April 24, 2019


PATRICIA KARVELAS: I want to bring in my first guest, Labor frontbencher Mark Butler. Mark Butler, welcome.

MARK BUTLER: G’day Patricia.

KARVELAS: Now just on the story that has broken this afternoon, before we get into the campaign trail politics, one of the Easter Sunday suicide bombers studied in Australia according to Sri Lankan authorities? What do you make of that revelation?

BUTLER: Well this is a really disturbing development. Obviously a breaking story, not many of us have much information about this. It’s a very disturbing development in a really tragic story. All of us have been completely touched by what happened on Easter Sunday and I know that Bill Shorten and his senior shadows will be keen to receive briefings from security agencies, as they already have about the bombings on Sunday. They will be keen to receive briefings about his latest development I’m sure.

KARVELAS: Yeah, look it’s not your portfolio area but it is a big story, do you expect our security agencies to therefore probably be part of this investigation now. To see whether if any of this radicalisation happened when this person was studying his postgraduate studies in Australia?

BUTLER: Look it’s not my portfolio; I am reluctant to talk about what the security agencies might do. This is something that obviously we take very seriously and try to be as bipartisan as possible about and to their credit security agencies have always been very open briefing oppositions and governments no matter who is in government at the time. So I’m reluctant really to delve into the detail of that, suffice to say though that obviously despite the heat of the campaign I’m sure that Bill Shorten and his senior shadows will be very keen to get across this detail, from a briefing from our security agencies as soon as possible.  

KARVELAS: Absolutely let’s move on to your portfolio. Analysis from CITI Group of Labor’s plans to reduce carbon emissions has estimated cost to business would rise by less than 1 per cent a year from 2020 to 2030, even from the biggest emitters. This has been published in the Financial Review. There has been a lot of discussion about figures; do you agree with that modelling, that figure?

BUTLER: I know this has just come out, I’ve heard about it; I haven’t yet had a chance to study the detail of it. Obviously the various reams of modelling that we are all being subject to at the moment depends largely on the assumptions that underpin it.
We saw yet another ridiculous scare campaign published in the News Limited tabloids by the Government this morning. What is really a rolling series of almost weekly scare campaigns that unfortunately I expect we will see right up until Election Day. Most of them are built on utterly ridiculous assumptions about what businesses would do. For example this morning’s story assumed that not a single business in Australia would take any action whatsoever to reduce their emissions. And secondly some of the cost assumptions are utterly ridiculous. So this morning’s story assumed that carbon offsets under a Labor policy would, for some reason, be four times as more expensive as they would be under a Liberal Policy. In spite of the fact they are exactly the same offset. I think the community, and certainly the business community, are just getting a little bit sick of this rolling series of Tony Abbott style scare campaigns instead of a fair-dinkum genuine debate about climate policy.

KARVELAS: Okay you say that but you haven’t outlined how much your policies would cost the economy. So don’t you just open yourself up to what you’ve described as a scare campaign by not actually providing an alternative figure based on the assumptions that you would argue make your policy correct?

BUTLER: I don’t accept that Patricia, I think very reasonably we’ve relied upon the modelling that has been obtained by the Australian government, at taxpayer expense, first of all to model the different targets that were to be taken to the Paris Climate Conference in 2015, so the modelling undertaken by Warwick McKibben. And he’s had quite a lot to say about that modelling over the last several days and he has said if anything the costs assumed in that modelling were higher than what he would now assume given the degree to which technology costs have come down. So, we’ve reasonably, I think, relied upon modelling from Warwick McKibben on the broader impacts on the economy of a 26 and a 45 per cent target.

KARVELAS: But that’s old modelling isn’t it?

BUTLER: Well Warwick McKibben has talked about that modelling only in the last several days, twice. Indeed he wrote an oped on that modelling in the Financial Review which said the only thing he would change about that modelling was to reduce the cost impact on the economy of emissions reduction targets because the cost of renewable energy technology has come down so fast. Other than that though Professor McKibben backed in the assumptions that underpin the modelling he provided to the Abbott Government back in 2015.

Beyond that, as I’ve said, we’ve also relied upon modelling from last year in the energy sector. Modelling commissioned by the Energy Security Board on the instruction of Prime Minister Turnbull, which talked about the impact of the National Energy Guarantee on power bills. And modelling again commissioned by the Government last year about the impact of fuel efficiency standards. These are all the key points of our very broad, very comprehensive climate change action plan. The costs are out there, the modelling is out there. There is a level of detail not even close to the vagueness of the Morrison Government’s proposal for climate change at this election.  

KARVELAS: Bill Shorten says he has no plans to review Adani. But you have one candidate saying there will be a review and another saying there won’t be a review. Should there be a review?

BUTLER: I think what Bill has consistently said, as has his Shadow Ministers that have some level of portfolio responsibility in this area, is if we are elected in May we will approach this project, as we will all other projects, according to the law, and according to the facts as we understand them at the time. We can’t predict what they might be several weeks into the future and with a very clear eye to the need to avoid any sovereign risk. I think that’s what the community would generally expect from a party of government.  

KARVELAS: Okay but Labor has repeatedly raised the prospect that Environment Minister Melissa Price was bullied into signing off on the approval. If you genuinely believe that she was bullied wouldn’t a review be the responsible thing to do?

BUTLER: I think there is a great deal of suspicion about the circumstances surrounding Melissa Price’s latest approval of the Adani project. The water management plan particularly but because of the extraordinary campaign waged by a number of backbenchers and indeed by at least one of her cabinet colleagues, Matt Canavan, against her through the newspapers. I’ve never seen anything like it. So there is a great deal of suspicion about to the degree to which we can have confidence that this was a decision made on its merits rather than, through perception at least, because of the bullying she was subject to.

KARVELAS: So if you say that, that’s my point, you must think there should be a review?

BUTLER: No I don’t say that at all. I say any decision, about a project like this or any other project for that matter, would of course be taken by a Shorten Labor Government would be taken if we were elected in May. Any project would be taken according to the law and according to the facts as we understood them at the time, and with a very clear eye to avoiding any sovereign risk.  

KARVELAS: According to the law? According to the law you can review the decision can’t you?

BUTLER: You’re not going to drag me any further into this. Our position is clear. It is the position, I think, members of the community, the business community would expect from a responsible party of government.  

KARVELAS: Okay so you say no plans for a review but that’s not no review is it?

BUTLER: Patricia I’ve said what I’ve said about this project or any other project that might come up for a newly elected Shorten Labor Government if we were to win the election in May, of course we would take any decision that was placed before us according to the law and our assessment of the facts that we understood them at the time.  

KARVELAS: Okay so you’ve left the door open to a potential review, if you think the facts lead you to a conclusion that a review maybe necessary?

BUTLER: Well you can draw that conclusion; your viewers may draw different conclusions. I think what I’m saying is relatively uncontroversial. There is still a number of other hurdles that this project has to clear, particularly state government hurdles, this is a moving feast if you like. If we’re lucky enough to be elected in May and something like this project ends up on our table, whether it is the Adani project or any other project for that matter, of course we’d take a decision, if we had to take one, according to the law and the facts as we understood them at the time. I don’t think that is controversial.  

KARVELAS: Greens Senator, Sarah Hanson-Young says Labor’s decision not to call for a royal commission into the Murray Darling Basin Plan sells South Australia short. Why is a judicial inquiry into the so-called watergate scandal all that is required? Your inquiry is only about two deals that happened under Barnaby Joyce, that’s it.  

BUTLER: Because I think there is something quite extraordinary about these circumstances surrounding Barnaby Joyce and Angus Taylor. There is something quite unique about the way in which taxpayers handed over almost $80 million to this particular company. The really different thing about this compared to the way in which these matters were conducted under Labor governments, Ministers like Penny Wong and Tony Burke, or under other Coalition Ministers like Minister Littleproud or Bob Baldwin, that under Labor particularly there were open tender processes. There were competitive bidding processes that ensured no matter what company ended up succeeding there was a clear value for money proposition for taxpayers. Here though it appears a Triple AAA premium price was paid to this company for a c-grade water entitlement. I think taxpayers deserve to know why that was the case, particularly given the rather murky circumstances of this company. A company founded, as I understand it, by now Minister Angus Taylor, and is a major donor to the Liberal Party that is resided in the Cayman Islands. The particular proposition though that I think is of interest to taxpayers is how they can be assured that there is value for money in a process that had no transparency, and no level of competition involved.  

KARVELAS: But how do you address Sarah Hanson-Young’s chief charge against you which is that you’ve sold South Australia down the river?  

BUTLER: As a South Australian I reject that entirely. This is a matter we considered very carefully, particularly Tony Burke who has a strong background, I think everyone understands in this area, considered carefully. Our focus is on making sure that if we are elected in May we can get the implementation of this plan back on track. Nothing matters more to South Australia than getting particularly the additional 450 billion litres that South Australia was able to negotiate through the plan process – getting that water delivered to the environment. What we want to make sure is that if we are elected we get that plan back on track. We can ensure that there is better compliance mechanisms to prevent water theft upstream and where there are particular circumstances that are unique, exceptional like the circumstances surrounding this particular buyback presided over by Barnaby Joyce, there is a focused enquiry to give taxpayers the information they deserve.   

KARVELAS: Just finally why did Bill Shorten tell a worker earning $250,000, who wanted a tax break that it was something Labor would look at when your tax plan actually involved not looking at it and keeping that tax levy on that worker?

BUTLER: Bill, Chris Bowen and others have made it clear that in the future we’d love to be in a position, we want to be in a position, we are confident we can be in a position to look at further tax reform but at the moment our focus is making sure we get the budget back into repair. That is why we are keeping the budget repair levy in place until 2022/23. We are focused on making sure there is tax relief for those in greatest needs, so those under $120,000 a year, about 10 million workers, and making sure that unlike Scott Morrison we are able to keep good services in place. Good education services, good hospital services that are important for all workers including people on $250,000 who I’m sure have children or nieces and nephews or grandchildren wanting a good, decent education. We are not going to focus on cutting services to deliver tax relief for people on the higher end when the budget is not in the position to sustainably underpin that.

KARVELAS: So shouldn’t have Bill Shorten just said that to the worker rather than suggesting perhaps he was going to give him a tax cut?

BUTLER: I’m not sure that is what Bill Shorten did at all. I think what he did was, as I’ve outlined, indicate that Labor is keen to look at further tax reform but we are focused on getting the budget back into repair and making sure we sustain high quality services in schools, hospitals, in aged care and all those other essential services that the Australian community relies upon.

KARVELAS: Mark Butler thank you so much for joining me.

BUTLER: Thanks Patricia.