TRIPLE J: 17/4/19

April 17, 2019



HOST: Mark Butler, thank you so much for joining us on the show.


HOST: We’ll get to Adani and the future of coal in a moment, but let’s talk about extinction first. We just heard a conservation ecologist say we need to spend way more, we need to spend $1.5 billion a year to save our 1,800 threatened species. Will Labor commit to doing that?

BUTLER: We think there are three very big reforms we have to put in place to protect our natural environment, including the very big increase in the number of endangered species. The first is to say that our environmental protection laws just haven’t worked. They are 20 years old and through that 20-year period we have seen more and more species become more and more endangered. So we are taking a position that we’ve been essentially engaging with the environmental movement about for the last several years, that if elected we will create a new independent environmental protection agency, taking the politics out of some of the decisions being taken over the last 20 years around environment protection. 

The second thing we will do is we have to have a fair dinkum climate change policy. We are now the only advanced economy in the world where carbon pollution is going up rather than coming down. And ours is a very vulnerable continent, not just the Great Barrier Reef that you have been talking about over the last little while, but it is more broadly a continent vulnerable to the impacts of climate change we are already seeing, let alone the impacts we will see if we don’t get global warming under some sort of control.

The third thing is that, over the last 200 years, we’ve pretty much cleared about two-thirds of this continent and at some point you have to say enough. We’ll put in place laws, from a Commonwealth level, to protect Australia’s remnant vegetation and our high-value regrowth to ensure we can start remediating this landscape, rather than engaging in even further broad scale land clearing of the type we are seeing, which is a real danger to a whole lot of our native species. 

HOST: Okay well let’s get into point two, your climate policy. You just talked about how vulnerable we are. Does that mean as Climate Change Minister there is any way you can possibly support opening the Galilee Basin to new coal mining?  

BUTLER: I’ve made my view clear now for a couple years about the wisdom of opening a brand new thermal coal basin. I mean, even Angus Taylor conceded that coal is going to decline as part of the energy mix globally, and this is proposed as an export project. It is important to see what is happening in the thermal coal market around the world and that is it is starting to decline. Countries around the world, the very big countries like China, the US and India, are shifting away from coal and shifting more to renewable energy. China peaked its use of thermal coal as far back as 2013. Given they consume about half the world’s coal, that is an incredibly important issue.

HOST: OK, but what about India? They still want our coal. That’s why they want to dig this mine?

BUTLER: They don’t. The Indian Government has got a policy of phasing out coal imports at all, let alone from Australia, over the course of the next few years. They are leaping technology in the same way they did in telephony to move to frankly jaw-dropping rates of investment in renewable energy. So their future they see very much as a future based on solar power, storage and pumped hydro.

HOST: Sure that is the Indian Government, but the Indian company Adani, they still want to dig up this coal. 

BUTLER: Sure, they do, but that’s not consistent with the position of the Indian Government. 

HOST: You’ve made that point clear, but based on this coal we could still reap the economic benefits and the jobs. How do you explain to the local people in Townsville who want those jobs? Why they should make that sacrifice for a global problem?

BUTLER: I’m just not convinced that opening up a new thermal coal basin, which would be the only new export-orientated thermal coal basin on the face of the planet, is going to provide sustainable jobs. I think it will end up a stranded asset. I think any analysis of what is happening in the global thermal coal market bears that out. 

Now, I understand that there is a very deep need for jobs in Central Queensland. I just don’t think these are sustainable jobs. I think instead what we want to focus on is the huge jobs boom that will come from our 50 per cent renewable energy target, 70,000 additional jobs all through the 2020s according to independent modelling of our 50 per cent target. We also announced, Bill Shorten announced, our hydrogen policy in Central Queensland. We could be a world leader in the hydrogen economy, which would create thousands of jobs, including jobs in Central Queensland. That is on top of the jobs in agriculture, in hydro power that we have been talking about as well.

The other thing I would say is that even the coal industry has said if the Adani mine gets built it will happen at the expense of jobs elsewhere in the coal industry - so in the Bowen Basin in Queensland, and in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. So there is a question, really, whether this is in the national interest. 

HOST: 60 per cent of our energy does still come from coal, so when are you proposing we phase it out by? 

BUTLER: This is going to happen pretty naturally. About 75 per cent of our existing coal and gas generators in the country are already operating beyond their design life, and we only saw again over the summer those coal generators particularly becoming increasingly unreliable. They drop out of the system with no notice, placing really significant stress on the reliability of our system. So you will see natural retirements of this coal fleet that was largely built in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and very early ‘80s over the coming decade and more. We want to see a good, forward-leaning ambitious program of replacing those generators with renewables.

HOST: Owen, you’ve got a question for the Shadow Minister, go ahead?

OWEN (CALLER): Yeah it’s interesting that you talk about the energy markets stability given the unreliability of coal-fired power stations, but the increasing EV nature that Labor brings and the increase in intermit generation, how will that put stress on not only the market stability but the peakiness of demand given EV nature?

BUTLER: That is a really good question a lot of people are asking me. The Energy Market Operator, which is responsible for the security of the system and the electricity networks, have been working on this pretty furiously over the last little while because all around the world countries are dealing with this. We have the lowest uptake of electric vehicles in the developed world, so most other nations are ahead of us in considering what the impact of a fleet of electric vehicles will be on the security of the networks. 

HOST: Have you worked out how much extra energy will be needed to meet that target of 50 per cent electric vehicles?

BUTER: The Energy Market Operator thinks it would be in the order of 15 per cent, and that is into the 2030s. That really depends a bit on how many households are charging their electric vehicles with their own energy, which would be energy coming through their rooftop solar panels. I think what you’ll see over the course of the 2020s, as the market share of electric vehicles increases, is we have already got over 2 million households with solar panels on their roofs, you’ll see a lot of them start to buy batteries and charge their vehicles at home using their own power - so not power drawn from the grid. The Energy Market Operator and the industry have said this is eminently manageable, this is something, if anything, if we start to put in place systems that see people charge their vehicles, for example, overnight than at peak times, it will contribute to the security and the reliability of the system.

HOST: You’re listening to Mark Butler, who is the Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy. Thank you so much for that question, Owen. If you want to ask the Minister a question, text in. Shadow Minister, on your electric vehicle policy, part of it is an introduction of tougher emission standards on petrol and diesel cars down to 105g/km. Will that make those cars more expensive?

BUTLER: Just to point out, Tom, we are now the only developed country that doesn’t have fuel efficiency standards in place. We’ve had a policy position now for a while that we should adopt the North American standards, those that operate within the United States. This is a market that has a car fleet most like ours, I think, in terms of distance we travel. 

There would be a modest impact on the cost upfront but that would be more than paid off through the huge savings people make at the bowser. Even Malcolm Turnbull and Josh Frydenbeg’s modelling suggested that would be more than $500 every year. So the Climate Change Authority suggests that over the course of the life of the vehicle the savings to motorists of having fuel efficiency savings would run to $7,000-$7,500. This is a no-brainer, not just in terms of cutting pollution on our roads but saving motorists very significant amounts of money. 

HOST: Mark Butler, just quickly, Labor have promised to take back the $444 million in funding given to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation because of the way it was given to that foundation. Will every cent of that go back to the Reef?

BUTLER: Yes. Tony Burke has made that clear and it will go back to the Reef agencies that have been doing fantastic work now for decades. Agencies like the CSIRO, the Institute of Marine Science, the Marine Park Authority, these are public bodies that have been doing this work for many decades. That was the policy position, for example, I took to the 2016 election when I had this responsibility as the Environment Shadow. We think those agencies, who have the runs on the board, should be the agencies spending taxpayers money to protect one of the seven natural wonders of the world. 

HOST: Alright Mark Butler great to have you on the show again, thanks for joining us.

BUTLER: Thanks Tom.


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