MONDAY, 23 JANUARY 2017
MARK BUTLER MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY, MEMBER FOR PORT ADELAIDE: Thanks everyone for coming. It is clear from the reports this morning that there is now a growing Trumpian faction within the Liberal Party that is determined again to smash renewable energy in Australia and to steer the Government back towards a hard right agenda that denies the need to deal with climate change.
We don’t need to guess at what that would mean for energy policy in this country because we saw a taste of it when Tony Abbott last attacked renewable energy in 2014. In that year investment collapsed by 88 per cent in renewable energy while it soared all around the world. We lost thousands of jobs in the industry, pollution levels started to rise and the Government’s own handpicked panel of experts said that actually abolishing the renewable energy target would put upward pressure on prices not the downward pressure that Tony Abbott had falsely claimed.
Now we saw Tony Abbott again run this idea up the flag pole in an oped seven days ago. Since then we’ve heard absolutely nothing from the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to rebut the idea. All we've heard this morning from the Deputy Minister Barnaby Joyce is a resounding refusal by him to endorse the renewable energy target that the Government itself settled less than 2 years ago with the industry, and with the Australian Parliament.
Energy policy in this country is becoming a shambles and a real threat to the economy and Australian households and businesses under this Government. In December we saw Malcolm Turnbull override his own Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg because of some rumblings by Tony Abbott and Cory Bernardi about an emissions intensity scheme. This scheme, which would have sent a long-term price investment signal finally to the electricity industry to allow it to start to renew its ageing infrastructure was supported by all State Governments (Labor and Liberal), by the Energy Markets Commission, the Chief Scientist and the industry itself, and the Energy Markets Commission said that Malcolm Turnbull’s decision not to consider that scheme would lead to power bills $15 billion higher than they otherwise would be over the next 10 years.
JOURNALIST: Is there a real danger by achieving the renewable energy target that it would reduce the reliability of our energy supply?
BUTLER: Well obviously we need an electricity industry into the future that delivers reliable electricity to households and businesses at affordable prices and that aligns with the commitments we have made to reduce carbon pollution in the sector. This renewable energy target of 33,000 gigawatt hours or about 23 per cent of electricity by 2020 has been a bipartisan consensus giving strong investor confidence to businesses both here locally and that have flocked to Australia from around the world to build good renewable energy policy in Australia. We can do this in a reliable way. All of the experts agree with that, the Chief Scientist, the Industry itself, and we’ve got the jobs and the investment just waiting. We can’t deal with interruptions to confidence like the sort of Trumpian agenda we now see within the Liberal party in Australia.
JOURNALIST: If the United States does walk away from the Paris climate deal, will other countries follow?
BUTLER: Well that remains to be seen and it remains to be seen whether indeed the United States will walk away from the Paris Climate Agreement. We think that this is a landmark agreement. Finally you saw the world's nations come together and agree on a path forward to ensure that climate change or global warming does not exceed 2 degrees celsius, indeed is kept well below that level. That is critically important not just to generations today but more importantly to our children and our grandchildren. It is critically important that all parties in Australia continue to advocate the importance of the Paris Climate Agreement. in addition though, that would mean enormous investment and jobs opportunities particularly for a country that has the best renewable energy resources- solar, wind, tidal, geothermal resources - in the world. We can get a very strong comparative advantage through this.
JOURNALIST: Is there any value in committing into that target if the bigger countries, you know the big polluters don’t commit to it?
BUTLER: We’ve got an agreement that has got 194 nations signed up for it. We’ve seen some uncertainty from the United States with the new President about what his presidency would mean for that agreement but the rest of the world needs to hold firm. Australia needs to hold firm and continue to abide by the commitments made by the Paris Agreement but also introduce some domestic policy that will actually deliver on the commitments that Malcolm Turnbull made. Because his own data that he released just before Christmas confirmed that the policies that we currently have, even if the renewable energy target is kept in place, is actually seeing pollution levels rise in Australia, not come down.
JOURNALIST: Barnaby Joyce says that Australia won’t base its RET policy based on what Donald Trump does. Do you believe him when he says that?
BUTLER: I think that Barnaby Joyce tried to have it both ways this morning in his interview. He tried to say that Australia would not be driven by the Trumpian agenda that I’ve talked about but equally refused, resoundingly refused to endorse the renewable energy target which is not an international matter, it’s a domestic policy. He resoundingly refused to endorse the renewable energy target that the Abbott Government put in place less than 2 years ago in 2015.
JOURNALIST: In relation to the Paris Climate Agreement, if America walks away from the deal would it be wrong to put Australian families through increased costs of meeting the targets?
BUTLER; These targets have been shown by Tony Abbott’s own handpicked panel, the Warburton Review, led by self-confessed climate sceptic Dick Warburton, in 2014 that to abolish the renewable energy target would put upward pressure on power bills, not the downward pressure that Tony Abbott was falsely claiming. So from Dick Warburton himself, no supporter of climate action, a self-confessed climate sceptic, it is quite clear if you smash the renewable energy industry in this country power bills will start to rise. The Energy Markets Commission, the non-government, non-political body that runs our electricity system said in December that if you don’t go with an emissions intensity scheme which we advocated along with every other expert and industry body in the country the Government should think about, power bills would be $15 billion higher than they otherwise would be. So power bills going up, questions about reliability - these are all a product of the chaos, the shambles that characterises energy policy under Malcolm Turnbull.
JOURNALIST: Should Australia walk away from the TPP?
BUTLER: Well the TPP is dead. There’s not a question about Australia walking away from it. I’ve seen the Trade Minister again try to breathe life into this dead agreement and frankly it's starting to look a little weird. There is no question this agreement is dead. It simply cannot enter into force without the United States and Donald Trump, as I think people understand now, in his first 24 hours in office confirmed that he will withdraw the United States from it.
Now I’ve seen the Trade Minister and others in the Government suggest that maybe the remaining 11 members can cobble together an agreement without the United States. But again it is quite clear that some other nations will not be willing to sign onto those conditions if they don’t get the benefit they thought they were going to get through access to the enormous American market - and it's also now clear that the Government hasn’t even modelled what a TPP without the United States would mean for the Australian economy. So they have no basis to argue whether or not it would be a good or bad thing. This is an enormous distraction - Malcolm Turnbull needs to recognise that this agreement is dead, and fashion a serious policy for the Australian economy and jobs.