WEDNESDAY, 9 AUGUST 2017
MARK BUTLER MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY, MEMBER FOR PORT ADELAIDE: Thanks everyone for coming along this afternoon. It appears the Government is finally waking up to the very deep energy crisis that is gripping Australian households and businesses. This crisis manifests most obviously in the doubling of wholesale electricity prices under the four years of this Government. Now Labor has long argued, and we had a clear election policy on this question last year, that the energy market rules are broken and are not operating in the interest of Australian consumers. Instead, they are operating in the interest of big power companies. Many of which, are operating businesses that were privatised by previous former Liberal Governments.
Another talkfest where Malcolm Turnbull wags his finger sternly at big energy companies is simply not going to cut the mustard. Australian households and businesses need real action. Now if change comes from this morning’s meeting that delivers a better deal for Australian consumers then Labor will welcome that change. But the proof in the pudding from today’s talkfest will be when Australians come to open their power bills in coming weeks and months and discover whether they have come down or whether they are going to continue to spiral up, and up, and up.
Because Australian’s know that the Liberal Party has form when it comes to big promises when it comes to energy policy. They remember that Tony Abbott promised that there would be a $550 dividend each and every year from the repeal of Labor’s climate change policy framework. All they’ve seen instead is their power prices skyrocket. Australian manufacturers remember that Malcolm Turnbull said earlier this year, after his talkfest with gas companies, their gas prices would halve after the first of July. But still, manufacturers have seen no relief in gas prices. Although Prime Minister Turnbull continues to profess his concern for low income households and their energy prices; at the same time he is pushing ahead with his plan to repeal the energy supplement, ripping $365 each and every year ultimately off of thousands of pensioner households. At the same time of course he is intending to spend $122 million on this non-binding, divisive opinion poll about marriage equality. Now none of today’s events reduce the urgency of addressing the key driver of increased power prices which everyone agrees is the policy paralysis that has bedevilled this nation in energy under the four years of Abbott and Turnbull. None of this will amount to a hill of beans if Malcolm Turnbull is not able to deliver on the central Finkel panel recommendation of introducing a clean energy target, sooner rather than later. We all know that that is going to require a greater display of strength against Tony Abbott and his supporters then he was able to muster earlier this week on marriage equality. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the mere fact if they commit to the clean energy target could have medium-term impacts on power prices?
BUTLER: We think what it will deliver. Just even the commitment by both major parties. We need bipartisanship on this. A commitment to long-term energy policy, everyone agrees from Energy Consumers Australia, to the Finkel Panel, to energy market bodies; they all agree that that certainty is what is needed to unleash the investment that will start to drive down wholesale power prices, absolutely, and that has been Labor’s offer to the Government since the Finkel Review was first released. We are clearly open to sitting down with the Government and delivering a bipartisan energy policy that everyone agrees is the key driver of energy price relief in the medium and long-term.
JOURNALIST: The Greens want to see a cap on prices to regulate the industry. Is that the sort of action you think is needed?
BUTLER: Generally, The Greens Party is not renowned for its sensible contributions to these complex policy areas. We are focused instead on what comes out of today’s meeting, also what came out of the very long, deliberative process from the Finkel panel. That’s what we want to see implemented.
JOURNALIST: In the short-term though do you think today’s outcome from that meeting will be beneficial for consumers?
BUTLER: We will support any change that delivers a better deal for consumers. But as I say, the proof of the pudding will be seen when Australian’s come to open their power bills in coming weeks and months. Have those bills come down or are they continuing to spiral up, and up, and up; as has been the experience of households over the last four years of this Government.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the Government should think about re-regulating prices in some way? Is that a short-term solution?
BUTLER: We’ll have a look at what comes out of today’s meeting and the degree to which that delivers real relief, real change, and a better deal for Australian consumers. Obviously, there is also an important inquiry being undertaken by the ACCC, by Rod Sims, into some further change that might be seen in the retail market. But I come back to the point, everyone who has looked at this question agrees that the key driver of increases in power prices is the lack of stable energy policy frankly because of the internal divisions in the Liberal Party room around climate change and energy. Unless we deal with that we are not going to see real price relief for Australian households and the viability of Australian businesses protected.
JOURNALIST: Are you surprised it’s taken this long for such a relatively minor change in terms of energy prices?
BUTLER: As I’ve said, while the Coalition has been fighting their internal fights over climate change and energy policy, we have said for a couple of years now, we had a clear policy at the last election about this. That the energy markets are not operating in the interest of consumers. They are operating in the interest of the big power companies. Many of which are operating businesses that were privatised by previous Liberal Governments. We are glad the Government has caught up to this question, that there is something wrong with our energy market, not just the lack of a stable energy policy but the way in which retailers are able to operate in their interests rather than the interest of consumers. If any change that delivers relief from consumers comes from today’s meeting, we will support it. But it doesn’t reduce the urgency of dealing with that question of energy policy.
JOURNALIST: Just on another issue, the postal vote looks like it is a certainty now the plebiscite bill has been blocked. What does Labor do now in terms of getting behind the yes case or getting behind a legal challenge?
BUTLER: I don’t think there is any certainty yet about the postal vote because the Government still to my knowledge hasn’t released their legal advice to demonstrate that Mathias Cormann is able to proceed with this expenditure of $122 million. This is an extraordinary expenditure of money on a non-binding, divisive, opinion poll. We want the Government to release their legal advice. We understand there is a possibility of a legal challenge to this. There is nothing certain about this. Even if it is to proceed there are still some very important questions about how people are going to have a proper franchise under this arrangement. This is precisely the point that Malcolm Turnbull, in a previous life, made about this sort of opinion poll being the driver of national policy. Still, we haven’t seen the answers to that and until we do Australians aren’t going to be convinced that this is a stable way to deliver national policy. What is really important is that only over the last 24 hours, we’ve seen on a number of occasions people from the Liberal Party, the former speaker, former Liberal Party Ministers, and the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott this morning give some signal of the sort of campaign that is going to be run; a divisive, hurtful campaign that is going to be run around many, many families around Australia. That is the reason why we haven’t supported a plebiscite for a long period of time now. It is time we just brought this on for a vote in the Parliament. We could deal with it this week.
JOURNALIST: So rather than argue the merits of the yes and no cases, at this point Labor is arguing technicalities about the postal plebiscite is that right?
BUTLER: We don’t have any detail about this. Our position has been clear, we don’t think there should be a plebiscite but Australians are entitled to know that if the Government should push ahead with this is it legal? What are the details? Who is going to have a franchise? How are you going to deal with Australians who are overseas? How are you going to deal with young Australians who are moving house all the time and who are frankly not accustom to dealing with postal communications as much as older people, like I might be. These are important questions; none of it has been dealt with because ultimately this is an utter farce that was put together by Peter Dutton and Mathias Cormann to protect Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership. Malcolm Turnbull hasn’t shown strength here, and hasn’t bought this matter to a vote in the Australian Parliament. We will make our position clear in due course once we’ve seen some of this detail.
JOURNALIST: Just on another issue, is Labor talking to Pauline Hanson about referring Malcolm Roberts to the High Court?
BUTLER: You’ll have to put that to the Senate I’m sorry. Thanks very much.