21 September 2018
Transcript - #2018013, 2018

Interview with Alan Jones, Breakfast, 2GB and 4BC

Subjects: Paris Agreement; gas; Great Barrier Reef Foundation; foreign investment; returning the Budget to surplus

ALAN JONES:

Josh Frydenberg, good morning.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Nice to be with you Alan.

ALAN JONES:

Thank you. I sent you those criticisms, and they are very significant. What is your response to them?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

They were criticisms largely about Australia signing on and staying signed onto the Paris Accord. I did have a look at your Facebook comments and I want to point out to your listeners that, thank you for the positive ones.

I saw that Catherine, who said that, "we must vote for the Coalition, they're certainly better than the alternative." Judy said that I was doing a good job and I'd trust- she'd trust me a lot more than Bill Shorten. And others like Gary, Marie, Janice and Wendy and others who've said that the Government is doing a good job.

So I take your point that we do need to continue to communicate our message to the Australian people, but when it does come to energy my view is the test is not what international agreement you can pull out of in four years' time, but what policies you're putting in place today to help your own people reduce their power bills.

And you will not hear from Bill Shorten say, what we will say, that prices are prioritised over emissions and we are doing everything we can to reduce people's power bills including stopping the network companies gaming the system, Alan, keeping more gas for Australians before it's shipped overseas, getting rid of those misleading discounts as well.

ALAN JONES:

Just to interrupt you there, sorry, why don't we have- I don't want to talk about energy today because we have canvassed a bit of that last week, which led to those comments. But why don't we have for example a gas reservation policy?

Why can't we say and I have used the example that- not to you, but forgive me for repeating it anyway, my old man was a dairy farmer and my mother would be driven nuts because every day he would send one of us over, "oh ask your mother how much milk she needs today." And mum would always say, this much, and she'd say, "oh not again, doesn't he know that? I've asked him. He asks me every time."

And we would keep enough for us and the rest would go to the factory. Isn't that a sensible gas policy? How much- we've got a stack of gas, how much do we need for us? That's what other countries, America and Canada do, gas reservation policy and we can export the rest. What's wrong with that?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well we have put in place new legislation that allows us to restrict our gas exports and I can tell you, the big companies didn't like that at all.

ALAN JONES:

Who cares?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

But the point is that we have ensured that more gas is now kept for Australians before it is exported overseas. Now that is only half the story.

ALAN JONES:

Shouldn't that be a condition of the licence?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well it absolutely is that we can intervene in the market and stop gas exports if we feel that there is going to be short supply here at home. Now the key to the gas debate is actually to get more stuff out of the ground.

And you would've seen the Northern Territory. They're sitting on 200 years' worth of supply, have recently lifted the restrictions on development there. Victoria

ALAN JONES:

See I don't agree. Why do we need more out of the ground? We're exporting billions of cubic metres of gas. Exporting it. Now if you have a gas reservation policy, a part of that stays with us?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well the reason why they've been developing a lot of that gas in Queensland was for the export market. So it actually

ALAN JONES:

They thought they were going to get royalties.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

But

ALAN JONES:

So they let the whole darn thing down – to be blown up in gas wells.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well you know my view about that, which is you've got to prioritise the science and ensure that our farmers are better off and that we don't threaten the environmental impacts of all that. But at the same time, we've kept 73 petajoules here for domestic use before it is exported overseas.

And to put that into context for your listeners, one petajoule of gas is enough to keep all of Wollongong or all of Warrnambool going for a whole year.

ALAN JONES:

See if we've got a gas reservation policy, we should not have a crisis in terms of gas as a form of energy. Can I just move on though because we can talk forever and a day about that? There's a story today, which is embarrassing, not surprising to me though.

That this business with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation - $440 million, another one of these Turnbull gigs, was- there were talks apparently where they were asking for $5 million.

Now your name has been mentioned, the Fairfax Newspapers report internal documents show that you as the former Environment Minister, Josh Frydenberg, met the Barrier Reef Foundation Chairman John Schubert on April 9 to tell him that the amount of the government grant had increased almost 100-fold.

And they are saying there are internal emails and dairy notes obtained under Freedom of Information provide quote, "colourful details of efforts to justify the funding." Now are you going to pull the $400 million? This is an outfit with six employees, they didn't ask for the money. Where the hell did $440 million come from?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well the first thing to say is the Barrier Reef needs more funding. Labor ignored it when they were in office and all the scientists.

ALAN JONES:

Why?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Because water quality is absolutely key to preserving…

ALAN JONES:

Which scientist are you listening to?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

No, well actually…

ALAN JONES:

Two scientists, two scientists have been sacked from James Cook University for saying that there's been a complete overreaction in terms of the science in relation to the Great Barrier Reef.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

And Alan, you've heard me defend Professor Rid, who's been on your show, about the treatment that he received.

ALAN JONES:

He hasn't got his job back.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

But let me make it clear…

ALAN JONES:

No, no, but hang on, he hasn't got his job back and you continue to fund James Cook University.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well he should get his job back.

ALAN JONES:

Yeah, but I mean you've got the money strings. Why don't you say to James Cook University, listen if you continue to behave this way, I'm sorry, we are not going to give you taxpayer's money?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well as I understand it, there's a case ongoing so I don't want to comment on that as it is before the courts. But the point I've made very clear publically is that you should, as an academic, have a right to speak freely.

Now let's go back to the Barrier Reef because we have funded it where Labor failed to fund it. So we put in place a $2 billion Reef 2050 Plan with the Queensland Government. Now the Foundation is the single largest charity for the reef in the country.

It's raised around $80 million from various sources including when Labor was in government, they funded it. Now this contribution went through an ERC process.

My Department put in writing, Alan, to me that the contribution to the Reef Foundation would represent value for money and that it would meet the objectives…

ALAN JONES:

But they didn't even ask for it.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

…that they would meet the objectives…

ALAN JONES:

I'd love to be in that system.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

…meet the objectives of…

ALAN JONES:

They didn't even ask for the dough.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

…protecting the reef…

ALAN JONES:

They didn't even ask for the money.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

They are focused on- firstly the money doesn't go to them.

ALAN JONES:

They wanted $5 million and you give them $400.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Alan, the money goes…

ALAN JONES:

Oh I can just see the Facebook page now. What?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Alan, Alan, the money goes to the farmers who are improving their land practices so the pesticide nitrogen runoff and sediment runoff doesn't go into the reef. It's going to tackling the crown of thorns starfish which has helped destroy large parts of the reef and it goes to improving the overall water quality and the science.

ALAN JONES:

Depends on which science you listen to. I've been there, you have too. It depends on which science you listen to. These are rent-seekers, my friend. Rent-seekers.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

The Foundation is not a rent-seeker.

ALAN JONES:

They are rent- they just see you mob coming and its $400 million in the kick.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well you go into Queensland with your show and I can tell you there are more than 60…

ALAN JONES:

Oh look you'll always have people supporting rent-seekers. You'll always – hey?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Alan, Alan, there are more than 60,000 regional jobs in Queensland that are underpinned by the Great Barrier Reef. It contributes more than $6 billion to the Australian economy.

ALAN JONES:

I am not denying that. That doesn't mean to say the poor taxpayer has got to fork out more than $400 million to a foundation which doesn't even ask for the money. And you've confessed oh they raised $80 million. Oh, $80 million? And we are going to give them $400.

To something else. Now, look we've got a milk crisis here, you've heard me say and I've argued over and over again we shouldn't be selling our valuable assets to overseas interests. And yet we've got dairy farms and beef farms and sheep farms and water and resources all going to China. They're smarter than us.

Now we've got this Hong Kong based outfit, CKI, who the ACCC have given approval for them, $13 billion to buy this outfit APA. APA. Now, Peter Jennings, the head of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute says Hong Kong is increasingly under mainland communist China control.

This is a crowd, APA, who own 13 of Australia's 30 major gas pipelines. 15,000 kilometres of pipeline comprising virtually the entire east coast gas pipeline grid. They transport more than half of Australia's domestic gas. They own Dampier to Bunbury gas pipeline in WA, Australia's biggest. They own half of Victoria's electricity network, virtually all of Australia's electricity network. This is a national asset.

Are you telling me, Treasurer that this thing ought to be sold to an outfit which is significantly influenced by the Chinese Government?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Alan, you do like to ask the sensitive questions. Let me say, as Treasurer, I am the final decision maker on this bid and I will be very careful with what I say publically and I want you to know two things.

The first is; foreign investment as a rule is good for Australia because we have a savings gap.

ALAN JONES:

I am sorry to interrupt you, this is not investment, this is ownership.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Let me…

ALAN JONES:

This is ownership, there's a difference. Get your dictionary Josh.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

I get it, I understand. But let me make two points. Foreign investment has helped build this country. But the second point is, we have a strict national interest test and when investments from foreign companies or foreign individuals are made in Australia's critical infrastructure sectors, we have the experts run the ruler over that.

I will not make any further comment other than to say an announcement will be made in due course about the Government's determination of that bid.

ALAN JONES:

Okay, you heard Ted earlier this morning worried about debt. You've said you'll be going into surplus. The Budget will go into surplus by 2019-20. Okay, just supposing that's true, and I am not criticising you here, I think Treasury figures are hopelessly rubbery.

How many surpluses do you need to pay off $600 thousand million dollars of debt? How old is your little girl?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

She's just turned 4.

ALAN JONES:

So okay, just turned 4. How old will she be before that debt is paid off?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well that depends on the size of the surpluses.

ALAN JONES:

It does.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

But the reality Alan is that we have seen our net debt peak as a percentage of GDP over the last year, over 2017-18. And we have got the growth in spending down to its lowest level in 50 years and we have actually legislated through the Parliament more than $40 billion worth of savings.

Now the aim of the game here is to grow the economy faster than you're spending…

ALAN JONES:

Correct. Okay, stop there, that'll be enough for this. We'll resume next week on the- put the point on the growing economy.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Good to hear.

ALAN JONES:

Talk to you next week.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

All the best.