April 01, 2019

SUBJECT/S: Labor’s Climate Change Action Plan
JON FAINE: Tomorrow night Josh Frydenberg gets to his feet and delivers his first Budget and tries to hit the reset button. Scott Morrison’s Government desperately want him to gain ground in the opinion polls before we go almost immediately to a Federal Election but the Labor Party today steal a little bit of thunder announcing a major policy on climate particularly, that they will use government procurement to try and shift Australia’s ageing car feet to 50 per cent electric cars within little more than a decade. Mark Butler is the Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy, he’s the Member for Port Adelaide. Mr Butler, good morning to you.
FAINE: Are we ready for 50 per cent electric cars in a decade?
BUTLER: I think we are because what’s happening is that there is this enormous shift in the global car industry that is leaving the industry behind. We have the lowest uptake of electric vehicles in the OECD, we are the only OECD nation that doesn’t have mandatory fuel efficiency arrangements in place because we have got a Government that has simply missed what is happening in the global car industry.
FAINE: But we don’t have the infrastructure or the charging stations so it is not just about buying cars, it’s about making electric cars sustainable. There is a huge shift then required, in a decade, away from petrol stations to recharging stations?
BUTLER: Absolutely and we will be saying more about that over the course of today.  
FAINE: Who is going to pay for that?
BUTLER: Frankly people across the industry are saying this as well. This is not something in which Australia has a choice. The industry is shifting to the point where there is not really any car company around the world that is putting research and development money into new petrol and diesel engines anymore. They are shifting entirely to battery electric vehicles and into hydrogen electric vehicles. Australia is really at risk of being completely left behind in this because of the Government’s five years of inaction.
FAINE: Who is going to pay for the recharging infrastructure?
BUTLER: We are seeing recharging infrastructure already being put in place at local council level, by state governments, but we have a Commonwealth that is really not doing anything about this. You’ll also see private industries start to move into this area. For example, service stations in the UK and other countries that are ahead of us in electric vehicle uptake - which is pretty much everyone - petrol stations are starting to put very fast chargers in their petrol stations as well because they know they run the risk of their enormous capital investment in petrol station networks across the country being redundant if they are not able to keep up with the shift to electric vehicles. So it is not just government that has to do this, the private sector will be racing ahead of this as well.  
FAINE: Is there a bit of a con at the core of the shift to electric vehicles in a country that is dependent on coal as Australia. It might make sense in countries that have a greater commitment to renewables but in Australia effectively you are just charging an electric vehicle from a power plant fuelled by coal?  
BUTLER: Right now you are but over the -
FAINE: Well it won’t be very different in a decade will it?
BUTLER: It will be. If Labor has its way and it is able to put in place our 50 per cent renewable energy target across the country it will be very, very different. The emissions of an electric vehicle in states which have high levels of renewable energy are substantially lower than petrol engine vehicles. In Victoria, for example, as it continues to expand renewable energy under the Victorian renewable energy target of the Andrews Government, you will see emissions of electric vehicles come down substantially. The point Jon is, the car industry across the world is making this shift. We can’t be in a position where we end up like Cuba all tuning up our 2007 Commodores because Barnaby Joyce has some ideological obsession against the global shift to electric vehicles – it is happening. It is time for us to catch up.  
FAINE: (Laughing) You know you’re talking to an old car enthusiast, I’d quite like us to have 1950s Cadillacs cruising around, but let’s move on. If indeed you’re going to have procurement policies leading this charge, excuse the pun, you’re going to be retrofitting public buildings so that all of those fleets of electric vehicles get charged in the carpark during the day. Is that all part of the plan? And again, the bill for that will be massive!

BUTLER: Well, the bill for not doing it will be massive, because as I’ve said the car industry across the world is shifting to a position so that very soon all of its new models will be in battery electric and hydrogen electric cars. The important thing here is to create a market so that car companies send their electric vehicles to the market. The car market here currently doesn’t sell EVs – so of the seven most popular electric vehicles in the world under $60,000, none of them are sold in Australia. The UK has 20 models of electric vehicle on sale under $50,000, we only have four here. So we need to use all of the levers we can to create a critical mass in the market here that sees car companies send their electric vehicles here to buy. We will have government procurement levers operating here, not just the Commonwealth but we’d like to see state governments do it as well. We’re going to introduce some accelerated depreciation arrangements for business to start converting their fleet which will be very important to create that critical mass to make car companies send their vehicles here, but will also create the second hand market as well.

FAINE: That’s certainly dramatic, lets step away from just vehicles though and have a look at some of the other proposals. You’re talking about restoring the Climate Change Authority and having a comprehensive Climate Change Assessment. Isn’t that just another layer of red tape that the current government has been so desperate to get rid of?

BUTLER: Well the Climate Change Authority was a very important piece of climate policy infrastructure set up by the last government to advise the government, to advise parliament, and to advise to broader community about a very complex area of science and public policy. We think it’s very important that that independent advice be available not just to government, but as I said to parliament and the broader community so we’re not interested in shutting down those voices in the way that Tony Abbott tried to do when he came to power. We want to see those independent, scientific voices in the debate around climate change. We also think that it’s important to have an Australian assessment around climate change. At the moment we need to cobble together a whole bunch of different assessments from around the world, some of it focussed on parts of Australia. We don’t have a single assessment, as happens in many other countries like the United States, like the UK that actually pulls from the science a very clear picture about what climate change means for Australia – for our agricultural sector, for our coastal sector, our alpine sector and many areas beyond. We want an Australian assessment to drive the national debate about climate change.

FAINE: The Coalition are announcing, if the leaks carefully orchestrated to the media are anything to go by, a $125 assistance package, or handout to people on low and fixed incomes – people on the Age Pension, Disability Pension and the like – to assist them with their energy bills. So what we’re doing is seeing the Coalition are going for an immediate fix, you’re talking about one 10 years away. Which one do you think is more likely to appeal to the voters?

BUTLER: Well $125 to couples, $75 to singles. Frankly they should have an apology note in there with the cheque apologising for power prices going up and up and up under this government. I mean Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg said until their faces were blue last year that Malcolm Turnbull’s National Energy Guarantee would save every household $550, but they walked away from the Guarantee because Tony Abbott opposed it. We could have got that National Energy Guarantee through the parliament last year and everyone would start to see downward pressure on their power bills, instead six weeks out from an election you have this relatively modest amount of money given what people have faced in their power bills, offered as an election bribe.

FAINE: You didn’t specifically address my question, although all of that was interesting and useful, the question was whether the voters are more concerned about the here and the now rather than the 10 years away?

BUTLER: Well the here and the now is to get a proper energy policy in place. There have been 12 attempts since the 2016 election and every single piece of advice from the Chief Scientist, from our electricity agencies from across the country have said that land an energy policy in the national parliament and you will start to see energy prices come down. Indeed Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg said that all through the last year. But their failure to land an energy policy has meant that power bills are continuing to go up, which means they’ve got to start doling out taxpayers money to households that are really struggling, and they are really struggling with what’s happened to power bills under this government.

FAINE: Part of your policy is that companies won’t be able to use Kyoto credits to meet the Paris Targets, which you’re going to try and enforce. How do you enforce that? Do you set up a whole new layer of bureaucracy in order to check what companies are saying they’re doing?

BUTLER: Well no, the whole question of Kyoto credits would be handled by government and not by business-

FAINE: What part of government?

BUTLER: The Commonwealth government. This was a dodgy accounting trick proposed by Scott Morrison and only one other country has gone down that path, which is the Ukraine. This is a path that has been rejected by the UK, New Zealand, Germany, Sweden-

FAINE: I understand the principle, my question was not about the principle, it was about how you enforce it, and who will be-

BUTLER: Well it’s easy to enforce because only government can claim those carryovers, if at all – we’re not really even sure yet whether the Paris Agreement allows carryovers to be claimed, but only the government could do it, not business. We’re interested in real cuts in emissions not dodgy accounting tricks because that’s the responsibility we have to our children and our grandchildren, to get real cuts in carbon pollution that limits global warming to way below 2 degrees. Otherwise we know from scientists that the impact on our climate will be very, very grave indeed.

FAINE: Alright, just finally, you also say there will be new caps on big polluters and obviously airlines are major contributors. Does that mean that the cost of air travel will inevitably go up under a Labor government?

BUTLER: All we’re doing is extending the government’s existing mechanism and airlines are already covered by the government’s mechanism, introduced by Malcolm Turnbull and operating under Scott Morrison. Airlines around the world have recognised through their international aviation arrangements, that they do need to cut their carbon emissions. Theirs is a relatively small amount, but very fast growing and projected to grow very quickly between now and 2050. So if you talk to your Qantases and Virgins and the like, they are already working very hard to cut their emissions. And they’ve been lobbying us very hard to put in place a bioenergy strategy which we’re announcing today that will help them do that, in a way that will allow them to continue to provide good, affordable air travel to all Australians.

FAINE: Thank you again for all of your answers to my questions this morning, we’ll see what people make of it through the day and this interesting period we’re entering now. Mark Butler Shadow Minister for the Labor Party for Climate Change and Energy in Bill Shorten’s alternative team.