Doorstop Adelaide 17/08/2019

August 17, 2019


Scott Morrison's policy, the strategic step up in the Pacific, lies in tatters this weekend.

At the end of a week where, frankly, Australia's national interest might have been better served if he had stayed at home, this week's Pacific Islands forum again demonstrated that you can't, as Australia, have a policy of stepping up in the Pacific region if you don't have a plan to take climate change seriously. And again, Scott Morrison has demonstrated that this Government simply doesn't have that plan.

What our friends and neighbours in the region have been exposed to for six years now is jokes about water lapping at their doorstep by Ministers like Peter Dutton, Scott Morrison, and Tony Abbott, being insulted by the then-Environment Minister Melissa Price about chequebook diplomacy, and only yesterday the Australian Deputy Prime Minister saying that if you lose your home to sea-level rise you'll be fine because you'll be able to access seasonal work in Australia picking fruit. Now, I know that our friends and neighbours in the region appreciate the opportunity to do that sort of work in Australia, but that work is no substitute for a home. What we've seen from this Government is no plan to bring down emissions to bring down emissions in our domestic economy. No plan that indicates that they take climate change as seriously as our friends and neighbours the Pacific Island region do. There is no more important issue for them, and no plan to step up in the Pacific, which is a region where climate change is the number one issue for them.

We've seen under the last six years whether it's under Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, or Scott Morrison, a reckless approach to climate change that is exposing this country to greater risk and greater damage, and making sure that we're not harnessing the economic opportunities, new jobs, and investment that we otherwise would. But this week has demonstrated that their reckless approach to climate change is also starting to impact our broader strategic interest.
JOURNALIST: To what end do you think, how do you think the Deputy Prime Minister's comments will be judged? How do you think our Pacific neighbours will react?
BUTLER: Well I think we've seen at the end of the week after, again, heavy handedness by Australia during communique negotiations, the negotiations around the wording of the communique, that our relationship with our Pacific neighbours has been damaged by the Prime Minister's actions this week. I think it then just adds insult to injury to have the Deputy Prime Minister say that if you lose your home to a sea level rise, you'll be fine because you'll be able to access seasonal job opportunities here in Australia. I think we now have a very serious problem with our relations with our neighbours in the Pacific and that is of extraordinary strategic importance to Australia as a seagoing nation.
JOURNALIST: The Fiji PM says that the comments are insulting and condescending. To what extent to you think that our relations have been damaged?
BUTLER: Well our relations with our region are deep and they are longstanding. There will be damage to come from this week, I think that's clear from the comments of a number of Pacific Island leaders, but I know that our relations are enduring and will be able to move forward on this. But you cannot move forward in the Pacific, as a country like Australia, if you don't develop a serious plan around climate change. There is no more important issue. The more that this poses existential threats to their homes and then to have a big, rich neighbour like Australia demonstrate through its policies that it's not taking climate change seriously means that there are going to be ongoing problems in our relationship.
JOURNALIST:  Would a Labor government have endorsed the statement from the smaller Island-states. 
BUTLER: Well it's quite clear to the Australian Labor Party that the world is facing a climate crisis. There could not be a clearer word for Pacific nations who are facing an end to their homes to describe this as a crisis. Why the Government felt that it should use diplomatic capital to try and remove that word from the communique beggars belief to me. Why the Government won't commit to net-zero emissions by the middle of the century when so many other developed economies have done so. Boris Johnson has only recently reaffirmed the UK's commitment to net-zero emissions by the middle of the century; Gladys Berejiklian's Liberal Government in New South Wales has done the same. Why Scott Morrison refuses to do that when it is an inevitable consequence of the Paris Agreement that this Government signed us up to again, beggars belief.
JOURNALIST: Just on another topic if you don't mind. The Prime Minister has accused GetUp of bullying and harassment of Liberal candidates during the election campaign. What do you think of GetUp's behaviour?
BUTLER: If there are any allegations of bullying and harassment during election campaigns they should be dealt with appropriately. There's no tolerance for bullying and for the sort of behaviour that has been alleged in any election campaign. That should be dealt with. But I have to say, I think Australians sitting around the table worrying about the fact that economic growth has tanked in this country, that wages are flatter than they've ever been in recorded history by the ABS, productivity is going backwards, and their jobs are under threat; they'll be bewildered that this Government doesn't seem to have an agenda except for right-wing indulgences like attacking GetUp or building a new fleet of nuclear power stations. This Government needs to come up with an agenda that addresses the economic dangerous period that households in this country are facing.
JOURNALIST: Does Labor have an association with GetUp?
BUTLER: There's no formal association between Labor and GetUp. 
JOURNALIST: Nicolle Flint has implied that GetUp is a front for Labor and the Greens-
BUTLER: Well she would say that. 
JOURNALIST: -and that they should face the same level of scrutiny as a political party. What's your response? Should GetUp be classified as a political party, or an independent body?

BUTLER: Well they're very clearly not a political party. They're not running candidates. There are a range of other third parties that participate in Australia's democracy and they should all be subject to appropriate regulation. But this looks like an obsession within the hard-right of the Coalition party room that masks the fact that this is a government that doesn't have an agenda that speaks to the challenges and the opportunities that real Australians care about.
JOURNALIST: Are you satisfied that GetUp faces enough scrutiny?
BUTLER: I think there are strong programs and strong regulations to make sure that any third party that wants to participate in Australian democracies - and there are from the left and the right, we've seen that only in the May election - are subject to appropriate regulation and appropriate transparency.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) ...he spoke to the Prime Minister again this morning about the future of submarine maintenance and construction (inaudible). He certainly didn't get any guarantee about the program remaining at Osborne. How concerned are you about those jobs potentially going West and what impact will that have if those jobs do go West?
BUTLER: Well I'm very deeply concerned. There are 700 jobs there, they've been doing that work - highly skilled, highly dedicated workers who have been doing those jobs for decades and now there is insecurity over their security as well. This is despite the fact that this has been an integral part of South Australia's shipbuilding operations, as I say, not just for years but for decades. They've seen hundreds of their colleagues go at ASC down at Osborne because there was no plan put in place to do any building after the AWD, or the destroyer works were starting to taper off. This Government started instead to send the supply ship contract over to Spain - they didn't even give local shipyards like the one down at Osborne the opportunity to bid for it - and now their 700 jobs are in jeopardy as well. There is a really serious economic challenge here in South Australia. We've seen now unemployment top the national list, almost two percentage points above the national average. We've seen the car industry close down because of actions by this Government, and the idea that 700 more jobs that have been here for years and years and years are in jeopardy as well and the Prime Minister refuses to rule that out I think is a really serious concern in South Australia.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned though that it's a fait accompli that these jobs are going to go West considering the make-up of the Cabinet with the Defence Minister, the Defence Industries Minister and the Finance Minister all from WA?
BUTLER: This Prime Minister needs to come clean on what the security is for 700 highly skilled, highly dedicated people who have been doing this job for years and years and years here in Adelaide. 
Thanks everyone.