WEDNESDAY, 11 JULY 2018
SUBJECT/S: Abolition of Port Adelaide, Mark Latham, ACCC report
DAVID BEVAN: Let’s welcome our Super Wednesday panellists, Anne Ruston, Liberal Senator for South Australia, a regular guest on this program. Based in the Riverlands so she knows regional South Australia very well, welcome Anne Ruston.
ANNE RUSTON, LIBERAL SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA: Good morning.
BEVAN: Mark Butler in our studio; Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Labor member for Port Adelaide. Good morning to you.
MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY, MEMBER FOR PORT ADELAIDE: Good morning everyone.
BEVAN: And Cory Bernardi, leader of the Australian Conservatives.
CORY BERNARDI, AUSTRALIAN CONSERVATIVES SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA: Good morning.
BEVAN: Who, I stumbled because I was in a haze and gave you the Australian Democrats, and your payback was that you said you liked our program.
BERNARDI: Cruel of me.
BEVAN: Could you just leave us alone?
BERNARDI: Yeah, I’m going to help out with a Sarah Hanson-Young fundraising event.
BEVAN: Cory Bernardi, he’s here to help. Mark Butler, let’s begin with you. Everybody is worried about Mark Butler.
BUTLER: I’m not sure everyone is. I’ve seen no evidence of that.
ALI CLARKE: What, within your own party? Have you got a seat?
BUTLER: Well I have a seat for the time being, it’s called Port Adelaide. It’s a wonderful electorate. Beyond the next election it’s still a little unclear, but que sera sera, at the moment I’ve got a job and I’m trying to do it.
BEVAN: Now there is no doubt that you will have a position in the federal parliament after the next election, it’s just a question of whether it’s in the lower house or the Senate.
BUTLER: There is always doubt. There’s a fair bit to work through for the party here in South Australia because of the abolition of Port Adelaide and we’re working through that in the typical methodical, mature and sensible way that the South Australian branch is well known for. I hope that means that in some way I am able to continue to contribute to federal politics after the next election, but that’s not really a decision for me. I’ll let those discussions continue, but at the moment I’m the member for Port Adelaide and I’m working in that community that I love. I also have responsibilities in this energy debate which is pretty hot, pretty important at the moment so I’m getting on with those jobs.
BEVAN: The Left faction is your faction, you have strong backing from people within the Right such as Peter Malinauskas, the Opposition Leader, is a huge fan of your work. It’s quite clear the party’s not going to let you go, it’s just for the Right - they’re playing hardball and saying you’ve got to sort this out. You’ve got positions you can give Mark, it’s just a question of what you choose to do, is that so?
BUTLER: I just think there’s a range of scenarios and challenges facing the party, or the branch of the party here in South Australia, and we’re trying to work through them in the best interests of the party.
BEVAN: But you’d prefer to have Steve Georganas’ seat of Hindmarsh?
BUTLER: I’m not going in to that, that’s really a matter for the party to work through that.
BEVAN: No it’s really a matter for you.
BUTLER: No, it’s a matter for the party. It’s not a matter for me. I’ve said I’d like to continue to contribute to federal politics and representing the community in South Australia, but that’s ultimately a matter for the party. I’m happy for those discussions to continue and I think they’re continuing in the best interests of the party.
BEVAN: You’ve got to sort it quickly, though because you’ve got an election in what – nine, ten months?
BUTLER: That’s right. Obviously we can’t continue to talk about this forever. We do need to start to come to a position, but I am very comfortable. My sense is that everyone is very comfortable about the way in which the branch is dealing with this.
CLARKE: So when do you think everyone can stop asking you about this. When do you think there will be a result?
BUTLER: I honestly don’t know what the time line is, Ali, but I think that people are working on this with the urgency that it demands.
CLARKE: Okay, but how many months if you are going to-
BUTLER: I don’t think it’s going to be months. I don’t think it can be months. There is a possibility of an election as soon as September or October, so our branch-
CLARKE: So you’d like to know what you’re doing so that you can campaign?
BUTLER: I think all of us would like this resolved sooner than later, but at the end of the day it’s got to be the best resolution, not the quickest resolution. I’m very comfortable; I think everyone is comfortable with the way in which the branch is dealing with this.
Bernardi I’d hate to pick on poor old Mark Butler.
BUTLER:Nah go on. You can see he can’t wipe the smirk off his face.
CLARKE:You can actually see that smirk too; we are on Facebook Live if you do want to see that.
BEVAN: We’ll ask Cory Bernardi and Anne Ruston for their views on Mark Latham in just a moment, but Mark Butler I thought the best line from your party yesterday was from Tanya Plibersek, where she said that ‘if Mark Latham can do for One Nation’s vote what he did for ours, I’ll be really pleased’. How do you deal with a Mark Latham?
BUTLER:Mark’s like the naughty kid at the back of the classroom who keeps trying to get everyone’s attention by behaving badly and setting stuff on fire. Instead of doing what we do with that kid at the back of the classroom and ignoring the bad behaviour and finding other ways to improve their behaviour, we’re giving Mark all this attention. I can’t believe the amount of attention that Mark has got over the last couple of days for this pretty destructive, self-indulgent robo-call he’s poured into the poor people of Longman in Queensland as they try to sit down for their dinner. I just think Mark has become a figure of – not a figure of fun - but of destruction and division in federal politics. He’s been that way for more than a decade and frankly we shouldn’t give him the attention that he craves.
CLARKE: Anne Ruston?
RUSTON:Well I must admit I find it really quite bizarre. It’s the first time that I ever remember that I actually support Mark Latham’s comments. But, the reality is that it’s a very tough call. I’ve heard the call. He’s talking about the dishonesty of the leader, Bill Shorten, who has been dishonest with the Australian public. He was dishonest about the citizenship situation; he’s been dishonest about the way he’s been spruiking up school and hospital funding. He’s changed his line on corporate tax cuts. I mean the guy does have a bit of a reputation for not necessarily holding a line for very long.
CLARKE:Well, Cory Bernardi, would you if Mark Latham came along, would you sign him up and get him to endorse your party?
BERNARDI: I can see the value in a robo-call from Mark Latham, and I can understand why One Nation would have gone down that path. I don’t see that there is anything wrong with that, albeit he is a member of the Liberal Democrats. What I don’t politics needs is more side shows to be honest. We’ve got some serious issues that need to worked through – I’m just over the ego of politics and I just think we’ve got to get policy outcomes. So, you know, having stunts and holding out and black mailing governments to get outcomes for yourself, I don’t think is very good for the country but I think overall Mark Latham is making a contribution to the debate like it or loathe it.
BEVAN:He is moving further and further to the right, would you accept him in the Australian Conservatives?
BERNARDI: He chose to join the Liberal Democrats and I find I have a lot in common with Mark Latham in certain areas. You know, this identity politics is an anathema to where we are at – political correctness is stifling us, the education system is doing our children a disservice. But, you know, we depart in other ways as well, so, you know, I’m just trying to go about my business in a slightly different manner than many of the other cross benches and I think Mark is attracted to the more Pauline Hanson-esque type approach.
BEVAN: Is part of the problem, Marth Latham, he’s just not a very nice person.
BERNARDI:Well, I think, I don’t know him, I can’t comment on that. I’ve spoken to him a couple of times on the phone. He’s always been courteous to me. I find him quite insightful in some of his media appearances, but I don’t know him personally so I can’t judge.
BEVAN: When I say that, he can be very abrasive, very aggressive, very destructive - these are not; we’re not praising the man. That’s what I mean by he is not a very nice person. Mark Butler?
BUTLER:He is a wrecker not a builder. I’m not sure if he ever particularly was a builder but certainly since he lost the 2004 election it is hard to point to anything that he has said that is constructive, that he is in favour of, that he is trying to propose as a constructive direction for our country. There is a brand of right wing politics and a brand of left wing politics in this country and across the western world and democratic world that is very clear about what they are against but says very little about what they’re for; about constructive solutions for our country. Mark has become that person. He has become a person that is shrill and loud and aggressive about what he hates about this country but says next to nothing about what he thinks we should build for the country.
BEVAN: Let’s move on to energy.
BUTLER: Alright, I’m pleased. Let’s get off Mark Latham.
BEVAN: And Mark Butler. Stop talking about Marks.
BEVAN:We’ll move on to power bills. People listening right now they want cheaper power bills. Are we looking to the ACCC to deliver cheaper power?
BERNARDI: I’m going to say I welcome this report from the ACCC this morning because, or the productivity commission, because it bells the cat on what we have been saying for a very long time. That the electricity generators are gaming the system. That’s been denied by the Government repeatedly. They’ve been gouging consumers. They have been taking advantage of their role as generator and retailer. They take services out of the system, then bid the prices up and sell it to themselves. The other thing I welcome is the suggestion that the government should underwrite new dispatchable power, but I don’t think they should be doing that through a financing thing, they should be doing it through the allocation of their $450 million annual electricity expenditure and saying we will provide that to a new provider who will provide new, dispatchable, baseload power.
CLARKE:To Liberal Senator of South Australia, Anne Ruston.
RUSTON:Well, we certainly welcome this report this morning. I haven’t had the opportunity to look at it because it hadn’t been released, so my information is probably no better than what you’ve seen in the paper. But the thing that is so important here is the absolute focus on power prices. Everything that we’ve seen in this report is indicating that it was targeting reducing power prices for businesses and consumers. I think it’s good news but we need to get out there and make sure we widely consult about the recommendations. I welcomed Mark Butler’s comments earlier about Mark Latham being a wrecker and not a builder. I think today we got a blueprint to work through what is obviously quite a crisis in our energy sector, and I look forward to Mark not being a wrecker and being a builder, and working collectively so that we can actually deliver cheaper, more reliable power to all Australians.
CLARKE:And to clarify that is Mark Butler in the studio not Mark Latham.
BUTLER:I don’t expect Mark Latham to say much constructive about this report at all. This is the latest in a series of reports, I think this is the third in just two weeks, that have confirmed what Cory said, what we’ve been saying for some time, that the system is broken. That it is not delivering for consumers and instead is delivering mega-profits for the big power generators, or gentailers because they’re generators and retailers. Big power companies that were handed control of our system through, I think, a series of disastrous privatisation decisions over the last couple of decades by different Liberal state governments, including the state government here in South Australia. They’ve got extraordinary market power. It hasn’t delivered competition and reduced prices, as was promised through the 1990s in Victoria, here in South Australia and elsewhere. We’ve got a system that is broken and I hope that the Government will give consideration to the recommendations - we will; we haven’t seen the report yet because it hasn’t been released, but the media coverage indicates that it’s going down a direction that we’ve been talking about for a couple of years now. To prevent some of the things that we’ve been talking about, that Cory’s been talking about – the gaming of the system, the confusion consumers have when they’re looking at discounts that come off different benchmarks.
But my fear is that all of these reports that have been released over the last couple of years as power bills have been going up and up, have been lost in the fog of the civil war that’s been going on in the Coalition party room over energy policy. Already in the last couple of hours I’ve seen social media from one of the cabinet ministers, Matt Canavan, who’s claiming that this report is an endorsement of the National Party’s policy to throw $5 billion of taxpayers’ money at building new coal-fired power stations. Now I’ll be gobsmacked if there’s any endorsement of that in the ACCC report that’s been delivered today; I haven’t read it yet, but already we have a cabinet minister seeking to use this as a weapon in the civil war that’s going on in the Coalition party room over energy policy. Malcolm Turnbull needs to stamp his authority on this. It’s a very important report; it’s been the subject of 16 months of public submissions and hearings. It deserves very serious attention – that’s what we’ll give it – engagement with stakeholders and some action finally. Not just talk – some action.
BERNARDI:Can I say, I agree with Mark – it needs some action. I learnt about the electricity market from an eminent South Australian who understood all of these things and provided me with the information to identify problems that were there. I know that eminent South Australian went and spoke to the Energy Minister and spoke repeatedly with government ministers about the problems. Nothing has happened. We’ve had reports at 500 paces-
BEVAN: Who was that?
BERNARDI: I’d rather not mention his name, just in case it cools their career, like it’s done yours.
CLARKE: And he thanks you.
BEVAN: Hang on, you’re saying I spoke to the wisest man on the hill – well who was he? You’re saying we should believe you because you’ve spoken to an eminent person – well who was it?
BERNARDI: And the person has also been to see government ministers. That’s my knowledge of the energy market. He identified all of these issues 18 months ago, I’ve repeated them verbatim. The Government’s been in denial.
BEVAN: But who’s this guru that you’re relying on?
BERNARDI: It’s someone who’s been involved in the energy market for a very long time.
BEVAN: Well you’re staking your credibility on a person you won’t tell us about.
BERNARDI: I’m saying that what I’ve been saying for the last 18 months is borne true and the Government is starting to identify these things. They were told about this 18 months ago and they’ve done nothing about it.
BUTLER: Now they’re not contested really, these issues.
BERNARDI: That’s right.
BEVAN: Do you also agree with Mark Butler that we should not be subsidising new coal by $5 billion?
BERNARDI: I don’t think the government should be building power plants.
BEVAN: The question is subsidising – should the government be subsidising. Because you don’t like subsidies being handed out to renewables, do you think subsidies should be handed to coal?
BERNARDI: David, no. I want it taken away from renewables. But what I think the government can do is that it spends $450 million a year on electricity across its departments. It can say we will grant a contract to the person that will build a new baseload generator that is going to provide dispatchable power, because that will give them the investment certainty for the next ten or fifteen years.
BEVAN: And you don’t care whether it’s coal, or nuclear or silo, or whatever, as long as it’s baseload?
BERNARDI: I don’t, and I think we should be removing the impediment, the prohibition on nuclear power in this country.
CLARKE: Lets go to Anne Ruston. You’ve been listening to this – your take?
RUSTON: Well the whole bottom line on this is the fact that we have a report in front of us. Everyone’s looking at it. Let’s not deal with the past – we have a report in front of us, and it’s focussed on reducing the power prices for Australians. Let’s get on with it and start working towards the delivery of that outcome. I mean the report has got some great stuff in it; it remains technology neutral which is great. It’s not about renewable, it’s not about coal, it’s not about gas, it’s about delivering a source of power generation that’s going to be able to deliver cheaper prices for all Australians. So let’s focus on the main game here – affordable, reliable power.
CLARKE: Sounds good. On that note, let’s leave it there. Anne Ruston, Liberal Senator for South Australia, Mark Butler Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Labor member for Port Adelaide, and Cory Bernardi, Leader of the Australian Conservatives. Thank you for your time.