Radio Interview - 2CC Canberra - 23 February 2021

Radio Interview - 2CC Canberra - 23 February 2021 Main Image

By David Smith MP

23 February 2021


SUBJECTS: Nuclear energy; Australian War Memorial expansion; Facebook.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: Dave Smith is a regular here on the program, but we've now decided to rotate the Coalition side as well. And our new lamb to the slaughter is the Liberal member for Hume and Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor. Good morning, Angus.

ANGUS TAYLOR, MEMBER FOR HUME: Good morning, Stephen. Thanks for having me.

CENATIEMPO: And David Smith, the member for Bean. Dave, welcome back


CENATIEMPO: Dave, I'm going to throw you under the bus here. Is there any truth to the rumour that you are gunning for Albo's job and are going to be the next Labor leader?

SMITH: It's not true. But like anything, Sportsbet has a market. I think I was back at 67 to one.

CENATIEMPO: Oh, gee, you know, it's not ... unless you're more than 100 to one, you're not out of the running, mate. I'm letting you off the hook. I made that rumour up, don't worry about it. But moving right along and, Angus, I do want to talk about particularly your portfolio.  A lot of backbenchers on your side of politics have been agitating now for the moratorium on nuclear energy to be lifted. A number of Labor backbenchers have come out suggesting the same. Is there an appetite within cabinet to do that? And if we're serious about emission reduction, we've got to put nuclear back on the table, don't we?

TAYLOR: Well, sure. Look, there's a moratorium. There's no question about that, obviously. But to change it would require bipartisanship and, you know, we're open to having that discussion with Labor. But right now, Albo has shown absolutely no interest in it. I mean, the irony of this is it is a baseload zero emissions power source. We put it in our technology roadmap. The technology is evolving quickly. It's actually improving fast through small modular reactors. There's still a long way to go with that new technology, but it has all the promise of being lower cost and safer and so we're going to be watching it very closely. In the meantime, as I say, it would require bipartisanship and right now Labor is showing no willingness. Now, you're right to say some members of the Labor Party are enthusiastic about it. Joel Fitzgibbon being a good example, but there's others as well.

CENATIEMPO: Well, Dave, I mean, not only Joel, but Victorian Senator Raff Ciccone has now come out in support of nuclear energy. A number of leading unions have come out in support of it. What will it actually take to change the Labor Party policy platform with this? My understanding that it has to go to the conference in order for that to happen, doesn't it?

SMITH: So, Stephen, you know, my background is working with scientists and engineers, and so for me this isn't really a culture war debate, it shouldn't be one side or the other, if you think about it. We know some of our allies have used nuclear power for decades and it's an important part of our health system. But I think the fundamental thing is that we need to get beyond the thought bubble, just understanding how much is this going to cost? Plant costs are in the billions. Whilst there have been some developments at the lower end, there's still a lot of unknowns. Alongside that, what time frame will it take to effectively turn that atom into a megawatt? So, what's a realistic timeframe? With everything, there's an opportunity cost in terms of what won't be funded as a result. So I guess as someone who comes from a science and engineering background, there are a number of the questions that I'd like to see dealt with---as well as the other obvious ones, Stephen, which is where will the reactors go? What lines will be upgraded? Where will waste be treated? There are a lot of important questions that need to be answered before jumping into a debate without much substance.

CENATIEMPO: But I mean---and all of those things are valid, valid questions to ask---but surely lifting the moratorium so that we can actually realistically start exploring these things is worthwhile, isn't it?

SMITH: Well, you don't have to lift a moratorium in a policy platform for the government to outline their roadmap on nuclear energy. There's capacity to actually have a conversation about some of these issues. But at the moment, it's still often fantasy land.

TAYLOR: Well, we've put it in the roadmap. We've been unambiguous about that. But Albo has shown absolutely no interest. In fact, he's campaigned against it, you know, for much of his career. So if we're going to make any progress here, it's got to be bipartisan. And we're putting on the table, as we did through the road map, that this is a technology that has great potential and we should be evaluating it and considering it.

CENATIEMPO: Now, Dave, I want to touch on your comment about opportunity cost. The Public Works Committee, which you're a member of, is due to sign off on the expansion of the Australian War Memorial this week. You've come out suggesting that we need to look at different options and a cheaper option. Shouldn't it be a no brainer? I mean, this is our most important cultural icon, cultural institution, which at the moment can only display a mere percentage of it’s ... of the various exhibits that it has. This will expand that opportunity by 80 per cent.

SMITH: Stephen, the Public Works Committee has actually handed ... has tabled its report, so that's actually already come out now and with a three-two outcome. The points that both Tony Zappia and I will make were we broadly supported redevelopment of the Australian War Memorial. But for the reasons that you actually outlined in terms of making sure that stories of additional conflicts are able to be told. But there's more than one way of doing that. I don't know if you've been out to the Treloar Centre out at Mitchell and the capacity that's out there. Certainly what Tony and I were suggesting was that there is actually capacity to tell that story, but also do it in a way in which it actually wasn't going to cost the taxpayer as much money.

CENATIEMPO: Angus, surely we don't want people traipsing all the way out to Mitchell when we have this magnificent facility in the heart of Canberra?

TAYLOR: Well, sure look, this is an issue for the Public Works Committee, but the point I'd make is that it obviously is something that is a real institution in its own right. It deserves serious investment. It deserves being cherished. I remember going there as a kid. My grandparents lived in Canberra and, you know, just been absolutely gobsmacked by what I saw and what an amazing place it is and I think it deserves enormous focus and it deserves the investment that we're considering. But I'll leave it to the Public Works Committee to make that final decision.

CENATIEMPO: Now, I was going to talk about vaccines, but I mean, the rollout has started now, I imagine both of you are at some point in the line to get your jabs in your arm unless ... I assume you're both in favour of the vaccine?

TAYLOR: Sure, of course

SMITH: Absolutely, Stephen, and with a bit of luck, my dad might be in the lucky position to get a vaccine in the next couple of weeks.

CENATIEMPO: Now, I want to talk about this Facebook ban in a moment. Angus, why are we negotiating with somebody like Facebook? Why is a multinational organisation----domiciled overseas---why do they even have a say in Australian legislation?

TAYLOR: Well, we've said we're not going to take a backward step, that's the whole point, and that's why we had this situation last week where Facebook did what it did because we took a strong position and we're not backing away. Now, you know, we are dealing with a private organisation, but frankly, it has enormous market power. We have made clear where we're going with this. We expect them to come to the table. We're having those discussions with them, you know, but frankly, we're not going to be backing away on this one.

CENATIEMPO: Dave, should we be having discussions with Facebook or should we just be saying this is Australian law? You either deal with it or you don't?

SMITH: I think it is actually appropriate to have discussions on Facebook, but I think it is actually appropriate that the government does seek to take action in the way that they have. So I'm not actually opposed to the approach the government has taken. And to give you a small sample, Stephen, you're probably aware that I have Norfolk Island as part of my electorate---


SMITH: ---and it's actually taken down a number of pretty innocuous Norfolk Island sort of Facebook pages, which pretty much is just about promoting the beauty and richness of that culture. So I think it's been right to actually take these moves and hopefully we'll see a bit of common sense come back from the Facebook side of the target soon.

CENATIEMPO: I think you're right; there were some of the non-news sites that have been affected by this. But I actually think it's a good thing that news has been pulled off Facebook because it stops news being about click bait and we can actually go back to some proper journalism again.

TAYLOR: Well, at the end of the day people are accessing their news in many different ways. But the important point here is these days in particular. But the important point here is that we want news providers that are producing quality news, being recognised for what they're providing and that's all we're asking of Facebook. As I say, we don't have to take a backward step. Their action last week was absolute overreach and that Norfolk Island example is a good one and we won't be stepping backwards on this one.

CENATIEMPO: Gentlemen, thank you for your time. Angus Taylor, the member for Hume and Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction. Thank you.

TAYLOR: Good on you. Thanks, Stephen.

CENATIEMPO: And David Smith, the member for Bean, we'll talk to you again soon.

SMITH: Thanks, Stephen. Thanks, Angus.

CENATIEMPO: That's our local political panel.