Super Wednesday: 15/0217

February 15, 2017





MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator, spokesperson on finance and trade. Good morning to you Senator.


ABRAHAM: Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator, Education Minister, welcome.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM, LIBERAL SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA: Good morning, I’m sort of chuckling away at the image of David on his hand and knees with his head peering through a cat flap.

ABRAHAM: (laughing) well the cat is enjoying it. Mark Butler, Federal Member for Port Adelaide, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy, National President of the ALP. Mark Butler, welcome to the program.


ABRAHAM: I should say by the way Mark Butler, seeing you on television last night my wife said you are going handsomely grey.

BUTLER: (Laughing)

HANSON-YOUNG: The silver fox.

BUTLER: That’s lifted my spirits.

ABRAHAM: Yes, I said what about me and she said you’re just going grey.

BIRMINGHAM: That was a Valentine’s Day message for you Mark, from Mrs Abraham.

BUTLER: Better late than never.

ABRAHAM: (Laughing)

BUTLER: Send my fondest regards.

ABRAHAM: Are you having work on your hair or is it just natural?

BUTLER: No it’s just the natural process of ageing.

ABRAHAM: (Laughing)

BUTLER: I’ve had grey temples for a couple of decades actually.

ABRAHAM: Well we’re all going grey in Adelaide with power prices. Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham, Education Minister, key member of the Turnbull Cabinet. Do you think South Australians can justifiably say we are sick of this? Here is the Prime Minister now saying we all live in a socialist paradise, it sounds like he is bagging our state yet again rather than coming up with a concrete solution. People are probably sick of the blame game and want solutions.

BIRMINGHAM: I think people absolutely want solutions and so we are undertaking the work of trying to address some of the market issues. We did make sure after the state-wide blackout through reforms that there are two gas-fired power generators available at all time to try and deal with the issues that the excessive reliance on renewables and non-synchronise energy have created. We’ve got the Finkel Review looking at how we can better structure the market. We’ve opened up action in terms of the potential for investment in terms of storage capabilities, things like pumped hydro. These are real actions that we are trying to take to fix a problem. But it’s a problem that could only get worse if Mark and Bill Shorten get their way in terms of pursing a 50 per cent national renewable energy target in the future, which they won’t even say, and Bill Shorten just refused on AM to say how much it would cost or how it would be done.

ABRAHAM: Mark Butler.

BUTLER: Well this is the problem with a government that is in its fourth year. It really can’t say anything about the plan it has to renew our electricity system across the country, not just in South Australia -

ABRAHAM: They’ve got a lot to say about South Australia.

BUTLER: That’s right but all it can do is criticize and oppose. It has no plan, Malcolm Turnbull and Simon Birmingham –

ABRAHAM: (Talking over) but you’re now saying –

BUTLER: If I could finish. Malcolm Turnbull and Simon Birmingham talk about pumped hydro storage technology, well research and development in that has been funded by the renewable energy agency for quite some time. An agency they were trying to abolish only a few months ago. So that is nothing particularly new.

They’ve cut off the idea of an emissions intensity scheme in December, which was recommended by everyone in the industry and every expert. All they’ve got really on the table is a plan to build new coal-fired power stations including as I read in The Australian newspaper one on the Lefevre Peninsula, in the middle of Adelaide, which is just extraordinary.

ABRAHAM: Do you concede that there needs to be a proper balance of energy sources, and that is a problem for South Australia?

BUTLER: We have always said there needs to be a coherent national plan that deals with the retirement of our existing electricity infrastructure, three quarters of which we are told are already operating beyond its design life; and the replacement by new infrastructure that will deliver the best possible mix of electricity into the future -

ABRAHAM: But we don’t have that do we? We do not have that in South Australia because we rushed head long into a 40 per cent renewable target which we are at and yet the government says it is going to keep going, it wants to get to 50 per cent.

BIRMINGHAM: Which Mark Butler wants to extend nationally.

BUTLER: Malcom Turnbull continues to drag South Australia through the mud. What we’ve been trying to do is point out some facts about this. All of the outages in South Australia over the past 12 months have been caused by storm damage to poles or wires or transmission towers, with only one exception and that was the outage that occurred last week. That occurred because all of our gas generation that had been sitting there costing hundreds of millions of dollars was not switched on because the federal regulator did not order it –

ABRAHAM: Mark Butler that is not factually correct.

BUTLER: It is. On Wednesday –

ABRAHAM: I’m not talking about Wednesday, I’m talking about this question, we will have a report out from AEMO today. It’s coming out in the afternoon so they have learnt to bring these things out after question time.

BUTLER: There’s still a question time tomorrow.

ABRAHAM: Yes but previous AEMO reports including into the state-wide blackout, subsequent reports have looked at the question of renewables and the problem about trying to kick-start a system without synchronist energy.

BIRMINGHAM: Matthew just a very quick quote from one of the recent AEMO reports on this. Talking about wind energy, “the growing proportion of this type of generating plant within the generation portfolio is leading to more periods of low inertia and low available fault levels.”

That is what AEMO, the regulator is saying. That’s the factual quote from them about of course problems that an excessive reliance on wind and renewables is creating within the grid and the instability it is creating.

ABRAHAM: Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator, spokesperson on finance and trade.

HANSON-YOUNG: Doesn’t this just show what is wrong with the entire system. You’ve got a bunch of politicians bickering amongst themselves. You’ve got the Coalition using South Australia’s power crisis as an excuse and an example to beat their own drum in terms of their own war on renewable energy. South Australian’s don’t give two hoots about the ideological battle going on here in Canberra. What they want is to be able to turn their lights on, have their air conditioners working, and make sure their heaters are on. To do that we need a proper plan and we need some proper analysis about how to deliver it, including storage options –

ABRAHAM: Do you see as a Green to do that, a rush into a big mix of renewable energy without stable baseload power is not enabling them to turn on their fridges, turn on their air-conditioners and their lights when they want them?

HANSON-YOUNG: Do you know Matt, I think the biggest problem here is that the market rules are rigged against renewable energy and being able to deliver those storage options.

ABRAHAM: Sarah Hanson-Young the market favours renewable energy. It subsidises $50 a kw hour, it gets $30 extra on the market –

HANSON-YOUNG: No it favours the big power companies who decide that when the pries are as high as they can possibly be so they can cash in and make big profits. South Australians are being screwed from the big power companies. AEMO are not independent enough to have the teeth to fix it. Unless we fix the market rules, unless we have proper investment in storage, none of this is going to be solved. Pretending that you save South Australia’s power prices by building a new coal-fired power station or just letting the gas companies continue to reap massive profit is not going to solve the problem.

ABRAHAM: Let’s move onto the economy and the decision by the Nick Xenophon Team to block a raft of savings measures. Simon Birmingham is the Government now giving up on that and will it frame a May budget with tax increases or spending cuts?

BIRMINGHAM: Matthew we are not giving up on anything. Since the election last year we have delivered $22 billion worth in savings with our continual efforts to try to repair the budget from excessive spending commitments in previous years. We will keep working hard at that and we will keep working to convince the Xenophon team and others in the Crossbench, or the Labor Party, or the Greens to support savings –

ABRAHAM: But are you consider making either the temporary deficient levy permanent or increasing, as Nick Xenophon suggested, a slight increase in the Medicare levy for everybody?

BIRMINGHAM: Well I’m not going to foreshadow budget decisions that certainly haven’t been taken yet and about which I am not directly a player in terms of the decisions of the Expenditure Review Committee of Cabinet and how that frames the budget. But I do know that we will absolutely fight as hard as we can to get savings in place, to keep bringing down the extent of the deficit, which we have had success at to date. And of course we have seen with the Senate overtime, and we did late last year, that there will be occasions where it looks like there is no hope but then it will find a breakthrough mechanism and we will actually achieve many of the things that we want to do.

ABRAHAM: Would it be cruel to increase taxes at a time when you are expecting a $30 billion windfall on the rising iron ore price?

BIRMINGHAM: Well all of those factors will of course be considered in the budget. We have faced some of the lowest commodity prices on record, coinciding with downturn of the investment in the mining sector. Now we are seeing the benefits of that investment in terms of increased exports, which is good news. There have been some recoveries in commodity prices, which is good news, and the budget will reflect all of those matters. But we won’t be making the mistakes of previous years and just living off a boom period of time, we have to make sure the budget is sustainable into the future and taking a very cautious approach given the fluctuations we’ve seen in commodity prices.

ABRAHAM: Mark Butler, is there any movement from Labor’s camp on this? If the result of this is the Senate pretty much running the show now, we are either going to see an increase in the Medicare levy, which would affect most people, or the temporary deficit levy, which affects those on incomes over $180,000.

BUTLER: Well I hope this last 24 hours shows this Government has finally given up on some of these cuts to low-income families, to pensioners, to young people; that they failed to get through the senate this week. These are cuts from the infamous 2014 budget from Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott, and they’ve really been flogging this dead horse for almost three years. So hopefully they have given up on these cuts that have been rejected so many times by the Senate and by the community, so they are returning maybe to a revenue question. We do have some ideas about that.

First of all, we should be looking at the $50 billion tax cut the Government keeps insisting on, almost $8 billion of which will go to the four big banks. That is simply not a priority for the nation and they should shelve that. We’ve got ideas about cutting back the negative gearing arrangements which would be good for the budget but also give those young people trying to buy into the home market an even break as well. We’ve had ideas about how to get a better balance between revenue and spending in the budget for some time now but this Government has just been barrelling away on these terrible cuts that came out of the 2014 budget.

ABRAHAM: You’re listening to Super Wednesday on ABC Adelaide, Matthew Abraham with you. Sarah Hanson-Young as finance and trade spokesperson is the Government wasting its breath now trying to get these budget measures through? It is going to have to increase taxes.

HANSON-YOUNG: Look I think the first thing the Government is going to have to recognise is that the Senate is doing what the Australian people want, we are standing up against the idea of making the most vulnerable people pay for big tax cuts that the Government wants to give to big business. As a point of reference the Government wants to give $50 billion to big business, a big whack of that is going to go to the big four banks. The Commonwealth Bank only yesterday posted a $5 billion profit. I don’t think they need any more help from the Australian taxpayer. So rather than blaming people who are disabled which is where this Government is going with this; rather than picking on the most vulnerable how about we reign in those tax cuts for big business, how about we tackle negative gearing and capital gains tax, and what about that $4 billion the Government, together with One Nation, got through the Senate to give the wealthiest Australian’s a tax cut last year.

ABRAHAM: Simon Birmingham?

BIRMINGHAM: It is good to see the Labor Party and the Greens are sharing their talking points. But seriously, and firstly, because Sarah wanted to play the scare tactics then, we will fully fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme, there is no doubt about that. The point we have been making this week is that it can either be funded by –

HANSON-YOUNG: But you’re going to blame disabled people on the way through. Let’s see how that campaign goes Birmo.

BIRMINGHAM: It will be funded one way or another but it can only be funded by higher debt, higher taxes and by finding savings elsewhere. Our preference was to see savings delivered elsewhere and that remains our preference.

HANSON-YOUNG: If it is about priority then why does the Government want to pay –

BIRMINGHAM: (talking over) it is and that’s why –

HANSON-YOUNG: (talking over) then why do big banks get a tax cut and the disabled people have to pay?

BIRMINGHAM: Labor and the Greens seem to think Australia can live in a sort of isolationist paradise and ignore the facts that company tax rates around the world are going down –

HANSON-YOUNG: I don’t think the Commonwealth Bank needs any taxpayer funding.

BIRMINGHAM: - If we want to actually keep creating jobs. Jobs that generate taxes that support workers, jobs that maintain our standard of living we’ve got to –

HANSON-YOUNG: I’d be investing in schools if that was the case. Investing in schools, nurses, new jobs that Australia needs.

ABRAHAM: Speaking of schools, Mark Butler coming to you Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy, the Labor Party certainly in South Australia has been spending some $700 thousand of taxpayers money on what is effectively a political front for Gonski at the last Federal election and subsequently we read this morning in the Financial Review to Ken Boston who was a member of the review panel, a schools expert, has attacked Labor’s big spending schools policy saying, “its $4.5 billion to restore Gonski funding to schools will not solve the problems of Australia’s education.” He said, “the report did not see additional funding as the key to improving Australian education.” Doesn’t that gut your campaign for the letter of the law on Gonski.

BUTLER: No it doesn’t, with the greatest respect to Ken Boston it doesn’t, and Labor’s reforms to school funding did not pretend that money was the entire answer but equally you can’t improve the performance of our schools system without ensuring that there is proper needs-based funding arrangements in place.

ABRAHAM: He says that Gonski was a fundamental reimagining of Australian education within the framework of existing and available resources, not simply an argument for more resources for schools.

BUTLER: It was quite clear to us that the school resources standard, having that across the country meant that schools particularly in lower socio-economic areas particularly schools in regional areas, with high Indigenous or disabled student numbers needed additional money. That is the commitment that the Labor Party made while we were in Government, it is the commitment we continue to make today. But it wasn’t the only commitment that flowed from those reforms, there was the national curriculum, there was a whole range of –

ABRAHAM: What about the dollar amount from Jay Weatherill in South Australia?

BUTLER: We maintain the view that we need additional money put into our schools to lift the performance of our schools and give the youngest Australians the best possible start in life. We don’t walk away from that at all.

ABRAHAM: Simon Birmingham, is this a get out of jail card for you as Education Minister?

BIRMINGHAM: Well it is just a highlight of the facts. We are providing record and growing levels of school funding, and we will keep doing that. There needs to be absolutely adequate levels of funding and that is why it is at record levels, that is why it is growing. But as Ken Boston said, Bill Shorten the Labor Party when they implemented the Gonski reforms corrupted the Gonski reforms. They weren’t actually the Gonski reforms, it wasn’t a Gonski report that said there needed to be billions and billions of dollars of extra money. It said it needed to be better distributed; it needed to be better used. And of course they are the types of things that we are focusing on doing.

ABRAHAM: Dr Boston according to this said, “the only reason the Gonski report had recommended an extra $5 billion to be spent on schools was because the then Labor Government gave it guarantee.” So it wasn’t the Gonski report.

BIRMINGHAM: Well even then –

ABRAHAM: You just said then it wasn’t.

BIRMINGHAM: Even then Matthew, what Bill Shorten went to the last election promising was far more than an extra $5 billion worth of spending on schools –

ABRAHAM: But you just said it wasn’t in the report, it didn’t recommend any extra money?

BIRMINGHAM: As you rightly quoted Ken Boston the Gonski Report did not see additional funding as the key to improving Australian education. Yes they had their hands tied, he actually said that commitment of Julia Gillard was an, “Albatross around their necks” those were his words about how he saw the way Gillard and the Government framed it. And of course it has created a huge capacity for the states to engage in cost shifting, we saw more data just the other week that as we have handed millions of extra dollars over to the South Australian Government, they haven’t increased the funding for schools, they’ve cut their first student funding in instances. So it’s not actually seeing more funding going into the system, the real tragedy is making sure that in future school funding arrangements, that any continued increase in Federal funding, which we will keep delivering, must see real maintenance funding by the states and territories too.

ABRAHAM: Just finally, Sarah Hanson-Young.

HANSON-YOUNG: Look I think realistically parents want to know how much money their school is going to get. When you look at the figures, $1.5 million is going to be cut form Unley High School, $1.6 million from Adelaide High School –

BIRMINGHAM: Nothing is being cut from anywhere, Sarah -

HANSON-YOUNG: Programs are going to be cut -

BIRMINGHAM: That’s bullshit to be perfectly honest, Sarah –

HANSON-YOUNG: No it is true –

BIRMINGHAM: Funding is going up each and every year into the future –

HANSON-YOUNG: South Australian schools –

BIRMINGHAM: (Talking over)

HANSON-YOUNG: Birmo be honest. If your own state South Australia -

BIRMINGHAM: No you start being honest Sarah –

HANSON-YOUNG: Its South Australian schools that you cut the money from –

ABRAHAM: Simon Birmingham you said bullshit, you’re pretty worked up there.

BIRMINGHAM: Well when you are going around saying (talking over by Hanson-Young) we are actually growing –

HANSON-YOUNG: South Australian schools have never got –

BIRMINGHAM: (talking over)

HANSON-YOUNG: I’ve obviously got under your skin Birmo.

BIRMINGHAM: Because you’re not right Sarah.

HANSON-YOUNG: No, when Politician’s don’t like the truth being told that’s when they start getting rabid.

BIRMINGHAM: Sarah you’re a Politician too –

HANSON-YOUNG: Hundreds of millions of dollars are going to be cut from South Australian schools.

ABRAHAM: Sarah Hanson-Young thank you Greens Senator, Simon Birmingham Education Minister, Mark Butler Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy. That’s Super Wednesday.