April 28, 2016





NEIL MITCHELL: The Federal Opposition is today releasing details of its plan on carbon emissions and target schemes and it’s been described and analysed as being a return to a carbon tax which was certainly one of the things that helped lose the last election for them. On the line is the man in charge of the portfolio for Labor, the Opposition spokesperson on Environment, Climate Change, Water, Mark Butler good morning.


MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE CHANGE AND WATER: Good morning Neil, well the only people I’ve seen so far describe it as a return of the carbon tax are the News Limited tabloids. I don’t think you’d be able to point to anyone else who has described it as that because it’s completely different.


MITCHELL: Doesn’t mean they are wrong.


BUTLER: It’s a completely different policy.


MITCHELL: The Financial Review says it in a rather more gentle fashion. Labor tries again on Carbon Plan. But anyway that’s beside the point, you won’t call it a tax, it’s not a tax, right?


BUTLER: Well it’s not a carbon tax, Labor heard the judgement of the Australian people very loud and clear that the carbon tax was not the right policy for Australia. Instead, after very deep consultations with business, environment groups and other stakeholders, Labor has developed a suite of practical policies that are going to get pollution back under control and get us back on the path with renewable energy.


MITCHELL: Well I remember having the debate with Julia Gillard, about whether it was a tax or not so let’s forget the word tax. Will any of this suite to which you refer increase costs of anything for the average person?


BUTLER: Well what we’ve done with our emissions trading scheme  is instead of imposing a carbon price or a carbon tax, allow companies to continue to operate up to a cap on pollution with no direct cost at all. So it’s a very different policy to the one that you were debating with Julia Gillard. If companies are able to keep to the pollution cap that are imposed, that ensures that Australia satisfies the treaty obligations that we have entered into, then there’ll be no carbon price.


MITCHELL: That didn’t answer the question. Can you guarantee that in this suite to which you refer, there will be no increase in costs anywhere to the average person?


BUTLER: We’ve worked very hard particularly in the electricity industry to ensure that we’ve got a suite of policies that will keep to the position that the electricity industry projects which shows that real average household bills over the period to 2020, which is the period the policy operates, will decline in real terms in all of the states.


MITCHELL: Ok, other areas? It’s a simple question.


BUTLER: I know and I’m trying to answer it.


MITCHELL: Well you haven’t yet. I’ve given you two opportunities and this is the third. Can you guarantee that there’ll be no increase in charges anywhere for anybody out of this policy?


Butler: What I’ve said, is an answer on electricity. The electricity industry projects that real average household bills will decline over the period to 2020 with or without Labor’s plan. And in relation to other areas of the economy I’ve said that the emission trading scheme or the cap on pollution levels by big polluters will not have a direct carbon price.


MITCHELL: That doesn’t answer the question. Can you guarantee there will be no price rise? Sorry, what did you say?


BUTLER: It does because there is no carbon price imposed on those companies. Now even with the carbon tax, $23 per tonne of pollution, Woolworths said that not one of their 40,000 items in their grocery stores increased in price. That didn’t stop all the scare campaigns, you know Barnaby Joyce saying that lamb roasts will cost $100.


MITCHELL: That’s right.


BUTLER: And I’m sure they’ll be dusted off and they’ll come out again but we’ve very deliberately designed this policy to get pollution levels back under control - because unlike pretty much every other advanced economy our pollution levels are going up not going down - while protecting households from impacts.


MITCHELL: I understand that. I still haven’t heard an unequivocal guarantee from you that there’ll be no prices rises. 


BUTLER: I have said that, I’ve said that the emissions trading scheme operates without a carbon price and I’ve said that all of the projections that we’ve looked at from the electricity industry indicate that average household bills will come down in real terms over the coming years with or without Labor’s plan. That’s about as definitive as anyone could be.


MITCHELL: Ok, so I can say that you have told me there will be no price rises, right?


BUTLER: I’ve described very clearly what our policy is, an ETS without a carbon price.


MITCHELL: You’re dodging it.


BUTLER: You can’t have a price rise from an emissions trading scheme that doesn’t have a price on carbon. It’s nonsense. It’s a nonsense Neil.


MITCHELL: No it’s not.


BUTLER: I’m sure there’ll be the scare campaigns and lamb roast will be (inaudible).


MITCHELL: I still haven’t got the answer.


BUTLER: But it is a nonsense. You have got a very definitive answer from me Neil. You know that.


MITCHELL:  No I don’t. I really don’t. Can you just say the words; ‘there will be no price rises under this scheme’?


BUTLER: Well there is no carbon price under this scheme so of course there will be no price rises. There is no price on carbon.


MITCHELL: Ok. In the first phase, is it correct, big polluters will have to buy carbon offsets? Between 2016-2019?


BUTLER: If they breach their cap.


MITCHELL: What will that cost them?


BUTLER: They will have to offset that carbon pollution. If they’ve breached their cap they’ll offset their carbon pollution. The big polluters, the big steel industry and aluminium industry polluters for example said what they want is access to the global carbon markets where they can get carbon offsets at a very low price.


MITCHELL: So who pays for that?


BUTLER: Well the companies would pay for that.


MITCHELL: And they won’t pass that on?


BUTLER: Even a company that breached their cap quite substantially might end up with an effective carbon price of two or three cents per tonne. Two or three cents per tonne compared to $23 a tonne under the carbon tax and even under the carbon tax grocery prices didn’t rise.


MITCHELL: So you’re confident, regardless of the amount they’re getting they’re not going to pass on any price rises?


BUTLER: Very confident about that, that assumes that they’ve breached their cap. There is no price on carbon up to the cap so for companies that are able to stay to the cap on pollution that’s allocated to them - to ensure that we satisfy our international commitments - there will be no imposts on them at all.


MITCHELL: What about 2020? It’s only four years off after all.


BUTLER: Yeah, that’s right and business groups and environment groups have been getting together on this point in a roundtable that they’ve put together. Which includes: the Business Council, the Australian Industry Group, the Aluminium Council. They’ve been saying that there needs to be a much thorough effort made by the next parliament to come up with a plan with a level of consensus around it. So that investors can confidently invest in new clean energy and clean technology here in Australia for the period beyond 2020, that is the job for the next parliament, but it’s not just for politicians it’s for business groups, environmental groups. To recognise that if we don’t get better levels of consensus around this policy area we are going to continue to go backwards while the rest of the world is harnessing the investment and jobs boom of the clean energy revolution.


MITCHELL: Do you think after 2020 at some time in the future a carbon tax is likely?


BUTLER: I want to leave the options open as to what the next Parliament will do but I will say I can’t see a carbon tax returning to Australia. I don’t think in hindsight it was an effective policy and I think politically it won’t get support in the Australian community as well so I don’t think it ticks any boxes for the future. I think what we need to do is sit down in a mature way and have a mature discussion as a parliament about what the best policy mechanism is for the country. We see China moving to a national emissions trading scheme next year. The rest of the world is moving forward they’re doing it in a mature way and we have to get a more mature discussion back in Australia.

MITCHELL: What about the new emissions standards for Australian cars? How will that work?


BUTLER: Well we are now pretty much the only advanced economy that doesn’t have emissions standards for its cars. Global car companies sell versions of their global brands in Australia that they simply are unable to sell in the US, Canada, UK, Japan, Europe. So we’ve said we’ll adopt the recommendations of the climate authority to go to emissions standards that essentially reflect the American standards that are being introduced at the moment over there.


MITCHELL: What will that do to my car and what will it cost me?


BUTLER: The Climate Change Authority report suggests that the lifetime savings will be in the order of $7,000 for the average car because there will be substantial fuel savings.


MITCHELL: What about a car that doesn’t meet the standards?


BUTLER: Well they won’t be able to sell those cars. We’ve got about 16 million cars on the road and we only turn over 1 or 1.1 million cars per year so this will take a while to phase in. Across the western world no country other than Australia that I can think of is able to sell cars without emissions standards.


MITCHELL: Will this affect the power output of the cars?


BUTLER: No, and that’s something that we’ve consulted really closely with the industry about. For example, the Greens want us to move to the European car standards which reflect a very different fleet that they drive in Italy and France, to the one that we drive here. We’ve heard the Industry advice that what we should do is reflect the American standards because the US has a car fleet that is much more similar to ours so that is what we are going with.


MITCHELL: Thank you for your time. One more issue and I know this is not your portfolio area but I’m intrigued after talking to Bill Shorten last week – Where do you stand on weekend penalty rates?


BUTLER: Well I spent many years before I went into the Parliament 8 years ago representing hospitality workers, hospital workers and aged care workers, almost all of them working in 24/7 industries or at least in hospitality. They depend very heavily on penalty rates for a living wage and I’m a very strong defender of them being able to continue doing that.


MITCHELL: But your Leader has said he will accept the Fair Work Australia ruling, whatever it is, even if it wipes out weekend penalty rates.


BUTLER: I think we’ve also made it clear in a written submission the Labor Party made to the Fair Work Commission that we don’t think there should be changes to the existing penalty rate arrangements. Bill was making some comment about a hypothetical judgement that the Fair Work Commission may or may not make. We’ve made our position very clear, we made a formal submission to the Commission that the penalty rate structure we have at the moment is a very very important part of the living wage.


MITCHELL: You’re a former union official in the area what do you do if the decision goes against you and you are in Government?


BUTLER: Bill and others with portfolio responsibilities in those areas have talked about that. We’ve also said over a long period that our position as a party is that penalty rates are an important part of the living wage for literally hundreds of thousands if not millions of workers in this country, we will continue to advocate for that position.


MITCHELL: But if Fair Work Australia rules against that you cop it do you?


BUTLER: This is a hypothetical position we don’t know what the Fair Work Commission will do, this is not a portfolio responsibility I have, you may talk to Bill and others but I have made my position very clear.


MITCHELL: Thank you very much


BUTLER: Thanks Neil