Minister Shorten interview on the Today Show


KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: It's already happening - suburbs in Sydney's north plunged into darkness as warnings of power cuts become reality and millions more along the entire East Coast are being told to conserve their energy use as plummeting temperatures place even more pressure on the over stretched grid. Let's discuss with Minister for Government Services and the NDIS, Bill Shorten, and 4BCs Scott Emerson. Morning guys. Nice to see you this morning. Bill, to you first of all - this is a bad situation on the East Coast.

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Yeah, absolutely. The very cold weather, combined with, let's face it, 10 years of delay and denial about investing in our energy grid, and the chickens have come home to roost. Hopefully the regulator and the states and the Federal Government with Chris Bowen, trying to do what we can to get dispatchable power. It's not good for people caught up in it. But this is what happens when you don't invest in our Energy system over a long time.

STEFANVOIC: It also shows what happens when you don't continue investment in the coal-fired power station, at least to sustain power, while the renewables are being built.

SHORTEN: Karl, I don't think that's quite right to be honest. The fact is that if you wanted to have another coal-fired power station, and the last Government talked the big game but never did it, it would cost billions of dollars. The problem we got right now is, because of the very cold weather, you need what's called dispatchable power - that's power that you don't need paying for seven days, 24 hours a week. But when it's really cold, that's when you need it, that's why we should have invested more in batteries and other forms of dispatchable power.

STEFANVOIC: So India and China are building a whole heap more of coal-fired power stations. Have they got it wrong?

SHORTEN: I think it is a different set of circumstances. And the other thing is that you mentioned China - they're also doing a whole lot more in the renewable energy space. Karl, we’ve got to end the energy wars.


SHORTEN: ­­There’s people this morning wondering about their power supply overnight. What they want to hear is Government and Oppositions working together. The truth is that we need more dispatchable power. Renewable energy is cheaper. We’ve got to stop arguing about investing in technology which is 50 years old. Let's just move forward. That’s what people want - less of the argy-bargy, more of the action.

STEFANVOIC: Okay. Scott, the reality is we're just not ready to rely on wind or solar power to plug that energy gap yet, as Bill knows. And that should’ve- we should’ve been well on the way before now. But that doesn't help when, in Queensland this morning, you've got people being told to conserve energy otherwise the power will go out.

SCOTT EMERSON, 4BC: Yeah. It wasn't just the warnings about last night or this morning. We're facing potential blackouts for the next couple of days, Karl. And this is actually about coal-fired power. The reason we're facing this at the moment is because some of those coal-fired power generators are off line ...


EMERSON: … .either because of problems because of maintenance, or issues in terms of damage to them. We're relying on gas. So all the way through we're relying on fossil files at the moment. What's extraordinary, you know that people in the Labor Party and also the Greens would like us to go cold turkey - suddenly shut all of those down. Well, this is what the reality would be, if we did all that we would be facing blackouts in the moment in the start of winter, not even in the middle of winter, in the coldest times - the first few weeks of winter.

STEFANVOIC: Yeah. Bill, reports today also energy companies accused of gouging…

SHORTEN: Scott -

STEFANVOIC: … and cartel-like behaviour in their negotiations over prices. This is going to hit the domestic manufacturing sector as well - and hard.

SHORTEN: No doubt that we expect more of the gas companies - they have got a position where there's a lot of demand for their gas. But what I wouldn't want to see is gas companies being opportunistic and bumping up prices merely because they can. I think a lot of Australians will be studying the 30 June balance sheets of gas companies, seeing if they have been pocketing a giant profit at the expense of Australian businesses.

And just on Scott's stage 10 hysteria about coal, the fact of the matter is that a lot of these coal plants that Scott's hugging, they’re very old. The companies who own them haven't invested in them, they are going off line because they are that old. If coal was the answer, then why are the owners of those coal stations haven't invested in them? Because they know, we know, that we need to broaden our energy mix so that we don't just rely on one form of energy

STEFANVOIC: Okay. I want to ask you about another matter if we can, Bill.


STEFANVOIC: The reports this morning that private equity investors looking to exploit the billions being spent on the National Disability Insurance Scheme - and this is your baby. How do you feel about NDIS being described as a cash cow?

SHORTEN: It makes me pretty bloody ropeable to be honest.


SHORTEN: I welcome private investment. Australians should know that for every dollar we're spending on the NDIS, reports show that we're generating $2.25 back in return in activity. But the NDIS was never established to provide double digit returns for private equity funds. I welcome private investment as part of the services mix - but you know, enough is enough. The reality is that if there's double digit returns to be made, I’d rather that go back to people with disabilities and carers and the taxpayer, not to massive private equity raiders from overseas.

STEFANVOIC: Scott, your reaction to that?

EMERSON: Look, it shouldn't be a cash cow - that’s exactly right.


EMERSON: My concern is we are still forecast of seeing the cost of the NDIS get to $60 billion by 2030, and our country can't afford it. Yes, we want all of these services, but what I haven't heard from Labor so far is the solution. They want to keep all the services but you can't afford $60 billion annually by 2030.

STEFANVOIC: All right. Finally guys, some wonderful stuff out of the MCG yesterday, wasn't it? A beanie clad army showing their support to Neale Daniher's Big Freeze fund raiser for research into MND. Bill, it's your home town - they really put on a great show. It was a great game too.

SHORTEN: Yeah, the Mighty Pies got home against the Dees. Melbourne supporters might be going to the snow this September, not to the Grand Final. But going to Neale Daniher, great Australian. A very difficult challenge MND. I know the NDIS is supporting 1,400 people on it. But what we see is beautiful leadership and the whole community rallying around him and the cause. And Labor announced $4 million extra for research yesterday afternoon too.


SHORTEN: It was a great afternoon.

STEFANVOIC: Really terrific. And Scott, my colleague Alex Cullen took to the ice bath challenge yesterday. He wasn't quite got over it, poor fella. Here he goes. Very cold up there. What did you make of it all?

EMERSON: Look, he’s doing it slow too, isn’t he? God, he’s doing very well.

STEFANVOIC: He likes to do things in a very considered way.

EMERSON: You wish you could lip read what they say when they come out.


STEFANVOIC: Sensational. I think we could. Guys, thank you so much. Awesome stuff. Really appreciate it. Good on you guys. We’ll see you soon.