Minister Shorten interview on the Today Show with Sarah Abo.

FRIDAY 24 MAY 2024

SUBJECTS: Coalition nuclear power policy; Labor’s Future Made In Australia clean energy plan; New Caledonia repatriations 

SARAH ABO, HOST: Well, not in my backyard. That's the sentiment among leaders in Victoria, West Australia and the Northern Territory as the Coalition prepares to launch its nuclear power policy and announce up to seven proposed sites. That announcement expected in coming weeks. Leader of the opposition Peter Dutton joins me now live in the studio. Pete, good to see you and Minister for Government Services and the NDIS, Bill Shorten in Melbourne. Thanks so much for your time as well, Bill. Pete, I want to start with you. You're looking at a few sites where the old coal powered fire stations are.

PETER DUTTON, LIBERAL PARTY: The beauty of that is that if you've got an end-of-life coal fired power station, it's already got the poles and wires there. So, when the energy is generated, you can distribute that on the existing poles and wires. Under the Prime Minister's proposal, they've got to roll out 28,000km of new poles and wires. The whole thing costs about $1.2 trillion. And all of that's going to be paid by consumers and businesses with higher electricity prices. So, I want greener electricity. I want to make sure it's consistent so that businesses can continue to invest. And the latest technology, zero emissions technology, nuclear, is something that's now used by 19 of the 20 biggest economies in the world, except for Australia, and that's why I think we should consider it.

ABO: Yeah, and I think that's probably the strength of the argument that there are a lot of OECD countries out there that actually have nuclear power and have for years. But, you know, that price you mentioned it's going to cost $8.5 billion by the CSIRO's estimation and take at least 18 years, even though these sites are existing.

DUTTON: Well, again, that's not the, that's not the - that's not the examples that can be cited internationally. When you look at what's happening at the moment, there is a huge surge in the technologies. I want to believe that the battery power can, you know, provide the baseload. It just can't. The technology is not that advanced. Wind and solar, as we know, is intermittent. So, you need to firm it up. And as we know at the moment, Labor governments in Victoria and New South Wales are extending the life of coal fired power stations because they're worried about the lights going out. So, we've got to get serious about a new energy system as we decarbonise and modernise. And nuclear is a key part of that. And in Ontario, where they've got 60% nuclear, the power prices there are about a quarter of what we pay here in Australia.

ABO: It takes a while to get there, though. I guess that's the issue. I mean, Bill, there has obviously, as you know, been these significant hold ups in renewables. New South Wales Eraring coal fired power station needs to extend its life to meet demand. Is nuclear a viable option?

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: No, I don't believe it is. Just four fun facts, in the light of what Peter was saying. First of all, it will take about 15 years, $8.5 billion, costing twice as much as the renewables are. But when we talk about the rest of the world, Peter said 19 out of 20 of the G20. First of all, that doesn't - I don't understand that fact. That's not right. Germany's getting out. Italy's not there. Indonesia doesn't use it, nor does Saudi Arabia. Peter also is misdescribed our policy. Peter said it will require 28,000km and poles and wire. Our stuff, which will help take us to the future, is about 4000km of those wires, and it's going to cost 10% of the 1.2 trillion that Peter said. But leave aside the fact that Pete's facts are, you know, he's more lost than Burke and Wills, the truth of the matter is that if we were going to have nuclear power, that was a conversation for the 1960s, not the 2020s. We've got the opportunity to invest in our renewables and use gas as our baseload transition ‘til we get there. I mean, I don't know, Pete. I actually thought that Peter's nuclear policy was sort of interesting. I thought it was the sort of thing that you do for a couple of years when you haven't done any other policy homework, and you're just trying to take people's mind off the fact that you've got no other policies.

ABO: I think Bill’s kind of right, Peter.

SHORTEN: The real question, the real question is where are they going to go?

ABO: Well, and also it is something that should have begun decades ago.

DUTTON: Sarah, so hydrogen, green hydrogen, which is in the government's plan, that's not commercially viable yet. So, when they say it'll take five or 10 or 15 years for a small modular reactor to be constructed, they ignore the fact that we've got a transition between now and 2050. It doesn't have to be installed tomorrow. And the reality is that Bill's old union, the Australian Workers Union, is strongly in favour of nuclear power because they know that it will sustain the heavy industry. Under this government, over the last two years, manufacturing firms have closed down. It's up three-fold because they're going offshore, because of the electricity and gas prices. So, we've got to have a sensible, mature discussion about it. I get Bill's political points but go and have a look at the facts on the websites. A 470-megawatt small modular reactor takes up two hectares. The equivalence in solar panels takes up about 4000.

ABO: All right, well, we could go into the details for a long time.

DUTTON: But it's huge.

ABO: Just in terms of the discussion you mentioned there, have you actually spoken to the locals where these nuclear stations might end up being? What are they receptive to it?

DUTTON: Well, interestingly, when you have a look at the communities where there is a high energy IQ, that is where they've got a coal fired power station now, people are in favour because they understand the technology. They understand that it's zero emissions, that it is latest generation. It's the same technology the government signed up to for the nuclear submarine. Som if it's safe for our sailors to be on the submarine with the nuclear reactor and for it to be tied up at Osborne in South Australia and Henderson in Western Australia, then the nonsense that that the Labor Party is carrying on at the moment, I think all falls away.

ABO: All right. Well, let's move on now. And Australians remain stranded in riot stricken New Caledonia, relying on the French government to get them home. But there's still no word on when flights will be scheduled. Bill, there's been so much confusion. We've been speaking to stranded Aussies all week. What is the government doing to get them home?

SHORTEN: 180 - first of all, it's no good that people are caught up in these riots. I think the independence riots have come relatively out of nowhere, caught the French authorities by surprise. I mean, Noumea has had three independence referendums, and by narrow margins, people have voted to stay there. But this latest stuff must be shocking for the individuals who were there. Ah, there's 187 people have been rescued, two flights have been done and more flights are on the way. And I'm informed that DFAT is in contact with everyone who's been reaching out to them. But nonetheless, it must be a horrible experience. You go for a holiday and all of a sudden, you're caught up in this. I mean, it just makes you realise how lucky we are in this country.

ABO: Yeah. Pete, we spoke to Melissa, Melissa Plesa earlier, she's stuck there. She's still stuck there. She's saying that people are getting confusing messages from DFAT and then being told they're getting on flights, then that being revoked. I mean, surely can we not just get a couple of C100’s over there? C130 over there.

DUTTON: Well, you know DFAT will be having a look at all of the available information on the ground. The safety of Australians will be paramount in their minds. So, we support the work that they're doing. And Defence has the ability to uplift people in extremists like this. And again, we'd lend support to the government to make sure that that happens as expeditiously as possible. And you know, the tragic story before with Keith and what he's gone through with his ordeal on that terrible flight, DFAT does a great job in helping Australians overseas, but sometimes people are in dreadful, dreadful circumstances and you just want to get help to them as quickly as you can.

ABO: Yeah, absolutely. All right Peter, Bill, thank you so much for joining us this morning.