SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison isolated on Australia’s energy future and net zero emissions; portfolios; medium term targets; Narrabri; Mathias Cormann’s use of the RAAF.
MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY: Over the last couple of days, we've seen a cavalcade of business voices, urging Australia to embrace the commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 and the opportunity to become a renewable energy superpower with all of the jobs and investment that that entails. Coupled with sweeping developments overseas, particularly in the US climate change policy, these domestic calls have highlighted just how isolated Scott Morrison and his Government have become on climate and energy policy.
The Government-appointed Chair of the Energy Security Board, Kerry Schott, perhaps put it best yesterday, when she said it was just time for Australia to get on with the transformation to renewable energy. A good place to start would be for Scott Morrison to back in the Labor Party announcement we made in the Budget Reply to Rewire the Nation. A policy to build the energy grid that Australia needs for the 21st century to become a renewable energy superpower, and to build it at the lowest possible cost using Australian workers, Australian steel and other Australian supplies.
These calls all show that it's just time for Australia to get on with this transformation to renewable energy, because at the moment, the only person standing in the way of that transformation is Scott Morrison.
JOURNALIST: So there's nothing in the gas-led recovery, even though he argues that you don't really have a policy?
BUTLER: The criticism I've made of the so called gas-led recovery, since it's been hyped over the last several months, is once it was actually released without any modelling, there was not a single job that you could identify that will be delivered in the timeframe we require. We are in the deepest recession in almost a century. We need job creating developments now and there's not a single job that the Prime Minister could point to that comes from his so called ‘gas-led recovery’. Business leaders and other political leaders, aside from the federal government, Liberal and Labor alike have issued over the last 48 hours a clarion call that it's time to embrace a net zero emissions commitment by 2050 and recognise that the future of energy not just here in Australia, but around the world is renewable energy.
JOURNALIST: Are you still happy in your place? Or would you like to take on another portfolio?
BUTLER: Well, the job of every front bencher is to serve in the portfolio allocated by their leader. That's always been my position under four leaders I've had the privilege of serving under Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese. So portfolio allocation is a question for Anthony.
JOURNALIST: Is aged care services an area you have an interest in as a potential Minister?
BUTLER: Well, I was Minister for Ageing for a number of years under Julia Gillard, as Prime Minister. I loved the portfolio and I’m very proud of the reforms that we made - almost $4 billion investment in new arrangements for the aged care sector that particularly focused on better services for dementia, particularly focused on building a home care service that frankly, this government has since neglected. But look, at the end of the day, it's a matter for Anthony to allocate portfolios. I’m passionate about the opportunities, the obligation that Australia has to deal with climate change and the opportunities that come with the transformation to clean energy in jobs and investment in a country, as we see with the climate today, that should be a leader in this race for jobs and investment around the world.
JOURNALIST: There’s a perception, at least, that there's a difference in opinion amongst your colleagues, is that problematic for the leader?
BUTLER: Ours has always been a Party that encourages good, vibrant debate around important policy challenges and opportunities that the nation faces. That's been our tradition for the over 120 years the Labor Party's been around and I welcome being a part of it. I will challenge and contest very strongly any idea that the Labor Party should walk away from our obligation to deal with climate change and the opportunity we have to embrace the enormous jobs and investments that will flow from our transformation to a renewable energy superpower. I will fight that very, very hard.
JOURNALIST: So do you back to the 2030 emissions target? Or will Labor propose a 2035 target?
BUTLER: Our position in relation to medium term targets will be made clear well before the next election. As the Leader, Shadow Ministers and myself have said all of our policies are up for review after the last election and we're working on that with stakeholders, negotiating with business, dealing with business, with other stakeholders, environment groups and the like.
We've set out a number of core principles in this policy area, restating our commitment to net zero emissions by 2050. A position shared by all state governments, Labor and Liberal alike, pretty much every business organisation in Australia and countries representing more than 70 per cent of our international trade. It is now a very orthodox position but one we have held for many years. As I said, a very substantial investment in a modern energy grid that will unlock Australia's enormous renewable energy future and potential to become a renewable energy super power.
JOURNALIST: Should Labor articulate its position in relation to medium term targets?
BUTLER: Our position in relation to medium term targets will be made clear well before the next election. We do recognise that making a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, and the terms of the Paris Climate Accord - that after all this government signed Australia up to in 2015 - requires all countries to set medium term targets to ensure that the world is on track to that mid-century commitment to carbon neutrality. So of course we’ve got to set medium term targets and our position on that will be made clear well before the next election. We will be guided by the best available scientific and economic advice.
JOURNALIST: Do you think there is going to be enough time for constituents to buy into it though? How long is it before the election?
BUTLER: We’re going to go through a proper process to develop these positions. As Anthony has made clear over the course of this week, we've got a national conference that will be held early next year. We do this in an iterative way, working with business, working with other stakeholders, climate and environment groups, the finance sector that has a deep interest in this area to make sure that we have the best possible policy guided by the evidence that is before the Australian public in good time for them to make an informed decision as they go to the ballot box.
JOURNALIST: Apparently 74 per cent of the national electricity network is powered by black and brown coal. So how do you make that transition?
BUTLER: Well, it's now a little less than 70 per cent on the last figures that I saw. Of course, Australia, particularly the eastern states, have relied very heavily traditionally on coal-fired power and that's delivered good, reliable cheap energy for Australia for many decades.
But what we also know is that the majority of our existing coal-fired power stations are operating beyond their intended design life. They happen to have been built, many of them, in the 1970s and the 1990s. They are reaching the end of their operating life and as the industry itself has said, as our energy regulators have said, as they retire they will be replaced by the cheapest and cleanest source of new energy, which is renewable energy.
Obviously, that's energy that needs to be firmed up by technologies like pumped hydro, like batteries, like gas-fired peaking stations. We have a number of them in the electorate that we're currently in, Hindmarsh in South Australia. But it's clear that there will be a generational shift as those old generators come to the end of their life.
JOURNALIST: The Narrabri gas project approval. What do you make of the decision?
BUTLER: New South Wales has relied upon other states for their gas supplies for many, many decades. And as I have said a number of times, as their traditional supplies from Bass Strait or offshore Victorian fields drop off over coming years, as they will, New South Wales has to find alternative supplies and support for households, millions of which are connected to the gas network, for manufacturers and for the energy system. So a new supplier like Narrabri will be important for the New South Wales economy and provided it can be delivered in accordance with best environmental practice that will be a good thing for the New South Wales economy.
Now the Morison Government has approved this, it needs to satisfy the people of New South Wales that it will make sure that the environmental conditions that it placed on this project will be satisfied.
JOURNALIST: Do you think they're up to protecting the Great Artesian Basin? Is there a risk there?
BUTLER: That's a matter for Scott Morrison and the Environment Minister Sussan Ley who has given the tick to this project. Obviously, it's important for this project to roll out in a way that is consistent with good environmental protection and that includes our groundwater resources.
JOURNALIST: Is there any leverage here for Indigenous organisations to protest against the project?
BUTLER: That’s a matter for groups in New South Wales.
JOURNALIST: So you’re not aware of any legal grounds?
BUTLER: That’s a matter for groups in New South Wales.
We've also learned today that Scott Morrison is spending more than $4,000 an hour flying Mathias Cormann around on a private jet around Europe to campaign for a new job in Brussels for the OECD. All this at a time when 36,000 Australians remain stranded overseas with no support from their Government, unable to get home for Christmas. Scott Morrison needs to explain how taxpayers are getting value for money - thousands of dollars now flying Mathias Cormann around European capitals overseas - while 36,000. Australians can't get home for Christmas.
JOURNALIST: Is it a fair thing to use the RAAF jet to cover yourself for Coronavirus issues?
BUTLER: Well, 36,000 Australians who are stranded trying to get home for Christmas don't get that luxury from their own government, from their own Prime Minister. It's up to Scott Morrison to explain why there's one rule for Mathias Cormann and another rule for those 36,000 Australians who want to get home for Christmas and are getting no support from their government.
JOURNALIST: Is it worth spending the money given the influence Australia could have in such a significant role?
BUTLER: Obviously, it's in Australia's national interest to have a well-qualified Australian representing Australia on international bodies like the OECD. That's why we've supported Mathias Cormann’s candidacy to the OECD, unlike the Liberal Party that played petty politics in opposing Kevin Rudd's candidacy for the United Nations. But Scott Morrison needs to explain how Australian taxpayers are getting value for money spending thousands of dollars an hour flying Mathias Cormann around European capitals, while 36,000 Australian citizens remain stranded overseas, unable to get home for Christmas.
JOURNALIST: Would you have Mathias flying commercially or would you have him campaign like Natasha Stott Despoja?
BUTLER: Natasha showed successfully how you can campaign. It's up to Scott Morrison to explain this to Australian taxpayers and not yet again duck some difficult questions. Australian taxpayers at this time of crisis need to understand why the Prime Minister has prioritised Mathias Cormann’s job application over the needs of 36,000 Australians wanting to get home for Christmas.