WEDNESDAY, 6 FEBRUARY 2019
LEON COMPTON: Mark Butler is the Shadow Minister for Environment or rather for Climate Change and Energy in Australia’s Parliament. Mark Butler, good morning to you.
MARK BUTLER: Good morning Leon.
COMPTON: In a new report today, Mr Butler, the Climate Council says the nature of the fires sweeping Tasmania at the moment are due to climate change. Are they right?
BUTLER: Well, I haven’t had a chance yet to read the report but we have been receiving advice, the community, the parliament, governments of Australia, have been receiving advice from the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO now for years, that fire risk has increased quite substantially as a result of climate change. There will be more fires, they will be more intense, fire season will be longer and it’s time we had governments willing to take action to start to deal with the threat of climate change.
COMPTON: So in your mind, the nature of the fires that Tasmania is experiencing at the moment, longer burning fires, with perhaps fewer instances of rain to put them out are climate change related.
BUTLER: Well, I want to read this report and it’s hard to ascribe any particular, single event to climate change but what we do know from all the scientific advice, is that the background to the way in which we live our lives has changed quite dramatically and - if we don’t arrest climate change - will change more dramatically into the future. Now, that does mean more fires, it means a longer fire season and it means that fires across the country, including Tasmania will be more intense. It means sea level rise, it means a drying trend in the south-east of Australia and in the wheat belt in Western Australia. It means more rain in the north of Australia which we are seeing in Townsville as we speak as well.
So, there are very significant impacts of climate change that have already hit Australia and those impacts will only become more serious according to all of the best scientific advice we get from the Bureau and from the CSRIO.
If your listeners are interested in reports on this, the BOM (the Bureau), and the CSIRO publish a two-yearly State of the Climate Report, and they published their latest report only just before Christmas and it sets these issues out in very clear detail.
COMPTON: So, let’s talk about the practicalities of responding. Tasmania can contribute and potentially profit from exporting hydroelectricity to Victoria and solving a couple of problems. Their reliance on coal and their need for base load power. What commitment are you actually going to make in supporting Tasmania’s role in supporting the Battery of the Nation?
BUTLER: Well, I am spending a few days here talking to a range of stakeholders particularly in the energy space. So, Energy providers, companies like the ones you’ve mentioned that are looking toward very exciting projects like Battery of the Nation. But also, in energy users who, in Tasmania, want to make sure there is reliable, affordable, supply of energy as well.
The Battery of the Nation project is still, as I understand it, subject to more work by Hydro Tasmania to narrow down the number of sites that would be possibly expanded.
But the project’s viability depends on a federal government being willing to expand renewable energy. And these business cases are fundamentally inconsistent with any idea of building new coal fired power stations on the mainland which is something the current Morrison Government is looking at doing.
The same thing goes for Snowy Hydro for that matter, Snowy 2.0 also depends on a very big expansion of renewable energy and no new coal fired power stations being built. So, this will be a significant debate in the federal election in the next few months.
COMPTON: It will be more than a debate. I mean, we will be expected to vote in the coming months in a federal election. These things, the Battery of the Nation conversation and the case for a new interconnector is progressing under the liberals. We will want to know exactly where your party stands on this. Where do you stand Shadow Minister?
BUTLER: Well, we’re very supportive. I think we are the only major party in the federal election with an energy plan and that energy plan is to expand renewable energy to 50% of the national system by 2030. And it is that sort of plan that would underpin a project like Battery of the Nation or, up on the mainland, Snowy 2.
So, you can’t on the one hand, if you are Scott Morrison for example, pretend you support Battery of the Nation or a second interconnector, but also have a plan to build new coal fired power stations, which is what the government is trying to do. You can’t walk both sides of the street. The country needs to make a choice about the future of our energy system, and our view as the Labor Party is that the future our energy system lies in renewable energy, and there are wonderful opportunities for Tasmania with this.
COMPTON: What commitments can we expect from you, about understanding your position on funding extra interconnection to the mainland or the sorts of significant capital investments that would be required to get hydro fully up and running to participate in the Battery of the Nation?
BUTLER: Well, in relation to both projects, Battery of the Nation and the idea of a second interconnector, we have indicated a very strong willingness to work with those proponents and with a range of other stakeholders to ensure the Commonwealth Government is supportive of those projects, if they stack up. But neither Tas Hydro nor Tas Networks has yet put a final business case either to the Federal Government or to the State Government. They’re still working on those.
As I understand it, at least an interim assessment of the second interconnector is likely to be released very soon, very imminently, and we are awaiting that quite eagerly. We want to see what a Commonwealth Government can do to support this, what we can do to support Battery of the Nation, because we want to see Tasmania taking the most opportunity they possibly can from a renewable energy future. But I tell you, Leon, we are the only party going into the next federal election with a plan to expand renewable energy and, without such a plan, Battery of the Nation, a second interconnector, Snowy 2.0, they will not get off the ground.
COMPTON: In some senses this is a zero sum game. If you expand renewable energy on the mainland, it might mean less of a need for Tasmania to go there and support the Mainland and say, potentially profit from what is made here.
BUTLER: No, I don’t think that is right. I don’t think that is right, and I don’t think that the proponents of the Tasmanian projects think that’s right either.
I mean, I think the interconnection and the Battery of the Nation project would allow renewable energy both from Tasmania, and there are great opportunities to build more renewable energy, particularly in the north of Tasmania that has some of the best wind resources on the planet, but also to bring surplus renewable energy in from the mainland, store it in the Battery of the Nation, and frankly then sell it back to the mainland at a premium.
You see this, for example, in Europe. Austria does this for Germany with their surplus wind power, very commonly. They bring it in at a low price, store it in their batteries (very similar hydro projects in Austria to the ones that are proposed here for Tasmania) and then sell it back to Germany for a Premium. This will be a good, project, a good earner for Tasmania.
COMPTON: Ultimately, what do you do about the short term issues? The Challenges for the landscape, the seascape, in Tasmania right now? The landscapes that are still at risk of burning whatever we chose to do as part of our global contribution to reducing emissions.
BUTLER: Well, you are right, the overarching obligation of governments is to take action to limit climate change, but, even if we take very strong action as a country and as a globe to limit global warning to what scientists say are at least relatively safe levels, we are still going to see increased fire risk across the country. We are a continent that is very vulnerable to climate change. While we are wealthy and we have the ability to deal with some of these impacts that say, countries in sub-Saharan Africa don’t, we already are a continent that pushes right up against the limits of human tolerance and we are going to have to at the same time as we try and limit climate change, recognise that there are impacts that are already built into the system. So, a strong adaptation framework is going to be important as well, and, unfortunately, since Tony Abbott was elected over the last five years, all of that adaptation work that particularly Penny Wong, when she was minister build up has been unpicked.
COMPTON: we have to leave you in a moment, what is your specific commitment to building an adaptation framework that might allow the people interested in protecting world heritage areas, the people that live adjacent to those areas, and indeed people in the aquaculture industry, cray fish industry, and so on that live and require water temperatures to stay somewhere near where they are. When will you deliver your adaptation framework and will we be able to see it before the election?
BUTLER: Well, we will have a very comprehensive climate change policy before the election. Far more comprehensive than I think people have ever had before a federal election. We have already released significant parts of that in the energy sector, and the hydrogen sector and over coming weeks, well before the election, we will have that out as well, COMPTON.
COMPTON: Mark Butler, did the banks get of lightly in the Royal Commission? Shares rose strongly yesterday. How did you feel about that?
BUTLER: Well, we think this was an important Royal Commission that should’ve happened 12 or 18 months earlier than it did. Scott Morrison voted against it 26 times so it is already 12 or 18 months too late.
COMPTON: I understand that, that’s the political spin, but the direct question is did the banks get off lightly?
BUTLER: Well, that will be a matter for commentators. Our job as an alternative government is to accept the report, indicate a very strong willingness to adopt all of the recommendations in principal, and then get along with implementing it. We think Parliament should sit over the course of March to deal with this matter. It is already 12 or 18 months later than it should have been. We need to clean up the banking system and we need to do it now.
COMPTON: If you accept that banks got off lightly and shareholders seem to feel that from the way markets responded yesterday, then it might be necessary for you to go further, not just accept the recommendations that have been priced in in the last 24 hours.
BUTLER: Well, the job before us is to implement the recommendations of a royal commission that has been delivered over the last couple of days and that is the thing we are focused on.
COMPTON: Appreciate you coming in this morning.
BUTLER: Thanks, Leon!
COMPTON: Mark Butler, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy.