INSIDERS: 15/9/19

September 15, 2019


FRAN KELLY:  Mark Butler welcome to Insiders

MARK BUTLER: Good morning Fran.

KELLY: So the Prime Minister says he's taking climate change seriously. Can you say the same, there's reports Labor is preparing to dump its 45 per cent emissions reduction target.

BUTLER: The Prime Minister might say that, but it was during a week when the Drought Minister denied the link between human activity and climate change. It’s a week after we received the latest data that showed again, over the last 12 month period, emissions had gone up as they have every year under this Government. And the Government's own projections, not Labor’s view, but the Government's own projections indicate that emissions under this Government will go up all the way to 2030. Not only is their target for 2030 inadequate, according to all expert advice, they're going to miss it by a mile.

KELLY: What about your target, Tanya Plibersek said this week she remains committed to an ambitious target, do you?

BUTLER: There’s a consensus position I think in the Labor Party about taking serious action on climate change. That serious action would be framed by the global commitment to ensure that global warming stays way below 2 degrees and to pursue efforts around 1.5 degrees as a threshold. A commitment to net zero emissions by the middle of the century, which Gladys Berejiklian's Government has embraced, but has been rejected by Scott Morrison; and the setting of medium term targets that are consistent with those principles. And I'm confident that will be Labor’s’ view going forward.

KELLY: I’m listening carefully to that and you're not restating a commitment to 45 per cent by 2030. Is that still your commitment?

BUTLER: We're committed, as I said, to keeping global warming below that threshold, to net zero emissions by the middle of the century, and to medium term targets consistent with those principles informed by the best scientific and economic advice. What our position will be in 2022, the election, obviously, I'm not in a position to announce four months out from the last election.
KELLY: Well, just on that, though, this has been your target since 2015. You've remained committed to it and the best science on this comes I think, from the IPCC scientists who say that in order to meet the ultimate Paris target of zero emissions by 2050 a 45 per cent reduction by 2030 is required. Now, you can't just scale down because it's all getting too hard we either need those emissions cuts or we don’t. Isn't that true?
BUTLER: And I agree with that principle, because that advice about medium term targets is the best scientific and economic advice going around. The 45 per cent target, we set in 2015, was based on a 2014 report from the Climate Change Authority, which is a statutory authority set up under legislation to provide that advice to the parliament. And over the course of the period between now and the 2022 election, we will make sure that we have a policy that is also informed by the best advice available to us at the time.
KELLY: So you're saying this is about the fact that time is getting on, not the fact that the Prime Minister's claim that Australia will meet its Paris targets in a canter is actually cutting through?
BUTLER: Well no - the Prime Minister has completely just got off the playing field on this. That's really why he's decided to do what Tony Abbott did five years ago, almost to the
week, and that is boycott a summit for the UN Secretary General to build momentum
to an important climate conference next year - because his target of 26 per cent has been
unanimously regarded as grossly inadequate, consistent instead with more like 3 or
3.5 degrees of global warming, which would be utterly catastrophic. And according to
everyone, the United Nations, the OECD, every other independent expert, they are nowhere near meeting even that inadequate target.
KELLY: So in saying the Prime Minister should be at this UN Conference coming up in New York, what should he be saying there?
BUTLER: Well, I don't think it's any surprise he's not going, because he's indicated they're not willing to change position. I mean, it's very clear that the Australian target is inadequate, it is inconsistent with the commitments contained in the Paris Climate Agreement. And it's also clear according to the United Nations emissions gap report, according to the OECD, according to Allianz, which prepares a report on all of the G20 nations performance against the Paris Agreement, and found Australia last year to be 20th out of the G20, that we're nowhere near reaching even that inadequate target. I guess it is not surprising that Scott Morrison is boycotting the summit because Australia is coming in for particular attention from the international community.
KELLY: Okay, back to Labor’s ambition you still haven't really committed to the 45 per cent, which has been your policy since 2015. But are you saying you wouldn't go as low as 26-28 per cent?
BUTLER: No it's very clear 26 to 28 per cent is fundamentally inconsistent with the obligation to keep global warming way below 2 degrees. What I've said is all our policies are up for review. Exactly what medium term targets numerically are, whether it's 2030, or 2035, given the passage of time is something that we will engage on over the next couple of years. But people can be assured it would be a medium term target, utterly consistent with the best scientific advice about how we make those commitments in the Paris Agreement and keep global warming well below 2 degrees and pursue efforts around 1.5. And that is our generation’s responsibility to our children and our grandchildren. And it's a
responsibility or an obligation really that this Government is simply shying away from.
KELLY: On another issue within your portfolio. The Government's expected this way to introduce the forced investment bill otherwise known as the big stick legislation. It allows the Government to force energy companies to sell assets, it also allows the Government to compel them to supply energy to certain price. Will Labor support it?
BUTLER: We will have a look at it and see whether any changes have been made.
But it is again another piece of legislation being introduced that will do nothing to get the
economy going again to deal with the lowest growth since the GFC, plummeting
productivity growth, business investment in a hole not seen since the 1990s –
KELLY: Sure but it's looking at something completely different. But when you say you have a look at it in the past, you’ve described the Government's legislation as a Venezuela style intervention. Are you softening on that, are you saying you might support this now?
BUTLER: We’ll have a have a look at what's changed in it. But I do make the point that if this was in the interest of consumers, then the consumer watchdog would have recommended that last year when it did a comprehensive report on the electricity sector. Instead, the ACCC considered this and explicitly rejected it as Ian Harper did when he conducted a review on competition policy for the Government. And only yesterday in Phil Coorey’s piece that I think reported the fact that this legislation was coming in, the Energy Users Association representing the biggest users of electricity in this country also said that they were concerned that this bill would simply smash investor confidence and force power prices up. There's also the added concern that we've pointed to that this appears to be a backdoor to privatizing electricity assets in Queensland, WA and Tasmania, where
their communities have time and time again rejected the idea that their publicly owned
assets should be put in private hands. So you know, we have some very serious concerns about this, they are concerns really based on the position of consumers, not particularly the interests of energy companies. But we will have a look at it and see what changes the
Government has made.
KELLY: Alright, to a speech he gave on Monday, you called for a brutal assessment of Labor's policies after the election loss. Let me give you one brutal assessment from Labor’s own Environment Action Network submission to the post election review. It says Labor was unable to put a price on its climate change action plan. It couldn't say how much it would cost, where the money was coming from, or what economic dividend it would deliver. We had no answers. What they are really saying is you as the Shadow Minister had no answers, aren’t they?
BUTLER: Well, I said over the course of this week that my policy area and I guess my performance should be the subject of that thorough review - our review should be unsparing. It should be ruthless, and it will probably be deeply uncomfortable for the Labor front bench. As it should be, this was our third election loss in a row. What I don't accept is some of the comments from the LEAN submission there - we made it very clear what the impact on the electricity sector of our policy would be, based on modelling that the Government produced for the National Energy Guarantee. Our renewable energy policy would create 70,000 additional jobs, our vehicles policy –
KELLY: Sure but when asked how much the overall policy would cost you didn’t have an answer. You said, well, you have to look at the cost of doing nothing?
BUTLER: You do have to have look at the cost of not doing anything –
KELLY: That’s not really an answer though?
BUTLER: We were also very clear on what the impacts would be in the electricity sector, in the transport sector. In the industry sector, much of the media concentrated on some discredited modelling from Brian Fisher, who's opposed every climate policy he's met over the last 20 years. But modelling from Warwick McKibbin that was conducted for Tony Abbott himself, modelling from Citibank indicated that the impact on the industry sector - 0.01 per cent of businesses - would be very, very modest indeed; about 0.1 per cent per year. 
Now, I don't shy away from our policies being reviewed thoroughly. I think it's important in climate and energy and all of the other policy areas that will be subject to this election campaign. But I don't accept the submission you've quoted from, I think it fundamentally misreads the debate that was happening at the time,

KELLY: Okay, two days before you gave that speech calling for a ruthlessness and unsparing review. The ALP President, Wayne Swan, said Labor's tax and spend agenda was one to be proud of, and you should stick with it. Is he wrong?
BUTLER: Well he has a particular view about that policy area. He's a very experienced member of the Labor Party. Obviously, the national president and I expect him to continue to articulate that position as he's entitled to do.
KELLY:  Do you have a problem with it?
BUTLER: But I think he accepts also that this was a very deep election loss. As I said, our third in a row, we got the lowest primary vote in 100 years and it's not like we lost to John Howard and Peter Costello at the peak of their powers - we lost to a Government that Scott Morrison himself described as the Muppet Show. Which is why I made the point that when you get your backside handed to you by Kermit the Frog, and Fozzie Bear, it's time for some pretty deep introspection and reflection; and that includes over our taxation policies, the spending commitments they were intended to fund, climate and energy, and every otherpolicy area as well as our campaign performance. That's what Craig Emerson and Jay
Weatherill are doing in a review that should be ruthless, should be unsparing because we
owe that to our supporters, to ensure we're in shape for 2022.
KELLY: And this week, you also concluded in that speech, what's required to win a federal election are three things: an immensely popular leader, a compelling national vision, and a superior campaign. When it came to it Laor failed on all three didn't it?
BUTLER: That’s a matter for the review. But I was trying to make the point –
KELLY: What do you think?
BUTLER: Well, I'm not going to pre-empt the review. I’ve talked to the reviewers and I want to see this process unfold. But I was making the point that it is very difficult for Federal Labor to win federal elections. We've only won one majority in the House of Representatives in the last 25 years. The bread and butter of national campaigns, rightly or wrongly, mainly wrongly, in my view, are often not seen as the brand advantage of Labor. And we have to get everything right if we're in a position to win a majority government. That means having a very, very clear review. A clear idea about what went wrong in 2019 and making sure that we're in the best position possible to do better in 2022.
KELLY: Were you hamstrung by an unpopular leader?
BUTLER: Look, I'm not going to pre-empt the review, I think it's important that that be allowed to run its course that people be able to make a submission without public figures or members of the front bench seeking to get ahead of the conclusions.
KELLY: Okay, just finally, on Labor's pursuit of Gladys Liu. The Prime Minister has taken to WeChat to defend her and all Chinese Australians. And he says, “Labor is sparing no effort to discredit the Member for Chisholm.” Does Labor run the risk of alienating Chinese Australians with this pursuit?
BUTLER: We're pursuing questions that have been raised by every media organisation in the country often on the basis of information provided by Scott Morrison’s own Liberal Party colleagues. They are important questions about transparency, about national interest, about what the Government has done in response to advice from Government agencies. He's the only person seeking to attach those questions being legitimately asked of Gladys Liu to 1.2 million Chinese Australians.
KELLY: There's been there's been a number of reports this week of people talking with Chinese Australians who are feeling besieged by this.
BUTLER: That's why we think this matter should be dealt with promptly. Gladys Liu should be asked and encouraged by her Prime Minister to come into the Parliament and answer these questions. But the idea that these questions that are being raised by every media
organisation in the country and are being pursued in the Parliament by Penny Wong and
Mark Dreyfus of all people are motivated by race is utterly absurd. Labor is not going
to take a lecture from a Government that spent most of the last six years seeking to water
down racial vilification protections in pursuit of what their former Attorney General
George Brandis described as the right to be a bigot. We're not going to be lectured
by a Prime Minister, who just as recently as Friday sought to rewrite history about his
fast and loose use of the term Shanghai Sam.
KELLY: Mark Butler, thanks for joining us on Insiders.
BUTLER: Thanks for having me.