January 28, 2016





FRAN KELLY, HOST: The Coalition is committed to cutting carbon output by 26-28 per cent by 2030, the Opposition tried to gazump the Government by adopting the Climate Change Authority’s target of 45 per cent. Shadow Environment Minister Mark Butler has now started formal consultations on how to achieve that goal if Labor should win the election, of course it could risk a backlash from business. Mark Butler joins us bright and early from Perth this morning, Mark Butler welcome to RN Breakfast.




KELLY: You’ve already announced Labor’s target of 45 per cent by 2030 haven’t you? Why are you now consulting on it?


BUTLER: No, we didn’t say that, what we said was we thought the proper beginning of a discussion with business, with unions, with environmental groups and community groups was the advice of the Climate Change Authority, which was the body the Parliament set up to provide this kind of expert independent advice. So, over the course of the next six weeks I’m conducting around 40 sessions with business leaders and a whole range of other community groups to talk through what they think the impact of adopting the Climate Change Authority’s advice would be against the Government’s targets. And those targets were really reaffirmed by the Paris conference as utterly inadequate to do what the global community has said we need to do, which is to keep global warming well below two degrees Celcius.


KELLY: So if, from your consultation, if the message comes back that the target is too ambitious would you amend it?


BUTLER: Well we’re going to judge the Climate Change Authority’s target and also the Government’s target against a couple of key indicators. One is whether it’s consistent with the commitment that Australia made with the rest of the world, and perhaps more importantly to future generations, to keep global warming well below two degrees. We are also going to judge whether it’s comparable to other relevant national targets and it looks pretty clear that the Government’s target is below other relevant national targets like Germany, UK, US, Canada, those nations to which we’ve historically compared ourselves. But obviously the Labor party will be very carefully looking at the economic impact of different national targets and that’s a very complex exercise because we know the economic impact of doing nothing is going to be very, very severe indeed.


KELLY: That’s right, but the economic impact is fiercely argued isn’t it? Last year we spoke with Warwick McKibbin from the ANU’s Crawford School. He’d run the ruler over the target and he’d estimated that 45 per cent by 2030 would trim about 1 per cent from GDP costing the economy around $30 billion. So, that’s one economic figuring.


BUTLER: Well McKibbin’s modelling indicated the difference between the Government’s target and the Climate Change Authority’s target would be the difference between the economy growing by 23 per cent or 23.5 per cent in real terms over the course of the 2020s decade. He also indicated that, although there would be slightly lower growth because of lower consumption, particularly in the electricity sector which might be seen as a good thing by many households looking at their power bills, there would be a substantial positive impact on investment running to tens of billions of dollars because of the need to start to harness these green technologies across the economy in energy, in transport, in household and building appliances, and much more.


KELLY: So talking of that, because I think there’s going to be a lot of this talk, we’re going to be talking dollars and tons between now and the election on this issue. In 2011, Labor’s ETS has a fixed price of $20 per ton to help cut emissions by just 5 per cent by 2020. Now is it a simple corollary to say that a 45 per cent target would need a much higher price? Or does the changed circumstance and clean technologies change that?


BUTLER: Well technologies have moved a long way since the last time we were formulating a policy. Also we have a lot of experience to draw on from domestic experience but also from what other countries are doing to change their energy, transport and many other sectors as well. So I don’t think you can simply draw a direct line between what happened earlier in this decade and what might happen in the next decade. I think, frankly, McKibbin’s modelling and a whole lot of other modelling draws that out, that there has been a very serious decoupling between carbon pollution levels, or the rise in emissions on the one hand, and economic growth on the other. I’m very confident that we can put together a policy that is compelling for the Australian people. The problem we have at the moment is not just the targets that are being debated between the Climate Change Authority’s recommendation and the Government’s targets on the one hand. The problem is we have a policy mechanism under Malcolm Turnbull that is actually seeing carbon pollution levels rise and we had that confirmed when the Government slipped out, on Christmas eve, the latest official data that shows that by 2020 carbon pollution levels will actually be 6 per cent above 2000 rather than the 5 per cent below 2000 that we committed to.


KELLY: Is that emission as you describe it part of the reason why the environmental performance index which was released late yesterday, it comes out every two years, it’s done by Yale University, Australia has fallen ten places in that to 13th overall. We do very well on water and sanitation, we’re number 1 on that, but not so good when it comes to electricity generation, ranked 150th out of 180 nations. Is our carbon emissions record, is that part of that drop?


BUTLER: It’s the big driver of the drop, we do very, very well on a whole range of other indicators, like you say, water sanitation, the way we manage our water markets and air quality. But on climate change policy survey after survey marks Australia right down the bottom of the pack.  A whole range of other surveys were released around the Paris conference which also have us right down the bottom. The Climate Change Performance Index released in December had us 59th out of 61 with only Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan ranked below us. As you say Fran this index has seen us drop to 150th on carbon trends. So I think the rest of the world is waking up to the fact that although there’s a different person at the front of the Government, the policies haven’t changed. We have inadequate targets, we have a Government that has no renewable energy policy beyond 2020, and we have a policy in Direct Action that’s actually seeing emissions rise again after having come down 8% during our term in Government, they will rise by 6 per cent between now and 2020 according to the Government’s own official data.


KELLY: Mark Butler you’re also the National President of the Labor Party, what’s you view on this row between Nick Champion, a Labor MP, who want the Federal Executive to bind all Labor members to oppose all changes to the GST and all members including state and federal so that would include South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill.


BUTLER: Well I think this is a really complex debate that’s really being driven by the fact that Tony Abbott instituted $80 billion of cuts to schools and hospitals and they were reaffirmed by Malcolm Turnbull in December’s mid-year budget review. They’re going to cause a very serious crisis not only in our schools, but as the AMA has reaffirmed today, an absolutely dire funding crisis in our state hospitals.


KELLY: Well that’s what Jay Weatherill is arguing and Nick Champion is saying he should pull his head in and he should back the anti-GST approach of federal Labor. Former NSW Premier Kristina Keneally says that’s bone headed.


BUTLER: Well there are two very strong arguments being put by Labor at the moment. Jay Weatherill along with Mike Baird and other Premiers around the country are making the argument that the funding cuts that kick in next year are completely unsustainable and a new funding solution for schools and hospitals needs to be found. While Federal Labor is making the argument very strongly, an argument I agree with wholeheartedly that an increase to the GST rate or a broadening of the base is not the way for Australia. I’m very confident as Chris Bowen has said over the last 24 hours that, as our plans for properly funding these vital services of hospitals and schools are rolled out in detail over the coming weeks and months, that all Labor leaders, Jay Weatherill, Luke Foley and others, all Labor leaders will be very comfortable endorsing those plans. And those plans will not include any increase in the rate of the GST or a broadening of the base to health, education or fresh food  unlike under this Government.


KELLY: Well I’m not sure that that’s what Jay Weatherill was signalling to us on the program yesterday but he is a Premier in your home state, so I guess you’ll be talking to him. Mark Butler thank you very much for joining us.


BUTLER: Thank you Fran.