To The Point: 19/07/17

July 19, 2017






KRISTINA KENEALLY: Our next guest, the Energy and Climate Change Shadow Minister Mark Butler joins us out of Adelaide. Thanks so much Mark.

MARK BUTLER MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY, MEMBER FOR PORT ADELAIDE: I’m shaking in fear and anticipation of the grilling I’m about to receive. That was a fairly self-effacing introduction you gave yourself there Peter.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: (laughing) That’s a very prominent accent I’m picking up there Mark Butler. I don’t think it is just an Adelaide accent. It sounds British; do you have anything you need to tell us?

BUTLER: Well most Adelaide people are accused of having a British accent.


BUTLER: We say “school” over here, not “skewl.” We say “data” not “deighta.” It’s a free-settler state thing I think.

VAN ONSELEN: Were both your parents born in Australia?

BUTLER: Yep, oh wait no. My Mother wasn’t.

KENEALLY: Oh, let’s start there. Where was she born? 

BUTLER: She was born in the UK while her Father was doing a short foray there after the war.  

VAN ONSELEN: Well I would have thought that would make you eligible for UK citizenship Mr Butler?

BUTLER: I renounced that with the British High Commission before becoming a candidate for Parliament back in 2006/07.

VAN ONSELEN: I just realised this is a fruitless line of questioning; we will save this for Nick McKim, because you are a member of the Labor Party. The Labor Party actually dots their I’s and crosses their t’s.

KENEALLY: You can’t even nominate for pre-selection.      

BUTLER: That’s right. We have our lawyers crawl over our candidates. Often having very uncomfortable discussions and that is really what a party that wants to be taken as a serious force in modern politics does. You might not like Section 44 of the Constitution but it is there and it is not going anywhere anytime soon.

I think the shambles that you have seen in the Greens Party really has to shake that show up. I think it’s a terrible reflection on the party’s internal processes. I feel very sorry for Scott and Larissa but it really is a very sad reflection on the way the Greens Party does business. 

VAN ONSELEN: Look I don’t disagree with that. You mentioned before Mr Butler that it can be pretty uncomfortable, the vetting process, Labor really gets right into it. What were probably the one or two most uncomfortable things that you had to deal with?

BUTLER: (laughing) I managed to avoid the discomfort. Mine was pretty straightforward.

KENEALLY: Let’s get into the portfolio questions then, having established that you are eligible to sit in the Parliament. Bill Shorten said yesterday that he supports Alan Finkel’s Clean Energy Target, 42 per cent, and he is willing to end the climate wars with the Government. But Labor’s commitment is for a 50 per cent, renewable energy target. So is this in effect a lessening of Labor’s renewable energy target?

BUTLER: No I think what Alan Finkel and his panel recommended was that the Parliament needed to agree a framework for investment into the future. There will be points of difference between the major parties, particularly between now and 2030, but the question is can we agree the investment framework. Because after Tony Abbott repealed  the clean energy package, essentially the Labor Government’s framework for electricity investment and investment in a range of other sectors of the economy beside, there has been nothing at a national level other than the Renewable Energy Target, which runs out in 2020.

So what Bill Shorten was saying yesterday, we’ve said before, is that although the Clean Energy Target policy proposal from the Finkel panel was not our preferred option, we’re willing to put aside the election policy that we took to the people last year and focus on trying to deliver that Clean Energy Target in the Parliament.

KENEALLY: So essentially you are willing to walk away from your commitment at the last election, adopt the Finkel recommendation, the 42 per cent Clean Energy Target, and seek to end the climate wars. Is that a fair assessment of the position that Bill Shorten put out? 

BUTLER: No, to be clear what we are putting aside is our policy of an Emissions Intensity Scheme being the framework within which the electricity sector investment proceeds. That was a policy that was endorsed by pretty much every business group. We’re saying that even though an Emissions Intensity Scheme has attributes that are better than a Clean Energy Target, we are willing to put that aside and put in place an investment framework.

We have said that we don’t think that the low-ambition, the emissions reduction target that Malcolm Turnbull adopted from Tony Abbott, is going to stand the test of time between now and 2030. We think Australia needs a higher level of ambition to be consistent with the Paris Agreement and that will pull through a greater level of renewable energy investment.

The matter before the national Parliament is not whether we end up at 42 per cent or 50 per cent renewables. It is a question of delivering or designing an investment framework that gives the industry some idea of what the rules are going to be into the future. That is the point I think we can sit down with the government and do some business on.

VAN ONSELEN: Just to clarify, Labor’s commitment has been for a 50 per cent renewable energy target. Is that still the case? 


VAN ONSELEN: Okay, well moving onto some other issues. The Finkel gas development idea, that it should be considered; it is something that it seems like Bill Shorten is getting on board with. Does that put him at odds with some state Labor governments? 

BUTLER: Federal Labor’s position has been clear on this; I’ve stated it on many occasions as have Bill, Chris Bowen and others. We support responsible onshore development of gas. But where we part opinion from Malcolm Turnbull’s political prosecution of this point over the last several months is we think the Commonwealth has got to take a more responsible attitude to the debate that is particularly difficult in New South Wales and Victoria, but also in other parts of the country as well.

Malcolm Turnbull seeks to just wag the Prime Ministerial finger at particularly Dan Andrews, conveniently ignoring the difficulties that are happening in New South Wales, a Liberal Government state. It is not sufficient to simply wave the finger. The Commonwealth has got some responsibility to put in place a framework that will deal with the very deep community opposition to these developments that exist in Victoria and New South Wales. You can’t simply wish it away, or lecture it away, you need to recognise as we did when we were last in government, working with Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott that there are genuine concerns particularly about water quality that the Commonwealth needs to address. This is no longer simply a state government issue. The Commonwealth should be putting in place the framework that we legislated when we were in government and Tony Abbott simply tried to deconstruct over his years as Prime Minister.

When I think Malcolm Turnbull is willing to take the politics out of this and say the Commonwealth has something to contribute to this mature debate, then I think we might make some progress. But at the moment all that he is doing is playing politics, conveniently just with the Labor states, not with his own backyard where there are significant barriers to onshore gas development in New South Wales. 

KENEALLY: Look that is true. There are barriers to onshore gas development in New South Wales and that should be acknowledged here. Alan Finkel makes an argument that the onshore gas development proposal should be based on science and on a case by case basis. That would allow for the types of concerns that you are raising to be taken into consideration. Right now you do have states like New South Wales and Victoria, where there are in effect moratoriums in place. It seems to me that both sides of politics, at a federal level, need to say to their state counterparts this is not appropriate going forward. 

BUTLER: The question is what the Commonwealth is going to bring to the table. When we were in government we recognised, and you would understand this better than most Kristina, there were emerging areas in New South Wales where there was strong opposition to gas development. Instead of saying, well that’s just a New South Wales problem, we said that we recognised that the protection of our water resources was a national matter of environmental significance. Not just a state matter. So we put in place the water trigger, we put Commonwealth skin in the game in these project assessments. We constructed the independent expert scientific committee of hydrologists and geologists to look at these questions in an objective way rather than the industry presenting one report that said everything would be fine and environmental organisations perhaps presenting reports that said everything was going to be disastrous.

That’s what Malcolm Turnbull needs to do, because as soon as Tony Abbott got elected he tried to deconstruct all of that, to shift all of the Commonwealth responsibilities back to state governments, which have some issues in terms of their credibility in some communities. Even to do stuff like preventing farmers groups and environment groups from taking court action when they think the laws are being broken. All of that was designed to aggravate community opposition rather than deal with it maturely.   

VAN ONSELEN: But Mr Butler you would have to agree wouldn’t you, given what Federal Labor’s position is on this, that if Victoria and the Northern Territory for example are willing to change their policies. That would, would it not, put some downward pressure on energy prices?

BUTLER: I think there is still a big question about what onshore gas there is in Victoria that could be got out of the ground in the foreseeable future. As for the Northern Territory, I think the Northern Territory Government has a very strong process which has been maybe not welcomed by the industry, but the industry is cooperating with. It has been pretty positive about the interim report from the Northern Territory inquiry which was only released in the last several days. I think people should just let the Northern Territory complete the process overseen by Justice Pepper. It will report by the end of the year and then let’s see where we are.

In terms of the two big states of New South Wales and Victoria, the pockets of opposition are very deep and they are very broad. I think that it is important that the Commonwealth, whether it is the Labor Opposition or the Liberal Government, starts to articulate what it can bring to the table to deal with that opposition and work through the very significant issues that people are concerned about, particularly around water quality. So that where there are responsible ideas for onshore gas development we can see if they get up. 

VAN ONSELEN: We’ll get back to your portfolio again in a moment Mr Butler but I just want to ask you a separate question. This breaking news this afternoon about Jason Falinski, I’m sure you probably saw the interview earlier on Newsday.

KENEALLY: I’m sure he has nothing better to do.

VAN ONSELEN: I know you’re an avid viewer.

BUTLER: This is very embarrassing for you Peter but I don’t watch your program from start to finish. I’m sorry I missed that interview.

KENEALLY: (laughing) Can we cut that out please as a promo.

VAN ONSELEN: That is outrageous.

BUTLER: As much as I might like to.

VAN ONSELEN: What else would you want to be doing for four hours every day! But anyway we will put that to one side. What he did was, I was joking essentially asking him about his Polish ancestry and whether he had renounced Polish citizenship because his Father was Polish, he (Jason) was born in Australia. And he just sort of laughed it off, he didn’t realise that I was playing this technique that I’ve developed over years as an interview. But anyway, in turned out that there may well be some sort of contestation given the nature of Poland on whether or not he might be eligible. Our reporter in Canberra, Jen Bechwati, has looked into this and I’m keen to get your reaction. She spoke to the Polish embassy. You don’t automatically become a citizen because you’ve got Polish ancestry but, this is the important point, all that Jason Falinski’s parents would have to do when he was born was call the Polish authorities and he would have automatically become a citizen, received a passport and so on. There is not a formal application that is required. So the question then becomes did his parents make the call. My question for you Mark Butler, is are you surprised that a major party like the Liberal Party doesn’t square this away, the same way the Labor Party so clearly does?       

BUTLER: I honestly don’t know what the internal processes of the Liberal Party are and whether they have squared it away and I apologise for not watching every interview that you have done over the course of today Peter. I’m going to reflect on that deeply over the course of the rest of the afternoon.

But look I do think the major parties do have pretty rigorous due diligence processes around their candidates and I think what your reporter has said about the Polish processes reinforce the fact that every country has its own laws. That is why it is so important that party lawyers really do stress test this. It is not sufficient for candidates to come before their parties and say I’d really like to run for so-and-so seat, or for the Senate, for your party and I’ve spoken to Mum and Dad and I’m pretty sure that the whole naturalisation question has been squared away. You can’t just deal with it that way.

This is a serious matter where people are going into the Parliament to make the laws of the nation and parties, particularly given the privileged position that political parties have in our democracy, have an obligation to voters to ensure they have done the proper due diligence. That is where I think the Greens Party has profoundly let down many tens of thousands of voters in Western Australia and Queensland, by not doing that for Larissa and for Scott. As to Jason’s position I just don’t know what the situation is.   

KENEALLY: Alright Mark Butler unfortunately we are going to have to leave it there but thank you so much for joining us on To The Point and I hope you enjoy the rest of your afternoon watching Newsday.

BUTLER: I’m looking forward to it.