Interview with Greg Jennett, Afternoon Briefing ABC News

1.02pm | June 16, 2022

Interviewer: Greg Jennett
Subject: Australia’s 2030 Climate Targets, energy, E&OE

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Present at today’s signing ceremony for Australia’s new UN climate commitments was the Assistant Minister to Chris Bowen, who we just heard in Climate Change and Energy, Jenny McAllister. She joins us here in the studio. Welcome back, Senator.


JENNETT: A bit has changed since you were last with us on Afternoon Briefing. Congratulations on all that has, though. Let’s take you back to the public announcement after the signing today. You made a point that particularly resonated with younger Australians who have linked climate change to, in fact, their faith in democracy. Can we be certain, or at least through the feedback that you’ve been getting, that young people are completely satisfied with 43 per cent though?  So many others in this forty‑seventh Parliament, the Teals and the Greens, aspire to target significantly above that? 

JENNY MCALLISTER: I suppose my observation– I made the observations I did because this is an immensely significant economic reform. It’s hugely strategically important for our relationships with other countries around the globe and particularly in our community in the Pacific, but it does matter for our democracy as well. One of the things that breaks your heart is when you talk to young people and they just express despair that the political system has failed to respond to their calls for climate action. I think young people will be very excited to see us deliver on real climate action. I think it has been really saddening for a lot of young people and it’s caused them to question whether the political system is actually responding to their needs. Really what I would like to see us deliver is some outcomes. I think that young people deserve some visible concrete outcomes and that’s what we intend to do. That’s our what our policies are designed to do.

JENNETT: Sure, but the credibility of them keeping faith with the system would absolutely depend on you at least meeting, if not beating, the 43, wouldn’t it?

MCALLISTER: The 43 per cent is really important. It’s a very significant increase in our ambition, and it will make a difference internationally to the discussions that are happening. When Australia comes to the table and says, “We are going to participate, we are going to cooperate, we are going to do our share”, that means a difference to our partners. I think that many people in the Australian community, including young people, will see the results of that over the first term of our Government.

JENNETT: Well, it was certainly a message that came through loud and clear on 21 May. Why don’t we go to the mechanics of what lies ahead for your Government, though? The need to legislate, you say you’ll attempt to even though you don’t need to. Isn’t that a bit of a bet each way? Why not have the courage of convictions or, to put it in a question, will you actually force it to a vote in the Senate? 

MCALLISTER: It’s our intention to bring in legislation - and that is good practice - to legislate your target. What happened today, of course, though, was that as a Government, Prime Minister Albanese notified the UN Convention and the Secretariat, that we intend to increase our commitments to 43 per cent by 2030. That in itself is a very big step and the very nice thing about today, for those who haven’t seen the pictures, was that, of course, it wasn’t just the Prime Minister and Minister Bowen. They were flanked by representatives from the Business Council of Australia, from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, from the Clean Energy Council, from the trade union movement. This was a broad range of Australians who have been willing to come together and back in a sensible, measured target, and a real plan for reform. That kind of consensus is something we shouldn’t squander. That matters a lot. We’ve had too much fighting, too much politics with this, and it’s too important for that to continue. Prime Minister Albanese has said he wants to end the climate wars. That is a really worthy ambition and today was a very important step on that path.

JENNETT: Today definitely signalled that visually, but is it the case that you want to avoid a resumption of those wars on the floor of the Senate?  Is that why you’re hedging the bets on whether to actually push this all the way across the line or not? 

MCALLISTER: It’s our intention to bring legislation into the Parliament and we’d hope that, you know, everyone comes to the Parliament with their own priorities and their own agenda. Ultimately, how people respond to that legislation is up to them. But our intention is to take a real step forward in ending the climate wars, bringing the country together, and setting us on a path for a sustainable, sensible approach to energy policy – something that I will say has been horribly lacking for the last decade under the last Government.

JENNETT: I think we’ve heard that point made. So, there is aspiration. We’ve spoken about that but then there’s this very immediate crisis I think you’ve been in or certainly in and around many of the discussions with industry this week. Quick update – any clearer indications on how long the AEMO control or suspension of the market stays in place? 

MCALLISTER: One of the terrific things about our National Energy Market is that it is a shared responsibility with some very well credentialed institutions with deep expertise in the market. AEMO is one of those, and so when AEMO said, “We intend to suspend trading”, we, of course, backed them. That is their call. They said that they’d review it daily, and the position really is that it will stay in place as long as is necessary, but not a moment longer. In the end, the expertise lies with AEMO, and we will leave it up to them to make those very important decisions.

JENNETT: Are there or is there any further advice to customers, particularly in your home state of New South Wales – I think we briefly touched earlier on some guidance that had been given for the early evening. When you joined us now, is there any indication that things are tighter or less worse now in that State? 

MCALLISTER: The number one priority has been making sure that there is enough energy for the customers that need it and, fortunately, the very concerted action by AEMO and the other regulators, with the support of all State and Territory Ministers, has worked. It seems likely we can have confidence that that will continue to work. There is advice for customers to minimise non-essential energy use, but the caveat is this: only when safe to do so. We don’t want older people being cold. If it’s nonessential use, if it can be deferred or brought forward, terrific. That’s the request in New South Wales, as I understand it.

JENNETT: We do expect, do we not, this tightness in the market, supply barely keeping up with demand to continue though for quite some time? What are we talking? Weeks? Months? 

MCALLISTER: That’s really a question for AEMO to answer. I do think that their interventions, talking, of course, with the generators, talking with the retailers, talking with the major energy users have been very successful in maintaining a stable supply for customers, avoiding blackouts, avoiding load shedding. These are good strong institutions and they’ve been empowered by State and Territory Ministers and, of course, Minister Bowen to keep doing that work.

JENNETT: One final one, and I know it is sort of crystal ball gazing a little, but as we think about the demands on the system right now and the obvious inadequacies, I’m reminded that Labor did take to the election a whole suite of incentives to encourage electric vehicle uptake – important to reach your 2030 target. And I wonder in my own mind how much worse would it have been had we been in this situation now with a much higher uptake of electric vehicles. The question is: would anything prompt you to revisit some of those incentives if the grid is not up to the challenge? 

MCALLISTER: I think you’re really pointing to a broader challenge that we have to deal with. This energy system has been ignored and neglected for a decade, at a time when there’s been immense technological change and that technological change isn’t going to stop–


MCALLISTER: So, the regulatory changes, the investments, the transmission upgrades, all of these things are going to need to be integrated and planned in a sensible way, and that is what was missing under the Morrison Government. When Energy Ministers met last week, they resolved that they would develop an integrated system plan that actually incorporated these technology changes that you refer to. That’s really important. We have to start planning for these changes. We can’t just ignore the market in the way the Morrison Government was happy to do.

JENNETT: It certainly sounds like a big body of work for an Assistant Energy and Climate Minister. Something for you to get on with, with the rest of the Government. Jennifer McAllister, great to see you again and thanks for joining us today.

MCALLISTER: Thanks for having me Greg.