RN BREAKFAST: 13/12/18

December 13, 2018



HAMSIH MACDONALD: The political year is ending with a rush in Canberra, with the release today of the long-awaited Ruddock Review of Religious Freedoms and an announcement by the Prime Minister that the Coalition will take a Religious Discrimination Act to the next election. On the energy front the Government will call for expressions of interests in its plans to underwrite new coal generation. Meanwhile at the international climate talks in Poland, Australia has been named a lowly 55 out of 60 nations for its efforts to tackle global warming. Mark Butler is the Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change and the outgoing National President of the Labor Party, which will hold its national conference this weekend. He joins us from Adelaide, good morning to you.  

MARK BUTLER: Good morning Hamish, busy end to the year.

MACDONALD: Indeed, I want to talk to you about climate in a moment but obviously news this morning that we will finally see the Ruddock Review of Religious Freedoms. The key recommendation, which it appears the Government will adopt, will be for a standalone Religious Discrimination Act. Will that be supported by Labor?

BUTLER: We have no opposition in principle to the idea of a separate piece of legislation but obviously we’ll want to look at the recommendations in the Ruddock Review and the proposed draft legislation. We will take our time to do that in the usual way.

I think it is a pity that it has taken more than six months after the delivery of the Ruddock Review to Government for them to release it. We could have been debating over the course of 2018 its recommendations. Instead, we’ve got the Review dropped out on the eve of Christmas and in the shadow of a federal election that will be called in coming weeks. 

MACDONALD: A Religious Discrimination Act would make it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of a person’s religious beliefs. Where do you think that would leave gay and lesbian students in church run schools?

BUTLER: Obviously we are very concerned about that. Scott Morrison promised during the Wentworth by-election that he would fix the question of discrimination against gay and lesbian students and schools within in a fortnight. Yet, we’ve been unable to do that through the Parliament really because of his opposition. We’re also very opposed to the idea reported this morning that this question, far from being resolved quickly, will be referred to the Law Reform Commission for a report that would in the ordinary course of things take at least 12 months, so students facing the prospect of at least another full school year open to discrimination in religious schools. So we will be pushing, when Parliament resumes in February if indeed it does resume, for our Private Members Bill which we think strikes the right balance to be considered, debated and voted upon in the New Year. There is a Senate Report on the Bill delivered on February 11 and we want to see some action on this.  

MACDONALD: Can you offer us an observation on the broader matter at hand, which is obviously all of this, has come about following the postal vote on marriage equality. You played an active role in the campaign for same-sex marriage and there are those in our community who feel somehow threatened by this. The Catholic Archbishop from Sydney, Anthony Fischer, described it as having led to a “hard edge secularism that wants to stamp out religion from public life.” Do you see that?

BUTLER: No I don’t agree with that commentary in particular but I think there is obviously a question that is a live debate in Australia about where we draw the line around discrimination against people of faith.

MACDONALD: But really this is a question about whether you understand that some people of faith feel threatened by that discourse, and I wonder do you?

BUTLER: We have been quite clear that we understand the need to protect the rights to practice faith freely and without discrimination. That’s why we have indicated since this Review was first announced by then Prime Minister Turnbull that we are open to looking at its recommendations. As I’ve said this morning, we are open to considering a well-constructed new piece of legislation around a Religious Discrimination Act. Really the devil lies in the detail that is the thing we should have been debating over the course of 2018. Where is the right boundary and where is the right line to put in legislation that does things, for example like protect kids against discrimination in religious schools if they are gay and lesbian, but also continues to protect schools in their right to enforce reasonable rules, like going to chapel, as well as their capacity to continue to teach their faith. That’s what we should have been debating over the course of this year. Instead, Prime Minister Turnbull and then Prime Minister Morrison have sat on this report for more than six months.

MACDONALD: Let’s talk about climate, UN climate talks are taking place in Poland this week. The Environment Minister, Melissa Price, says the Government is committed to the Paris Agreement and its emissions reduction targets. I should point out at this stage that we have repeatedly asked for an interview with Melissa Price while she is there attending the conference, those requests have so far been declined.

In terms of the Government’s position on being committed to the Paris Agreement, how does that square with Australia now being ranked 55 out of 60 countries on the Climate Change Performance Index?

BUTLER: That latest report simply reflects every piece of expert analysis and indeed the Government’s own data that shows carbon pollution is continuing to rise under this Government and is projected, by the Government itself, to continue to rise all the way to 2030. We are really the only major advanced economy where carbon pollution or greenhouse gases are going up, rather than coming down. You’re right this week, an annual international report, the Climate Change Performance Index, ranked us 55 out of 60 nations. We are doing worse than Vladimir Putin’s Russia on climate change policy, which is I think an appalling indictment on this Government.
There are a range of other things that have happened over the course of this conference which I think indicates that this Government really does not have Australia on the right track on climate change policy. Our Environment Ambassador, of all people, was the only non-American to attend a Trump Administration even promoting coal power and nuclear power as a response to climate change. Australia supported the Trump Administration, Vladimir Putin, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in trying to block proper recognition to the latest scientific report from the IPCC on the impacts of 1.5 and 2 degrees of warming. This Government is really not combining the rhetoric of being committed to the Paris Agreement with real action either domestically or on the global stage.

MACDONALD: Let’s talk specifics; we often hear the Government says that it will meet the Paris targets of 26-28 per cent cut in carbon, in the Government’s words, in a “canter”. That could, on some analysis, be because it won’t rule out counting carryover credits for beating its 2020 goal under the Kyoto protocol, which has now been superseded by Paris. Will Labor rule out using those credits if it wins the election?

BUTLER: It’s not yet clear whether the so-called rule book for the new climate agreement, the Paris Agreement, will allow a carryover. That rule book is still being negotiated. If the rule book doesn’t allow carryover, that is frankly the end of the matter. If it does then we would have to consider any conditions about that -  

MACDONALD: So you would be open to using the carryover credits?

BUTLER: I well understand the objections to carryover. They are an easy way to avoid real effort around decarbonising the economy, my bias is clearly to steer very clear from cop outs and accounting tricks when it comes to climate change policy. But I’m not going to make policy based on a media query which has come about over the last few days, out of the blue. As the alternative government I think it is proper that we consider the final detail of the Paris rule book and then seek advice about the best response.

MACDONALD: Sure but it’s pretty reasonable for us to try and interpret how your policy objectives will be met and given that you have a promise to meet 45 per cent reduction target by 2030, it is clear that such credits could be worth up to 400 million tonnes. That would go a long way to meeting that?

BUTLER: I’ve said what my view in principle is; I well understand the objections to this idea of carryover. My bias is clearly to steer clear of cop outs and accounting tricks but we want to look at the final rule book and in government get proper advice, not just from government agencies, but talk to climate groups, talk to other stakeholders in the area and make the best decision in the national interest.

At the end of the day, regardless of these carryovers which are really measured over decades rather than year by year, we are committed to getting carbon pollution to a level in 2030 that is 45 per cent below where it was in 2005. No matter what happens about accounting tricks that measures carbon pollution over an extended period of time, point to point carbon pollution under a Labor Government would be 45 per cent lower in 2030 than it is in 2005, regardless of any sort of accounting measures.

MACDONALD: As I mentioned we’ve requested repeatedly an interview with Melissa Price, the Environment Minister, while she’s there. In fact many listeners have expressed an interest from hearing from Australia’s Environment Minister. What is your take on her performance as Environment Minister and representing Australia at this international conference?

BUTLER: As I said, unfortunately the performance of Australia under the Morrison Government reflects the very poor performance and showing we saw under Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister. We continue to push back against really reasonable positions put by NGO’s, for example, about supporting communities impacted by climate policy in what the Paris Agreement calls a Just Transition. Australia, under Scott Morrison and Melissa Price, opposed the declaration making that commitment to support communities like the La Trobe Valley, the Hunter Valley and many others through a Just Transition.

We’ve see again, over five years, a series of really poor showings by this Government. Not only reflecting, I think, a poor understanding of our own domestic interests but really not behaving as a good international citizen.

MACDONALD: Mark Butler we appreciate your time this morning thank you.

BUTLER: Thank you Hamish.