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Transcript of interview with Waleed Aly: ABC Radio National Drive: 15 October 2013: Discussing the Government's draft legislation to repeal the carbon tax

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HOST: Thank you very much for your time.

BUTLER: Hi Waleed.

HOST: I assume you’ve had a look at the bills and your position’s unchanged? You’ll be voting against them?

BUTLER: Well, it’s a pretty depressing set of bills, I must say, for the millions of Australians who think that action on climate change is an important thing. This is a pretty depressing day because the bills tear down a whole lot of things, but what’s completely absent from them is any idea about an alternative vision for combating climate change.

HOST: Well, they say that those bills are to come. Their Direct Action policy, to the extent it will require legislation, those bills are to come. You can’t judge their entire climate change policy on the basis of these particular bills.

BUTLER: But we have no detail about a policy that over the course of the last couple of years has been ridiculed by every climate scientist, every economist who have looked at it. And over the course of the campaign, the election campaign, Greg Hunt and Tony Abbott were both completely unable to point to anyone of any credibility who has supported a policy that expert after expert has said won’t work. This is only a couple of weeks after the international climate scientists who work under the international panel on climate change if anything strengthened their calls for strong action on climate change. We’ve seen this year the US, China, and many other great trading nations strengthen their actions on climate change. While all the rest of the world is moving forward, Tony Abbott wants to take Australia backward.

HOST: Well, I’ve had that argument with Greg Hunt previously and I’ll probably have it again some time in the future. We’ll wait and see what their legislation is on this specific policy before we go too far in critiquing that. But, just on this one, you as a government, Labor, when you were putting forward this legislation, tried to pass the Carbon Tax as this famous phrase which kept being used in the political coverage of it, which was you were trying to ‘Abbott-proof’ this, you were building an Abbott-proof

fence around this new carbon pricing scheme so that Tony Abbott couldn’t ultimately get rid of it once he came into government. Does this suite of bills that have now been put forward achieve what Tony Abbott said it would achieve and get rid of the Carbon Tax? Have you managed to Abbott-proof it or have they found a way through?

BUTLER: Well they have to get it through the Parliament obviously, but looking at the bills, and I’ve only had a chance over the last hour to read through them, looking at the bills if they were to pass the Parliament, Australia would be in a position of having

no mechanism to put a cap on carbon pollution, no mechanism by which business, if there were such a cap, could trade and find the most effective way to operate within a system. The Abbott Government continues to shut down the independent voices. We already had the Climate Change Commission shut down very early on in the Abbott Government’s life …

HOST: So, I take it, what you’re saying …

BUTLER: … the Climate Change Authority through these bills.

HOST: So they would have succeeded then?

BUTLER: Well if the bills go through, any sensible action on climate change just simply ceases in Australia.

HOST: One of the interesting things they said which I couldn’t understand and maybe you can shed some light on it for us, is that the Government will not extend the Carbon Tax beyond 2013/14, which is the current financial year, even if the Parliament does not pass the Carbon Tax repeal bills until after the 1st of July 2014. So, if these bills don’t get passed before the new financial year, the Carbon Tax still won’t be extended beyond this financial year. How does that work?

BUTLER: Well, I think that’s a question you’ll have to direct to Greg Hunt, the Minister …



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HOST: Yes, I will put that question to him.

BUTLER: It’s one of the questions I’ve asked myself reading the bills - and there are many other questions that have come to my mind reading the bills as well - I’m sorry, I can’t help you there, Waleed.

HOST: That’s fine. I just wondered if you happened to know if there was some kind of regulatory or administrative way they can get around this? Can they instruct the ATO to send out an office, sorry a policy notice or something to say, ‘You know, that carbon tax thing? It’s on the books. We’re going to ignore it.’ I mean, is there a way around it?

BUTLER: Oh, look. You’re just going to have to direct that to the Minister.

HOST: We did invite him on the show tonight and he was unavailable. We’re hoping we might be able to speak to him tomorrow, so I will ask him that if I do get the chance. Do you think that ultimately, given that point that they’ve made about the possibility of this not passing before the 1st of July 2014, is this ultimately something that’s going to work its way through the new Senate when it takes its place in the upper chamber halfway through next year?

BUTLER: Well, I think you have to take this one step at a time. We’ve only just seen the draft bills, as your introduction said. They put them out for exposure to business, and presumably others than business, environmental organisations and community members to make some comment upon and they’ve got to go through the House and then the Senate. We’re going to take this a step at a time, but we’ve been very clear as the Labor Party that we’ve held a position on climate change for many, many years, taken to several elections about having a legal cap on carbon pollution and a market-based mechanism for business to operate within that cap.

HOST: Well, OK. I’ve got to pull you up on that because the only reason we are in this position at all, really, is because your side of politics dropped its policy, which of course led to Kevin Rudd being replaced by Julia Gillard who then went on to the 2010 election promising there wouldn’t be a carbon tax and saying, ‘we do want to price carbon in future, but we might delegate this to the punters, we might have a citizens’ assembly to try to see whether or not they can come up with how we might do that,’ and then got dragged to a carbon tax by the Greens ultimately. I mean, if you’d been more decisive on this, you wouldn’t be facing this day.

BUTLER: We said we’d have a discussion about how we did it, not whether we did it. We took to the 2010 election, as we did in the 07 election, a policy of an emissions trading scheme. Now, working with the last Parliament, we needed to put in place a much longer period of a carbon tax, or a fixed carbon price, than would have otherwise been our preference, but before the election recently that took place, we also said that we would be moving, if re-elected, to terminate that carbon tax early. And, as it happens, it was our election policy to terminate the carbon tax at the same time that Tony Abbott intends to terminate it through these bills that he has released today. The question is, not whether we agree on terminating the carbon tax, but whether we have any sensible policy to replace the carbon tax from the Government compared to our emissions trading scheme.

HOST: Right. And, as I say, we’ll see what form that policy takes when we see bills on that. You would replace it with an ETS. They are proposing at this point right now just to scrap it. This is what Tony Abbott had to say would be partly the effect of that.

ABBOTT GRAB: When this bill is passed, Australian households will be better off to the tune of $550 a year. When this bill is passed, the Government estimates that power prices will go down by 9 per cent. Gas prices will go down by 7 per cent.

HOST: Do you dispute those figures, Mark Butler?

BUTLER: Well look, I haven’t seen the modelling for them, but your listeners might recall that when Kevin Rudd and I announced a few months ago that it would be our intention to terminate the carbon tax and replace it with an ETS, our modelling indicated that power prices would go down by 7 per cent and gas prices, I think, by about 6 per cent, but what Tony Abbott doesn’t talk about is the billions of dollars from the budget that will be needed to fund his Direct Action plan, his so-called Direct Action plan, in the event that he intends to implement ….

HOST: Right, but that’s not the cost on individual Australians, is it?

BUTLER: Well it is. It’s costs on the budget which ultimately need to be recouped by income tax, or balanced against pension entitlements, or something like ….

HOST: Sure, but they can take it from some other pot of spending. They don’t have to take it out of people’s pockets directly, which is what would happen, or does happen under the carbon tax at the moment.

BUTLER: Well, it’s not Tony Abbott’s money. It’s money paid by the taxpayers and we saw modelling after modelling during the election campaign through the Climate Institute and a range of other reports that indicated that either Tony Abbott would have to find billions of dollars extra over the coming years to meet the target for reducing carbon pollution he signed up to or he’d have to abandon the target. So, we have a whole range of things to look at, not just what the fixed carbon price, or the carbon tax, would do to household budgets and to carbon pollution in our economy, in our country, but to look at a range of other policies that Tony Abbott has said nothing about today.

Where do I go for help ?



HOST: OK. Mark Butler, it has been good to speak to you. Thank you very much for your insight. We’ll see what Greg Hunt has to say. We’ll get a chance to speak to him, hopefully, very soon.

BUTLER: Thanks, Waleed.

HOST: Mark Butler, Federal MP for Port Adelaide, former Labor Environment Minister, the last one, and at least until Friday he’s the Opposition’s spokesman on the environment. We’ll see if he returns to that portfolio.


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