TUESDAY, 25 FEBRUARY 2020
MARK BUTLER: Well Scott Morrison now finds himself completely isolated on the question of net zero emissions by 2050. It’s very clear that climate change policy under this government is still being driven and shaped by the hard right within the Coalition party room that are sceptics about climate change. Scott Morrison and his government have turned their back on other governments, particularly 73 nations across the world just so far that have committed to net-zero emissions, including countries like the UK, Germany, France, and others. He’s also turned his back on every single state and territory government in the country including Liberal administrations in New South Wales and South Australia and in Tasmania who have also committed to net zero emissions by 2050.
It’s important to remind people that there is not a farm, there is not a business, there is not a household in Australia that is not located in a jurisdiction that is already covered by a net zero emissions commitment by 2050.
He’s also turned his back on the business community. The Business Council, the Australian Industry Group, the Property Council, other peak councils, have all made a commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050 because they know that’s the sensible economic thing to do. Our biggest airline, our biggest mining company, our biggest bank, our biggest telecommunications provider, among many other leading businesses have made the same commitment.
And increasingly Scott Morrison is out of touch with the general community. Research this morning confirms that three-quarters of Australians support a net zero emissions commitment by 2050 including more than two-thirds of self-identified Liberal voters because Australian businesses, the Australian community, understand that you can’t be committed to tackling climate change, to implementing the Paris Agreement, without being committed to net zero emissions by 2050. The Prime Minister should be honest about that instead of relying on tired ten year old scare campaigns.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Your party obviously committed to 2050, what about 2030? What’s your target then and will you be announcing the target?
BUTLER: Well we thought it was important to state these core pillars of climate policy early on in the Parliamentary term. We’re only a quarter of the way through this Parliamentary term. We’ve reaffirmed our commitment to the Paris Agreement; no Kyoto carry-over credits, the net zero emissions by 2050. And we’ve also reaffirmed our commitment to the transition to clean energy with no taxpayer financing going to prop up new coal fired power stations that investors won’t touch with a barge pole.
Now our job is to sit down with businesses, with workers, with farmers, with local councils, chambers of commerce and the like, and start to work through the detail of our climate policy so that it’s ready for Australian voters, for Australian businesses, well before the election in two years’ time.
JOURNALIST: Obviously you’ve got to go through some of the detail but do you anticipate your target will be at least more ambitious than the Coalition’s 26 to 28 per cent by 2030?
BUTLER: Well I’ve been very clear that the Coalition’s target, which was plucked out of the air by Tony Abbott a number of years ago, is simply inconsistent with the Paris Agreement. All of the scientists, all of the experts who have looked at that target say that it is consistent with 3 degrees or more of global warming which would be catastrophic for a vulnerable continent like Australia, and for the rest of the world. That’s why we have consistently opposed Tony Abbott and now Scott Morrison’s target for 2030.
We want to sit down with businesses and communities and workers and farmers and talk about all these details. That’s what they would expect. They don’t expect us to come up with a policy in isolation. They want to be listened to, they want to be engaged about what they think the future should look like for Australia. And it’s becoming increasingly clear, they recognise a net zero emissions future for Australia is the responsible thing for our generation to do and something which the CSIRO says will be good for the economy.
JOURNALIST: So if you’re talking about consistency with the 2 degree warming target with Paris, the Climate Change Authority in 2015 warned that Australia would have to reduce its emissions between 40 and 65 per cent on 2005 levels to be consistent with that. Are you open to that sort of target?
BUTLER: Well we took to the last two elections a target based on Climate Change Authority advice and that report that you talk about that was released in 2014, from memory. It’s now six years old. It will be eight years old by the time of the next election and envisaged a fifteen year timeframe.
We’ve been very consistent with our approach to this question, whether it’s the long term target of net zero emissions or medium term targets, will be based on scientific advice. The government’s current target, we still don’t know where that came from. Tony Abbott plucked it out of the air. He’s never produced scientific evidence or modelling to show it’s consistent with what we need to do on climate change. That will be our approach though, to take scientific advice, to work with the community, to work with businesses, on a proper pathway to net-zero emissions by 2050.
JOURNALIST: David Littleproud has said that a net-zero emissions target would crush the Agriculture industry. Is there a way to get to that target without really hurting the Ag industry?
BUTLER: Well I’d encourage David to have a talk to the industry a little more. I mean, the National Farmers’ Federation, particularly the Meat and Livestock Association, noting that livestock is responsible for well over half of agricultural emissions, have had a target of carbon-neutrality not by 2050 but by 2030 for some time now. I also read an op-ed by Niall Blair, who up until last year was the New South Wales Primary Industries Minister and the Deputy Leader of the Nationals Party in New South Wales, who has written today about how important this commitment is for Australian farmers, how it will be of significant benefit to Australian farmers over the next three decades.
So I think, again, this is just the tired old National Party, Liberal Party scare campaigns that Australians have been subjected to for more than a decade now. I think the research, the approach of other governments, every state and territory government with Australian businesses, show that they just want this done. They recognise, they’ve seen over the course of this summer what a threat climate change is to our standard of living and what a significantly larger threat it will be to our children and our grandchildren if we don’t start to tackle it. They just want the politics taken out of this and for this Parliament to start acting responsibly.
JOURNALIST: Angus Taylor cites a CSIRO report saying a global carbon price of $273 will be needed by 2060 to hit zero emissions – what do you say to that? The transition’s going to be a big cost isn’t it?
BUTLER: Not only has the Government turned their back on the business community, turned their back on the advice of state governments, international governments, turned their back on the very clear implications of the Paris Agreement that they signed. It wasn’t signed by a Labor government it was signed by a government in which Scott Morrison was Treasurer at the time. They’ve now started to attack modelling by the CSIRO, by the preeminent scientific agency that reported last year that a net zero emissions position by 2050 would lead to stronger economic growth, higher real wages, and lower energy bills. Now every one of these pieces of economic modelling include some sort of carbon price signal because these modellers don’t know how to model regulatory change, changes in consumer behaviour and the like.
I don’t remember, for example, Angus Taylor admitting to the fact that the modelling that they trumpeted through the last election campaign, which we thought was discredited, Brian Fisher’s modelling, assumed that the Liberal government would have a carbon price in place of $92/tonne, not in three decades’ time, but this decade.
So what we’re doing is we’re relying on the expert advice. The CSIRO has said very clearly this will be good for the economy. Stronger growth, higher wages, lower energy bills.
JOURNALIST: You talk about net zero emissions by 2050, one of the cleanest ways of producing and generating power is nuclear energy. Are you open to lifting the moratorium on nuclear energy to help generate power in Australia?
BUTLER: I just think this is a flight of fancy. I’ve had this portfolio for years, I’ve engaged with lots of people from industry, from the electricity industry, lots of academics who have looked at this question closely and their overwhelming advice has been this: it would take decades to build a nuclear industry in this country and most importantly, leaving aside the fact that there’s probably not the political support for moving this way in Australia, but most importantly there is no indication that the cost, the exorbitant cost of nuclear power, is going to come down in the coming decades. We’ve only just seen modelling, for example, from the CSIRO and the Energy Market Operator (AEMO) released very recently that shows that the capital costs of nuclear power are about ten times the costs of renewables and the costs of renewables are coming down. They’re not projected to come down for nuclear power.
So I just think this is a flight of fancy that distracts from the very real challenge we have of having an energy policy that drags forward investment. We saw renewable energy investment collapse by 60 per cent last year because of a lack of policy. We know that renewable energy plus pumped-hydro storage, plus batteries plus, for some time at least, gas peaking power, is going to deliver reliable dispatchable power at a vastly cheaper price than nuclear power
JOURNALIST: But trying to get the storage for renewable energy is effectively a trillion dollar industry in Australia, and talk about decades ahead for nuclear power, 2050 is thirty years ahead, it’s fifteen years until you can get some sort of power into the system, that still gives fifteen years to generate power. Are you not open to having a discussion around whether this is a viable source of energy?
BUTLER: We’ve been talking about this for decades now and no one’s been able to show a proposition where this will be vaguely affordable.
So I’ll give you one example: the UK is rebuilding, so on a brownfield site, not a greenfield site without a nuclear industry, but rebuilding a nuclear power station at Hinkley in the UK, and costs have blown out to $20 billion for that power station and they’ve entered a contract for 35 years of the equivalent of about $200/Mwh for the electricity indexed for 35 years. Now the government has said they’ve got a target to get electricity down to $70/Mwh. The Snowy Hydro company has already issued tenders that they’ve got back for $70/Mwh for dispatchable renewables, so dispatchable twenty four-seven hydro. The UK, which already has a sophisticated nuclear industry, is rebuilding on a brownfield site, can’t get electricity from nuclear power away at anything less than three times what this government says is an acceptable price.
So this is again Scott Morrison distracting from what is a real challenge today. How do you get investment into the electricity industry today, not in the late 2030s, today.
JOURNALIST: Reliability to, how do you shore up? What’s your answer to that, where does the reliability come from?
BUTLER: Well the energy market operator CSIRO are doing very serious work on this and they’ve shown that with a mixture, as I said, of pumped-hydro, battery, some gas peaking at least for some period of time, you can get dispatchable renewable energy and what’s more, the price of that is coming down every single year. Lazard show that the cost of solar is still coming down by about 13 per cent a year, the cost of wind is still coming down by about 7 per cent a year.
This is the affordable clean energy future for Australia.
JOURNALIST: Did you in the last, did you propose that Labor investigate a national interest test in thermal coal exports in the former leadership group?
BUTLER: Greg, you’ve asked me this question and my answer remains the same, which is I’ve got a long practice, as all Shadow Cabinet and Cabinet members should have, of not discussing internal discussions within Shadow Cabinet or leadership groups. So that’s my position, you can ask me a number of times.
JOURNALIST: Well be that as it may, you’re on the record saying that you did not support Adani in the last term of Parliament now you’re saying that those things are a matter for international markets. Was it a mistake for you to outright say that you do not support the Adani project?
BUTLER: Well my view on that development hasn’t changed, what has changed is the facts on the ground, which is that the Adani company has got all of their approvals and the project is going ahead. That wasn’t the position a couple of years ago when this was still a matter of some debate. What I have said, is whether or not a mine like that or the Galilee Basin is going to be able to wash its face will be determined by changes in the global market, decisions not taken in Canberra but taken in the capital cities of our major trading partners, in the board rooms of major companies and depending on what happens in a whole lot of technological innovations for industries like steelmaking. That remains my position. What I said before was predicated on the facts on the ground.
JOURNALIST: You’ve said outright you don’t support any coal mining in the Galilee Basin because it’s against national interest – was that a mistake? Should you have answered it the way you’re answering it now, saying those things are a matter for international markets and environmental agreements?
BUTLER: Well that was my view back then, that based on the likely trends over coming decades in international markets that new mines, a new basin, the only new thermal coal basin on the face of the planet being developed, was not consistent with the trends in global markets. That remains my position but ultimately Adani has got all their approvals. They’re going to have to deliver on the promises they’ve made to Central Queensland around jobs and show that they can wash their face on this project.
JOURNALIST: Without nuclear what will Labor’s baseload power source be to hit a zero emissions target because you can’t surely get there through 100 per cent renewables?
BUTLER: Well that’s not the view of CSIRO, that’s not the view of a whole range of other experts that have worked on this. Obviously this is going to take some decades to roll through and what you are seeing is first of all, costs comedown. I said in response to an earlier question, costs come down significantly for the cost of renewable energy but also a whole range of other opportunities for storage to be developed. We’ve got 22,000 potential pumped hydro sites identified by the Australian National University, we’ve got the options for very large pump hydro developments in Snowy and also down in Tasmania, to build on the Tasmanian hydro developments. We’ve got the opportunity for substantial enhancement of our transmission networks, huge developments in the battery industry. I think very confidently, based on advice from the industry itself, but from independent experts like CSIRO, there’s very real opportunity for us to do this in a clean, affordable, reliable way.
JOURNALIST: Would you envisage coal or gas to be part of a baseload energy mix to hit the 2050 net zero emissions target in the long term?
BUTLER: I’ll deal with coal first. All of our coal-fired generators are getting older. The youngest one started construction in 2004 and was commissioned in 2007. Many of them were built in the 70s and 80s and a number of them are already operating beyond their design life. And over the last couple of summers in particular we’ve seen a number of them breakdown, simply breakdown without any notice. So there is a question about the reliability of our existing coal generation fleet particularly in New South Wales and Victoria where they tend to be a bit older. We are going to see those plants retire over coming years and they are going to be replaced with clean energy. The industry has made that very clear, investors have made that very clear. The only way you are going to see new coal built in this country is with enormous taxpayer subsidy of the type that has been envisaged by Scott Morrison in this Collinsvile project. I think it is very clear over the period between now and 2050 you’re going to see a system based on coal generation shift to a system based very much on clean energy.
JOURNALIST: Is hydrogen the way to keep coal and gas in the system then?
BUTLER: Hydrogen is a very exciting fuel of the future. The CSIRO thinks that green hydrogen, which is hydrogen using renewable energy to electrolyse water and separate hydrogen from the oxygen, is going to be the cheapest form of hydrogen sometime through the course of this decade. And export markets that are interested in Australian hydrogen being exported have made it clear, for example Japan, that all hydrogen taken into their market must be carbon neutral by 2030. So either you have to do green hydrogen, which is using renewable energy, or if you are getting hydrogen from gas or from coal through gasification processes, they are going to have to show that they have been able to use carbon capture and storage. Now whether there is the technology for that and whether they can get that underway at a price that competes with green hydrogen is really a matter for industry to show. It is clear though that hydrogen in the medium term and certainly in the long term is going to have to be carbon neutral. And if it is carbon neutral it is going to have an extraordinary future for Australia in supplying hydrogen to the world.
JOURNALIST: Will your medium term target be a 2035 target?
BUTLER: We are going to engage with businesses, the community, scientists, about that. Stakeholders have been make clear that by 2022 the global discussion, global negotiations, won’t be around 2030 they will be around a 2035 target. That is obviously a factor we have to take into account. It is not a decision we are taking at this point in time and we want to engage with people about it.
JOURNALIST: Would you consider having the same target, 45 per cent, but just wind it back five years to deal with the fact you’re starting later?
BUTLER: I’m not going to get into hypotheticals. What I’ve said is we are going to have an open discussion with all of those groups I’ve talked about, the general community, workers, farmers. We want that discussion to start, though, with everyone having a very clear understanding of what our endgame is and that is the implementation of the Paris Agreement. To implement that agreement, to keep faith with future generations around climate change, you have to have a core commitment of net zero emissions by 2050.
JOURNALIST: Warwick Mckibbin says that without carbon price the Government or Labor are going to end up spending a lot more of taxpayers money, costing consumers a lot more, building white elephants. Is a carbon price completely off the table from Labor in the medium – long term or could that come be part of a mix?
BUTLER: I just don’t agree with Professor Mckibbin on that. I know modellers always seem to put in a carbon price. As I said, the modelling for the Government’s own 2030 target had a carbon price of $92/tonne this decade, not in three decades time, I don’t remember Angus Taylor or Scott Morrison trumpeting that very often. What is clear is the debate has moved on from the position we found about 10 years ago where, I think, a carbon price was seen as important to level the playing field between clean technology and fossil fuel technology. We see now, in a properly constructed market with clear investment rules, renewable energy will beat fossil fuel energy every single time. Within a few years the vehicle industry tells us that electric vehicles will be able to achieve a price point parity in showrooms with petrol and diesel engines. So I just think the debate has moved on. I know modellers haven’t moved on but I think the rest of the world has moved on.
JOURNALIST: Given that technology has caught up were the Coalition right to argue against a carbon price when it was introduced by Labor?
BUTLER: No, as I said, I think ten years ago there was an important role for supporting emerging technologies. That is why, for example, we had the Renewable Energy Target, along with 173 other countries because it was recognised for emerging technologies to get a fair go in a market sometime there has to be some support. But that support would be temporary. At some stage it would be expected that new technology would be able to compete on its own feet in a properly constructed market – that is what you see now in renewable energy, that is what you will see over the course of coming years in clean vehicle technology as well.
Now everyone I’ve got to go, thank you very much for coming.