PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
MARK BUTLER MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY: Thank you all for coming. There have been some very important reports from the United Nations that have been prepared in the lead up for the 22nd climate change conference which is scheduled for Marrakech next month. This UN report confirms what local report, after report in Australia has said. Namely, that Malcolm Turnbull’s climate change and energy policies will not constrain carbon pollution levels in Australia. Let alone reduce them. They’ve confirmed that the commitments Malcolm Turnbull made on Australia’s behalf at Paris in December, commitments he made to future of generation of Australians are simply not worth the paper they are written on if they can’t produce a policy framework.
It’s important to say it is not just the United Nations and various non-government agencies here in Australia have been saying this. The government’s own data, which they released in the lead up to the election campaign in May, also confirmed that carbon pollution levels started to rise for the first time in a decade last year. The government’s own data confirmed that carbon pollution levels in 2020 will be 3 per cent higher than they were in 2000. Not the 5 per cent cut this this government has committed itself to. Under this policy, the policy of Malcolm Turnbull that he inherited from Tony Abbott carbon pollution levels according to the government’s own data will rise year, upon year, upon year. If this government remains in place till 2020 which I hope it obviously doesn’t, but if this government remains in place with existing policies until 2020 carbon pollution levels will be 6 ½ per cent higher than they were when they came into government. Compare that to the 8 per cent cut that we saw under the turn of the last Labor government.
Australia is now pretty much the only advanced economy in the world where carbon pollution levels are coming up, not going down. Now this UN report must serve as a loud and clear wake-up call to Malcolm Turnbull, he simply has to stare down the agenda of Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce and the hard right of the Liberal party on climate change and energy policy. He’s got to put in a place a climate change policy that caps, and reduces carbon pollution level. He’s got to step away from this reckless attack on renewable energy that he’s launched since the South Australian power outage a couple of weeks ago. In question time yesterday, Malcolm Turnbull confirmed he has no policy to support any building of renewable energy beyond 2020. It’s time he made a commitment to put such a policy in place.
BUTLER: It’s now been a considerable time since the department released any projections beyond 2020. Projections that were last formulated for 2030 projected a substantial increase in carbon pollution levels. That’s consistent with the work that has been done with every serious agency here in Australia that’s looked at this. Just to confirm, the government’s own data showed this. With this government’s approach to renewable energy, pollution levels will rise year, upon year, upon year. After coming down by 8 per cent during our term in government, they are now on their way back up.
JOURNALIST: How will Labor get to its 2030 targets?
BUTLER: Well we have said very clearly that we think there should be a comprehensive policy across all sectors of the economy. We took to election a policy with a 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030. A target where we worked very closely with the industry, we said we would put in place a serious cap on pollution levels and on the very large polluters in our economy. A fast track to better standards for motor vehicles here in Australia; we are now pretty much the only major country in the world that doesn’t have emission standards on its light vehicle fleet. We would also stop the return to broad scale land clearing that we have seen in Queensland, and that Mike Baird has forged out of New South Wales as well. None of those things are being done by this government.
BUTLER: The current plan only operates to 2020. It will only support building projects over the next few years. We are happy to support the existing renewable energy target. We wish it wasn’t cut. We wish Tony Abbott hadn’t launched the attack he launched in 2014. But we’re happy to support that RET between now and 2020. The concern is what happens after that. Malcolm Turnbull confirmed in question time; there is no federal policy to support any building, not one single solar panel beyond 2020. While frankly large investors have billions of dollars to invest in these projects, creating thousands of jobs. They need to know the rules, if any will be for investing in this issue beyond 2020. That’s what we call on Malcolm Turnbull to do, stop messing around with the sort of right ideology that Barnaby Joyce and Tony Abbott have on this and set a renewable energy target for the next decade.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the states should stop setting their own targets in renewable energy (inaudible)?
BUTLER: I think the preference would be for there to be a single national target, and the states could work within that. We saw this happen 10 or 15 years ago with John Howard when he refused to put in place a serious renewable energy policy. The states filled the gap because they recognise the community expects their government’s supporting the expansion of renewable energy. We’re seeing this now; the state governments are not going to simply follow Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott into doing nothing on renewable energy. They have heard a loud clear message from their communities that they want renewable energy. Really, the onus is on Malcolm Turnbull to decide whether he is going to show national leadership here and have a discussion about what an ambitious renewable energy target to 2030 will be. Because if he does continue to vacate the field, and essentially send a message that there will be nothing at a national level beyond 2030, well of course the states will fill that vacuum.
JOURNALIST: But what would Labor do, sit down around a table and try and get to one figure? ACT is looking at 100 per cent, Queensland is looking at 50 per cent, how do you get that working for the country?
BUTLER: We work very closely with the industry to develop our target of 50 per cent for the country. Now different states will move at different paces depending on their appetite for this sort of investment, but also the different levels of resources in the state. Queensland has fantastic solar resources and one would expect Queensland would be a leader in the role out of large-scale solar projects. So states will move at different paces perhaps but there needs to be an overarching national policy that gives investors’ confidence that this is a good place to invest. Remember Australia has some of the best renewable energy sources in the world; certainly some of the best solar sources that you can find anywhere on the face of the earth. But also fantastic wind resources, wave resources, geothermal resources. We have some of the best minds in our universities and CSIRO that are constantly pushing the envelope in this area on technology. We should be a leader, we were once a leader in this area, and we should be aiming to get back there.
BUTLER: Well if every serious observer has said that Tony Abbott’s decision to rip up the nation’s entire climate change policies in 2014, we’re going to have the result that we’ve see now on paper. Carbon pollution levels have started to rise again as soon as Tony Abbott was able to tear up all of our climate change policy. He also attacked the renewable energy industry, which meant that coal-fired power was able to increase its share of the electricity market. We’ve seen pollution levels rise especially in the electricity industry. So the conclusions from the United Nations are not new, in the sense they have been state a number of times by different agencies here in Australia. What we are seeing now is a microscope at an international level that is very squarely focused on our country.
JOURNALIST: How do you counter the electricity price rise argument that seems to be gaining momentum in the wake of the South Australian blackout?
BUTLER: Well a couple of things, firstly we took to the election a policy that would have a market leader that was really only operating within the electricity sector, recommended by the energy market commission itself and by the governments own climate change authority. The energy market commission said there would be no significant impact on consumers, as it would be a fully internalised market for the electricity generation sector. But on renewable I would say this, even Tony Abbot’s own hand-picked panel, confirmed electricity prices would be lower with a renewable energy target, then they would be without. Even Dick Warburton and his committee, hand-picked by Tony Abbott to attack the renewable energy industry would not come to any conclusion other than that.