January 16, 2017




MARK BUTLER MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY, MEMBER FOR PORT ADELAIDE: Over the course of the weekend we saw an extraordinary intervention by the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott into a range of policy areas. Calling for an increased GST, calling for reductions in Commonwealth funding for schools, and hospitals, various editorial comments about the progress of the Turnbull Government but what I want to talk about today is his particular call for the Turnbull Government to repeal the renewable energy target .

This was an extraordinarily irresponsible call from the former Prime Minister to repeal a deal that was only set about two years ago under his Prime Ministership. The last time Tony Abbott intervened in renewable energy policy he caused investment to plummet in Australia by 88 per cent in 2014, causing the spectre to arise of very real sovereign risk. After the review he commissioned delivered its report the conclusion was very clear, to abolish the renewable energy target would cause power prices to be higher, not lower than they would be with the renewable energy target remaining in place. So this really is an extraordinary contribution from Tony Abbott given all we have gone through over the last couple of years.

Tony Abbott is making a bit of a habit of intervening in energy policy. Only a few weeks ago there was an emerging consensus on an emissions intensity scheme being adopted in this country which would send a price and investment signal on a long term basis to the industry to be able to start building new generation for Australia’s energy future. This consensus had the support of all state governments, Labor and Liberal alike, the Energy Markets Commission, the Federal Opposition under Labor, the support of the Chief Scientist, the CSIRO, the industry itself and many others. Josh Frydenberg the Energy Minister quite reasonably said that the Federal Government would consider adopting that and if he had done there would have been the prospect for the first time in many years of bipartisan energy policy in this country. But Tony Abbott didn’t like it, Cory Bernardi didn’t like it and because of some rumblings by them Malcolm Turnbull overruled his own Energy Minister and rejected this consensus. In a decision the Energy Markets Commission said would cause power prices to be $15 billion higher than they are.

So in the last 24 hours when Josh Frydenberg has come out and rejected Tony Abbott’s calls to abolish the renewable energy target, frankly it was only a few weeks ago when Malcolm Turnbull had the choice of supporting Tony Abbott on energy policy or Josh Frydenberg. The Prime Minister chose Tony Abbott. In order to restore investment confidence in an industry that is already fairly fragile because of the attacks they have experienced under Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull. It is critical that Malcolm Turnbull today come out and slap down his former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and reject those calls for a repeal of the renewable energy target.

Energy policy is becoming a shambles under this Government. The rejection of the emissions intensity scheme, the lack of renewable energy policy beyond 2020 are all causing chaos in an industry that is at a point where we need to start renewing our infrastructure. These calls, particularly Malcolm Turnbull now being silent for 48 hours about this call is doing nothing to deal with that instability.

JOURNALIST: So you don’t think that those comments from Josh Frydenberg are enough to reassure you that this target is safe?

BUTLER: Well only a few weeks ago we had calls, or indications from Josh Frydenberg that they would consider an emissions intensity scheme that had the support of pretty much anyone who has a voice in energy policy. Yet still just because Tony Abbott said something different Malcolm Turnbull took a different position to his own minister. I think people are nervous about signals from Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull’s propensity to jump when Tony Abbot says jump. So it is critical to restore industry and investor confidence here Malcolm Turnbull needs to back in his Minister here and not do what he did in December, which was to back in Tony Abbott and the hard right of the Liberal Party.

JOURNALIST: Do you think there is actually any chance that the Government will scrap that target?

BUTLER: Well I certainly hope not. This is really the only area of stability we have in renewable energy policy. It was hard fought; it took about 18 months to restore the position after Tony Abbott attacked the renewable energy industry in 2014. So I think everyone would be appalled if Malcolm Turnbull followed the lead of Tony Abbott and did over a deal that was only done two years ago. We have much more long term issues in the electricity industry, the lack of a long-term price signal, the lack of any policy from Malcolm Turnbull to support renewable energy targets beyond the year 2019/2020.

JOURNALIST: How much weight do you think Tony Abbott holds with things like this?

BUTLER: I think we only need to go back a few weeks ago to December. This was the central policy that the industry and observers like the Chief Scientist and others had called for, an emissions intensity scheme. Every player in the industry, observers like the CSIRO, Chief Scientists and many others wanted the Government to do this. And if they had adopted this scheme they would have had Labor’s support because it was a policy we took to the 2016 election. Just because Tony Abbott didn’t like it, and Cory Bernardi to be frank, Malcolm Turnbull changed his tune to knock over that consensus. As irrational as it might seem I think people are nervous to see if Malcolm Turnbull is going to stand up to Tony Abbott when he does these provocations like he did over the weekend. It’s important that Malcolm Turnbull today assures the renewable energy industry and consumers across Australia who support renewable energy projects that Tony Abbott is wrong on this one.

JOURNALIST: What changes should be made to MP entitlements and how soon should they be made?

BUTLER: It’s now almost two years since the Bronwyn Bishop scandal, caused then Prime Minister Tony Abbott to put together the Conde Review that was chaired by John Conde, and almost a year since that review was received by Malcolm Turnbull. The Federal Labor party has been calling for some time now for the Government to act on its 36 recommendations. We’ve indicated that we are willing to support those recommendations but the Government needs to stop sitting on its hands. It’s a comprehensive report, we’ve said we want it acted upon, Bill Shorten said this morning that if it is not acted upon by the Government before Parliament resumes we’ll look at starting to do something to ensure there is progress on this issue.

JOURNALIST: The Coalition are expecting another cabinet reshuffle in the near future, can we expect the same from Federal Labor?

BUTLER: As far as I can tell Bill Shorten is very happy in the way in which his team is operating. We’re holding this Government to account and putting forward progressive policies for Australia’s future. Yet Malcolm Turnbull has to deal with his fourth cabinet reshuffle in the short 18 months in which he has been the leader. I think the story here is about Malcolm Turnbull not the Labor party. Thanks everyone.