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Transcript of doorstop interview: Adelaide: 18 August 2018: Malcolm Turnbull's energy chaos; Peter Dutton challenge for leadership; regulation of emissions targets

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SUBJECT/S: Malcolm Turnbull’s energy chaos, Peter Dutton challenge for leadership, regulation of emissions targets.

MARK BUTLER: Thanks for coming out this morning. Frankly I’m at a bit of a loss to know where to begin this morning. I could begin with five years of policy paralysis by this Government that has created a very deep energy crisis leading to plummeting confidence in our energy system and skyrocketing power and gas prices; the likes of which we have never seen before in this country.

Or I could start with repeated failed attempts by this Prime Minister to put in place some policy mechanisms that would start to bring this crisis to an end; mechanisms that had broad support by industry, by state governments, by Federal Labor, but which the Prime Minister was unable to deliver through his Coalition party room.

Or I could start with the bizarre spectacle earlier this week of the Prime Minister declaring a famous victory this week over his own party room. A victory that was very quickly followed by a litany of Government MPs announcing their own energy plans, their intentions to cross the floor, and very quickly the undeniable foundations for a future leadership spill by Peter Dutton against Malcolm Turnbull.

But instead I’ll start where the week ended, which was a series of humiliating back downs and backflips by a Prime Minister who has completely lost control of his own Government - a Government that it is now an utter shambles. This week has been a very stark reminder for Australian businesses and households that the biggest barrier to sensible energy policy and lower power bills is a Coalition that is rent by chaos and division.

JOURNALIST: I guess what does this say about his leadership and, you know, his strength as a Prime Minister.

BUTLER: This is a Prime Minister in sheer panic mode. A Government that is divided and coming apart at the seams. And households and business are paying the price with higher and higher power bills, and energy policy that is utterly chaotic. Now we’ve seen a series of announcements over the last 24 hours, dropped to papers and put out to the radio and the television that are very hard to understand, because I suspect the Government hasn’t even written the new deal that they’ve decided to try and introduce early next week. We’ve seen, for example, the Government announce that it intends now to back away from their insistence that emissions reduction targets be set in legislation. A few days ago that was an utterly non-negotiable point from the Prime Minister. But this morning he’s announced these targets will now be set in regulation. This is not a Government idea; Labor has been arguing this point now for weeks. We welcome the Prime Minister has shifted closer to Labor on this question because there is no question that putting these targets in regulation will make them easier to lift into the future. It will make it easier for a future Labor Government, or frankly a future Liberal Government that is not beholden to the hard-right, to lift these targets in the future as inevitably will be required. So we welcome that part, at least, of the backflip. We haven’t seen the legislation but it does appear to make it easier for Labor to start to come to some agreement with Malcolm Turnbull at one point. But we haven’t seen all of these other backflips and back downs that Malcolm Turnbull has obviously engaged with in the last 24 hours.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of speculation that Peter Dutton is using this to firm up a leadership challenge?

BUTLER: I notice Peter Dutton coming out with a very half-hearted, faint-hearted support of the Prime Minister this morning. Interestingly what he did not do was to take one step away from the inflammatory, provocative, interview he did with Ray Hadley on Thursday. He referred to some comments he made on Tuesday but it was Thursday where Peter Dutton really started to set the foundation for a leadership challenge against his own Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST: Given the changes, is Labor more likely to support the NEG?

BUTLER: We haven’t seen these changes; they’ve been announced through newspaper in this rushed panic by the Prime Minister to save his own skin. I suspect the Government hasn’t even written these into draft legislation. They haven’t even given the earlier legislation to their own MPs. We had Cabinet Minister, Christopher Pyne admitting bizarrely on TV yesterday, he hadn’t seen this critically important piece of legislation for the Government. So it is hard to make any definitive announcement or put any definitive position about something that is so vague, so speculative. All I can say though is the idea of shifting from legislation to regulation is something that Labor has been arguing for some weeks now. That’s a welcome shift from the Prime Minister because it will make it easier for future governments to lift those emissions reduction targets, to support further investment in renewable energy and put downward pressure on power prices - because we agree, and businesses overwhelmingly agrees, that is inevitably going to have to happen in the future.

JOURNALIST: This is what the states want, is it what Federal Labor wants as well?

BUTLER: The regulation vs legislation question?


BUTLER: Well what we’ve said is that we can’t accept any attempt from this Government to try to tie the hands of future governments, Labor or Liberal, from lifting these emissions reduction targets. Under Malcolm Turnbull’s targets there won’t be a single renewable energy project built over the course of the next decade. That is an utterly unsustainable position from the point of view of jobs, investment, cuts to pollution and most importantly cuts to power prices. There must be the ability more easily to lift those targets in the future and a shift from legislation to regulation, I think, will deliver that easier pathway.

Thanks everyone.