GERALDINE DOOGUE: Mark Butler is the Shadow Minister for the Environment and he joins us from our studio in Brisbane. Welcome back to the program Mark Butler.
MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE CHANGE AND WATER: Hi Geraldine.
DOOGUE: Last November in an address to the Lowy Institute, Bill Shorten outlined the ALP’s climate change action plan. How is this policy different?
BUTLER: Well this is a much more detailed plan building on the principles that Bill Shorten outlined last year which we’ve been developing really since the election in 2013. Particularly over the summer period. Over the last few months I’ve engaged in about 50 very deep consultations with business, particularly industry and regions that really are at the front line of some of these transitions that are already happening. So in the La Trobe Valley, the Illawarra, the Hunter Valley, The Collie River Valley over in WA.
The announcements that we are making today are very much a product of those deep consultations to ensure that we can have a strong sensible plan that cuts our pollution and gets us back on the path to a clean energy future. We were on that path in the past.
DOOGUE: And how, could you give me one example of how all those consultations affected your own thinking?
BUTLER: Well I think particularly managing the transition out of coal fired power into clean renewable energy was a big feature of those consultations. The electricity industry are very focused on this question, many regions that have relied heavily on those power stations are very focused on this question because they know this is a reality, it’s already happening.
It’s happening in Port Augusta in South Australia pretty much as we speak but it’s not happening in a way that supports those communities, that supports them through the transition and opens up the enormous jobs and investment opportunities that exist in renewable energy. We were there a couple of years ago but because of Tony Abbott’s attacks on the renewable energy industry, we’ve been taken off that path and we want to get back on it.
DOOGUE: So your aim is to organise, you say in your announcement, an orderly transition from polluting coal fired power. This has long been a vexed issue though hasn’t it? Labor’s contracts for closure scheme didn’t really get out of the starting blocks when you were last in government. How and when will dirty coal fired power stations be closed under your new plan?
BUTLER: Well they are closing now, as I said in Port Augusta two have closed in only recent weeks. We want to make sure this is done in an orderly way that ensures that the interests of consumers are protected in terms of power prices and the reliability of supply.
DOOGUE: Does that mean more money to be paid out by government?
BUTLER: Well what we’ve said as I think the Liberal Government has said, there will not be payments from governments for electricity generators to close their plant. As you said, we had a negotiation with them when we were last in government and that didn’t work and we’ve taken a decision that governments will not pay generators to close their plants. There have been proposals raised from the Australian National University and very much in the industry to find other mechanisms to allow the industry to pay for an orderly closure. To pay for it in a way that ensures that the local communities are supported through that closure, where Port Augusta for example in South Australia was not over recent weeks.
DOOGUE: So I just want to clarify this, are you saying that there will be more, given that we are talking about the deficit and this is what all the various commentators are saying we’re still talking as if we’ve got money to hand out and that government, even though Australians like it, we just can’t afford it. Is there more money, net more money, likely to come out to help these orderly transitions that you’re proposing?
BUTLER: The model that we are proposing that was really developed by the ANU last year is a model that would see industry pay for those closures.
DOOGUE: So it’s (inaudible) industry pay?
BUTLER: It’s an industry payment plan rather than the tax payer paying. We’ve taken that decision after frankly a lot of discussion with the industry itself. We just want to make sure that it’s an orderly process that ensures that electricity consumers are protected but importantly as well that the regions that have developed their economies on the basis of coal fired power are helped through that transition. Because the experience we have seen in Port Augusta as I said in recent weeks has been anything but orderly. Malcolm Turnbull came to the party very, very late. It took a few months after the announcement of that closure for him to announce anything by way of support and in the end the support was really not much more than helping their workers update their CVs and perhaps do some job interview techniques. Well, we need a much more robust system of support for communities that right now are experiencing that transition.
DOOGUE: Ok so let’s get onto renewables – how do you ensure that 50 per cent of Australia’s energy comes from renewables by 2030 without subsidy, without a hit on power prices too I might add.
BUTLER: Well Tony Abbott tried the old scare campaign that expanding renewable energy lifted power prices and his own handpicked panel – which was a reasonably sceptical panel about climate change I might say - his panel confirmed that expanding renewable energy actually puts downward pressure on power prices and since that panel’s report you haven’t heard much from Tony Abbott or Malcolm Turnbull about the tired old power prices scare campaign. We’re confident that will still be the case through the 2020s.
This attracts enormous investment and huge numbers of jobs. People are very supportive in Australia of us using the enormous renewable energy resources we have in this country, great solar radiation, great wind power, wave energy and such like. We want to get back to being a renewable energy superpower. Which is what we were in 2013. We were the fourth most attractive place on Earth to invest in renewables and after Tony Abbott’s attacks, unsurprisingly, we’ve plummeted to 13th on the table of investment destinations and we’ve lost thousands of jobs in the process.
DOOGUE: So you say you’ll expand the investment mandate of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation but the Government has effectively gutted ARENA stripping most of its $1.3 billion funding guaranteed under its act so are you promising to fully restore that funding.
BUTLER: Well firstly in relation to the CEFC – the Clean Energy Finance Corporation – the Government has been trying to abolish that for a couple of years and because that’s been unsuccessful they’ve imposed some really very silly restrictions on its investment mandate so that, for example, it could only invest in offshore wind farms which frankly are not a realistic prospect for Australia, given how much land we have available – it might be in England – but certainly not in Australia. The attacks on ARENA have been underway for at least a couple of years. Now we’ve decided that we would put in place $200 million for ARENA to manage a targeted competitive round for concentrated solar thermal power in Australia. This really I think is the next frontier in large scale renewable energy, it’s something that a number of communities, including the community in Port Augusta, have been very focussed on achieving. So that will be a round that ARENA runs for an incoming Shorten Labor Government.
DOOGUE: Now very quickly, I’m sorry to do this, land clearing still very much an issue in Queensland – the Labor Government having trouble tightening land clearing rules that were wound back under Campbell Newman’s government. You’re promising consistent reporting of land and tree clearing across Australia - how does this solve the existing problem of native vegetation clearing in Queensland?
BUTLER: We’ll do much more than consistent reporting, we will legislate to restore the restrictions that were in place before Campbell Newman’s vandalism. These were extraordinarily important reforms that Peter Beattie and Anna Bligh put in place, I must say with the support of John Howard because he understood the importance of those reforms in achieving the Kyoto protocol commitments. So we will restore the position using Commonwealth powers. We know the Palaszczuk Government has been trying to do that in the Queensland parliament, we will use the Commonwealth’s powers to do that and also to prevent Mike Baird from unpicking Bob Carr’s reforms which we understand he is now doing under the pressure from the NSW National Party.
DOOGUE: Mark Butler thank you very much indeed
BUTLER: Thank you Geraldine.