2014. What we’ve had is a series of thought bubbles. We’re up to 16 or 17 different proposals, none of them being implemented. What business requires is certainty. Certainty so that they can invest in jobs. And the truth is that companies are looking at renewables as the way of the future. Right here. This site is a great example of that. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned about the long-term viability of the nation as coal fired power stations are slated to close in 2029, if that does happen?
ALBANESE: No, I’m very optimistic. And what this company is doing is looking in a visionary way about how they not just survive, but they expand back to their full capacity and they are doing that by embracing the future, by embracing the fact that they can reduce their power prices by connecting up with renewables, in particular solar. There is an enormous opportunity here. And there’s a huge gap between where the Government finds itself where it’s incapable of having an energy policy for Australia, incapable of having a policy on climate change, going alone to international conferences in Madrid, and frankly, embarrassing the nation because they’re frightened of the present, but they’re terrified of the future. What companies are doing is embracing the future. They know that there’s an enormous opportunity and the way that they can reduce power prices is by embracing renewables. That’s what the company here is looking at doing.
JOURNALIST: Isn’t there need for some sort of baseload if the coal fired power station closes in 2029 [inaudible]
ALBANESE: The company is very optimistic about the future. It’s looking at renewables, but it’s also looking at the potential that hydrogen could play in terms of not just here but the other sites around aluminium production. It’s looking at the issue of whether batteries can play a role as they are in South Australia and Whyalla. It is looking at, in the short term, having a look at coal continuing to provide a role here, but it’s looking towards the future. It’s embracing the future. It’s an amazing company that produces good quality jobs, it’s training Australians across a range of trades here. And it is an example of whereby we have a Federal Government that far from leading isn’t even following on climate change, on renewables, on embracing the future. I’m firmly of the view that good policy on climate change and moving toward cleaner energy will create jobs will, reduce prices, as well as reducing emissions.
JOURNALIST: So you’re confident the technology for renewables in a decade could it get to the stage where it could support the jobs in this facility and there’s no case for extending the life of the Gladstone Plant?
ALBANESE: What I’m very confident of, is that the sort of policies that we put in place a decade ago, when we came to office we created the renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020. At the time, the target was two per cent. When we adopted that they said that can’t possibly happen, that will be an issue that will create a reduction in jobs. What we’re actually seen is that target being met and met pretty comfortably, not because of the current Government, but in spite of the current Government. The Coalition at the time opposed the increase in the renewable energy target. And it is that increase that has driven change through the economy that created jobs.
JOURNALIST: During the election Labor had quite a strong renewables policy. It was often said that that policy would actually be the end of places like here [inaudible]. How is what you’re [inaudible] saying compared to that?
ALBANESE: Well, some people did say that in the Coalition. They obviously didn’t talk to the company and get the briefing that we got today. Because this company is looking towards renewables for its future. They’re embracing the future. Rio Tinto has a record in terms of indigenous employment, in terms of apprentices and training in a whole range of areas, of being a progressive company that is prepared to embrace the future. They’re doing that on renewables here. They’re looking at practical steps, not ideology, they’re looking at practical steps of how they can ensure not just that they continue to operate, but they expand their operations and they themselves, a company, are looking towards renewable
JOURNALIST: What exactly are the steps that they’re actually looking towards?
ALBANESE: Well, the company will speak for itself, but what they are looking towards in particular is the potential for a major solar installation very close to where the coal fired power plant, the main one is, here in Gladstone. They’re looking at ensuring that they can be powered up through that. They’re looking at ways in which they could be potentially investors there. They’re in negotiations with the Queensland State Government about how all that works. Together with the energy company that of course is State Government owned, but they have an interest in the power plant that’s there at the moment. And they are very optimistic about the future and this is an example of Australian manufacturing. The future of Australian manufacturing is very much working with new energy sources, making sure that they reduce emissions and we maximise use of clean energy. Because that’s about reducing costs for the company at the same time. So the triple bottom line, that Labor is interested in, I spoke about in my first vision statement in Perth, where I spoke about more jobs, lower prices, lower emissions. That’s Labor’s objective in terms of putting together policy plans for the future.
JOURNALIST: But without the coal backing up the solar, what do we need? Do we need more gas? [inaudible]
ALBANESE: Gas is certainly one of the options. The company is working all that through. And today we’re not announcing on behalf of the company what it’s doing over the next few years, but this is a company that is showing vision that’s determined not just to stay here, but to expand here.
JOURNALIST: Matt Kean’s proposed a 35 per cent emissions reductions target for 2030 for NSW. What do you make of that? Is that a responsible target? [inaudible]
ALBANESE: Matt Kean is saying some things that his Federal colleagues won’t. That the world is round, and that climate change is real, and that governments need to respond. It’s good. What I want to say isn’t partisanship. I want to get out of this cul-de-sac that the Liberal Party is in on the hard right and the Greens Political Party are in in the hard left, because it doesn’t lead anywhere. We need as a nation to respond, not just government, but civil society working with businesses, such as the one here in order to go forward. And at the moment, the problem with the Federal Government is they don’t have an energy policy. And that’s why we are ranked at the Madrid Conference 61 out of 61 countries. That’s an embarrassment. Because we know that climate change is real. We know that climate change is having an impact, with extreme weather events being more intense and occurring more frequently. Thanks very much.
CLARE: We think there’s massive opportunities there. That’s why in the election campaign we talked about the potential to base a new hydrogen industry right here in Gladstone. Gladstone’s got all the skills here with the development of the LNG facilities here in Gladstone. It’s got the port facilities, it’s got the mining infrastructure as well. It’s got companies that have already set up and doing work, innovative work in this sector already. And with all of the opportunity that comes with what’s happening in Japan, as well as South Korea and the transition in fuels in cars, Australia is set to make a lot of money and create a lot of jobs from this new sector. If we lean into it, get it right. And if we do that, Gladstone will benefit, we’ll create a hell of a lot more jobs right here in town.
JOURNALIST: How long will policy like that take to employ though?
ALBANESE: New technology is moving faster than it is envisaged. One of the things that is certain is that change happens. The other thing is that change happens quicker than people perceive it will be. Human beings are innovative. And what we’re seeing is enormous change. The hydrogen industry just like new industries like lithium, and other rare earths, are expanding far faster than it was envisaged they would 10 years ago. Ross Garnaut has written a book about how we can be the clean energy superpower of the world. I firmly believe we can be the clean energy superpower of the world. And right here in Gladstone can be one of the global capitals in which jobs are created, emissions are driven down, and we get a good outcome on employment, a good outcome for the environment, and a good outcome for the entire nation driven through important industrial cities like Gladstone. Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.