May 28, 2021



FRIDAY, 28 MAY 2021

SUBJECTS: Callide power station explosion; LNP and Greens politicising workplace accident; Qld’s broad energy mix. 

PAUL CULLIVER, HOST: There's also the very real concern of how our workers are going on the ground living and working in the Callide and Biloela region. Well, Senator for Queensland, Murray Watt, Labor Senator, has been on the ground. Let's find out what he's learnt. Senator, good morning to you. 

MURRAY WATT, SHADOW MINISTER FOR QUEENSLAND RESOURCES: Good morning, Paul, good to be with you from Gladstone this morning. 

CULLIVER: Tell me a bit about your visit to Biloela. 

WATT: Yeah, I went out to Biloela last night with Matt Burnett, the mayor of Gladstone - and he's obviously Labor's candidate for the federal election in Flynn as well - really to meet with the workers, to hear firsthand from people what happened and where we're going from here. I've obviously been in Canberra this week, for Senate estimates, but I thought it was really important to get out to Bilo to meet with the workers. 

This has obviously been a really serious incident and it's very, very lucky that no one was harmed or even killed through this accident. When you have an explosion in a power station there's a lot of things that can go wrong. So fortunately, no one has been injured. And really what people were talking about last night is the need to ensure that the workplace is safe. Obviously, there are some issues that now need to be investigated about how this occurred. And the workers are very keen to get back to work as quickly as possible, but only in a manner that's safe. And so worker safety was really that number one, two and three issues that came through when we were talking to people last night. 

CULLIVER: Yeah, absolutely. Now, we should be clear about this, there’s Callide B and there's Callide C - there's two generating units per each. So there are still three, in theory, operable generating units. CS Energy is saying that they want to bring back those three by Friday - so we're a week away from that. Obviously, the third where the explosion (was) is going to require a whole lot more work. And I think that's unclear at this point what that work's going to entail. Are there concerns about whether that's too soon to be bringing back those generating units? 

WATT: Well, I think clearly the company needs to make sure that everything is perfectly safe for the workforce before it gets back up and running. Fortunately, the company has made the right decision to make sure that people are being paid while these matters are being looked into. So people haven't lost their jobs and haven't lost their pay in the meantime. But it's in the interests of these workers, the local community and frankly, the entire state, to get this power station up and running again as quickly as possible. But it's critical that the workers’ safety is guaranteed before that occurs. 

CULLIVER: I mean, we think it probably is a minor miracle that no one was hurt given, I suppose, the scale of this and we're going to learn more about exactly what happened and the nature of that explosion over time. But I suppose, is there a sentiment - you know, no one got hurt and we are very grateful for that - is there a sentiment that, in fact, the right processes were followed, the right evacuations happened? And in fact, you know, the industry and the organisation operated as it should have to keep people safe? 

WATT: Well, we certainly heard a lot of stories about things that - that could have been done differently. I don't want to prejudice the investigation that's now underway by, sort of, saying too much about different things that we heard. But it did sound to me that there are some issues around training of staff in evacuation processes and a whole range of other things that probably need to be looked at. And, you know, when these kinds of events occur, it's a massive wake up call for company management and also the workforce that these are inherently dangerous workplaces. And you can never do enough training and safety preparation to keep people safe. 

CULLIVER: From this point forward what do you want to hear from and see from CS Energy? 

WATT: Well, I think it is important that CS Energy, as quickly as possible, clarify what its plans are about the return to work. As you say, the majority of the turbines are expected to get back up and running in the next week or so. But some clear messages from CS Energy about its plans, I think would be would be helpful. And I think they've got to be really clear with the workforce about what's going to change, in terms of safety, to make sure that we don't see this kind of incident again. 

CULLIVER: Quite remarkable the speed at which the politicking began after this explosion, and then perhaps we broke some kind of land-speed record from disaster to politicking after this, so congratulations to every politician involved. Murray Watt, you are the Labor Senator for Queensland. The LNP would have us believe that Labor want to shut down every coal-fired power station in Australia. Is that true? 

WATT: No it's not, it's complete rubbish that you keep hearing from the National Party. And I have to say, I think that's actually one of the most disappointing aspects of this entire explosion.
If you go back and have a look at any public statements that I've made on social media or in the general media since this explosion occurred, the only thing I, and other Labor politicians, have commented on is the need for the safety of the workers. But as you say, within minutes, literally, of this explosion occurring, you had Matt Canavan, other National Party people out there, saying ‘this is proof that we need more coal-fired power’. You had the extreme Greens out there saying it showed that we had to close down power stations. I mean, can we have a bit of respect for the workers? They'd just been through one of the most traumatic incidents in their lives, where it was quite possible that their workmates might have been injured or killed. And it took minutes before you had the extremes of politics out there pushing their political agenda. 

I just think it's a disgraceful way to treat the workers, when they've gone through an incident like that. And all of us, no matter what our politics are, should be 100 percent focussed on the workers involved, making sure they're safe and making sure they can get back to work as quickly as possible. So, look, you know, there'll be plenty of time for political debate about what this means about energy sources and things like that. But can we not do it, like, within minutes of workers narrowly missing a disastrous workplace accident? I think it's really insulting.
CULLIVER: Well, unfortunately, I daresay the debate's going to continue regardless. Of course, LNP Members would say, you know, Matt Canavan has said, that indeed coal-fired power - and Colin Boyce has voiced this view as well - we need more coal-fired power so that we have a more reliable energy system. Are they right?
WATT: Well, there is no doubt that we need to maintain our current coal-fired power stations, and everyone from Anthony Albanese down in the federal Labor Party has said that. We saw what happened this week when we lose a major power station. And fortunately the power system didn't collapse, but it puts extreme pressure, and that's why we can't go out tomorrow and start shutting down power stations. All of the Queensland power stations will keep operating until the end of their life. We're actually very fortunate in Queensland that we have the youngest fleet of coal-fired power stations in the country and they will continue to run and supply power across our state. And frankly, they supply power to other states as well. So there's no threat to their future.
The reality is, though, the thing that actually saved us here in this incident was that Queensland is fortunate to have a broad energy mix. The thing that kept the lights on through this incident was that we do have a combination of coal, gas and renewables. And it was the fact that we had all of those sources of power that meant that the power system didn't collapse. If we put all of our eggs in one basket, whether it be coal or gas or renewables, that's when we run the risk that incidents like this bring the whole system down. So I don't take this as evidence that we need more of this, or more of that. What it shows to me is that we need a broad mix. And of course, what we want to do going forward is make sure that we have the forms of power that are the cheapest, the most reliable and the cleanest. So that's the way I think things will go from here on in. 

CULLIVER: All right, Senator, for Queensland, I dare say this conversation is not over, but we'll continue on another time. Murray Watt Senator for Queensland with the Labor Party, thank you so much.

WATT: Good on you, Paul.