Television Interview with Natalie Barr – Sunrise – Friday 1 September 2023






SUBJECTS: Renewable energy; ACCC Qantas inquiry.



NATALIE BARR: Politicians on both sides are being blamed for imminent power blackouts after the market operator revealed Australia faces a decade of energy instability amid the change over to a clean future. Victoria and South Australia are the first states to face uncertainty with an increased risk of rolling blackouts as soon as this summer. New South Wales faces shortfalls in 2025, while Queensland is at risk at around 2030. Tassie is the only exception.

Let’s bring in Education Minister Jason Clare and Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley. Good morning to both of you.


BARR: Sussan, you are right there in Victoria, one of the states most at risk. The market operator is saying we need to build the renewable system faster. Did your government leave us in the lurch and not start this process earlier?

SUSSAN LEY: Nat, Australians are facing the highest ever energy prices today and it’s totally because of the policies of this Government. Now the Energy Minister said, “Oh, don’t rush to the blackout language” but he’s rushed to the blackout policy by demonising coal and gas, by trying to take them out of the system before the system is ready to deliver base load power.

This is a huge challenge for households and ‑ I mean I’m in Victoria, Nat, where there’s a real war on gas. New gas connections have been prevented, ruled out, which of course means people move to electricity which right now comes from brown coal and uses imported split systems from China. Meanwhile the rest of the world looks at us and won’t invest in gas technology and we’ve just got a heap of problems here.

I said Australians in winter would have to be choosing between heating and eating and, you know, the government sneered and jeered, as they always do, but I’m really worried. I’m really worried that people will not be able to keep the lights on. And I really want to hear from the government what their plan is to deal with this.

BARR: Jason, you are the government. You’ve been there for a while now and you have to deal with this. What is the process to speed up our rush to renewables, but in the meantime we have El Niño about to hit, a really hot, dry summer and not enough power by the sound of it?

CLARE: The good news is there’s more electricity available this summer than last summer. You’re right, we’re in for a long and likely very hot summer and that means that more Aussies are going to whack on the air con because it’s going to be hot. So, we’ve got to make sure that we work with the State Governments and the Territory Governments, as well as AEMO, the operator, to make sure that the system’s stable.

But frankly, I wish Sussan was more worried about this over the last ten years when they were in government. We had four gigawatts switched off over the last ten years and only one gigawatt put on. It’s like taking four footy players off the field and only putting one player back on.

BARR: Yeah. Well look, we’re not going to talk about what happened in the last ten years because I think that’s probably pretty clear to a lot of people. Let’s talk about now. And Jason, let’s talk about your Energy Minister, your Climate Minister Chris Bowen, saying that the energy market operator shouldn’t be saying, “We’re all going to have blackouts”, shouldn’t be talking about this blackout language overnight. Shouldn’t we be being warned that we could have blackouts as El Niño hits and we don’t have enough supply?

CLARE: I think Chris said something slightly different. He said that that the operator didn’t say that. What he was saying is that there’s pressure on the system, he’s saying that we’ve got an extra 3.4 gigawatts into the system this summer than we had last summer, that’s a good thing. But there’s a lot of pressure on the network so we’ve got to get more renewable energy in. We’ve got to connect that to the grid. And part of that’s because our old coal‑fired power stations are wearing out and more likely to break down when they’re under pressure.

The more that we can get renewable energy into the system and connected into the grid faster, the better it’s going to be for the system.

BARR: Yeah. He said it was irresponsible to suggest there would be an inevitable wave of blackouts in Australian homes this summer. So basically that.

CLARE: That’s right, he wasn’t criticising the operator. He was criticising Ted O’Brien, the Shadow Minister for Energy.

LEY: Come on, Jason. He’s just, he’s just blaming the messenger. He’s just blaming the messenger.

BARR: Which is what the operator had been saying.

LEY: He hasn’t given us a plan. He hasn’t given us confidence.

BARR: Shouldn’t we be ‑ we should all be warned, and we should be on notice and, you know, maybe we all have to start turning things off.

Moving on. The ACCC is taking Qantas to court on allegations the airline advertised and sold tickets for more than 8,000 flights that had already been cancelled. That comes as Qantas ditches expiry dates on those travel credits after a public backlash. Jason, what do you make of this legal action?

CLARE: It shows that the watchdog’s doing its job. By the looks of it, thousands of Aussies have been stuffed around here and a lot of them out of pocket. There’s about 1,300 Australians who made a complaint to the ACCC here. And the consequences for Qantas aren’t insignificant. The maximum penalty that they could cop here is anything from $10 million up to 10 per cent of their annual turnover. This is serious, as it should be. But not as serious as the reputational damage that they’re copping right now. And if you look at the front pages of the papers today you can see what I mean.

BARR: Yeah. Sussan, a very turbulent week for Qantas, isn’t it?

LEY: What on earth ‑ Nat, what on earth is going on here, this special relationship between the government and Qantas as exhibited by their refusal to entertain 21 more flights from Qatar Airlines? They’re not adding competition coming into this country, bringing tourists to help our sector and our people recover and give cheap flights to Australians. They’re protecting Qantas, which is behaving so badly that the ACCC is taking it to the Federal Court for misleading and deceptive conduct.

I want to know what’s going on and why the government, the Prime Minister, the Transport Minister, perhaps Jason can explain the special relationship which is protecting Qantas at a time when it needs to actually fight for the rights of the travelling public.

BARR: Exactly. Jason, on that, did you rip off Australian travellers by accepting Qantas’s lobbying which, you know, every company has a right to do I guess. But did you rip off Australian travellers by not letting Qatar in?

CLARE: No, not at all. We made effectively the same decision as the Liberal Party made when they were in government a couple of years ago. And this idea that there aren’t more flights that Qatar can provide to Australia is not true. There’s more spots available for them that they’re not taking up right now. On top of that there’s Singapore Airlines, there’s Cathay Pacific, there’s China Air that are providing more flights into the market.

This shows what the Liberal Party is really all about.  When they talk about cost‑of‑living they’re more concerned about the cost of a flight to Europe than they are about reducing the cost of medicines, which by the way goes down today.

They’re more interested in the cost of two weeks on the beach in Santorini than the cost of two packets of heart medicine. And that’s what Australians are worried about today.

LEY: Jason, that’s an extraordinary thing to say.

BARR: Did you, just quickly ‑‑

CLARE: ‑‑ and frankly the Liberal Party don’t give a stuff about that.

LEY: Did I really just hear that?

BARR: Did you do the same thing though, Sussan?

LEY: Absolutely not. I’m looking at the cost of air travel. I’m looking at decisions by this government to protect Qantas.

BARR: But did you do the same thing about Qatar?

LEY: I’m looking at the ACCC. Absolutely not. Absolutely not.

BARR: So Jason’s not right?

LEY: I’m looking at the cost of air travel, Nat.

CLARE: Sussan needs to ring Michael McCormack and find out ‑

LEY: Jason is not right. The situation ‑‑

CLARE: ‑‑ what the decision was that they made in government.

BARR: Okay, we’ll leave it there.

LEY: The situation in front of us is the one the government should be dealing with. Thanks Nat.

BARR: Okay. Thank you both.