DOORSTOP: 13/02/2017

February 13, 2017







MARK BUTLER MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY, MEMBER FOR PORT ADELAIDE: Thanks for coming out with the extraordinary revelations this morning in the Fairfax newspapers. The Australian Institute took a freedom of information request to obtain details of advice given to the Prime Minister and the Minister for Energy during the very significant storm event that took place in South Australia that led to a state-wide blackout in September last year. It is now very clear that the Prime Minister was clearly advised by his agencies and his own department that the blackout that happened in South Australia was not caused by renewable energy but instead was caused by unprecedented damage, what AEMO calls the most significant damage to the power network seen in Australia. This was a storm event that ripped up 23 very large transmission towers and caused a terrible collapse in voltage and frequency that led to the state-wide blackout.


Now it is quite clear from today’s revelations that the Prime Minister made a deliberate decision to ignore that advice and to lie to the Australian people about the cause of this very serious event. Not only did he lie to the nation, he lied to them during an emergency, while state emergency officials, people from our defence forces, were out in the field protecting the community from an ongoing risk caused by this extraordinary storm event, which also led to very significant flooding.


Malcolm Turnbull needs to come clean. He needs to admit to the Australian people that he has been playing politics with a very serious energy crisis that is enveloping the whole country. We’ve seen this over the last few days as the extreme heat event that hit South Australia in the middle of last week, started to hit New South Wales as well and impacted their electricity system - an electricity system that is more reliant on coal-fired power then any jurisdiction in the world.


We’ve also seen a number of other revelations over the course of the last couple of days. State Liberal Parties around Australia have now joined Malcolm Turnbull in their determination to ensure there is no building of renewable energy projects beyond 2020. Let’s be clear about this, when the state Liberal Parties that have come out this morning saying they intend to join Malcolm Turnbull in renewable energy policy, it is a policy to stop building renewable energy projects in 2020. So that there will be nothing built beyond that year.


There is no plan that Malcolm Turnbull has to renew our electricity infrastructure; three quarters of which is already operating beyond its design life. He ignored expert advice in December to adopt an emissions intensity scheme just in the same way he ignored expert advice about the causes of the state-wide blackout in September. His only plan, the only thing he has talked about over this period of an enveloping energy crisis, is to build new coal-fired power generation in spite of the fact that every expert and every person from the electricity industry says that is simply unrealistic. Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: Josh Frydenberg was on television this morning and he said that what Government Ministers were saying at the time is entirely consistent with what these reports today indicate. What do you make of his assertion?


BUTLER: Well it is quite clearly an assertion that completely contradicts the FOI details. The advice that was being given to the Prime Minister and to the Minister Josh Frydenberg during that event and in the immediate aftermath was that this event was caused by a lack of frequency because of the unprecedented damage to the power network. The Chief Scientist said at the time that that sort of tripping out of the generation would have happened whether it was wind-based generation or gas-fired generation. No form of generation can survive that catastrophic collapse of frequency that you got due to 23 transmission towers being ripped out of the ground by those extraordinary winds.


Josh Frydenberg is still trying to cover up the fact that the Prime Minister clearly lied to the Australian people about the causes of that event because it suited his political purpose and his determination to run a campaign against renewable energy.


JOURNALIST: Beyond an admission and perhaps an apology from the PM and others what else would you like to see happen?


BUTLER: What we have seen over the last 24 hours is a very broad coalition, led by the Business Council, come out and say look we have an energy crisis on our hands in this country. We need to renew our infrastructure; we need to ensure there is a reliable, affordable supply of electricity to households and businesses. This is not a South Australian issue, we’ve seen in recent days this is an issue across all jurisdictions in Australia. It is time for a mature discussion about how we build a policy for the future and get away from the hysterical campaign against renewable energy and the sort of stunts we have seen from the Treasurer of this Nation bringing big lumps of coal into the question time chamber.


JOURNALIST: How best would you describe their attitude at the time, and now?


BUTLER: Well I think it is simply pure politicking. The Prime Minister clearly took a decision in September to use the South Australian blackout as an opportunity to start a campaign against renewable energy. That campaign has not stopped since September. What we need to see is a Prime Minister that recognises the gravity of the crisis emerging in this country and his deep responsibility to lead a mature discussion about how to deal with that crisis.


JOURNALIST: You touched on it earlier but I just wanted to double-check with you. What’s Labor’s attitude towards a single national approach to energy targets?


BUTLER: We have always had the view that this is a national system that requires national policy. We would like to see a position where there is an emissions intensity scheme, that is recommended by the National Energy Markets Commission, the Chief Scientist, the CSIRO, all of the industry and all State Governments, as the centrepiece of a national policy that allows investors to start to renew and to rebuild our electricity generation. We would also like to see a national renewable energy target beyond 2020. That has always been the position of Federal Labor going back two decades.


JOURNALIST: And yet you are laying the boot into those three Liberal Oppositions that have committed now to that national target.


BUTLER: Well there is a national target to 2020. It is a bipartisan target and we support it very strongly. The problem that the position the Liberal Party announcements presents is that there is no policy beyond 2020. That is the debate we should be having. There is a bipartisan target for the next three years but beyond then there is nothing to support the building of renewable energy projects.


Thanks very much everyone.