THURSDAY, 13 DECEMBER 2018
MARK BUTLER: Thanks for coming out. This morning we’ve heard an announcement of the eleventh energy policy from this Government since the 2016 election; eleven energy policies in less than two and a half years to deal with a very deep energy crisis that has emerged under this Government, gripping households and Australian businesses. But to call this an energy policy announcement is a generous act.
This is a desperate act of ideology to throw billions of taxpayers’ dollars to new coal-fired power stations that investors simply won’t touch with a barge pole. The ideology and the desperation is also reflected in the fact that every form of generation is able to bid for these taxpayers dollars except for renewable energy, such is the ideological obsessions that this Government, and particularly this Energy Minister, Angus Taylor, has about renewable energy.
Coincidentally, Snowy Hydro and Tas Hydro also have announcements this afternoon about their pumped hydro projects. It is important to say that if Angus Taylor’s coal plan goes ahead then those pumped hydro projects simply will not proceed. Snowy Hydro has made it clear, in testimony to the Australian Parliament, that building a new coal-fired power station would make Snowy Hydro 2.0, to use their words, “unviable.” Both projects, Battery of the Nation in Tasmania and Snowy 2.0 have business cases that both depend on a very substantial expansion of renewable energy through the course of the decade of the 2020s – of the type that Labor is proposing with our 50 per cent renewable energy target.
All the while you have this shambles of eleven energy policies proposed by the Government in less than two and a half years, we also see reports this morning from the ABS and from the Australian Energy Regulator, that power prices for Australian households and businesses are continuing to go up, and up, and up. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Do you see any improvements on the previous disagreed upon energy policies?
BUTLER: No, three months ago the Coalition party room decided to chuck out the National Energy Guarantee; a policy that was agreed by every business group in the country, every state government Liberal and Labor alike, and had the prospect of passing the Australian Parliament overwhelmingly. It had passed the Coalition party room three times. Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison promised that the National Energy Guarantee would see power prices come down by $550 for Australian households. Instead of that, having chucked that policy out, and chucked Malcolm Turnbull out as Prime Minister at the same time, you now see the dog that caught the car unable to put together any sort of energy policy that is going to lead to the investment we need to bring power prices down. Instead, you’ll see billions and billions of taxpayers’ dollars wasted at trying to build new coal-fired power stations that, as I’ve said, every business figure in Australia has said are uninvestable.
JOURNALIST: Have they actually said that though, they are going to go ahead with new coal-fired plants?
BUTLER: Yes, have a look at the details of Angus Taylor’s announcement this morning. It is clearly directed at new coal-fired power stations, particularly reflected in the fact that renewable energy projects, firmed up by batteries or pumped hydro are not able to bid for this auction.
JOURNALIST: Is that a policy to take to an election?
BUTLER: We will see. This is a shambles of a policy announcement this morning. They’ve admitted they haven’t even designed the details of the auction. They’ll do that while seeking expressions of interests from business. Business has no idea, really, what the terms of this auction are going to be until early next year. This is a Government that is absolutely shambolic on energy policy and a whole range of other announcements that we’ve seen today.
It has taken Scott Morrison twelve months to catch up with Labor on the importance of an Integrity Commission. Two weeks ago, Scott Morrison said that an Integrity Commission was a fringe issue. He said that in the Parliament only two weeks ago, yet this morning he catches up with a position Federal Labor has had for twelve months.
JOURNALIST: This latest iteration of energy policy, has this been signed off by Cabinet and Caucus?
BUTLER: Who know really? The party room met a couple of weeks ago. There is just a series of announcements being rushed out on the eve of Christmas, in the shadow of an election campaign that may be called within weeks. This is a Government that is really unravelling. It is a Prime Minister that is making things up as he goes along and is reversing positions that he said was his strong conviction only two weeks ago – for example on an Integrity Commission.
He said during the Wentworth by-election campaign that he would fix the question of discrimination against gay and lesbian kids in religious schools within a fortnight. Yet this morning he has announced he is going to kick that issue into the long grass for at least the entirety of next year.
JOURNALIST: Will Labor support a Religious Discrimination Act?
BUTLER: We’ve said we are open to a separate piece of legislation dealing with religious discrimination. We want to see the Ruddock Review. The Government has been sitting on this for more than six months now and if it had been released in a timely fashion by Malcolm Turnbull or Scott Morrison, we would have had a really good debate in the Parliament and in the community about this important question. We are open to a piece of legislation but we want to see the Ruddock Review and we want to see any draft legislation.
What we really do think is of critical importance though, is that we deal with the question of discrimination against gay and lesbian students in religious schools. There is a Private Members Bill before the Parliament, there is a Senate report that will be delivered on February 11th, and we think the Prime Minister should commit to a debate and a vote on that Bill when Parliament resumes in February rather than kicking this into the long grass. Kicking this into a Law Reform Commission Review will mean that there is an entire school year in 2019 when gay and lesbian students in our religious schools will face the prospect and the fear of discrimination. That is simply unacceptable to Federal Labor.
JOURNALIST: Is that really just playing out in politics, it is not the reality of day to day?
BUTLER: We know it is not the reality in every school day to day but one instance of that discrimination is one instance too many. The Parliament has the ability to deal with this and to protect gay and lesbian kids that are in the very vast number of religious schools that we have here in Australia. They are great schools we have here in Australia. We know that the Parliament can deal with it as soon as we resume in February. It should have dealt with it in the last fortnight, as Scott Morrison promised would happen during the Wentworth campaign. But there are strong views within the Parliament that we can deal with this question now and then let’s have a fuller discussion about the other elements of the Ruddock Review.
JOURNALIST: One final matter, I don’t think I’ve heard Federal Labor yet on yesterday’s happy announcement about our space technology hub. Do you think this is a good development for advancing STEM type occupations in South Australia in the long-term?
BUTLER: Perhaps that’s because you don’t listen to enough ABC Radio, because I said on ABC Radio yesterday morning that I thought this was a great day for South Australia. People should remember that the pitch for Adelaide to be the location of the headquarters for the Space Agency was initiated by Jay Weatherill. This is a South Australian Labor project and it is one that I think is supported by all members of the South Australian Labor team, federal and state alike. I certainly strongly supported it, I indicated that yesterday.
What we need though is some more meat on the bone of this announcement. An agency that is critically important, its location in Adelaide is something that I welcome, but what the Prime Minister didn’t announce yesterday was elements of our plan that we think are really important. We’ve announced, for example, there should be a network of ARC funded research hubs to really grow our research skills in this area. There should be an ARC funded network of industry training centres so that Australian workers get the skills we need for this industry. And there needs to be a supplier advocate to ensure that these are Australian supply chains. We see supply chains involving Australian companies and Australian workers instead of having to import machinery from overseas. What we’d like to see, is Scott Morrison talk about those elements of a space industry plan, as well as the location of the government agency.