Transcript - Sky News - 14 February 2020


SUBJECTS: Sports rorts saga; Gaetjens Report; Canberra dinners; TPG and Vodafone merger.

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Welcome back. Joining us here in the studio is Stephen Jones Shadow Assistant Treasurer. Thanks very much for your time.

STEPHEN JONES: Great to be with you.

TOM CONNELL: I'm sure you were viewing the committee in earnest on over the so-called sports rorts scandal and this appears to be what Labor wanted, some evidence that they were not eligible. So where to from here, because the Government's not as managed to push back the tactic in the Senate over Mathias Cormann. What are you going to do from here?

JONES: This is absolutely huge. The Prime Minister has been saying for a month Wow that every single one of those grants was eligible. This was his grand defence, that every single one of those grants was eligible. 42 percent, so nearly half of them, were ineligible. It's more evidence of Scott Morrison being loose with the truth. What is most extraordinary about this is the Prime Minister got the head of his own Department to do a deep dive into each and every one of those grants and the operation of the program. He won't release it, but he absolutely must have known once he received the Gaetjens Report that he was not telling the truth, that things that he has been saying for the last month weren't true and what he's been saying since he receives a report wasn't true, that they simply weren't eligible. So we're now calling on the Prime Minister to do the right thing and release the Gaetjens Report and explain to the Australian people why he hasn't been telling the truth for the last two weeks about the eligibility of those projects

ANNELISE NIELSEN, HOST: The argument from the Government is that that is a Cabinet-in-Confidence document. It’s normal procedure that any of those documents that do go to Cabinet are kept secret at least until the archives decided to release them in a few decades. Why should this be any different?

JONES: I think it's in the prime minister's interest, he needs to explain why he hasn't been telling the truth. Was the Gaetjens investigation into this sports saga so incompetent that they didn't shine a light on the fact that nearly half of those projects weren't eligible? Did they fail to advise the Prime Minister of this, or did they advise the Prime Minister that they weren't eligible and the Prime Minister hasn't been telling the truth since he received that report? They can't both be right.

CONNELL: Initially the Auditor-General, of course, was not saying there was an eligibility issue. What we're talking about in the vast majority of circumstances is the projects had started by the time the grants happened. It sounds more like a technicality rather than this is a terrible project, we shouldn't fund it. It's just that it technically shouldn't have been started that project by the time the money flowed.

JONES: Some of them were knocked out which were ineligible because they hadn't started. Some of them are applied after the close off date for fund eligibility. But here's the key point, thousands and thousands of clubs around the country would have looked at the criteria and said well, we're not eligible, we can't apply because we've already started building our project, or we're out of time and they didn't apply. Had they had that inside access, had they had the political connections, had they known that these guidelines didn't mean anything, if you could get in the Prime Minister and Bridget McKenzie’s ear, maybe they would have had access to the grants that all of these other projects had. There are so many questions that need to be answered and the Prime Minister once again has been caught being very loose with the truth.

NIELSEN: One of the stories it's been kicking around Canberra this week is the Otis dining group, these Labor MPs that are supposedly meeting to background against Anthony Albanese. It was obviously enough of a concern that he called Joel Fitzgibbon into his office to ask what was happening. What do you think? I didn't see your name on the guest list.

JONES: All I can say is good job on Sky for not breaking the story. You know, a group of MPs have a dinner in Canberra, there's a breaking yarn. There's a huge story, a group of MPs get together to have dinner in a yarn about some of their policies, their thoughts, their interests. I do it every night of the week, every night I'm here in Canberra I'll have dinner with a few mates, and by jeez if only people would listen to us and the ideas that we come up with, this country would be a better place. Nothing to see here, not extraordinary at all.

CONNELL: The talk that they are pushing on is to do with climate, which is what they are doing with, some concern, about Anthony Albanese’s direction. I want to ask you about this, AGL, in a statement, has said it will have coal-fired power stations for a long time in Australia until the late 2040s. Are you comfortable with that.

JONES: I think the coal-fired power station still have a way to go, but what's also happening is a transition is on and all of the major generating companies, all of the major retailers, they're all diversifying. Yes, we're going to continue to have coal-fired power for a long time to come. I'm not convinced that we should be building any more of these things. I think they're far too expensive and they can only be built with massive taxpayer subsidies. Let's get over that debate. We're arguing across purposes.

CONNELL: Okay, not building new ones, but Loy Yang, for example, would go into 2048, that uses brown coal which is very high emitting. Do you think that should happen, that should be running until 2048?

JONES: As long as it's meeting all of the environmental requirements, so long as it's bankers are willing to continue to finance it, it'll have a place within the grid. I suspect a few things are going to happen between now and then. I think the retail sector and I think the market is going to be demanding more sustainable sources of energy generation. That's going to happen, whether its wind, whether it's solar whether it's gas firming that up, whether it's batteries firming that up, the economics are changing and they're going to continue to change between now and 2045. Whether Loy Yang is still a part of the grid and generating at the same levels as they are today, many people who make a living out of this say it probably won't, but I think the market will determine that.

NIELSEN: If I could ask about the TPG merger with Vodafone. The ACCC is furious, they're supposed to be representing the interests of consumers. This would be a concern for consumers, as Adam Creighton from The Australian, points out share prices don't go up 20 percent because consumers are about to get a really good deal.

JONES: I think if you looked at this from the competition prism and what would apply to just about any other industry, you're probably say Adam has got a point. But if you look at the economics of the telecommunications industry, incredibly capital intensive, and you look at where Vodafone and TPG sit within the existing market, I don't think it stacks up. For the most part TPG and Vodafone aren't competing against each other one’s a broadband carrier and the other one’s a mobile phone carrier. By combining, and this is what the federal court has found, there's actually a greater chance that they're going to provide more competition to the market, that both basically operate within an inner city and urban footprint at the moment. Here's the test, I've got to say for the new merged entity, will they use that freed up capital to start expanding their mobile phone and their broadband networks into regional Australia? Because that's where we sorely need more competition and if that is delivered, that'll be a good thing. I've got to say when I run my eye over the merger I wasn't as concerned as many others, having a deep knowledge of how this market works and how the industry works, I think it has the potential to drive more competition not less.

NIELSEN: We do have the head of the ACCC really disagreeing with that. He says that this is a bad day for consumers and it's going to fight it. Is that not a cause for concern for consumers?

JONES: These are things on which reasonable people, informed people, can disagree. I happen to think that a merged entity has got more capital, more oomph to take on the big guys, Telstra and Optus, in all of this. I can guarantee you that there wasn't a lot of celebration around the Optus and the Telstra board rooms at around lunchtime yesterday.

NIELSEN: I think Andy Penn said it will be good for the industry.

JONES: Well, of course, he’s got to take this with a big smile on his face, but I can guarantee you a merged entity is going to be creating more competition for Telstra around its network.

CONNELL: Would you urge the ACCC not to pursue it? They're weighing up what they're going to do here.

JONES: I don't think it's my role to intervene on this, to be advising the ACCC one way or the other.

CONNELL: That sounds like your opinion though.

JONES: I have an opinion and I think my knowledge of the way this industry is operating at the moment, I think it's got the potential to create more competition not less.

NIELSEN: There we go. Stephen Jones. Thank you for your time.

JONES: Great to be with you.