RN Breakfast 25/02/2019

February 25, 2019


SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s failed policy renewal; Paris commitments, Adani, Newspoll, Asylum seekers

FRAN KELLY: Well Mark Butler is the Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy. Mark Butler, welcome to breakfast.


KELLY: So another $2 billion for a re-booted emissions reduction fund over 10 years, that’s the Prime Minister’s plan. Has the PM just out-bid you for direct action on stuff that works?
BUTLER: Well Malcolm Turnbull famously described Tony Abbott’s policy, which Scott Morrison is topping up this morning, as a recipe for fiscal recklessness on a grand scale and a fig leaf to cover its determination to do nothing.

KELLY: Well that was a long time ago, I think he recanted that when he was elected PM.

BUTLER: It’s absolutely right, what he’s doing is again making your listeners foot the bill for something that big polluters should be doing. The question really, Fran, is whether people will trust a government that has spent five years trashing climate policy, trashing climate science, led by a Prime Minister who brought a lump of coal into the parliament, suddenly to have some last minute conversion in the shadow of an election campaign to take climate change seriously.

KELLY: Well they’re taking it seriously to the tune of $2 billion in this instance and we’re led to believe there is more to come. The government says this emissions reduction fund has already delivered 193 million tonnes of carbon abatement through more than 470 projects at $12 a tonne. Does that represent value for money?

BUTLER: Look at the track record over the last five years, this has been their policy for the last five years with exactly the same annual amount put into it as Scott Morrison has promised for the future and yet we’ve seen carbon pollution go up year upon year, projected to continue to go up all the way to 2030. This is a failed policy.

KELLY: But is it failed policy? Let me just interrupt you, I’m sorry to interrupt you but is it failed? That’s what I’m trying to get at, because this money will be spent, as it has been spent, you’re correct, helping farmers drought-proof their farms, plant more trees, businesses become more energy efficient, local councils to do more with recycling. It may not be targeting the bigger polluters, but they are, to quote the Prime Minister, meaningful and practical examples of how to cut emissions, would you keep it or would you scrap it?

BUTLER: We would scrap it because these sorts of activities should be paid for by the private sector, that’s what would happen under any sort of a scheme, including a properly constructed safeguards mechanism that the government has in place. And if you’re serious about climate change, what you would do as a Prime Minister is to dump their plans to spend even more billions of taxpayers’ dollars on constructing coal-fired power stations. You’d return to the table to discuss the National Energy Guarantee, you’d put in place a plan to clean up our light-passenger vehicles fleet, our transport system that has the dirtiest standards in the OECD. That’s the point I’m making, Fran, this is the only policy that this government has had for the last five years and it has seen carbon pollution rise, year upon year upon year. If you’ve seen the track record of this, why would you repeat it into the future?

KELLY: Well I guess I’m saying is do you have to throw everything out if this is doing meaningful and practical things? You say that the private sector can do it, well the farmers, you know, there’s value, isn’t there, in encouraging farmers to plant more trees and drought-proof their properties, there’s value in encouraging small business to become more energy efficient, we need to be doing these things as well, don’t we?

BUTLER: Of course, and we’ve got a very strong energy efficiency policy that we announced last year, and very practical measures to deal with that, we haven’t seen the detail of the Prime Minister’s energy efficiency measures yet and we’ll have a look at them when they come. But in terms of what farmers were doing, the carbon farming initiative, that this is utilising, was set-up by Labor and was always intended to be an offset scheme, paid for by the polluters, for a proper obligation on polluters to reduce their own carbon footprint. Now Tony Abbott kept that bit of the initiative but decided to make taxpayers pay and relieve the big polluters of any obligation to reduce their own carbon pollution levels, which is why you see, across industry, carbon pollution levels going up and up and up and Scott Morrison is doing nothing about that problem.

KELLY: Well the Prime Minister says this plan comes without the tremendous cost of Labor’s 45 per cent reduction target that will, quote, “depend on shutting industries and businesses down”. We heard him earlier talking about Labor’s plan sending a sledgehammer through the economy, we saw modelling last week that suggested your plan of 45 per cent reduction target would cost $9 thousand extra to each consumer, do you accept that?

BUTLER: Well that modelling was utterly laughable, Fran, and I challenge you to get anyone onto your program, other than Scott Morrison, to back it in. The only saving grace of that modelling is that it didn’t use the word gazillion. I mean it really was ridiculous and completely inconsistent with even Tony Abbott’s own modelling that he commissioned when he was coming up with his Paris target, which showed that the difference between our target, consistent with keeping global warming below 2 degrees, and Tony Abbott’s target was a negligible difference in real GDP growth over the 2020s and that negligible difference was a product of the fact that Labor’s target would lead to lower energy bills, so I’m not even going to respond to the modelling that The Australian front-page has last week. Scott Morrison can talk about it, but he will not find a single serious commentator to back it in.

KELLY: You’re listening to RN Breakfast, it is 07:41. Our guest is the Shadow Climate Change and Energy Minister, Mark Butler. Mark Butler, Australia will use carry-over credits from overshooting our Kyoto commitments to help reach the Paris target, which means instead of having to find 695 million tonnes of carbon emissions cuts by 2030 we only need to find 328 mega tonnes. New Zealand and some other countries won’t use surplus credits but the practice is legal under the climate talks in Poland, as I understand. Is the government legally entitled to use that and will Labor do the same?

BUTLER: The finals of the Paris agreement in this respect haven’t been drawn up yet, they will be over the coming months or so, but you’re right that New Zealand, the United Kingdom and a number of other countries have ruled out using carry-over of credits. We’re still taking advice about this but what I’ve said publicly is that we’re not interested in using accounting tricks or cop-outs to get out of the obligation of actually reducing our carbon pollution in this economy, de-carbonising our economy is a long-term obligation and dodging it by using accounting tricks is just shifting the obligation on to our children and our grandchildren. I can’t see why a national parliament would do that.

KELLY: The Adani coal-mine has become a proxy for the climate change debate. Do you still believe the development of this mine and the Galilee Basin is not in the national interest?

BUTLER: Yes I do, I’ve had that belief for a long time. I’ve personally said that I think that opening up a new coal basin in the Galilee Basin in Queensland is not in the national interest, because I think the business case that was presented for opening up this basin ten years ago was dissolved, it has disappeared.

KELLY: Well your leader and your Environment Minister, Tony Burke, don’t have the same view, they say that this mine has to stack up environmentally and commercially and if it does then Labor will support it.

BUTLER: Well that’s right, and obviously Tony Burke has got to, in the event that he becomes the Environment Minister, which obviously I hope he does after May, apply the environment laws properly as an Environment Minister and I think he outlined that very clearly yesterday. I don’t think there’s anyone in the parliament who knows more about our national environmental protection laws than Tony Burke does.

KELLY: So the CFMEU, one of Labor’s biggest donors, biggest backers, is threatening to campaign against any Labor candidates who don’t support Adani. Are Labor candidates going to be bullied into supporting this mine?

BUTLER: Well the CFMEU is obviously able to express their view about the wisdom about opening up a new thermal coal basin, as everyone else is, there are environment groups making their views very clear, campaigning on the ground in Labor-seats, in Liberal-seats, that’s really what you get in a vibrant democracy and I welcome that.

KELLY: So you have no problem with the CFMEU taking that stand?

BUTLER: Well so long as they express their views respectfully and candidates are free to come to their own conclusions about this thing.

KELLY: And just another issue, today’s Newspoll has Labor with a strong-lead over the Coalition 53-47 two-party preferred, that’s no change, even though political debate has really been dominated by the issue of asylum-seekers since Labor and the crossbench passed that Medivac law to bring asylum-seekers from Nauru and Manus Island to Australia for treatment. Could this embolden Labor to go further and start pushing back against the government’s plan to send people to Christmas Island?

BUTLER: Well there’s going to be a poll almost every week between now and May and we’re not going to be distracted by trying to sort of analyse them carefully, what we’re going to do is continue to outline our plans for the next several years for Australia and I think that’s what the people want us to do, not to respond to every weekly poll.

KELLY: You’re a senior member of Labor Left though, what do you think of the government’s plan to send all those asylum seekers who are medevac’d off Nauru and Manus Island to Christmas Island?

BUTLER: Well the challenge the parliament outlined to the government was to ensure that people under our care in Nauru and Manus got the proper treatment they require and I think that’s the onus the government has to show it’s discharging whether it’s on Christmas Island or anywhere else and they haven’t done that yet.

KELLY: Can they provide that on Christmas Island?

BUTLER: Well the onus is on the various ministers with responsibility for discharging the obligation the parliament sets for them to show that.

KELLY: Mark Butler, thank you very much for joining us.

BUTLER: Thanks, Fran.

KELLY: Mark Butler is the Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy, and we did invite the Federal Environment Minister, Melissa Price on to the program this morning in conjunction with this big announcement from the Prime Minister but she was unavailable.