Topics: Offer to supply power generators to the South Australian Government
So Greg Hunt, Federal Environment Minister, what prompted you to make this offer?
Oh well good morning Leon.
These days it's Industry actually, Josh is Environment, but our concern was in the day and a half after the storm and then the collapse of the grid, when the lights went, when industry stopped working in many cases, and there were real risks to jobs that we wanted to keep the lights on, or get them back on as quickly as possible and we wanted to protect in particular the metal plant.
And so we made the offer in good faith to South Australia to help airlift generators from Tasmania.
I spoke with the Tasmanian Premier myself, I spoke with the South Australian Government myself and then our officials spoke with the SA Government to say the offer is on the table for us to assist in flying the generators out if that will help.
It wasn't accepted and it's matter for the South Australian Government, but at the end of the day…
They didn't give you a reason?
They thought that they would be able to get it back on in time.
From our perspective, our number one concern was to make sure that people could go to work, that people could have the lights on, and obviously there were parts of the state that had less access to electricity, and you know, with a Wednesday evening blackout, by Friday morning it was clear that it wasn't coming on quickly for parts of the state.
In particular everybody is focused on the jobs, and the jobs, and the jobs at Arrium and Whyalla, and my principal concern was Whyalla.
For whatever reason, the state decided that they thought they could solve it themselves. In the meantime I know that there's been a very heavy price paid at Arrium and Whyalla.
Let me read you the response from the Government to this segment today.
This is from Tom Koutsantonis. It was a generous offer of support and we thank the Federal Government for it.
Our advice was that the temporary generators would not have been ready to connect into the grid before it was back up and running.
If the offer had been accepted, it would have come at a substantial cost to the State Government.
And then it says following a reconnection of a second transmission line last night, the state's
industrial industries in the north will start to see a further increase in supply, so we still don't have it back to full bottle. What do you say to that?
Well, it's almost two weeks now, and only now are we seeing full power, or close to full power for Arrium.
Our offer was made as soon as it was clear that they weren't about to get back to full power, and of course you can connect generators direct to particularly plants, so it doesn't have to go into the grid.
It can also go directly to the backup and support, this is a very common practice right around the country where essential services are put in place.
You had a blackout on 4:18pm on Wednesday the 28th, and on the morning of Friday the 30th when it was clear that things weren't happening, I know in my case, in good faith I spoke with the Tasmanian Premier, I spoke with the Tasmanian Minister, spoke with the SA Government and then got our officials at the highest levels to convey the offer.
For whatever reason, South Australia felt that they would get it done in time. Unfortunately we've seen it drag on and on and on and on and on.
There's no way they could have done that. I can't see how they could have been advised that they could do it.
Well, they will have to answer that. But our approach is we've got to keep the lights on.
In the 21st century, after 14 years of one particular government, the answer is really clear.
Is there any other state where people wake up and wonder will I have power to go to work today?
Will I have the lights on? Will I keep my fish and other foodstuffs safe and healthy and frozen if I'm running a wholesale goods business.
You know, I worry about the impact on people who have these businesses, and I've had manufacturers talk to me, I've met with senior manufacturers who are in South Australia.
They just worry about power, and this comes at a time where we're all doing, and we are doing our best to make sure that Arrium has a long term future.
I remain upbeat and hopeful, not unrealistically so. It is a challenge, but I've got to say we are working with no games with the South Australian Government on Arrium …
How much would it have cost them? They said, that statement said it was going to be expensive. Is that, explain that?
Well our plan was we would have used the RAAF and we would have worn the costs for the RAAF, and then it would have been whatever rental price that they had to negotiate with Tasmania and the owners of the diesel generation, so we were going to fly them out.
We weren't looking at a charge to South Australia.
Do you think this refusal, given what's happened, I mean the north of our state, Port Lincoln as well and other districts have been without, the backup batteries failed.
They waited a long time after Adelaide got its power back, and they could have been powered up if this had been taken up.
So the question then is does this indicate that there is some duress between the Federal and State Government on these sorts of matters?
Well in good faith we made the offer, and you know, I just went straight to it, ignored all of the protocols, just rang the Premier of Tasmania, rang the South Australian Government, and all we cared about was…
Who did you talk to? Did you talk to Jay Weatherill or Tom Koutsantonis?
Tom Koutsantonis. And it was look, it was amicable conversation, I'm not being critical.
I am saying all we cared about was getting people the opportunity to preserve their jobs, to get the lights running.
It's the job of a state government to keep the lights running, and you know there were probably only two fundamental, absolutely fundamental jobs of a state.
Keep the streets safe and keep the lights on. And unfortunately one of those was not happening.
And so we said, on our watch, if we can assist we will do everything, hang the politics, forget anything to do with it, which is why we haven't talked about this.
It's obviously come out through the system, but again, all we care about is giving people the security that day after day after day they know they'll be able to keep their refrigerators running, that hospitals won't be disrupted, that they can go to work, and if you're looking at investing in South Australia, you're going into a state which will have reliable energy.
So you can't have a situation where a state proclaims that they're running an international experiment and tries to take credit for very high figures, and then pretends they have no responsibilities.
So it's a moment where the Premier and the South Australian Government have to acknowledge when they call for more interconnectors, which I support, they're calling for greater access to electrons from black coal and brown coal, and …
Are we going to get an interconnector from Sydney to here?
Well we've got to see whether the South Australian Government and others want it, but I have put it on the table.
I wrote in the Financial Review a week ago and I was the architect of the work with Tasmania to improve interconnection between the states, because you need good stability, and I think you can't have this push for renewables, which by the way I do support renewable energy, but I support it realistically, that you've got to have backup, you've got to have base load and you've got to have connection.
And if you do those, you can have stability.
If you just set wild state targets with no responsibility for the outcome, then you will have a situation of energy insecurity, as sadly as the situation that the great people of South Australia are currently experiencing.
Greg Hunt is Industry Minister, thanks.