WEDNESDAY, 24 APRIL 2019
MARK BUTLER: This morning we’ve seen the latest in the rolling series of weekly scare campaigns from a Government that is committed to doing nothing about climate change. This latest scare campaign is just like the last few, based on a series of ridiculous assumptions and some blatant lies. It could well have been written by Tony Abbott 10 years ago, who of course was a master of the baseless scare campaign. This one doesn’t even pretend to have the veneer of independent modelling. It is apparently being produced by Josh Frydenberg’s policy team, whoever that is. We know from Martin Parkinson, the head of the Australian public service, that no public servants have been involved in modelling Labor Party policies.
This, like the last series of scare campaigns, is simply a load of rubbish.
This desperate scare campaign from a divided government, led by a Prime Minister who carts lumps of coal into the parliament, is an insult to the intelligence of Australian voters. Australian voters that I’ve been talking to, and Australian business for that matter, want this election to involve a real debate about climate change. They recognise this as a really substantial challenge for Australia and a responsibility for us to look after the interests of our children and our grandchildren. Instead, all we have is two ministers, in Melissa Price and Angus Taylor, hiding behind News Limited tabloids and rolling out this baseless series of scare campaigns. They refuse to debate me about climate change policy. At the last election Greg Hunt was willing to front and conduct a debate about climate change policy at the National Press Club. Instead, we have this divided, chaotic Government seeking to run baseless scare campaigns with no basis in fact.
JOURNALIST: We’ve got some other questions for you today, Mr Butler. Just in regards to the emissions reduction, the Coalition analysis shows 40 companies would be hit with multimillion-dollar emission bills under Labor. If that figure is wrong, then why won’t you release your own costings to prove it?
BUTLER: What we are doing is we are not putting a price on carbon pollution. What we are doing is putting a limit on the amount of pollution that the 250 or so biggest polluters in the country, so that’s about 0.01 per cent of Australian businesses, produce. How they stick to those limits is a matter for them. They have lobbied Labor about having the broadest possible range of ways in which they can meet those limits, in the lowest cost and the most effective way, and we’ve acceded to all of their requests - allowing, for example, businesses to trade in international carbon markets, which they’ve all called for and which inexplicably the Morrison Government is opposed to, to introduce more liquidity into the offsets markets to allow access to electricity sector offsets.
The so-called modelling produced today by Josh Frydenberg’s policy team, whoever that is, has some utterly ridiculous assumptions. It assumes, for example, that no business anywhere in the country does anything to reduce its emissions; a completely ridiculous proposition. It then also assumes that the cost of offsets is four times the cost of offsets under a Liberal Party policy. Now why on earth would the costs of offsets be any different between a Labor Party policy and a Liberal Party policy, except to the extent that Labor has acceded to business requests to introduce a range of reforms that would lower the costs of offsets, not increase them.
JOURNALIST: Is there a figure though, have you done modelling to look at whether or not there would be a cost impact on companies if you guys were to win government?
BUTLER: As I’ve said, this is not a pricing mechanism. What we are doing is setting limits, and it is a matter for business as to how they meet those limits. It’s a matter for business to determine whether they change their operations, access a whole different range of offsets, or a mix of those two things. It is inherently impossible to model in a precise way because what we are doing is leaving this up to business. That is what business has asked us to do. What we are also doing, though, is acceding to a range of business requests to introduce the lowest cost range of offsets available to them. That is what the Government has not done. So, if anything, the cost of offsets would be lower under a Labor mechanism because we are working with exactly the same safeguards mechanism that was introduced under Malcolm Turnbull’s Prime Ministership, than offsets would be under the Liberals.
JOURNALIST: So what is the lowest cost?
BUTLER: That ultimately will depend on the supply in the carbon farming market. What we do know is that the carbon farming market in Australia has become stultified by Tony Abbott’s decision to rip up a whole heap of private demand in the market in 2014. Ask anyone in that sector and introducing more liquidity will produce more competition and put downward pressure on those carbon farming market offsets.
JOURNALIST: Let’s move to preferences, is Clive Palmer demanding anything in return to a preference deal?
BUTLER: I’m not involved in any preference negotiations, but I think Tanya Plibersek made this point clear this morning, that Clive Palmer has never been a supporter of the Labor Party. His long and varied career in public life as a business person, as an adviser to Joh Bjelke-Petersen and more recently as a politician himself. I’ll leave others in the Labor Party to talk about our preference negotiations with the Palmer Party, or with anyone else for that matter, but I don’t think anyone expects that Clive Palmer in his latest iteration would be any more a supporter of the Labor Party than he has been over the last several decades.
JOURNALIST: Would deals be cut by a seat-by-seat basis or state-by-state?
BUTLER: I’ll leave the matter of preference negotiations to others within the Party that are conducting them.
JOURNALIST: Are you willing to discuss policy concessions in return for preferences?
BUTLER: Again, as I said, I’ll leave the matter of preferences to those who are charged with the responsibility of conducting them for the Party.
JOURNALIST: Just getting to the issue of water, isn’t restricting an inquiry into water buyback deals to Barnaby Joyce alone clearly partisan, given that Labor has also dealt with this company as well?
BUTLER: Labor conducted a series of water buybacks under a very strict open tendering regime. That ensured value for money for taxpayers because there was an open, transparent, competitive tender process. Barnaby Joyce, as Minister for Water, inexplicably given that responsibility by Malcolm Turnbull, conducted a very different process. There was no transparency, there was no competition, and there was no tender process. Instead, Barnaby Joyce ended up making the taxpayer pay a Triple AAA premium price for a C-grade water product. I think taxpayers deserve to know why that happened. We gave the Government every opportunity to provide us with the paper work to demonstrate how this possibly could have been value for money for Australian taxpayers, and at 5:07pm yesterday the Government responded by saying they were not willing to give us any further information. Now, Tony Burke will have more to say about the precise nature of the inquiry we will be promising, or demanding take place into this matter, but I think Australians are really concerned that they had to pay $80 million to this company residing in the Cayman Islands to pay a Triple AAA premium price for a C-grade water product.
JOURNALIST: Mr Joyce claimed multiple times, though, that it’s same company that Labor dealt with for water buybacks? So wouldn’t you want to expand an inquiry into all Australian government dealings with that particular company?
BUTLER: No, because the point about this process was it was not open, it was not transparent and it involved no competition. There was no tender process conducted by the Government. That is what is so fundamentally different to the way in which the Labor government approached these questions when we were last in government. We had competition, we had transparency. There is something quite different about this particular process. Not just about the company that was involved, a Cayman Islands resided company, founded by Angus Taylor, now a minister in the Government, a big donor to the Liberal Party. It is not just about the nature of this company, it is also about the process that had no way of guaranteeing value for money for taxpayers, who at the end of the day were footing the bill for this.
JOURNALIST: Thank you very much.
BUTLER: Thank you.