RN BREAKFAST: 14/12/20

December 14, 2020


FRAN KELLY, HOST: As we've been discussing earlier this morning, Australia was blocked from the latest UN summit on climate ambition over our refusal to commit to a net zero emissions target by 2050. Despite the snub, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the Australian Government is very confident he can meet his 2030 reduction goals without having to rely on Kyoto carryover credits. And there's an extra $500 million in mitigation support for Pacific nations facing rising sea levels. Nevertheless, the Opposition says Australia is now isolated on the world stage.
Mark Butler is the Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy. Mark Butler, welcome back to breakfast.
KELLY: Last week Scott Morrison said what's important is what you get done, not what you talk about. Does it really matter much that Australia's Prime Minister wasn't allowed to speak at this climate ambition summit?
BUTLER: Well, not really from a personal point of view, although Scott Morrison seems to be making this about himself. What it does reflect, though, is where Australia under Scott Morrison's leadership sits in relation to the rest of the world. There's just been an enormous shift, particularly over the last few months as the world's great trading nations have all coalesced around this mid-century commitment – net zero emissions – and it's going to shape investment patterns, it's going to shape job creation over the next few decades. And because Scott Morrison stubbornly won't make that same commitment, Australia sits really quite isolated and out of step from the rest of the world.
KELLY: Well, just before I get to that – the opportunities, the investment – if you look at the global summit, we've seen the Prime Minister and we have just heard from the Resources Minister Keith Pitt, basically talking up Australia's sovereignty and our right to set our own climate policy. But is there an inherent contradiction? Some are pointing out China gets a seat at the table, it got a speaking slot at that ambition summit, even though it's building hundreds of coal-fired power plants up to 250 gigawatts of coal capacity, which is more than the entire output of the US, I think, and Australia gets excluded. Is that fair?
BUTLER: Well, I'm not here to go into bat for China, far from it. But I think those data around coal-fired power station builds are heavily contested. And what the Chinese president did announce over the course of the weekend was a level of renewable energy investment that, frankly, is just jaw-dropping. As we've seen details leak out of their 14th 5 year plan that will be released early next year, we've also seen just jaw-dropping shifts in transport and energy production. In addition to which of course, the Chinese President did announce a mid-century commitment to net zero emissions at the UN General Assembly. So along with the announcements by Japan and South Korea to that same effect over recent weeks, and Joe Biden’s seismic election in the United States, you see that the rest of the world is shifting. The UK and all of Europe are already there. Indeed, they have accelerated their plans if anything. And yet Australia is still relying upon these tired old policies of Tony Abbott under Scott Morrison’s leadership and the rest of the world has seen through that. Scott Morrison might try to spin it, but the rest of the world has seen though it.
KELLY: The Australian federal policies aren’t changing dramatically, and the targets aren’t being lifted. But are we doing it anyway, just last month, EY elevated Australia to third place in the most attractive countries when it comes to renewable investments. They say Australia is well placed to take advantage of “a global surge of interest in green hydrogen projects”. So we are capitalising on this shift anyway aren’t we?
BUTLER: We've got to be thankful that the state governments, Liberal and Labor alike, have all stepped into the vacuum. We recently saw that through Matt Kean’s plan in New South Wales. The only reductions in emissions, the only investment we're seeing is really coming off the back of state government policies right around the country, Labor and Liberal alike, as I say, and the decisions by individual households to put solar on their rooftops. Otherwise, emissions are rising in every other sector of the economy. And that's why, when the Government released its emissions projections for over the course of this coming decade, just last week, it showed that we won't meet Tony Abbott's target of 26 to 28 per cent. We will miss that by quite a distance, because emissions are going to rise across all of those sectors of the economy for which the federal government is responsible, in spite of the really great work that state governments and individual households are doing.
KELLY: Well that is not what the Government said last week, when it released its latest projections. It said they showed we're on track to reduce emissions by 29 per cent to beat the Paris target?
BUTLER: That’s just not right. I've got the projections in front of me, it shows very clearly that we'll only meet a 22 per cent reduction, two thirds of which I have to say was done under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. And over the course of this decade from 2020 to 2030, in spite of all of that great work being done by state governments, emissions will only reduce by less than 7 per cent. At that rate it would take 146 years to get to net zero emissions, not the 30 that scientists, economists and investors say is critical.
KELLY: Let's talk about targets if the Government was to commit to zero emissions by 2050, where would the 2030 target need to be? Antonio Guterres has made it clear everyone needs to live this short term target. Where should it be?
BUTLER: Well, it clearly would have to be something north of 26 to 28 per cent. That's been out there in the marketplace for some years now. And every single piece of analysis said that 26 per cent is simply not adequate to get on a path to net zero emissions by 2050. But really, it's for the Government to ensure that we have the proper scientific and economic advice to set those medium term targets and they’ve not commissioned that advice, really for the seven or eight years that they’ve been in Government.

KELLY: Okay, but you know, you say it is for the Government, you want to be in Government, if you say it needs to be somewhere north of 26 to 28 per cent Labor is holding off, on giving us its 2030 target, how far north?
BUTLER: As I’ve said our position in relation to medium term targets will be clear well before the election.
KELLY: Why not now Mark Butler? The rest of the world is giving it, you know, Britain's just lifted its midterm target enormously. Why can't you say where the Australian Government should be aiming?
BUTLER: Because Scott Morrison and, before him, Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott, have steadfastly refused to commission the sort of advice that would inform that decision. The last advice we had about that was prepared in 2014 and 2015. So it's several years old now and those Liberal Prime Ministers have all steadfastly refused to commission any alternative advice or updated advice, because they know the answer will show that their targets are way out of whack.
KELLY: Okay, so Labor says, I think you just said it again, you'll release it in the run up the election, who will be talking to then to craft those targets? If you say they're going to be informed by the best available science and economic advice? Will you be able to get access to that? And if you can why not tell us now?
BUTLER: Well, the advice hasn't been prepared because the Government’s refused to commission it. And I just explained the reason for that, because they know that the answer will show that their targets are inadequate. But in my role as Shadow Climate Change and Energy spokesperson, I'm talking to those scientists, those experts and businesses all around Australia that are following global investment trends towards a decarbonised future. I'm talking to them all the time, and that informs our policymaking as it does across the policy spectrum.
KELLY: Okay, but clearly, from what you've said, Labor's target when we get to the election time, the midterm target will be somewhere north of 26 to 28 per cent?
BUTLER: As I've said, our position in relation that will be clear for all people to see well before the election.
KELLY: And it will be somewhere north of that?
BUTLER: Well, I can't be clearer than that. We're going through a process and our position in relation to this will be made clear before the election.
KELLY: Okay, on another issue, the former Resources Minister, Matt Canavan has called today for a levy on iron ore exports to China as retaliation for the Chinese hit to beef, barley, wine would like to support that kind of measure?
BUTLER: Well, there's not much detail other than a drop again to The Australian newspaper. But I don't think frankly it's a serious proposition. I have to say that ramping up a trade war around our most valuable and successful export seems ultimately to be pretty self-defeating. But I do agree with Senator Canavan that Australia should be doing more, the Government should be doing more to help our exporters diversify their markets. We've been urging the Government to do that for many months now as the Chinese position in relation to various exports has become clearer.
KELLY: And just on another issue altogether, the Labor leadership Anthony Albanese hasn't been able to make much of a mark this year. There's some tolerance for that, obviously, in the time of the pandemic, but there's also some disquiet among some of your colleagues. It's making its way into the news media. How can Anthony Albanese get Labor's message across and how secure is his leadership?
BUTLER: The fog of the pandemic emergency obviously has to lift for any opposition. We've seen this around the world and around Australia. Getting clear air during a pandemic is obviously very difficult. I think Anthony's done absolutely the right thing as the Opposition Leader in making sure that the Australian community saw Labor provide the bipartisan support that Australia needed to get through the worst periods of this pandemic. But also Anthony took the fight up to the Government when we thought they were getting the big calls wrong. Like Scott Morrison’s refusal, initially, to consider a wage subsidy program while the unemployment queues outside Centrelink’s were growing. So I think he's got the balance right. It's obviously been an incredibly difficult year for any political opposition around the world. We're all hoping that 2021 will be a much better year than 2020 has been and, in political terms, I hope that as well.
KELLY: But there have been times when Labor has been the story because of your divisions over Climate and Energy Policy. There's been public breakouts of animosities between you and Joel Fitzgibbon, for instance, over climate and energy policy, and the difficulty Labor has to try and deliver one message to inner city voters and another to blue collar workers in coal seats. How are you going to solve that problem? You need to settle on one message, don't you?
BUTLER: Well, of course we do and not just in climate change policy. In all policies, we've got to have a clear message as a party of alternative government to put to the Australian people. That's a process that Anthony has been leading very strongly since we lost the last election.

KELLY: But the divisions remain stark?
BUTLER: I wouldn't mistake debate for division. There is strong debate about some of these really important policy areas within the Labor Party. We've got a tradition of doing that going back many, many decades. And it's a tradition of which I'm very proud. I'm not scared of debate within the Labor Party about what our policy offering should be. Once we settle the policy, though, the important thing is for us all to get behind it.
KELLY: Thank you very much for joining us.
BUTLER: Thanks Fran.