January 08, 2020


TOM TILLEY, HOST: Our bushfire emergency has captured the attention of the world – not just in the media but time was set aside to debate the crisis in British Parliament overnight.
LINDSAY HOYLE (UK SPEAKER): The magnitude of the disaster unfolding in Australia should shock us all, with human and animal lives, and precious species of fauna being destroyed. This is a wake up call for the world. All of Australia is in our thoughts and prayers. 

TILLEY: British speakerLindsay Hole, addressing the House of Commons in the UK. The scrutiny both here and abroad has increased the pressure on the Government to take stronger action to reduce emissions. It is also going to put a bit of scrutiny on the Opposition, which is yet to settle on its new climate policy following last years election loss. Mark Butler is the Shadow Minister for Climate Change, he joins us from Adelaide. Mark Butler thanks for joining us. 

BUTLER: Good morning, Tom.   

TILLEY: Unlike Craig Kelly, you do see the length between warming and the bushfire crisis so what is Labor going to do about it?

BUTLER: We’ve been very clear for many years now that it is important Australia takes action consistent with out international commitments. Those commitments are to keep global warming well-below 2-degrees and to pursue efforts around 1.5 degrees. For developed economies that means sharp reductions in carbon emissions, moving to a point where we are producing net zero emissions by the middle of the century. That has been Labor’s strong position and since last year’s election I’ve made it clear that that will remain Labor’s position into the future.    

TILLEY: It seems that that is not where everyone lands though, you’ve got people like Joel Fitzgibbon saying we should take on the Government’s position. Has this bushfire emergency changed the conversation inside the Labor Party?

BUTLER: This awful emergency that we are still seeing unfold, and we’ve still got many weeks left in the bushfire season so it is by no means over yet, I think is really raising the tempo of the debate around climate change here in Australia and, as you said in your introduction, overseas as well. It is also raising the need not just for long-term policy that protects our generation and future generations from even worse emergencies, but also the need for policy today to protect communities. We’ve seen a real lack of attention at a national level about ways in which we need to protect communities today. 

TILLEY: So do you feel like the bushfire emergency will change the consciousness of the Australian electorate and allow Labor to push another very ambitious climate change policy at the next election?

BUTLER: Our focus right now is on the emergency today and the emergency that is unfortunately likely to continue over the next several weeks. That is why Anthony Albanese in particular has been calling since November for a range of things that the Federal Government should be doing right now - like lifting the capacity of our aerial firefighting, which thankfully the Government has finally agreed to - bringing state governments together with the Commonwealth Government to have a national response because this is a national emergency. Now, over time as this emergency comes to an end, there will be the need for a very thorough inquiry into these events and also a full national debate about how we protect future generations around climate change impacts. But right now the focus should be on managing this emergency.

TILLEY: Well the debate will also turn to coal and just before the crisis Anthony Albanese was travelling coal country in Queensland, voicing his strong support for coal production and coal exports. It was all aimed at winning back blue-collar workers in the north. Is that still Labor’s position, will you continue to back in coal? 

BUTLER: What happens to the coal export operations in New South Wales and Queensland is essentially going to be shaped by decisions taken by our commercial partners overseas – by China, by India, by Southeast Asia. It is clear if the world is going to meet the commitments we’ve made in the Paris Climate Agreements to keep global warming below those dangerous levels and protect future generations from even worse emergencies than the one we are seeing today, then fossil fuel consumption is going to have to decline sharply over the coming few decades.

TILLEY: That’s not just decided by those big export markets, it is also decided by Government policy. What will be your position on coal, will you continue to support it? 

BUTLER: Our focus has been on coal consumption here and we’ve had a very ambitious policy around our energy sector and around our transport sector - policy completely rejected by the Liberal Party that thinks that business as usual is the way to go here. As I’ve said, the global community has made a very clear commitment to protect future generations from even worse emergencies than the one we are seeing today and that will mean a wholesale change to our energy system and our transport system.

TILLEY: Since the election Labor has been much more supportive of the Adani coal mine. How can you back in strong support on climate change whilst also endorsing opening up huge coal mines like Adani?

BUTLER: Well, I don’t accept your premise. What has happened is since the election all of the legal approvals have been given, from the Federal Government, from the State Government in Queensland, and whether or not this operation is able to wash its face is a matter now for the company to deliver on the pretty ambitious jobs promises that it has made.

TILLEY: It wasn’t just those hurdles that were jumped, Labor’s rhetoric changed dramatically as well you have to acknowledge that?

BUTLER: I think what changed was the circumstances on the ground. Before the election it was still unclear whether or not this company was going to get finance for this operation and whether or not it was going to get its legal approvals. Those facts have changed. 

TILLEY: The Prime Minister has acknowledged that global warming has played a part in the fires but so far he won’t entertain any change in their climate policy. Do you think that will change given all the domestic and international pressure starting to bear down on the Australian Government?

BUTLER: Well I hope it does because for at least 10 years now we’ve seen climate policy essentially hijacked by a dominant faction within the Coalition. A dominant faction you see, I guess in the worst case, exemplified by Craig Kelly’s performance over the last couple of days, stymie any sensible climate policy in this country and I think that is increasingly coming to the world’s attention. Not just through Craig Kelly’s interviews but also through the appalling performance by Angus Taylor at the Madrid Climate Conference in December where he was calling for less action, not more action, on climate change.

TILLEY: Mark Butler, you’re criticising the Coalition for stying their own climate policy but your own climate policy is being stymied, you don’t even have one?

BUTLER: We took the most detailed climate policy any major party has taken to the election in May last year, Tom. What I’ve said is the core principles that underpin that climate policy remain unshakeable Labor commitments. Over the course of this term of Parliament, leading into the election that is due in 2022, of course we will be adding detail to that policy. We’ve got a national conference due at the end of this year and then in the usual way over a term of Parliament we will be releasing detailed policy before the 2022 election that will be underpinned by those same commitments, the commitments to protect future generations from dangerous climate change that will see even worse emergencies then the one we are facing now. 

TILLEY: The UK wants to debate the Australian bushfires, why isn’t the Australian Parliament doing the same? Should it be recalled?

BUTLER: That ultimately is a decision for the Prime Minister. Over the course of the last period of 2019 we moved a motion to debate a climate emergency. That was a motion not supported, even for debate, by the Government. Unlike the position we’ve seen in the Conservative-governed United Kingdom, where there was a debate about the climate emergency. 

TILLEY: Should there be a debate now? Should Parliament be recalled right now?

BUTLER: Our position hasn’t changed. We think there should be a debate about climate change. 

TILLEY: So do you think that should happen now even though we are facing the immediate crisis?

BUTLER: No, I think it should happen when Parliament is reconvened, which is going to happen in February. As I’ve said and as Anthony Albanese has said, the focus now needs to be on managing this emergency. In due course, as the emergency comes to a close, there will be a need for a thorough review, a thorough enquiry into all of the circumstances of this emergency - and I hope what this has done has been also to convince the Government of the need for a more realistic, more ambitious, long-term climate change policy.

TILLEY: Australia has captured global attention, as you alluded to before, for the bushfires and also the political response and our climate policies. Do you feel that our international reputations has been damaged?

BUTLER: I think our international reputation on climate change is very, very poor. You see that through the commentary around the Madrid Climate Conference last year. According to a very reputable index on climate change, of the 60 most significant nations in this area, we ranked dead last on climate policy. Below Trump’s America, below Saudi Arabia, below Russia and a range other nations that are generally seen as laggards on climate policy. And the commentary by Craig Kelly, who has been a very significant player in Coalition climate and energy policy, over the last couple of days has only added to our poor reputation, to a sense that this Government, in spite of all the exposure that a vulnerable continent like Australia has to climate impacts, is doing nothing on climate change in the face of unassailable scientific evidence.
TILLEY: Ok so Mark Butler are you promising to do more than the Coalition on climate policy?

BUTLER: I’ve said that, Anthony Albanese has said that. Unless there is a wholesale change in the Coalition on this -

TILLEY: You’re promising a more ambitious policy?

BUTLER: What people can be assured of is we will have a more ambitious climate change policy at the next election then the Coalition. I’d love to see a position as you see in the United Kingdom and many other countries for that matter, where the conservative side of politics accepts the evidence and tries to fashion a bipartisan position. Boris Johnson, for example, was elected as leader of the Conservative Party promising to maintain a longstanding position in that country of net zero emissions by the middle of the century. Now if Scott Morrison were to come to that position, as Gladys Berejiklian and other conservative leaders have done, then hopefully we could fashion a bipartisan on this. But as long as the Coalition party room position is being dictated by people like Craig Kelly, Angus Taylor, and all of those other followers of Tony Abbott’s position on this, we are going to have a significant challenge in this country. 

TILLEY: Mark Butler thanks for your time. 

BUTLER: Thanks Tom.