Image for STATE: Bad News Trainwreck For Good News Will

First published February 13

ABC936 Morning Show, Leon Compton, 12 February 2016

Leon Compton:

It has been a challenging past month for the state - there has been fire, of course, across large swathes of the Tasmanian landscape - in fact, even today, our firies and firies from interstate are still helping deal with the issues. There is the power crisis. There are cuts to the CSIRO that could, according to the scientists we have been speaking to, have an enormous impact for Tasmania’s scientific community and reputation. Now Tasmania’s oysters are being killed by disease. You would have heard on the Country Hour yesterday, Neil Stump, suggesting that as many as 70 per cent of the crop at the moment might be facing a wipeout. Tasmania’s Premier is Will Hodgman and he joins us this morning. Let’s start with the CSIRO. In Estimates yesterday, the organisation confirmed that as many as 200 jobs in Tasmania could be affected by their move away from climate science. What are you doing about it?

Will Hodgman:
Yes, look, that is a horrible scenario that we are taking up very actively with the federal government. I have been in contact with Minister Pyne as has my minister, Matthew Groom, by phone and in writing. I am seeking an urgent meeting with Dr Marshall to understand the likely ramifications of what is an operational decision. It is not one made by the federal government in a political context. But certainly we will resist any move that has such a devastating impact on Tasmania’s scientific and research capacity, particularly those people who are employed at CSIRO, and one that diminishes Tasmania’s reputation as a hub for these sorts of endeavours.

Leon Compton:
Okay. It is a potentially enormously significant decision. You said in a release earlier in the week you have written to Mr. Pyne. Have you actually spoken to the Science Minister, one-on-one?

Will Hodgman:
Yes, I have made direct contact with Minister Pyne by phone, as has Minister Groom.

Leon Compton:
Okay. But, to be clear, you have spoken with him directly about this?

Will Hodgman:
I have spoken, I have left a message with him, and we’ve had contact with his office. We have had departmental contact to understand the ramifications of this decision. Mr. Groom -

Leon Compton:
Premier, you haven’t spoken with Christopher Pyne about this?

Will Hodgman:
No, I haven’t. I have made contact with him by phone, including by leaving a message on his phone. My minister has done the same thing. I mean, federal parliament is sitting, we have been in contact in writing as well and there has been departmental engagement at a State and Commonwealth level to understand the ramifications of this decision so there can be no suggestion Leon that we are not taking this up with our federal colleagues. But, as I say, it is in fact an operational decision taken by the CSIRO which we will be taking up with them as well.

Leon Compton:
Okay. But people might be surprised that you haven’t yet spoken to Christopher Pyne, the Science Minister. Have you had a response to the letters that you have been writing or the message that you have left with his office?

Will Hodgman:
I haven’t personally.


Leon Compton:
Does that bother you, given the importance of the decision it seems the Head of the CSIRO wants to take at the moment?

Will Hodgman:
Well, what we are doing is ensuring that people in the federal government and also in the CSIRO are aware of the Tasmanian government’s position on this decision. We do not in any way think it’s an appropriate strategic decision for the CSIRO to be taking, nor indeed do we want to see the potential loss of up to 200 jobs here in Tasmania in this sector.

Leon Compton:
With respect, Premier, you are leaving messages and writing letters. Are you doing enough on an issue that threatens Tasmania’s reputation in climate science?

Will Hodgman:
Yes, I think contacting our counterparts and contacting the senior executive officer of the CSIRO are significant steps to be taken particularly when our message is very clear. We don’t support what is being proposed. We are alarmed at the notion that there could be up to 200 jobs lost. We think it severely undermines Tasmania’s capacity as a research and science hub. We don’t support this thing occurring. It is a very strong message.

Leon Compton:
To the power crisis. Have Basslink told you specifically what the problem with the cable that connects Tasmania to Victoria actually is yet?

Will Hodgman:
No. We are in regular and close contact with Basslink. The Energy Subcommittee of Cabinet meets regularly - twice this week, we will meet shortly this morning as well. And, look, I am not able to pre-empt the decisions of the committee meeting, nor indeed an update from Basslink which is anticipated a little later this morning, but I can confirm that we have received advice, an update from Basslink late yesterday afternoon, which suggests that a further delay in the repair of the cable is likely. We won’t receive a clear indication of the expected completion date. This is another disappointment. It is certainly not the news we want, and it is frustrating, but as we’ve said consistently when we provide regular updates for the public in relation to any developments, we will report on those, but importantly also inform the Tasmanian people about what we are doing – what plans we have in place – by way of contingency to ensure that Tasmania’s energy security remains. And that includes progressively activating temporary diesel generation, for example; we are going to have around 100 megawatts of that up and running by March. We’ve got the Tamar Valley Power Station up and running, and, in combination, these provide close to 500 megawatts of power which is around what the Basslink interconnector itself provides when it is operating.

Leon Compton:
To be clear, that’s a significant update that there will be a further delay to the repair of the Basslink cable. The date was March 19 for repair. What is the new expected date for the repair of Basslink?

Will Hodgman:
Well, that’s, as I say, we don’t anticipate that we will be apprised of that information today either. There will be a Basslink update. It is a market update. And you’ve got to remember, Leon, that this is a public company. It is not a government–owned business, and they have their own commercial obligations – market obligations, in terms of reporting. They have been very forthcoming in providing the Tasmanian government with updates but they have not been able to provide us with a clear indication as to the fault on the interconnector nor indeed a definitive repair date. And, as I say, this is extremely frustrating. I mean, no one is suggesting for a minute that these aren’t…

Leon Compton:
Premier, with respect, it is more than frustrating. It is extremely concerning. We have already seen industry producing less as a result of this. Will you be asking for industry to hand back more power and shutting parts of Tasmania’s industrial sector down in response to this?


Will Hodgman:
No, we are not anticipating any such move in the near future. Nor indeed in the foreseeable future, nor indeed are we proposing residential rationing, as some might have us do. But, look, Leon -

Leon Compton:
So how are you responding? I mean, we are going to see storages down to 14 per cent on your current projection. We have seen Bell Bay already agree to hand back power. What is going to happen? Are you going to run the storages lower than 14 per cent before the hope that it rains?

Will Hodgman:
Let’s be clear here. An hysterical tone is not assisting the public discourse. There are very serious and challenging circumstances we are confronting. And I am not making any bones about that. But what we have in place, Leon, are contingencies that we have implemented. The Tamar Valley Power Station coming back online some months ago was in anticipation of extraordinary dry conditions that we are experiencing. The Basslink interconnector disruption was not anticipated, but since that event occurred, as unlikely as it was, we have put in place contingencies to bring on temporary generation capacity via diesel generators. We have got some on island, others coming, as I say, with a capacity to input around 100 megawatts of temporary generation power into our state.

Leon Compton:
So, Premier, your plan at this stage is to burn diesel at some point to keep the lights on in Tasmania. That is an incredibly expensive and inefficient way to generate electricity, as you well know, rather than asking Tasmanians to use less power, rather than asking industry to do less for a period of time?

Will Hodgman:
You know, well, we’ve also done that – or Hydro Tasmania has struck commercial arrangements with Temco and Bell Bay Aluminium to in fact reduce their loads, as has happened, so that has also reduced the strain on our energy system. And, of course, Tasmanians I believe are typically prudent and sensible when it comes to energy usage in their homes, and small businesses are as well, and we, of course, urge them to continue to be so. But the government’s view is that temporary generation capacity that we have brought onto the island is preferable to requiring the sorts of measures you and others are proposing.

Leon Compton:
On the subject of oysters, the industry estimates as many as 70 per cent of the state’s oyster crop at the moment might be lost because of the POMS virus. What are you doing about that? They say they want help.

Will Hodgman:
Yes, and I have been in contact with senior industry officials on this subject, Leon - but, more importantly, my minister has also been in regular contact and has had meetings with industry leaders, growers and others to ascertain firstly what it is that is causing what is having a devastating impact on one of our natural fisheries and also how we might respond. And we will be providing more details as to the government’s response in the very near future.

Leon Compton:
In the very near future. Like when? I mean, they are laying off staff right now. When will your government have measures – whatever those measures might be, if anything - when will your government announce what they are going to do to respond to this?


Will Hodgman:
Within a matter of days, Leon, and we are responding as quickly as we can. We need to understand, as I say, what is causing this outbreak. How we can prevent it. Monitoring is absolutely critical, and we have utilised industry expertise on that front as well, and there’s been consensus that that is the priority but alongside that and contemporaneously we are also understanding the impact that this is having on the fishery and on those in the industry and how we can best respond to that.

Leon Compton:
Are you of a mind to make financial support available for the industry? They are asking for license fees to be waived. Are you of a mind to do that?

Will Hodgman:
Of course, they are the sorts of matters that we are working through and consider extremely likely.

Leon Compton:
On the subject of a pay rise, in two weeks time the Industrial Commissioner is going to recommend a pay rise for you and the state’s many politicians. You fired teachers 12 months ago out of Tasmanian schools for daring to accept any pay rise at all. What will be fair for politicians in Tasmania in two weeks time when this pay rise is offered?

Will Hodgman:
Well, I will correct you, Leon. There were no forced redundancies, as you assert.

Leon Compton: Two hundred teachers were let go out of Tasmania’s schools because they wouldn’t accept a pay pause. You are about to be offered a pay increase. What would be fair given that you were asking them to accept nothing?

Will Hodgman:
Well, it wouldn’t be fair to accept your inaccurate representation of what occurred, Leon. But to go to the heart of the matter, and as we have put in place budget measures which have got our budget back under control and in fact allow us to invest in additional teaching capacity in our schools, and particularly in specialist areas like maths and science, but that aside, Leon, we have long held a view – and it’s one that has been advocated by others – that politicians shouldn’t be setting their own pay. There needs to be independent analysis and assessment done as to what we are worth. There will always be a lot of conjecture and debate about that in the community, we understand, but it’s not good for politicians to be setting their own pay at any time, and that’s why the matter was referred to the Industrial Commission.

Leon Compton:
What if he offers you a 7 per cent pay rise, would you take it?


Will Hodgman:
Well, we’ll have to wait and see what is in fact proposed, Leon. But, again, it shouldn’t be for politicians to make determinations as to their salary. This has been an ongoing issue for many years, and in the past when it’s occurred, it’s obviously not been met with any community support. We need to break that nexus and ensure that there is appropriate independent scrutiny and assessment of Parliamentarians salaries now and into the future. And, obviously, these matters need to be balanced against our economic and financial circumstances. I am not suggesting for a minute that a budget coming back into surplus sooner than we expected is any reason to give politicians a pay rise, but I am pleased to say that it is enabling us to put more money into the core business of government, into health, into education, into infrastructure, and that’s the dividends of getting a budget back under control.

Leon Compton:
Premier, finally, in a month, it will be a two year anniversary of your government being in power – the halfway mark of this term. There are some in the community who would describe your government as taking a small target approach. What do you actually stand for as a government?

Will Hodgman:
Well, we stand for a government that is able to spend within its means, get its budget back under control; that supports economic growth and development in this state, and that is occurring in Tasmania, 6 per cent – rather six years of less economic growth than we are now experiencing - our unemployment rate has come down, we’ve got business confidence at the highest levels in the nation and we’ve got around 4700 more Tasmanians in employment now than at the time of the election. So economic growth and budget sustainability are critical to my government’s agenda, and we are also serious about improving essential services for Tasmanians in areas like health and education, and we are seeing improvements. A long way to go, but we are investing more in those areas. And we are tackling difficult issues, for example, child protection. We are tackling family violence head on. These aren’t good news stories, Leon, but they are challenges that we are embracing with some enthusiasm given that we have got a long way to go, but we are prepared also as a government to not only invest more but work on measures, programs and policies, including in combination with the community sector and the private sector to deliver real outcomes for the state.

Leon Compton:
Finally, this morning we were estimating the storages would drop to 14 per cent before the Basslink problem was to be fixed.


Will Hodgman:
Yes.

Leon Compton:
And now you say there will be a delay in fixing the problem. Is this a power crisis for Tasmania, Premier?

Will Hodgman:
Look, however you describe it, Leon, these are extraordinarily difficult circumstances. They are very confronting, and are of serious concern to the government and its energy companies. And we are dealing with a critical response, and that is by having in place contingencies to keep Tasmania’s power supply secure – that does include temporary generation, that does include working with major industrials and that does, of course, include an expression to the Tasmanian public that if we can keep our power usage at a minimum and be careful and prudent and sensible then that will help to the cause.

Leon Compton:
So, are you asking people to adopt a sort of rationing of their power consumption?

Will Hodgman:
No. We are asking Tasmanians to go about their business as usual, and that is I believe inherently a sensible and prudent approach to energy usage in their own homes. I mean, most Tasmanians try and keep their power bills down as low as they can. It is a cost of living issue. Most people have to balance their home budgets as well. So we’re not asking or indeed imposing rations on domestic power users, but, of course, people will no doubt continue to do that in the course of their ordinary business, which is what we are encouraging them to do.

Leon Compton:
And, finally, when are you hoping to have a phone conversation with the science minister federally about your concerns about the cuts to the CSIRO?

Will Hodgman:
Look, I will be meeting with my federal colleagues in person in due course. I know you will make a lot of this, Leon, but calls from the premier and the minister to a federal minister – and indeed federal parliament is sitting as we speak – would not go unnoticed, nor indeed is written communication. These are serious representations by the Tasmanian government, and we will indeed follow them up, importantly, with the CSIRO, I mean, we can have a political argument with our ministerial colleagues and they will be left in no doubt about what this would mean for Tasmania, but we will also, importantly, have this with the CSIRO because it is just not on.

Leon Compton:
Good to talk with you this morning.

• Simon Warriner in Comments: Leon Crompton failed to ask what Hodgman’s govt is going to do about the six day delay in calling for reinforcements in the face of an unprecedented fire crisis. Other than that it is a real pleasure to see the fourth estate actually doing its job. If only it happened more often.

• John Hayward in Comments: The world’s physicists are rejoicing at recent evidence from two distant black holes of the existence of gravitation.  Tas has two black holes, Lib and Lab, which provide the same thing right here. Go for it, Will!

• John Powell in Comments: … I ... wish to applaud Leon on the incisiveness and determination of his questioning. ABC Tasmania must be congratulated on obtaining his services and using him in the fashion as demonstrated this morning. I have to declare an interest in my comments. As Project Director of the Wimmera Mallee Pipeline from 2002 to 2004 I was frequently subjected to the same intense interrogation when I was in an equivalent role for the ABC Horsham Mornings program. He displayed all the attributes he showed this morning on those occasions and has improved par excellence!

#politas Twitter HERE (there’s a permanent link in TT’s left col). The feed includes this complaint: “So @936hobart uploaded today’s interview with Basslink, but not the @WillHodgman interview. Why? #weird #politas https://soundcloud.com/936-abc-hobart”

• In Comments ... What the Pollies say about the State’s Budget update ...

• John Powell in Comments: … And what has the Minister and his Coordinator General (CoG) done over the past 8 months of an emergent energy crisis? NOTHING! And yes the Granville project will not have been able to assist today, but it is symptomatic of a Government crippled by indecision, Public Servant incompetence (in this case the CoG) and general Cabinet confusion. …