DAVID BEVAN: Mark Butler is the South Australian Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy, he joins us now. Good morning Mark Butler.
MARK BUTLER: Good morning David, how are you?
BEVAN: Do you welcome this?
BUTLER: Well, we haven't read it yet - it was only just released. We welcome some of the messages that we've been able to read in the briefings given to the newspapers. To the extent that there is going to be a decision by this government to embrace the global shift to renewable energy, we would welcome that. But as always with energy policy with this government this would be about the 19th I think and they haven't been able to stick a landing on any of them yet. This government has a very clear choice between accepting the reality of modern energy markets and where investment directions are headed on the one hand or pandering to the extremists in their party room. And it still remains to me to be seen which of those two pathways they’re taking. But it's really important that we get an energy policy in place because investment has collapsed. Renewable energy investment dropped by 50 per cent last year well before the bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic according to the Reserve Bank and industry advice - we've got to get investment back on track to make sure we have a reliable, affordable system.
BEVAN: I'm a little frustrated that we don't have more detail in terms of, look I think we can expect this much of a contribution from transport, electric cars, maybe. I think we can reasonably expect this much of a reduction from the energy sector or this much from agricultural or maybe carbon sequestration or hydrogen or is it the case that look frankly nobody knows what any of these things can contribute so it's unreasonable to expect Angus Taylor to have an answer?
BUTLER: Well the problem for the government is, first of all, they have to pedal back on a number of pretty extreme positions they took last year. So last year the Prime Minister completely rejected the idea of electric vehicles, said they would end the Aussie weekend. They rejected hydrogen as being “snake oil“ was the term they used for hydrogen and they're having to peg that back. I welcome them moving to a position that reflects the reality of those technologies. But what the Business Council, every other business group has said and every state government for that matter is you've got to have a net zero emissions by 2050 target in place so investors have confidence. I think your listeners will wonder, frankly, at the double standards of the government that over the last few weeks, to their credit, on the one hand has respected and followed the advice of our medical scientists about how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, including by very significant lockdown of the economy. But on the other hand continues to reject the advice of our climate scientists like the CSIRO, the Academy of Science and every other body here in Australia and overseas that says we must be Net Zero emissions, not some time in the second half of the century, but by 2050. And actually to do so according to the CSIRO would lead to high wages and higher economic growth. It’s double standards about when you accept expert advice and when you don't. It's causing real frustration for the people, the businesses that have to put this money on the table and invest in this new technology, that's what’s lacking from this government.
BEVAN: So has Labor still got a target for 2030?
BUTLER: The target for 2030 that we took to the last election was based on 2015 advice and people who operate in this field of climate change, including the carbon markets institute for example, have made the point that by the time of the next election the world will be focused not on a 2030 target but a 2035 target. So, Anthony Albanese has made the point that we need to keep pace with events on this and we'll be working between now and the next election to make sure we have an election policy detailed well before the election in front of voters for them to have a look at.
BEVAN: So is it fair to say look because you'll only be in office if you're lucky for a short amount of time before 2030 kicks around you have to abandon those targets because they were just unreasonable now with the time that's made available to you, so abandon those and go for 2035?
BUTLER: I’m saying that’s the view some stakeholders –
BEVAN: I'm asking for your view.
BUTLER: We’ll take advice about that. The report from the climate change authority in 2014 or 15 was the basis of our 2030 target that we took to the last election. Now, that's a report that by the time of the next election will be eight years old, the implementation time frame that that report had in mind of 15 years will be halfway gone. So we’ve just got to make sure that we're keeping up with the best available scientific and economic advice and that's what frankly I'd encourage the government to do.
BEVAN: So it's not unreasonable for you to abandon your 2030 target because you won’t have as much time to achieve it.
BUTLER: We’ve said we’ve got to keep pace with the best available advice –
BEVAN: Mark Butler, why can’t you just come out and say look we're dropping the 2030 target, sorry you didn't want us to be in government so we just haven't got time to achieve a 2030 target, we're going to have to come up with a new one. Why can’t you say that?
BUTLER: Because I think your listeners would expect me to engage with experts, with business, with academics in this area and make sure that we reach the position - we're only one third of the way through this parliamentary term - that by the next election, we have the best possible evidence-based policy to put in front of the Australian people - and I'm going to take my time to do that. At the moment our job is as an opposition to hold this government to account. As we approach the next election our job will be as an alternative government to put a detailed policy well before time in front of Australian voters for them to have a look at and I want to make sure that that policy is based on the best possible engagement I can have with business, climate groups, environment groups, unions, groups like the CSIRO.
BEVAN: Rosie has called from Marion she's been listening to this discussion with Angus Taylor the Federal Energy Minister who had to leave this and no conspiracy there folks we knew he had to be gone by, I think it was, 9.40 and Mark Butler the Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy. Good morning Rosie.
ROSIE, CALLER: Good morning. I just wanted to say that the government doesn't want to tax the big carbon emitters but it's quite willing to take taxpayers money to pay the carbon emitters to reduce their pollution.
BEVAN: Right and so you're saying they're happy to use carrots, but not sticks?
CALLER: Yes and they're happy to use our money, you know, they don't like the rhetoric of a carbon tax. But they're quite happy to pay the big polluters to reduce their emissions from the taxpayers’ money.
BEVAN: And Rosie if you fine the bigger emitters you could use that money as incentives for people who do cut their emissions.
CALLER: Yes exactly.
BEVAN: It’s self-funding.
CALLER: I think it's time everyone dropped the ideology and take a science-based approach that we have to do something about this looming catastrophe for the whole world.
BEVAN: Rosie, thank you for your call from Marion. Mark Butler you think it's a good idea?
BUTLER: Well this is the problem with trying to run this policy area - which is really complex and contested but critically important - on the basis of fatuous three word slogans. Like Angus Taylor going on about “technology not taxes”. Rosie's absolutely right, this government’s climate policy, back since Tony Abbott, because essentially it's the same policy, has been squarely based on throwing billions and billions of taxpayer dollars at big business, and our view has always been we need big business to make these emissions reductions, but big business as the large polluting parts of the economy should be paying for it, not taxpayers like Rosie
BEVAN: Right so you think Rosie's right, we should fine bigger emitters and give that money to people to cut their emissions?
BUTLER: We've always had the view that industry should be paying for this. They should pay for it on the basis of a mechanism that allows them to trade credits, where they're able to achieve their emissions reduction and those that aren't able easily to do it are able to purchase emission credits from those that can. But the idea that taxpayers should be footing the bill for this, billions and billions of dollars being handed over to big industry from taxpayers, has never been the right policy. It was Tony Abbott’s policy and Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull kept it, which I think was a mistake.
BEVAN: Mark Butler, thanks for your time.
BUTLER: Thanks, David.