Topics:  Coalition energy plan; Nuclear energy; South East Asia clean energy investment; 

07:45AM AEDT
5 March 2024



Pete Stefanovic:  Well, the Coalition’s nuclear energy proposal is expected to include large scale nuclear reactors, not just small modular reactors. Joining us live now, the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Birmingham. Simon. Good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning.


Simon Birmingham: G’day, Pete.


Pete Stefanovic: So, can you confirm this? Large scale nuclear reactors are going to be part of your energy plan?


Simon Birmingham: Well, what I can confirm is that we will be releasing detailed policies and will be considered and assessed policies. Yeah, well.


Pete Stefanovic: [Laughs] Here we go. All these leaked papers, and you’re not going to give me anything.


Simon Birmingham: [Laughs] Look, I’d love to jump out ahead of Dutts and Ted and just give you the scoop, Pete. But it’s not going to happen. Instead, what we will be doing, it’ll be a policy that really looks at the three key pillars that have got to be delivered, and that is how do we ensure reliability in our energy grid, how do we ensure the lowest cost and the most reliable pathway towards net zero emissions. And that is where we’ve been very open about the fact we have been looking at removing the prohibitions on nuclear energy in Australia and how that could play a role and ensure we actually do get to net zero.


Pete Stefanovic: How are you going to do that, by the way? That can’t be easy to remove those nuclear prohibitions.


Simon Birmingham: Well, this is of course, why firstly, we’re doing the detailed policy work. But secondly, we will take it to the Australian people and it will be a very honest conversation. This is a matter of some political courage by Peter Dutton and our team to look at something that historically has been put off the table in Australia. But realistically, we are the only G20 country to not either have nuclear energy or be undertaking work towards nuclear energy as part of a net zero future. So, we are completely out of step. And of course, it makes no sense when we are also the G20 nation with some of the largest known reserves of uranium deposits in our country. So once again, we are blessed as we are in almost all spheres of energy, with great resources available to us as a country. Yet in this space, we have laws at present that say they’re not actually able to be used in our country. We’re looking at how we might change that, what the best approach would be, and we will take it to the people, quite transparently, to say this is a difficult change, that Australia has to have an open conversation about, but we will seek a mandate from the Australian people to make those changes with detailed policy, and it will be far more credible than the type of $270 promise to cut Australia’s electricity bills that Anthony Albanese took the last election, which of course has proven to be complete bunkum when Australians have seen their electricity bills go up, not down, contrary to his promises.


Pete Stefanovic: Yeah, so I just I just had the Treasurer on. We were talking about this he referred to this leak so far of detail as, as the Coalition’s nuclear fantasy. You know, he obviously backed in his government’s plan for renewables, saying they are the way of the future, pointing to nuclear, saying the costs are going to be out of control. What do you do with the waste? How are you going to afford it? All that kind of stuff. So, I mean, is that an example of the political courage you’re going to need to be able to come up against all of that and have answers for all of that?


Simon Birmingham: Pete, it is sad that it looks like we’re going to see a massive scare campaign from the Labor Party on this. Rather, than actually looking at the fact that taking a technology neutral approach to how Australia assesses its energy mix is a sensible thing to do. Now, the Albanese Government’s plans involve tens of billions of dollars of network upgrades, which is essentially big new infrastructure investments in poles and wires being built across the country. Whereas there is a chance that in looking at the type of work that we have considered, you’ll be able to make better use of existing infrastructure rather than the enormous costs and the environmental impact that all of those additional new poles and wires require. So, there are a lot of different parts to the energy mix. It’s why it is complex. But Ted O’Brien has been doing a huge body of work and analysis to make sure that we are taking the right and careful steps to ultimately give our energy market a technology neutral approach that can ensure that new generation technologies and the nuclear space that are zero emissions have a chance of playing a role.


Pete Stefanovic: I’m almost out of time, Simon, but I do want to ask you about this $2 billion investment in cleaner energy in South East Asia. While we’re on the topic, is that a worthy investment the PM’s going to announce today?


Simon Birmingham: A few quick points there, Pete. Firstly, it makes enormous sense and great opportunities for Australia to grow and strengthen two-way investment ties with South East Asia. Nicholas Moore, who we used in government, has done important work with the South East Asia economic and investment strategy, and we really do welcome his work. The details of this fund are something that we will closely scrutinise, to make sure that we understand the budgetary impacts, and that the government’s proposal is one that does actually maximise, as Nicholas Moore would have us do, the real economic benefits to Australia as well as our South East Asia partners.


Pete Stefanovic: Okay. And just finally in 30s if you can, the Malaysian PM was quite a strong rebuke yesterday basically, you know, suggesting that we’re forcing our China issues onto them. Are we?


Simon Birmingham: No. Look, Australia’s position is not one to seek to force any nation to choose between others. It is one where we want to ensure that the sovereignty of all nations within our region is respected and respected in ways where all can have their territorial boundaries respected. The international laws and rules respected, including the International Law of the Sea, and all are not facing undue interference in their own nations. So, working together towards those objectives is at the core of certainly our approach. It needs to be at the core of Australia’s approach.


Pete Stefanovic: That’s the Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham. Thanks for your time as always, Simon. We’ll chat to you soon.