SATURDAY, 12 AUGUST 2017
MARK BUTLER MP, SHADOW MISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY, MEMBER FOR PORT ADELAIDE: Thanks everyone for coming out this afternoon in Adelaide. Adelaide has had to endure another piece of tired right-wing rhetoric from a Prime Minister who used to support clean energy but has adopted Tony Abbott’s crusade to hang onto the past in energy policy rather than embrace the future. And that is a real problem for Australia; because Australia is in the deep throes of an energy crisis.
Wholesale power prices under Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull have doubled, and power bills for Australians have gone up, and up, and up. What they need instead of more tired rhetoric is real action from this Government. We know what that action should be because we have the advice from the Chief Scientist, and only yesterday the Reserve Bank Governor added his voice to the long list of business voices that have said this Government must adopt a Clean Energy Target. That is going to start to unleash investment in the electricity sector and, as the Governor said yesterday, unleash investment more broadly across the economy which has become stifled because of the energy crisis.
JOURNALIST: Do you have any confidence that will actually happen though?
BUTLER: Well we’ve got advice from the Energy Markets Commission, from the Chief Scientist, from the Business Council and now from the Reserve Bank Governor that have all said this crisis is crippling household budgets, to use the words of the RBA Governor yesterday, but also crippling investment more broadly in the economy. The reason why is because we have had a complete absence of energy policy for four years under Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull.
Now we’ve said the Clean Energy Target is not our policy preference, but we are willing to put our policy aside - the policy that was endorsed by the Business Council and the electricity industry - and sit down with this Government and negotiate in the national interest. But Malcolm Turnbull is unable to get this through the Coalition Party Room. He’s unable and unwilling to stare down Tony Abbott, just as he wasn’t willing to stare him down on marriage equality, and actually, work in the national interest. And that is going to create more pain for households and more pain for businesses.
JOURNALIST: Can anything be done if they don’t come around on this then?
BUTLER: Well if they don’t come around on this, if Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t display more strength frankly than he displayed last week - in this case in relation to energy policy -households will continue to see their bills go up, and up, and up; and business viability will continue to be threatened.
Can I also address another question that has arisen today and that is really the latest revelations in regard to the marriage equality debate. Australians will remember that it was Malcolm Turnbull’s decision not to allow MPs and Senators to do their job and vote on this question, as really they should. It is his decision to spend $122 million on this postal survey, money that could be spent on so many other worthy things. Talking about energy policy, for example, it would allow 334,000 pensioners to keep their energy supplement - supplement of $365 a year that Malcolm Turnbull is trying to rip off of them.
But today we understand that, after foisting this divisive, damaging, wasteful survey on Australians; Malcolm Turnbull now intends to sit in the grandstand and watch it play out. Well, Australians expect their leaders to display the courage of their convictions. That is what you will get from Bill Shorten, it is even what you will get from Tony Abbott. But all we ever get from this shimmering shadow of a Prime Minister is weakness and constant surrender to the right-wing.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the yes campaign is at risk of failing because of disunity?
BUTLER: Well what we need is people, particularly in positions of leadership, if they are going to foist this wasteful, divisive survey on Australians, then to show the courage of their convictions. First and foremost that should be seen from the Prime Minister, as well as frankly from Ministers like Christopher Pyne, George Brandis and others. It is their decision for Australia to go through this process, they need to display the courage of their convictions and participate in it.
JOURNALIST: Should Cabinet Ministers be saying their views and advocating and campaigning for which they would be going?
BUTLER: Of course they should. It is their decision not to allow the usual process in the Parliament of debating and voting and, instead, to have this public campaign and the postal survey. Having done that, having foisted this wasteful campaign spending $122 million of taxpayer funds, it's a complete act of weakness for the Prime Minister then to say he is simply going to sit in the grandstand and watch it all play out.
JOURNALIST: So you’re saying Cabinet Ministers though should be out there saying these are our views, this is what you should be doing?
BUTLER: All people, particularly those people in leadership who foisted this campaign, foisted this postal survey on Australians, then for them to say we are going to sit in the grandstand and watch it play out I think is a complete abdication of their responsibilities.
JOURNALIST: The PM today has described Bill Shorten as the most dangerous left-wing leader of the Labor Party we have seen in generations. What is your response?
BUTLER: Frankly instead of rhetoric and division, Australia needs action from this Prime Minister and there is no area they need more action than in the area of energy. There is a clear blueprint from the Chief Scientist about how we can very quickly start to provide more investor confidence and, as a result, downward pressure on power bills for households and businesses, and that is actually delivering a Clean Energy Target.
But that will require him to stand up to Tony Abbott and the Coalition Party Room. It’s obviously much easier for him to engage in rhetoric and personal attacks against Bill Shorten. It would be a lot better if he simply did his job.
JOURNALIST: Would you agree then that he is the most left and dangerous leader of the Labor Party?
BUTLER: That is a ridiculous statement from a Prime Minister who is frankly out of his depth and struggling to do the job he is expected to do by Australians - which is to deliver in the national interest on policy issues that matter to them; not personal attacks, policy issues that will change their lives.
JOURNALIST: Malcolm Turnbull was quite explicit on his attack on Bill Shorten. He said that the CFMEU controls the party. Does the CFMEU control Bill Shorten?
BUTLER: It’s a ridiculous proposition. Bill Shorten has been endorsed by the full Labor Party as the Leader. He is the alternative Prime Minister leading a united, energised, focused Opposition in the Labor Party in the Federal Parliament. And he is very focused on making sure that between now and the next election he talks about issues that matter to Australians.
JOURNALIST: Why do you think senior Ministers are being told to play dead when it comes to the issue of same-sex marriage and the no campaign. What do you think they are trying to achieve?
BUTLER: I have no idea what the motive behind this is. I think Australians expect leaders to show the courage of their convictions, frankly whatever those convictions are. Whether they are for the yes case or the no case, they have foisted this process now on Australians, I think most Australians would expect their leaders to display the courage of their convictions and make the argument. That is what you are going to get from Bill Shorten and, as I said, that is what you are also going to get from Tony Abbott. Malcolm Turnbull is the one leader who is deciding to sit this out and frankly that is an abdication of his responsibility in a process that he has foisted upon us.
JOURNALIST: There was a rather astute tweet which was doing the rounds yesterday talking about Malcolm Turnbull paying $122 million for a plebiscite on same-sex marriage but has effective committed Australia to war with North Korea should America attack. Are you in support of Malcolm Turnbull’s comments yesterday and how committed he was to supporting America should this result in conflict?
BUTLER: The Labor Party (the Opposition) and the Government always take a bipartisan position in relation to national security. I think all Australians are deeply concerned about events on the Korean Peninsula and urge a process of de-escalation by all parties that will see a process of peace and denuclearisation on the Peninsula. But equally, there have been quite clear statements about our obligations that arise under the ANZUS Treaty that sees us stand with the United States, and the United States stand with Australia. Quite what form that takes follows a period of consultation between the parties, but I think the Opposition and the Government really do try as much as we possibly can to stand together on questions of national security.
JOURNALIST: You’ve just gone over it before but how would you describe it if people in Cabinet don’t say what their views are on the yes or no campaign. What do you think of that?
BUTLER: Well it was the Cabinet’s decision, most importantly the Prime Minister’s decision, not to allow the Parliament to do its job. This has been a matter debated within the Australian community for years. Most Australians just want it dealt with, whatever their views on the question of marriage equality, they just want it dealt with. I think most want Australian MPs and Senators to do the job they are paid to do - have a debate, then have a vote and deal with it. Instead, it was their decision to foist this on Australians. To have a campaign and then to have a postal survey. For them then to abdicate any responsibility to play a part in that, and to say that they are not going to show the courage of their own convictions, whether they are for marriage equality or against it, I just think that is an extraordinary proposition.
JOURNALIST: There has also been talk that there are more than 100,000 silent electors could be excluded from the postal vote. Do you then think it represents the views of most Australians?
BUTLER: Everyday we hear of another problem with this survey process. Leaving aside the potential legal invalidity of the process, which will be determined in due course by the High Court, we are very concerned about the ability of young people to participate in this process. There is a very short time for them to get on the electoral roll or make sure that, if they are on the roll, they're correctly addressed. There is the question of many, many tens of thousands of silent voters who will be disenfranchised from this process. We really urge all people to make sure that, if this process is going to proceed, they are on the electoral roll, and their address is correct so they can have a say in this survey.
JOURNALIST: Just finally the majority of people in Tony Abbott’s electorate actually support same-sex marriage. What message do you think that sends to him as he conducts his no campaign?
BUTLER: I’m not sure anything is going to shake Tony Abbott in his view about this survey. As I understand it 70 per cent, or thereabouts, of voters surveyed in Warringah support marriage equality. I think that reflects most surveys that we’ve seen and opinions polls over the past years, certainly the last several years. That is why it is really so bizarre that we simply don’t get on and have a debate about this in the Parliament and then vote. Australians have made their position clear, they have thought about this over many years as it has been debated in the public sphere. This is not particular to Australia - it is what has happened in most other countries to which we compare ourselves, and in all of those countries they’ve simply dealt with it. They’ve had the vote and they’ve proceeded to put in place marriage equality. That's what frankly Australia should do. Thanks very much everyone.