SATURDAY, 8 FEBRUARY 2020
MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY: This is a divided, shambles of a Federal Government. It is divided over the science of climate change. It is divided over energy policy, and already this morning it is divided over company taxation.
Australians needs a Government that is focused on meeting all of these challenges. But, instead, Scott Morrison leads a team that is focused on its own internal divisions, fighting over the spoils of government, and finding new ways to spend billions of taxpayers’ money on their own political ends.
Over the course of this week we saw the Government simply incapable of acknowledging the deep concern in the Australian community about the threat of climate change, particularly over this most awful of summers that we have been experiencing in recent months.
And this morning we see the Government still has no energy policy - just ideological flights of fantasy. We’ve seen plans this morning to spend potentially billions of taxpayers’ money on building a new coal-fired power station that private investors will not touch with a bargepole. And yet more Coalition MPs pushing the Government to build incredibly expensive nuclear power stations right up and down the coast of Australia.
Australia needs a plan for its future - but this divided, shambolic Government is simply incapable of coming up with that plan. There is no plan to get the economy and wages going. There is no plan to fix Australia’s energy crisis and there is certainly no plan to tackle climate change.
JOURNALIST: Do you see any merit in the plan to increase tax on the gas industry?
BUTLER: All we’ve seen so far is a well-placed leak apparently from the Government to The Australian newspaper. We don’t make a practice of responding to Government leaks. If there is a serious proposal the Government wants to put on the table, of course we will look at it very closely, very seriously and take it through our proper processes. But I do note already that the fellow who was the Resources Minister only six or seven days ago, Matt Canavan from Queensland, has already come out and panned his own Government’s proposal.
JOURNALIST: The Queensland Labor Government increased the rate of royalty taxes on petroleum by 25 per cent as part of its 2019 State Budget, do you think the industry is being unfairly targeted by both parties at both levels?
BUTLER: We’re not going to respond to speculation, particularly in the media, about a proposal we haven’t yet seen. Obviously all Australians expect that companies that are able to make a profit out of Australia’s resources will pay proper amounts of taxation. We are not going to respond to media leaks, unlike Matt Canavan who as I said was the Resources Minister six days ago and who has already come out and panned his own Government’s proposal which we haven’t seen yet.
JOURNALIST: While we are on Queensland, what do you make of the Federal Government’s spending up to $6 million on two new Queensland electricity generation projects, including a coal-fired power plant?
BUTLER: The private investment sector has made it very clear, it has no appetite for building expensive, new coal-fired power stations. The only way the Coalition party room gets its way, its ideological obsession with having a new coal-fired power station built in Australia, is for taxpayers to foot the bill. The proponent of this station has made it clear that they want a taxpayer indemnity against future carbon risk and the Australian Industry Group, the peak employer organisation, has indicated that that indemnity might run to $17 billion of taxpayer funds. Now if the investment sector, the industry itself won’t touch this project, why should taxpayers foot that bill?
JOURNALIST: Do you think the Government overpromised when they initially claimed they would get the Budget back in the black?
BUTLER: Let’s wait and see. The economy was already faltering before the coronavirus, before the awful summer of natural disasters, particularly bushfires, that we’ve seen. Constant revisions downwards to economic growth, wages figures and suchlike so I think Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg’s boast about a Budget surplus last year was already pretty ambitious but we’ll wait and see what the Budget figures in the future hold.
What is clear is that Australians need a plan to get the economy going, to get wages growing again, and this shambolic, internally divided Government is simply incapable of coming up with a plan.
JOURNALIST: It has been revealed a Queensland community promised $2 million in federal funds for a new swimming pool says it didn’t want the grant in the first place. This money is from a different scheme. Will the Senate Inquiry examine this issue to?
BUTLER: This latest rort, it is a sports rort on steroids. It makes the last sports rort scheme, which Bridget McKenzie lost her job over, look relatively modest. $150 million spent, entirely as I understand it, in Coalition held seats. No guidelines - apparently the only guidelines were the electoral margins of Coalition held seats that were targeted with this money. Obviously we are going to look at this forensically. We are back in Parliament next week and we intend to hold this Government to account for their waste of hundreds and hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars simply focused on their own party political ends.
JOURNALIST: So guidelines for the program were promised but never published and the great majority of funding went towards swimming pools in just 11 Coalition held seats., how concerning is that?
BUTLER: This is extraordinarily concerning and it is just now becoming a course of conduct, a recidivist Government intent on spending huge amounts of taxpayers money just for their own electoral purposes. It is a complete rort.
JOURNALIST: Is this further evidence that the Gaetjens report should be released?
BUTLER: The ANAO, the Auditor-General, a statutory office holder who is commissioned by the Parliament to look at the expenditure of public money has already made his view utterly clear about the sports rorts scheme. It was rorted, it was of questionable legal validity and it went overwhelmingly to Coalition held seats. Now it looks relatively modest compared to this latest sports rorts on steroids, the swimming pool saga. We are going to make sure that this Government is held to account in every possible way.
JOURNALIST: Keith Pitt is the new Minister for Mining and Water, how can mining and water fit into the same portfolio?
BUTLER: That is a matter for Scott Morrison to explain. We always took the view, John Howard always took the view that the management of Australia’s precious water resources should sit with the environment department. At the end of the day, an environmentally sustainable water resource, whether it is the Murray Darling Basin or anywhere else on our continent, is the only way to ensure environmental sustainability obviously - but also to ensure that there are sustainable communities along the Murray Darling Basin. We don’t support the idea that water resources should be taken out of the environment department and put along a resources portfolio.
JOURNALIST: Nationals frontbencher Darren Chesters has downplayed suggestions his colleagues may cross the floor in Parliament due to his party’s internal unrest and there is no legislation that anyone would cross on, do you buy that?
BUTLER: I don’t think anyone buys this. This is a deeply internally divided Government. The first week back after this most awful of summers, the new decade and all we saw last week was the Government focused on its own internal divisions. Fighting over the spoils of Government instead of helping the country meet all of these challenges. The challenges of a faltering economy, climate change, energy prices and so much more. This divided, shambolic Government is incapable of meeting Australia’s national interest.
JOURNALIST: Is the Government releasing enough information on Coronavirus or could they be doing more?
BUTLER: The Opposition has tried as far as possible to provide whatever support we can to the Government. The Government is acting on medical advice and obviously this is a very deep global crisis that the world is facing. We want to make sure the Government acts promptly, on the basis of medical advice, and we support the measures that have been taken so far.