Economic Policy

Transcript | Sky News Afternoon Agenda | 21 June 2024

June 21, 2024

Friday 21 June 2024
Interview on Sky News Afternoon Agenda
Subjects: Labor's juvenile meme-campaign, Coalition's positive nuclear energy plan

TOM CONNELL: Joining me now, Shadow Home Affairs and Cyber Security Minister James Paterson, thanks for your time. Look, politics can be a bit dry. Why not include The Simpsons? You're not so happy with Blinky, the three eyed fish and iterations of him making an appearance. Why not?

JAMES PATERSON: Tom, of course there's moments of levity in politics, and we wouldn't want to be serious all the time. But when it comes to something as serious as the future of our country and its energy system, when it comes to something as serious and as important to our country as the AUKUS agreement, which is going to be a generational commitment for our country on a bipartisan basis, we should not have educated, intelligent people going out there propagating vicious falsehoods and misinformation like we have seen some Labor MPs do in the last couple of days. Particularly egregious stuff from people like Dr Andrew Leigh, you know, in his own estimation, the smartest man in Parliament, someone with a PhD. You know, really propagating just baseless, false information about nuclear safety. I mean, it's been called out today by people like Ziggy Switkowski, a nuclear physicist and one of Australia's most respected scientists and businessmen. It's been called out by Dr Adi Paterson, the former head of ANSTO. I mean, they really do not have a leg to stand on, particularly when they are saying it will be safe for our sailors to sleep every night next to a small modular reactor inside a submarine. And they won't be growing any extra eyes.

CONNELL: You can add Simon Holmes a Court to that. He said don't cheapen the debate. He did also point out when you're talking about what can go wrong with large scale energy, when nuclear does go wrong. And thankfully, modern nuclear power is very safe. But when it does go wrong, it can be very bad. Is that fair enough for Labor MPs to point out?

PATERSON: Well, credit to Simon Holmes a Court for not indulging in this dangerous misinformation and calling that out. That's welcome. I mean, when you look on on a basis, an international basis and you measure the number of deaths by energy source, nuclear is at the bottom. It is the safest of technologies that we have in the modern world. Far more people die from traditional sources of energy like coal. And actually, there are people who die in the production of renewable energy as well and on an international comparative basis, the deaths from nuclear are infinitesimally small. It's one of the safest forms of energy out there. So no one should be engaging in this, particularly if you also believe that we can safely operate a nuclear propelled submarine. Let's think about what a what a submarine is. It is effectively a small modular reactor that goes inside a steel tube. It has 120 souls on board. It can go hundreds of metres below the ocean. It can circumnavigate the globe. It can launch a precision guided missile at a target hundreds of kilometres away, return home again, do all of that undetected. And not only are we going to own and operate these in Australia, we're going to build them safely. But the Prime Minister says we can do all that, we just couldn't possibly plug a small modular reactor in on the ground to our electricity grid. I mean, what we are proposing to do with a civil nuclear industry is, frankly, far more simple than what is the most complex industrial machine on the planet in a nuclear propelled submarine, which the Prime Minister says Australia can do.

CONNELL: It sounds as though there could be cheaper power bills for those people living nearby. Does that sound like a bribe recognition that people are reluctant to embrace nuclear power? Because when people spoke about money for vaccines, people said, no, that sort of implies they're dangerous. Does that imply the same thing here?

PATERSON: That's not what we said, Tom. No, that's not what we've said. We've said that there'll be industrial zones around these nuclear facilities that will have discounted power, because they won't require transmission costs and transmission cost is anywhere from a third to 40% of someone's bill. If you're located next to a nuclear power facility, there isn't that transmission cost. You can get it straight from the plant and so it can be discounted. And the exciting thing about that for these regional communities is the high quality, high paying jobs that will come with it.

CONNELL: Is that just the same as anyone living near a coal fired power plant at the moment though, does that happen now?

PATERSON: I'm not sure, Tom. Not that I'm aware of, but it is something that we're proposing should happen with these nuclear power facilities, and it could be used to support industries that are very energy intensive and need that reliable baseload, 24/7 energy that really only a traditional source of energy or nuclear can provide. So that's things like smelting, in terms of traditional industries. But also future industries, things like data centres. And particularly if you want to have data centres that are involved in processing artificial intelligence, I mean, that's one of the most demanding computational things you can ask a computer system to do. And it's incredibly energy intensive, but it is the future. And so we're going to need, frankly, an abundance of energy. We are going to need more energy. And we are going to need it to be reliable and affordable and stable. Right now people who are building data centres in Australia are having to build diesel generators alongside them. That's hardly environmentally friendly, nor is it particularly economic. But that's the reality because they need that stable supply of energy that can't otherwise be guaranteed.

CONNELL: If you've got these coal fired power plants right now where people are not getting cheaper power, basically what they'd be doing is averaging out costs of that network. So what the coalition would say is, no, the people nearby get a big discount. Does that mean others subsidise them effectively?

PATERSON: Not Tom, there's no extra cost here. The saving comes from the lack of a need for transmission.

CONNELL: I'm saying that's the same situation now, there's no change.

PATERSON: Yeah, I'm not sure that we do that in Australia. Maybe someone can correct me, I'm happy to be corrected if we do. I'm not sure we do that. What we're proposing, though, is it would become part of the features of the system. That as we build these new reactors in regional communities, that we allow people to co-locate right next door and get advantage of that direct, plug in to the system.

CONNELL: Yeah. No, I understand the industrial. I'm talking about everyday customers. Anyway, I want to ask you one more final one about this. It's clearly a big policy. And indeed Peter Dutton

wasn't shying away from it being one saying he's happy for the next election to be a referendum on this. Does that mean if you don't win, given what happens, usually in a losing referendum, that you scrap the policy? From that point on, the voters will have rejected it?

PATERSON: I think there's a huge contrast being offered to the Australian people right now. Frankly, we have a timid Prime Minister with no agenda or vision for the future. And Peter Dutton, who is willing to treat the Australian public as adults, take a serious proposal to them. That is a vision for our country that I think should and will be embraced. I mean, this is about the industries of the future and the jobs of the future and the stable power grid. I mean, I was listening to Simon Holmes a Court before saying, that you do have to have a stable form of energy. Well, there are three options for that. Because we know that renewables can't do that on intermittent basis. You can either have gas, which has to have carbon capture and storage, that doesn't operate yet commercially. I hope it does, but not yet. You can have green hydrogen that's not yet operating commercially. Or you can have reliable, proven, safe nuclear technology. We are the only party that is putting forward a credible plan for net zero by 2050. Because we are the only party embracing technology used all around the world.

CONNELL: If it's so compelling, that's the question thought. Do away with it if it's rejected by voters?

PATERSON: Tom, you won't be surprised I'm not going to take up your invitation to speculate on the outcome of the next election, which might be 11 months away and the aftermath.

CONNELL: Well it's a referendum.

PATERSON: We fundamentally believe in this policy. We think it's right for Australia. That's why we're proposing it and hoping the Australian people will embrace that.

CONNELL: So you are sticking with it?

PATERSON: Tom as I said, I'm going to take up that invitation. Points for effort, but I'm just not going to take up the invitation to speculate about, you know, what happens in 2026. We're committed to this policy. It's a great policy.

CONNELL: James Paterson, talk soon. Thank you.

PATERSON: Thanks, Tom.


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