Richard King, 2HD Newcastle

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: renewable energy, bigger tax cuts for more Australians, fuel efficiency standards, Papua New Guinea relationship, Middle East, consideration of new governor general.

Richard King: And joining me now, he's a local, and it's nice to have a chat to him on account of the fact that Federal Parliament will – is back today. All sorts of things happening down in Canberra. Member for Shortland - he's also our Minister for Defence Industry and Minister for International Development and the Pacific, that's Pat Conroy. He's on the line. Good morning, Pat.

Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Pat Conroy: Good morning, Richard. How you?

Richard King: Good, thanks. All the best for what's going to be a busy year. A couple of things that are certainly in the news at the moment. Have you been watching Nemesis, the ABC series?

Minister Conroy: I have, I have. And, to be honest, I'd forgotten a lot about what had gone on. And to be reminded of it, with the knights and dames or the empty chair spill or just the infighting over the whole nine and a half years was shocking to see on television.

Richard King: The – well, Parliament's back today. The Reckless Renewables Rally will be happening. We heard last week from David Gillespie saying these offshore wind farms are tantamount to madness. I think Barnaby Joyce will be a speaker. Also Jacinta Price. You'll obviously not be a part of the Reckless Renewables Rally in Canberra today, Pat?

Minister Conroy: No, no. Those Liberal and National politicians are arguing for higher power prices. That's what they're doing when they're opposing the offshore wind project. And they're arguing for us not to get the 3,000 jobs building the wind farms and then 1,500 jobs ongoing. Like, this is what they're arguing for.

The truth is that new renewable energy, backed up with batteries – and we're building the biggest battery in the southern hemisphere down at Lake Munmorah in my electorate – is the cheapest form of new power. And if we're serious about cutting electricity prices, we need to be investing in renewable energy.

Richard King: And also, too, it's a long way off, isn't it? It's the very early stages. I think there was a pro-wind farm rally down in the Illawarra region, but there hasn't even been one yet proposed for that area – officially at this stage. And, it might be way off over the horizon and there's a possibility they may never happen.

Minister Conroy: Yeah, sure. We're yet to reach final investment decisions on them. And what our government has done is responded to community views and moved the zone a bit further offshore. So, for example, the closest point in my electorate is at Swansea Heads, and it's 30 kilometres offshore. We're the powerhouse of the country. We've always been producing power, and I find it a bit rich people objecting to seeing tiny match sticks on the horizon when, if you go down to Redhead Beach you'll see 20 or 30 coal ships, or if you're at Warners Bay you'll see a couple of power stations. We produce the best energy in the country, and I want that to continue because that means lots of jobs for our people.

Richard King: The stage 3 tax cuts, or the change to the stage 3 tax cuts, will obviously be a hot topic in parliament this week. The opposition have indicated they will be supporting it, but maybe pushing for changes. But there have been a lot of people saying it's a broken promise and that you'll pay for it at the next election. Pat, your thoughts on that?

Minister Conroy: Well, we've been upfront that the economic circumstances have changed, and we've changed our plans. That's what responsible governments do. And the tax legislation that will be introduced today will give every single Australian taxpayer a tax cut and 84 per cent of all taxpayers will get a bigger tax cut. So in my electorate, for example, the average tax cut will be $1,551, and that's around $800 more than what they would have received under Mr Morrison's plan. This is about hitting cost of living pressures, and we make no apologies for keeping our focus on that particular issue.

Richard King: Mind you, Pat, Treasury officials have conceded their main concern is they don't know how many Australians are going to be paying more over the next decade.

Minister Conroy: Well, they've done their analysis of what the impact is today, and the impact today is 84 per cent of people better off – 85 per cent in the Hunter, for example – and on average $800 a year better off. This is the right decision for the circumstances we face now. No one would have predicted when Morrison's plan was first discussed in 2018 a global pandemic, a war in Ukraine, a war in the Middle East that have all contributed to driving up cost of living pressures.

And I think – think about the counterfactual for a second for your listeners. I think we would have been very, very – people would have been very angry if we continued with the original plan, which meant that lots of people, particularly lower and middle-income people wouldn't have got a tax cut.

Richard King: Look, you were just mentioning what you reckon will be the saving to people in your electorate. You put out yesterday a press release about these new vehicle efficiency standards saying that motorists in your electorate are going to save about $1,200 on average by 2028. But given that you haven't really decided what sort of a model you're going to implement here, where did you get that figure from?

Minister Conroy: That's based on if we catch up with the standards in the United States. The US have had fuel efficiency – vehicle efficiency standards for about 50 years. And that means that they've got more fuel-efficient cars than Australia. This is all about us getting more fuel-efficient cars. We've got the dirtiest cars in the world. By that I mean the least fuel-efficient. And this is about making our vehicle importers bringing their most fuel-efficient cars.

People will still be able to buy utes. If you go to America they've had these standards for 50 years and there's no shortage of big utes in the United States. But this will save the average motorist [indistinct] around $1,200, and that's good news given the cost of living crisis we've got.

Richard King: Yeah, okay. But a lot of people are arguing it's going to push the price of new vehicles up.

Minister Conroy: There's no evidence of that at all. Anyone – there's no evidence around the world that when countries introduced these standards that happens. What it means is importers will be required to send their most fuel-efficient cars to Australia. So when they sell a ute, which is – which will continue to happen, they'll need to sell a smaller car to someone else. And what they will do is make that smaller car cheaper and more attractive. So this will save households money. As I said, we're just – the only other country in the developed world that doesn't have vehicle fleet efficiency standards is Russia.

Richard King: Right.

Minister Conroy: So we'll be like Russia.

Richard King: And am I correct in saying that the European Union have much, much tougher fuel-efficient standards than the United States, so we're going for a softer option? It could be a lot – well, from some people's perspectives, a lot worse?

Minister Conroy: Well, I think we've put forward a number of options, and we're using the United States one of sort of the middle of the road or the option that's most likely. But we're still doing consultation. But, again, the US option is quite moderate. But even if we adopt the US option, people will still buy their utes, but the average motorist will save well over $1,000.

Richard King: It comes under your ambit, being the Minister for International Development and the Pacific – the AUKUS agreement. Last week it was revealed that New Zealand are keen to sort of become involved in AUKUS, and China straight away sent a warning to the Kiwis about joining, and we continually hear about the influence of China in the Pacific region. Highly contentious issue. I get a lot of calls and emails about people saying, "Oh, this is bloody stupid. The Federal Government, they're giving $600 million to PNG for a football team, and yet at the same time China are trying to organise police agreements and defence agreements that we should be spending that money elsewhere." Is it right that we're giving them $600 million for an NRL team, Pat?

Minister Conroy: Well, we haven't made a decision. We've been very clear that we're supporting the aspirations of the Papua New Guinean government to get a team in the national rugby league. We already do lots in the Pacific and we'll continue to do lots. We're the biggest development partner, so providing aid. We're the biggest security partner, so when Prime Minister Albanese and the Papua New Guinean Prime Minister signed the Bilateral Security Agreement in December last year, we announced a $200 million law and order policing security package. So that's all about bringing the Pacific closer to Australia and us being the partner of choice.

But part of that is people-to-people connection. Nothing will do more for our relationship with Papua New Guinea than getting a rugby league team into the national rugby league. They are – I was up there in September for the Prime Minister's XIII. Their stadium holds 16,000. It was louder than any state of origin or rugby league match, and it's how – we're in a geostrategic competition in the Pacific and how we win it is through our people-to-people connection. Because we've got lots of Pacific Islanders working in Australia as well. That's all bringing us together.

Richard King: As the Minister for Defence Industry, the other hot topic concerning world security is what's happening in the Middle East, obviously. Do you think there should be a greater Australian involvement in what's happening there, Pat?

Minister Conroy: We've made a contribution that we think is appropriate. So we've contributed ADF personnel, so Defence Force personnel, to the Maritime Force Headquarters, and we think that's appropriate. We've been very clear that our focus is on the Indo-Pacific. That was the recommendations from the Defence Strategic Review and that's what we're focused on. So we're providing support. We're supporting countries like the United States and the United Kingdom on this, but we are - make no apology for being focused on our region.

Richard King: I mentioned earlier Roma Mitchell. It's the anniversary of Roma Mitchell becoming the first female state governor in Australia. A lot of talk about who should be the next Governor-General of Australia. A lot of people have pushed for Linda Burney. Do you have any thoughts on the next Governor-General for Australia, Pat?

Minister Conroy: I'm actually going to let the process take its course. I know the Prime Minister is following the process and he's consulting with the Palace. And I think it's great that people are out there saying who they think would be a great Governor-General. We've had some great ones, and I think it's really awesome that Australians are putting forward their opinions about it. I think David Hurley has made a great service to the nation. He's been a Governor, a Governor-General and obviously a Chief of the Defence Force. And I think whoever succeeds him will have very big shoes to fill.

Richard King: And on a much lighter note, your Sydney Roosters, I think you should have stepped in and blocked the move by Dominic Young from the Knights to your bloody Sydney Roosters, Pat. Are you heading off to Las Vegas to watch them take on the Broncos?

Minister Conroy: I would love to, but no. No, I don't think that's in my plans going forward. I struggle to get to a live match anymore. But, yes, we were very lucky getting Dominic Young when he was – early on in the season. I would point out that the Knights have bought plenty of Roosters' players as well. And, to be fair, the Roosters – the Knights went much better than the Roosters last year.

Richard King: That's right.

Minister Conroy: That finals run was awesome.

Richard King: Yeah.

Minister Conroy: And I hope it continues this year.

Richard King: Well, I hope he doesn't score 25 tries for the Roosters this season, Dominic Young. All right, good to talk to you. Be an interesting day in Canberra today, Pat.

Minister Conroy: Absolutely. Thanks, Richard.

Richard King: All the best for 2024. Pat Conroy, the – well, he's a local. He's the member for Shortland but he is the Minister for Defence Industry and Minister for International Development and the Pacific.

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