RN Drive

May 31, 2016



PATRICIA KARVELAS: Its six past six, and today’s most significant news from the Federal Election Trail was Labor’s promise of 500 million dollars for the Great Barrier Reef. But how much of it is new money, where is it coming from and what difference will it make? Mark Butler is the Shadow Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water and the ALP’s National President. He’s on the phone from Cairns where the announcement was made. Welcome back to RN Drive.




KARVELAS: Just before we get to the Reef, is there any point having more Leaders’ Debates if they’re going to be kind of rehearsed and evasive as last night’s was? It was kind of a bipartisan effort to not tell us anything we don’t know.


BUTLER: Well, I didn’t get to see the debate unfortunately because I was on a plane to Cairns for today’s announcement but I’ve seen a bit of coverage of it and I think, you know these are important opportunities for people to tune in if they want to and to see the two alternative Prime Ministers talk about their plans for the country. Now, it didn’t necessarily sort of tick the box of every journalist it wouldn’t seem, but I think these are really important parts of an election campaign.


KARVELAS: On carbon emissions targets, Malcolm Turnbull said, ‘I believe we should move with the global community rather than taking unilateral action that will not influence global action.’ Labor’s target of 45% reduction by 2030 based on 2005 levels goes significantly further than most other developed nations including big trading partners. Why should Australia put itself in that position?


BUTLER: No, it doesn’t. It’s about on par with countries like Germany. It’s substantially below countries like UK. It certainly is a little bit higher than Canada’s at the moment but the new Prime Minister Trudeau has said that he’ll be lifting his target and I think given his track record, we can be confident that will happen. Even with the 45% target that we have announced Australia would still have either the highest or the second highest, depending on what Canada ultimately does, the highest pollution per head of population in the OECD. So, this nonsense from Mr. Turnbull is simply a pretty pathetic attempt to try and justify the fact that he has lost all of his ambition – all of his commitment to strong action on climate change – and is handcuffed to a policy legacy of Tony Abbott’s.


KARVELAS: Today, you’ve announced 500 million dollars over five years for the Great Barrier Reef, how much of that is actually new money?


BUTLER: Well, the Government announced a sum of money over six years in their budget a few weeks ago. So, additional to the Government’s $123 million that they’ve announced, we’ve announced an extra $377 million which brings the total to 500 over 5 years. This is the largest financial commitment ever made to the health of the Reef and it follows a very deep engagement by us with stakeholders about what is necessary, particularly to deal with the second most significant threat to the Reef, and that is, according to the scientists, the quality of the water that is running off from catchments.


KARVELAS: So what will the money be actually spent on then?


BUTLER: Well we’ve got three pillars in there and we’ve based it pretty squarely on that advice that we’ve gotten from stakeholders and also a Scientific Task Force Report that the Queensland Government put together that was released last week and there’ll be money for that $500 million injected into scientific research. Particularly in trying to deal with some of the loss of capacity at CSIRO in marine science and climate science, particularly focused on reef health. There’ll also be substantial money, the vast bulk of the funds, going into direct environmental projects which particularly will focus on reducing the run off, particularly the fertiliser run off and sediment run-off from cane growing and grazing in the catchment areas, so that the water quality improves in the reef area. And lastly, but not leastly, an overhaul of Reef management. The Queensland Auditor-General, the Scientific Task Force and pretty much every other stakeholder who looks at this says that the approach to managing the Reef, the programmes, the management authorities are far too uncoordinated and need to be brought together.


KARVELAS: The 100 million dollars for the CSIRO and other institutions that you’ve announced, is that entirely up for grabs in terms of where it actually could be spent?


BUTLER: So we’ve suggested we would allocate 50 million dollars to CSIRO, I think all of your listeners will have gotten some sense at least of the massive loss of capacity in the CSIRO resulting from cuts firstly from Tony Abbott’s budget in 2014 and more recently particularly the cuts to Oceans and Atmosphere Division and the Land and Water Division, which impacts very seriously the climate research that CSIRO does. So that’s half of the 100 million. The rest of the 100 million would be essentially up for grabs in a competitive bid from institutions that would be well known to any of your listeners, who take an interest in the Reef, things like the James Cook University, the Institute of Marine Science or AIMS, the University of Queensland, the Bureau of Meteorology. Those sorts of organisations that have been doing not just some of the best reef research in Australia for many years, but really some of the best reef research in the world.


KARVELAS: Okay, Environment Minister Greg Hunt has spoken on this. Here’s what he says on the 100 million dollars which you say is for coordination,


GREG HUNT: “They have 100 million dollars to deal with bureaucracy and they can’t say whether they’re creating, what they’re doing, it does sound suspiciously like its funding for Queensland Government Departments and bureaucratic activities.”


KARVELAS: So are you spending 100 million dollars on bureaucracy? Is he right?


BUTLER: Well I’m not sure whether Greg has taken the time to read the report from the Water Science Taskforce that was released last week, but there are a range of recommendations in there that don’t go to bureaucracy but they go to the sort of programmes that are delivered by these management authorities: the Marine Park Authority, NRM bodies, a range of other bodies that really do have a hand in trying to restore the health of the reef. So, maybe Greg should go and read that Taskforce Report, the Queensland Auditor-General Report from 2015 and he’d get more of a sense I think of the sorts of things we have in mind.


KARVELAS: But when you say you’re reprioritising 123 million dollars from other Government programmes that means cuts doesn’t it?


BUTLER: No, it doesn’t.


KARVELAS: What does re-prioritising mean then?


BUTLER: Well the 123 million dollars that was announced by the Government in their budget only several weeks ago as we understand it, according to reports, hasn’t yet been allocated to particular programmes. So if we’re elected on July the 2nd, given that the money has only been announced in the past several weeks and not yet allocated to particular programmes, we would take the view that we should allocate that in a way that’s consistent with the announcements we’ve made. That ultimately of course depends on the result of the election but I think that would be a pretty unremarkable position for people listening.


KARVELAS: And where is the rest of the money coming from? Are you identifying savings that offset this extra spending?


BUTLER: Well you know that we’ve announced a very large amount of savings in the past including in my own portfolio, savings from the abolition of the Emissions Reduction Fund and you know also that we’ve said as a fiscal rule according to the Shadow Treasurer and the Shadow Finance Minister, we will be saving more than we will be spending. So, you’ll be very confident, your listeners can be very confident that well before the Election there’ll be a full reconciliation of our spending initiatives and our saving initiatives. But just in my own portfolio, we’ve taken the decision that abolishing the Emissions Reduction Fund which is payment from on behalf of tax-payers to big polluters for things like this Great Barrier Reef Action Plan and doubling the Indigenous Rangers programme is a far better use of tax payers’ money.


KARVELAS: Well on other budget issues, why has Labor agreed to take 1 billion dollars out of ARENA, the renewable energy agency? Why is that a sort of lower priority than bureaucracy for the Reef, for example?


BUTLER: Well, first I don’t accept your characterisation that you seem to have adopted from Greg Hunt that we’re funding bureaucracy for the Reef, these are programmes directed at restoring reef health- and also for a reef that is in very great crisis at the moment so I just simply don’t accept your characterisation with the money being for bureaucracy.


KARVELAS: Why are you taking one billion dollars out of ARENA?


BUTLER: Well we haven’t taken the one billion dollars out of ARENA; the Government has taken 1.3 billion dollars out of ARENA. It has also decided not to proceed with its plans to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.


KARVELAS: Okay you’re not repealing that decision despite previous rhetoric. You’re supporting it.


BUTLER: We’ve heard the response from stakeholders about this and we’ve put 300 million dollars from the 1.3 billion taken out by the Government into particular programmes, community renewable programmes and concentrated solar thermal programmes. But we’ve said, given the response that we’ve heard about that, we would not seek to restore the cut made by the Government. What we’ve also said though is that grant funding is an important part of these renewable energy agency financing arrangements and we’d sit down with the ARENA Board if elected on July 2 and work out what the remaining funds, after the cuts made by Malcolm Turnbull, what the remaining funds would be allocated to.


KARVELAS: Can you confirm that Labor’s back-downs on the SchoolKids bonus and also the Pension Assets test didn’t go to Shadow Cabinet?


BUTLER: Well I’m not going to talk about Shadow Cabinet discussions, you know that Patricia, and-


KARVELAS: -Not really it’s a reasonable question.


BUTLER: And other journalists have tried that with a number of other Members of the Shadow Cabinet over the past, and I think you’ll get the same response from the Liberal Party. We don’t talk about internal decision making processes.


KARVELAS: Okay, isn’t it meant to go through Shadow Cabinet? It’s a huge decision, isn’t that where it should happen?


BUTLER: I’ve given my response, Patricia. There’s obviously been a great deal of discussion for three years over these policy decisions and those that we will oppose and what the ultimate position will be at the Election. I’m not going to go into internal discussions of the various groups that make those decisions including the Shadow Cabinet.


KARVELAS: So, there’s just another budget measure that I wouldn’t mind asking you about before I let you go. We haven’t heard from Labor on this and its very relevant to you obviously you’re a South Australian MP, would a Labor Government reinstate 971 million dollars in car industry assistance?


BUTLER: Well there are still 32 days before the Election and there are many, many more announcements that will be made by other Shadow Ministers and I’ll leave all of those for the following 32 days.


KARVELAS: So, you might reinstate it or you might not. You can’t tell me?


BUTLER: That’s something you can put to the relevant Shadow Minister and we’ll be making many, many more announcements in the 32 days before July 2.


KARVELAS: And just finally, Malarndirri McCarthy has been pre-selected to replace Nova Peris in the Senate. How much pressure is there on her?


BUTLER: On Malarndirri?




BUTLER: Well I think she’ll make a fantastic contribution to the Senate. She’s a woman with significant experience both in journalism and also as a Member of the Assembly in the Northern Territory, including as a Minister in the Northern Territory Government, so I think she’ll make a wonderful contribution. And look, there’s pressure on everyone who gets elected, assuming she will be elected to the Northern Territory Representation in the Senate, as there are for all Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.


KARVELAS: Many thanks for your time this evening.


BUTLER: Thanks, Patricia.


KARVELAS: That’s the Shadow Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Water and he’s also the National President of the ALP, Mark Butler. And we did request an interview with the Environment Minister Greg Hunt but he was unavailable.