FRIDAY, 13 NOVEMBER 2020
DAVID BEVAN, HOST: Mark Butler, Member for Hindmarsh and Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy, good morning to you.
MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY: Good morning David.
BEVAN: What have you done, which is so terribly offensive to Joel Fitzgibbon?
BUTLER: Well, I mean, you'd have to ask Joel that, of course. But I think really, what we need to be very clear about is that this is not within the Labor Party about me. At the end of the day, Anthony Albanese, as the leader gets to choose who speaks on particular portfolios, and if he decides that he thinks I’ll be best placed somewhere else, I would be entirely relaxed about that. But it's not about me, this is about whether or not we continue to have a strong commitment within the Labor Party on climate action.
All of the important things that the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO spoke about this morning, on your AM program, what we're already seeing, particularly in regional Australia, in increased bushfire risk, the vastly increased incidence of extreme heat events. They have increased sixfold since you and I were children, David. The reduced rainfall for farmers, all of those things. What are we going to do about that significant challenge to our way of life and the safety of future generations? And are we going to harness the jobs and investment opportunities that come with a global transformation to clean energy? So if it's about rolling back our commitment to the enormous job opportunities, the significant responsibility we have as a generation to deal with climate change, then I will resist that.
BEVAN: So if Albanese says go, I need somebody new who can break the deadlock, you'll go?
BUTLER: Absolutely in a heartbeat, I have enormous confidence in Anthony's ability to make those right calls. And at the end of the day, it's his prerogative as I would have under Bill Shorten and Kevin Rudd, under whom I've served in this portfolio. It's entirely a matter for him.
But I will contest the rollback, which really, I think is at the heart of this call by Joel Fitzgibbon and Alex Gallacher, to roll back our commitment to climate action. I completely reject the idea they’re putting forward that this was the reason why we lost the last election. It's not borne out by any data at all. The election review that was conducted by Jay Weatherill and Craig Emerson, did not say that. Indeed it said the opposite. It said the climate change policy was a net positive for us around the country. That doesn't mean we've got everything right. There are serious issues we have to confront in particularly the coal basins in New South Wales and Queensland, I recognise that. I recognise there are things I did wrong. Anthony Albanese recognises that and we're all working on that.
But in net terms our climate change stance is one I think that reflects community desire. That's borne out by the Australian Election Survey. The exit polling that was done in the immediate aftermath of the 2019 election said that the two greatest reasons why people voted Labor was cost of living and our climate change policy. Our climate change policy was a more important reason to vote Labor than health and education and wages. So I reject this idea that this cost us the last election. It doesn't mean we got everything right, we are reviewing our climate change policy as we are reviewing every other policy. But I won't stand for this idea that Joel has been putting about for a while now that we should simply hug the government, and we shouldn't take a strong stance, guided by the advice of bodies like the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO, and grasp the enormous job opportunities that come with this shift to becoming a renewable energy superpower.
BEVAN: But so many of us saw Fitzgibbon with Andrew Probyn earlier this week, pointing to a map of Australia saying there's coal jobs up there, there's gas jobs over here, there's coal jobs over there, and we are losing these seats. So he says there's plenty of evidence that the path that you have taken the party on and you've been steering climate and energy policy for seven years now. You are costing them seats, votes in these areas, these areas, these areas, he’s got a point hasn’t he?
BUTLER: That was identified by Jay Weatherill and Craig Emerson. In the coal basins we did suffer a swing against us in primary votes –
BEVAN: You just have to kiss those seats goodbye?
BUTLER: No, absolutely not. There was a very effective scare campaign run against us that our policy was going to cost coal industry jobs. At the end of the day coal industry jobs are not determined by any decision taken in Canberra. They're determined by decisions taken in Beijing and Tokyo and boardrooms of multinational companies all around the world and we want to support those jobs. We support all workers, whether they're in the resources sector, in the aged care sector or the hospitality sector. And we need to do better at telling that story – I accept that.
But I don't accept being described by some within the party as representing some inner city, sort of trendy electorate. My electorate, as you would know David, has more gas-fired generators than any other electorate in the country. It's the birthplace of the car industry. It is a manufacturing electorate with still very substantial energy intensive manufacturing like the cement plant and such like. So it's not just there that these issues are being grappled with.
You know, we are having to grapple with this transition, this transformation of the economy worldwide, right across Australia. And it's hard. It is hard stuff. It's hard stuff right across the world. And I don't pretend that we got it all right at the last election. We need to do better. That's why we're reviewing our policy.
But we also need to recognise this challenge of climate change is not going away. We saw that in the report this morning. We saw it last summer in the horrendous bushfire emergencies we suffered from. I met with bushfire survivors over the last few weeks in Canberra talking to us, Anthony Albanese, me and other politicians about the need for us to come to grips with this challenge. But it's not just a challenge, it's an opportunity. Australia should be leading the race that's underway now around the world for jobs, millions of jobs, and trillions of dollars of investment in this transformation of the global economy. At the moment we're not because Australia is just bogged down in this toxic fight about climate change policy. You see it a little bit in the US. You see it here in Australia. You don't really see it anywhere else in the world. They are just getting on with it.
BEVAN: The target of the goal of net zero emissions by 2050. That seems to have general agreement. Now even state liberal governments, I say even but on both sides, you know, state Liberal governments and Labor governments seem to agree with net zero target emissions by 2050. The difficulty seems to be in the transition period. Can you explain to our listeners, what is Labor's plan? And what are the goals between now and then, that you want us to vote for?
BUTLER: Well, we said after the last election that having lost three elections in a row, it was time to conduct a root and branch review of all of our policies. Not just climate change, our health policies are on the table, our education policies, taxation policies. And we're going through that process now.
We've set a couple of benchmarks, like our commitment to net zero emissions by 2050. In the Budget Reply, we rolled out a very substantial electricity policy, Rewiring the Nation that you might remember was welcomed by the South Australian Liberal Government here as a great way to build the grid that we need –
BEVAN: Not by Tom Koutsantonis or Jay Weatherill who have been arguing against that?
BUTLER: They might have argued against a particular project, but not against the idea of the Commonwealth using its vastly lower borrowing capacity to ensure that the grid for the 21st century is built at lowest possible cost and in a way that drives local jobs. That is delivered by local workers using local steel made in Whyalla rather than steel brought in from overseas.
So we've been rolling out policies, but some of those key issues like for example, what are our medium term commitments? That is a position that that I've said, and Anthony has said, will be made very clear well before the election. But it's a process we're going through right now.
BEVAN: But that's what Fitzgibbon and Gallacher, and all the blue collar workers in those seats don't trust you to deliver?
BUTLER: I don't accept that, to use your phrase. That is what Joel is saying, I accept that, and I've heard that message. Joel has been very clear about that message.
BEVAN: Would you accept that message that they don't trust you, you've got to do more to convince them that in that transition period, you will look after their constituents?
BUTLER: Well, before the last election, I particularly worked very closely with the ACTU, with the mining union, who brought advice from around the world from countries like Germany that have been grappling with this probably in the most effective way from a worker point of view. I met with all of the local councils, the chambers of commerce in places like the Hunter Valley, the Latrobe Valley, the Collie Valley over in Western Australia; those valleys that have had their economies built on coal mining and coal-fired power, and talked to them about the sort of arrangements that you do need to put in place.
This is not something happening in the future. We've already had substantial numbers of our coal-fired power plants shut down over the last decade, including here in South Australia. And we haven't, frankly, been very good at supporting the communities that have been impacted by that. We don't do this well in Australia. There aren't many examples where Australian workers have been well supported when you get this sort of closure happening. We didn't support automotive workers very well. When that happened to Holden's and Toyota I know the workers there got some support to do their CVs, a bit of support in doing job interview training. You look around the world and there's a much more supportive regime for workers who go through this process.
So I worked very closely with the unions, with the chambers of commerce, with local councils. At the end of the day, you know, we didn't win the election, we didn't have the ability to implement those sorts of investments, those sorts of portability arrangements for workers to be able to move between plants, if one closes, as they're already closing. I mean, they are closing now, and these arrangements aren’t in place. But I recognise that there was a very effective scare campaign run in places like Central Queensland, in the Hunter Valley. The union recognises that, those local chambers of commerce recognise that. We've got to sit down and start again.
Bill Kelty, made that point on the front page of The Australian today. You know, one of the key architects when he was at the helm of the ACTU in the 80s really of some of the very few examples of Australia doing this stuff well. Back then, the car plan, the steel plan, the reforms in the waterfront industry –
BEVAN: Are you saying you're going to walk into a room full of big burly men wearing high-vis jackets, and they got dirt on them, because they've been working in the coal mine, or the coal-fired power station or the gas station. Well, these are big burly guys. You're going to walk into there and say, “Hi, we'll give you a program where you can set up coffee shops, and that's your future after we closed down the mine, or you'll be able to make a living working a gift shop, because we'll have tourism here.”
BUTLER: We’re not closing down mines. You know, there's nothing we would do in Canberra that would have an impact on the viability of a coal mine in Queensland or the Hunter Valley. These are decisions taken by other countries.
What we've seen over the last several weeks is Japan and South Korea, and China all commit to net zero emissions by the middle of the century. We're starting to see details leak out of the next five year plan that China will put in place in the first half of next year. I mean, those are the decisions that that will shape the future of all of those coal mining operations, not at all decisions taken in Canberra.
BEVAN: So you’re saying a future Labor government won't do anything to close down a coal mine?
BEVAN: Or a gas-fired power station?
BUTLER: Yes – effectively the future of power stations are being determined in in the domestic electricity market. And that is something that's largely being driven at the moment by state governments. You know, we've seen investment in new gas-fired power down in my electorate, down in Port Adelaide. South Australian listeners would know that. There's investment in state of the art, fast-start peaker generators that are very important in supporting renewable energy, and with such a substantial renewable energy state now. So there is some investment going into gas-fired power now.
But in terms of coal mining, export coal mining operations, there's nothing frankly that I proposed in last year's election policy, certainly, that we're proposing now that would impact the operation of a coal mine. Those operations will be shaped by decisions taken overseas. And the obligation of governments in Australia, whether they're state governments or federal governments, is when decisions taken overseas impact, for example, a car plant in Elizabeth that is shut down because in Detroit, General Motors decides to close it, or a coal mine is impacted by decisions taken by our customers in Japan or Korea or wherever else. Our obligation as Australian governments is to make sure those communities are supported; those workers, those local economies. That's the discussion Bill Kelty was talking about on the front page of The Australian. Obviously, we need to do better, we need to do better as a country on that. We've never been particularly good at supporting workers and communities that are buffeted by these decisions taken as economies change.
You look puzzled David?
BEVAN: Well, if you're not going to do anything to close down coal mines, and you're not going to do anything to close down, coal-fired power stations and gas station –
BUTLER: Coal-fired power stations are closing because of their age. It just so happens that our coal fleet –
BEVAN: If you are not going to do anything to accelerate that, you are just going to say well the market is going to take care of that well then just for a start, you just lost a whole lot of green, a whole lot of votes in Melbourne, didn't you? Because there are people there who want you to actively go out and start closing these things down.
BUTLER: Sure. There are people –
BEVAN: You are you trying to walk both sides here? You are trying to appeal to people saying I'm going to address climate change. And then in the next breath, you say, well, I'm not going do anything to close down coal-fired power stations?
BUTLER: Well, in Australia coal-fired power stations are closing down because of physics. Like they are –
BEVAN: So it doesn’t matter who you vote for whether it is you or Scott Morrison?
BUTLER: Well, the question is whether there is a plan in place in an orderly way to replace our old generators, which just happened to be built in the 60s, in the 70s, in the very early 80s, and are at the end of their operating life in an orderly way, with new renewable energy.
That’s been the plan I've been advocating for years for a strong investment plan in renewable energy that will bring down power prices. We only saw reports this morning from the Australian Energy Regulator that reports regularly on wholesale power prices. South Australia's wholesale power prices this last financial year, were again substantially cheaper than Victoria and New South Wales, the big coal-fired power states. Now that's what you see happening all around the world; wholesale power prices, where there is substantial renewable energy are starting to come down. And they are the obvious places then to invest in energy intensive manufacturing, like Gupta wants to do up in Whyalla with steel.
You’ve got to look to the future. You've got to say, where are the jobs and where is the investment coming from? And we know from not just decisions taken by governments, but what you've seen over the last few years, is boardrooms shift, investors shift their focus. They recognise that the economy globally is transforming to clean energy. And they know that aluminium, that steel, that cement will be made using clean energy. There's enormous investment going into research and development to make steel more cleanly to make aluminium more cleanly. And they want to know what jurisdictions are going to be the obvious jurisdictions to invest in, to have emissions free steel and aluminium. And Australia should be leading that race. We've got the best renewable energy resources on the planet. We can lead that race if we just get through this toxic political mess.
BEVAN: Mark Butler, Member for Hindmarsh, Shadow Minister for Climate change and Energy, have you offered to resign if that's what it will take to heal the rifts and promote good policy?
BUTLER: I take the view that as a front bencher, you have a standing letter of resignation, in the drawer of your leader. My view is, the leader at any time can pick up the phone and say, it's time for you to shift or go. Part of the, the flip side of the privilege is –
BEVAN: But have you said to Anthony Albanese?
BUTLER: I don't discuss my private conversations with Anthony here. But what I'm very confident about, David, is Anthony understands very clearly that I will accept whatever decision he takes around portfolio allocations completely. I will accept them completely.
BEVAN: The call for you to resign was made a day or two ago. Since then has Anthony Albanese spoken to you?
BUTLER: Oh, we've had a number of conversations.You know, we’ve just come out of a week of sitting, I’m the Deputy Manager of Opposition Business, we speak every hour.
BEVAN: In those conversations did he say I'm thinking of sacking you?
BUTLER: I'm not going to into my conversations with Anthony one way or the other. Anthony understands very clearly, I will accept whatever decision he takes around portfolio allocation.
BEVAN: But he also knows, if he does sack you, you'll go to the backbench and continue to promote the same policy you've been pushing for the last seven years. You made that quite clear at the start of the interview?
BUTLER: Sure, I'm very clear about where I think the party should go around climate change. I think we should recognise, particularly after the report we received this morning, that's been widely reported about the impacts we're already seeing in this country, the impacts that are particularly affecting regional communities, that we must have a strong climate change policy. The rest of the world is shifting. I talked about how substantially Japan, Korea, China shifted. You know, Joe Biden is going to shift the United States very, very substantially. Obviously, this was an election largely driven in the US by the pandemic, by the recession induced by the pandemic. But we should also recognise that Joe Biden has taken a very strong climate change platform, which will impact, will reverberate right through the global economy.
BEVAN: But so far, Anthony Albanese has backed you in. His leadership is now tied to you keeping that climate portfolio isn't it?
BUTLER: No I don’t accept that at all. I don't accept that at all.
BEVAN: He will look weak if he removes if he removes you from that portfolio?
BUTLER: No, I don't accept that at all.
BEVAN: He’ll look like he has given into Fitzgibbon and Gallacher and all the others?
BUTLER: That might be the view of some commentators, it might be the view of some people in the community, it wouldn't be my view. I have complete confidence in Anthony's capacity to make these decisions on the merits.
BEVAN: He’s never said to you you're doing a lousy job.
BUTLER: Well, I'm not going to go into our conversations.
BEVAN: Let’s just assume because you’ve been there for seven years, Labor leaders, successive Labor leaders think you're a top bloke and you're doing a great job. If he removed you now it will look like he's bowing in to Fitzgibbon and Gallacher and the rest of them?
BUTLER: Well that's a matter for commentators. I don't accept that if he if he picked up the phone to me today and said it's time for you to move. Firstly I would accept that completely. And I would accept it with 100 per cent confidence that he was making that decision on its merits not because Joel, or because Senator Gallacher from here in South Australia had called on him to do it. And that it would not impact the way in which he assessed our policy options and the way in which we assess our long standing commitment to taking strong action on climate change in a way that drives jobs and drives investment.
This is not something we came up with when I took on the portfolio seven years ago. This is something that we've been committed to for decades, going back to people like Barry Jones, who was really one of the first politicians not just here in Australia, but around the world, in the 1980s starting to talk about the challenge of climate change, and the opportunities for a country like Australia that come from a clean energy economy. So this is not new. It's got nothing to do with me personally. This is about the Labor Party's mission to maximize opportunities, and to protect Australians from the impacts the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology talked about this morning. It's not about me, it's about the party, and it's about the nation.
BEVAN: If Joel Fitzgibbon is losing votes, does he need to look in the mirror?
BUTLER: Well, that's a matter for Joel.
BEVAN: He says it is your fault what do you say?
BUTLER: These numbers jump around from electorate to electorate. And there's no question I've said that that we need to talk to local communities, talk to local unions, chambers of commerce, about the way in which policy is going to impact particularly communities in coal basins like the Hunter Valley and Queensland.
BEVAN: And you’ll do more?
BUTELR: Absolutely. It's been a bit of a challenge this year to get out of South Australia. But these are communities I’ve visited very, very regularly. I've spent a lot of time in the Hunter Valley meeting with workers, with unions, with chambers of commerce, with local councils, with universities, with businesses. Some of them very closely connected to the coal industry and emissions and energy intensive manufacturing. But also those communities like the Hunter Valley have some of the most impressive thinking about the way in which Australia is going to move into renewable energy as well.
BEVAN: Just before we go to the 10 o’clock News. Neil has called. Now Neil, you're a member of the ALP are you?
NEIL (Caller): Yes correct.
BEVAN: What do you think?
NEIL (Caller): Hi Mark, I’m thinking that the Left accepts neoliberal orthodoxy, and that is the actual problem. Now, climate change requires a global project. And the only way it can be funded as long as we rely on neoliberalism, private enterprises to make profits, it won't work. That's what the whole issue is, you've got to raise a carbon tax. The only way out of it is funded via the International Bank for International Settlements, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, let them fund every nation by creating the issuing new currency required for every nation to go green.
BEVAN: Neil, thank you for your thoughts. Mark Butler, he's one of yours.
BUTLER: Thanks, Neil. We won't be raising a carbon tax. You know what's very clear is the investment dollar is already shifting this way. In many cases, government just needs to get out of the way. And that's where all of the investment in new electricity is happening in renewable energy. A lot of investment now going into new technologies, like hydrogen, like batteries, where South Australia really has not just led the nation but in many ways, led the world. We're seeing enormous transformation very, very quickly in the passenger vehicle industry; much faster around the world than you're seeing here in Australia at the moment, but it will necessarily flow through here. I think one of the challenges for us, to take up Neil's point, is that countries around the world the US, Joe Biden has said, certainly Europe and the UK are going to start considering carbon border tariffs, which will be tariffs on the goods exported by countries that aren’t seen to be taking climate change seriously enough. That will start to impact our economy unless Australia gets serious about this.
BEVAN: Mark Butler, Member for Hindmarsh, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy thanks for coming in.
BUTLER: Thank David.