May 13, 2019



MONDAY, 13 MAY 2019


RAF EPSTEIN: If you’ve been shocked by your electricity bill lately you are not alone. The latest report from the people that run the whole grid, called the Energy Market Operator, they say this “electricity prices across much of Australia were at record highs in the first three months of this year.” Electricity prices at record highs at the beginning of this year. Now a lot of the polls, not all of them but a lot of them, say that climate change, electricity and emissions are a primary issue for a lot of people. Here in Victoria the politics around climate change that is the reason so many safe Liberal seats are in play. It is of course the reason why we have had three Liberal Prime Ministers in just one parliamentary term. It was one of the reasons of Labor’s instability when they were last in power as well. The politicians though, their conversation has not been dominated by climate change. A lot of the voter conversation has been heavily involved in climate change. So I suppose do you believe if either the Liberal Party or the Labor Party wins this election will your power bills go down? Does your power bill depend on who wins this election? Maybe they’ll just stop rising so much.

We did ask both the Labor and Liberal Party, we said over last week and this week any day, any time we would take them. Energy Spokesman, Environment Minister, Shadow Environment Minister we’ll take any of them. Labor’s accepted our invitation. They have said yes today so you’ll hear from Labor’s Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy Mark Butler.

Energy Minister in the Government, still haven’t heard back. Environment Minister in the Government, still haven’t heard back. They’ve got until Friday we’ll take them anytime between 4 and 6:30pm. Do you believe your decision on Saturday will make a difference to your power bill?

Mark Butler is the Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy. If the polls are correct he will be the Energy Minister by the end of the weekend. Mark Butler, good afternoon.

MARK BUTLER: Good afternoon Raf.

EPSTEIN: I’ll get to emissions in a moment but will power bills go down if Labor wins?

BUTLER: Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg trumpeted modelling last year till they were blue in the face that they had commissioned the Energy Security Board, along with all of the state governments, that clearly showed that the big problem with power prices was the lack of a coherent national energy policy. That if the country put in place the National Energy Guarantee their power bills would come down by about $550 on average for households over a period of a few years.

The same modelling showed that if the National Energy Guarantee was not put in place than power bills would start to rise. Now people might remember this was the issue, again, that Tony Abbott stalked Malcolm Turnbull on. Malcolm Turnbull lost his job and the National Energy Guarantee went nowhere.

EPSTEIN: I accept that the modelling had a $550 reduction, you’re right the Government said that. You’ve adopted their policy in part. You’ve changed it. Under Labor do energy prices go down?

BUTLER: Our policy is to bring the National Energy Guarantee back onto the table, so yes. Every business group supported this policy, every state government. There was some disagreement about the calibration but that wasn’t an issue for the modelling. If anything we’ve had further modelling that shows that the National Energy Guarantee plus a more ambitious renewable energy target, modelling done by Reputex, a very high calibre firm from Melbourne, shows that wholesale power prices would be even lower.

But what we’ve seen over the last nine months is wholesale power prices rise by about 28 per cent.

EPSTEIN: Record highs.

BUTLER: Victoria, New South Wales have had the highest wholesale power prices on record for the first quarter this year and that is exactly what the modelling showed would happen.

EPSTEIN: I’ll get onto emissions in a second but I’m not sure I’ve had a precise answer, in fact I don’t think I’ve had a precise answer to my question. Under Labor will prices be lower than under the Government?

BUTLER: Yes I think people can be very confident in that because of the modelling the Government, all governments not just the Commonwealth but all state governments, commissioned from the Energy Security Board. Provided we can get our policy in place, if we win the election on Saturday, which is to revive the National Energy Guarantee and put in place more ambitious emissions reduction targets.

EPSTEIN: People don’t only care about prices; they clearly care about emissions as well. When will Australia’s emissions start to come down if Labor wins the election?    

BUTLER: We have a very clear target to get emissions down by 45 per cent off 2005 levels by 2030. Every year that we keep this Government in place that becomes harder because emissions have been rising since 2014. So if we win the election on Saturday we will then have to sit down with a whole bunch of stakeholders and some of the expert agencies and work out quite what the trajectory between 2019 and 2030 looks like. But out solid commitment is to get those emissions down by 45 per cent and that figure is a figure proposed by the Climate Change Authority, which is a statutory authority that says that is the minimum position consistent with keeping global warming below 2-degrees, which is the commitment that all of the world’s nations signed up to at the Paris Agreement.

EPSTEIN: Would emissions start to come down in the first term of a Labor Government?

BUTLER: Certainly we would have to have a trajectory that saw emissions start to reverse their current course, which is going up, by the end of the first term of a Shorten Labor Government?

EPSTEIN: So emissions are going to flat line or are they going to come down in the first term of a Labor Government?

BUTLER: That is a level of detail we would want to sit down with agencies and stakeholders about. But very clearly we have made a commitment -

EPSTEIN: They would have to come down; they would have to start to come down in your first term to meet your target?

BUTLER: That would be my view but quite what the trajectory looks like between now and 2030 we would want to sit down with stakeholders about. But the longer we lead the current course in place, the harder it is going to be for future generations.

EPSTEIN: Is that a commitment to bring emissions down in the first term of a Labor Government?

BUTLER: I can’t see a situation where we continue to allow our emissions to rise for another three years but are still able to keep our 2030 commitment in place. The level of detail about that trajectory is something we are committed to working with stakeholders about.

EPSTEIN: I think something like 2.5 million people have already voted, there is 1.25 million postal votes and there is something like 1.5 million pre-poll votes so a lot of you have already made up your minds but a lot of people won’t vote until Saturday. Mark Butler if I could just get some detail from you, the transport sector needs to halve their emissions by the end of the next decade to achieve the goal you’ve set out. We still don’t know how we get there in transport, why is that detail not there?

BUTLER: we’ve put a lot of our detail out there Raf. The first thing that we’ve committed to, frankly we committed to this some years ago, was to adopt the Climate Change Authority’s advice that we follow the course set by the United States and I think Canada as well in having fuel efficiency standards that start to bring emissions down in our light passenger vehicle fleet. We are now the only OECD country that does not have mandatory emissions standards on our vehicles. What that -

EPSTEIN: That is only halving the thing, what about trucks?

BUTLER: No cars are substantially more than halve of the emissions, substantially more than halve. So now we not only have pollution rising on our roads because of having the most inefficient vehicles in the developed world, but people are also paying more at the bowser than they need to.

EPSTEIN: I accept that fuel standards will make a difference to the emissions from cars yet you’ve got no modelling for the transport sector or the industrial sector showing how we get to your target, why not?

BUTLER: Well if you let me finish it is not just the fuel efficiency standards, what you’ll than see, particularly as we get to the middle part and the second half of the decade is I think a very significant increase in the uptake of electric vehicles because it is thought, by the industry, that electric vehicles would become about the same cost as -  

EPSTEIN: But that’s just a list of policies there is no modelling showing in the transport sector and the industrial sector how they achieve their significant emissions cuts?  

BUTLER: Well no, the Climate Change Authority did have modelling about emissions reduction that would follow -

EPSTEIN: But there is no modelling of your policies?

BUTLER: The Climate Change Authority report, except for the timeframes which would have to change because this Government has done nothing on this for four years, does have a very clear set of models about what that would do to emissions reduction. Also the aviation sector would be covered by the safeguards mechanism. It is already covered by the Government’s mechanism so they will be covered by the obligation on the 250 biggest polluters to start to cut their pollution levels.

We’ve said in the heavy vehicles sector, which is still quite a bit behind the light vehicles sector in terms of technology that we would sit down, if elected on Saturday, and start to work with the marine sector, but also rail - 

EPSTEIN: Isn’t there a problem though, Mark Butler, if I run a transport company or a factory I still don’t really know how I’m supposed to cut my emissions, over what timeframe or at what cost. If I run any of those businesses the picture is still very unclear you’re just going to sit down and talk with my sector after the election. Isn’t that a problem if I don’t know how my business is going to be affected?

BUTLER: Well if you take transport, for example, Anthony Albanese as the Transport Shadow and I have been sitting down with that sector for the last 12 or 18 months, as I have been with different sectors of the economy and worked through with them what the future looks like in emissions reduction, where technology is up to, where the most cost effective options are for example. Where we have been able to land on a policy with a level of detail and the sort of modelling you are asking about, we’ve done that, and where a sector of the economy has said look we are not quite in that position yet, we recognise we need to get our pollution down, we also recognise consumers will probably be better off because of that but we want to sit down with a government, with the resources of government available to it and work on a plan. That is what we have committed to doing in the heavy vehicle sector.

EPSTEIN: Just a final question, we are going to have a chat to ACOSS after six o’clock, they have a range of concerns. What they want to help people on the lowest income with their power bills, they want mandatory energy efficiency standards for private rentals and public housing. They basically want mandated levels of insulation in private rentals and public housing. Would you ever have mandated insulation levels for that sort of housing?

BUTLER: We’ve committed to working with state governments and a range of stakeholders in improving the level of energy efficiency in our residential sector, and also our commercial sector for that matter.

EPSTEIN: So that’s a no?

BUTLER: No I’m not saying no because we have worked with ACOSS and a range of other bodies as well that are concerned about the fact that we have some of the lowest levels of energy efficiency but now some very high power prices. Those two dynamics are causing very real pain for businesses that are struggling with their viability but also particularly for low and fixed income households. We’ve got a very ambitious energy efficiency or energy productivity policy.

EPSTEIN: But it’s not mandated, it is ambitious but it is not mandated?

BUTLER: I think your listeners would expect that we would sit down with state governments that have direct responsibility for this area and start to revive some of the very productive discussions we’ve had when we were last in government about doing better on this front for low-income households.

EPSTEIN: Thanks so much for your time Mark Butler.

BUTLER: Thanks Raf.