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Transcript of doorstop: Adelaide: 11 April 2018: Labor's investment in WA infrastructure and jobs; the extension of Mitchell Freeway; Labor's Fair Share for Western Australia Fund; the GST; electoral redistribution; Syria and Turnbull's energy failure

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MARK BUTLER MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY, MEMBER FOR PORT ADELAIDE: At the outset I want to express some admiration for Josh Frydenberg’s attempt this afternoon to inject some common sense back into Coalition energy policy - after a truly surreal period of a few days in which some extraordinary policies have been advanced by Coalition figures including the expenditure of billions of taxpayer dollars to build new coal-fired power stations, or at least to buy back 50-year-old coal-fired power stations that after all were privatised in the first place by the Liberal power.

The problem is we have been in this position before with the Turnbull government. In 2016 there was an extraordinary degree of consensus around a solution to the energy crisis in the form of an Emissions Intensity Scheme; a policy supported by the entire industry, all business groups, other stakeholders, and state governments, Labor and Liberal alike. But at the last minute Malcolm Turnbull pulled the rug from under that consensus in the face of a revolt led by Tony Abbott. And last year, the same consensus existed around Alan Finkel’s, the Chief Scientist’s, proposal for a Clean Energy Target. But again Malcolm Turnbull went to water in the face of a revolt from Tony Abbott. So I’m not quite sure how long Josh Frydenberg’s clarion call for common sense is going to last before the inevitable revolt from the hard right of the Coalition party room and the likely decision by Malcolm Turnbull, based on past experience, to give into Tony Abbott yet again.

What was disappointing though about Josh Frydenberg’s speech this afternoon was its abject failure to deal with the very deep concerns that have been expressed by the electricity industry, by business groups, consumer groups and others like ACCC, the consumer watchdog, about the problems in the design of their latest energy policy, the National Energy Guarantee. Over the last few weeks I’ve been going through their written submissions, the written submissions from those bodies, and talking to them directly about their concerns.

The almost universal concerns about the government’s latest policy is that it will fail to deliver the pollution cuts we need to combat climate change and instead shift responsibility to other industries and to future generations. It will strangle jobs and investment in renewable energy by up to 95 per cent. And, by entrenching the market power of the big three retailers, which is what everyone says this policy will do, you will see power prices go up instead of coming down.

Labor accepts that a bipartisan solution to this energy crisis is necessary but all of these submissions and views from the industry and other stakeholders confirm that Malcolm Turnbull and Josh Frydenberg need to turn their minds to the really serious deficiencies in this National Energy Guarantee rather than continuing to pander to the hard-right of the Coalition party room.

JOURNALIST: This is the only option on the table at the moment, should states sign this?

BUTLER: I think what state governments should do is listen to the electricity industry and all those other stakeholders; we’ve heard from the stock exchange, from the consumer and competition commission, the consumer watchdog, the banking sector, every stakeholder you could possibly imagine - there is an extraordinary level of consensus about the deficiencies of this policy. Now, they can be worked through, they can probably be overcome, but that will require Malcolm Turnbull to stand up to the hard right of the Coalition party room and tell some home truths about 21st century energy policy.

We still want to see a bipartisan solution but we want the states at the COAG meeting next week to reflect the very, very dep concerns that are going to, as I said, mean that we don’t get the cuts in pollution we need, we strangle renewable energy investment, and we force power prices up because it increases the market power of the big three retailers, rather than reduces it.

JOURNALIST: Why didn’t Labor change this when they were in government?

BUTLER: There was no problem with investment when we were in government. We had several thousand megawatts of new gas-fired power added to the system when we were in government. We had extraordinary levels of renewable energy investment. We had more wholesale power than we needed when we were in government.

The problem was when Tony Abbott came to government he demolished and dismantled the energy policy investment framework and failed to put anything in its place. For that reason, there has effectively been an investment strike, with the exception of the Renewable Energy Target. And beyond 2020 there is nothing to guide the investment that we are going to need to replace the ageing, increasingly unreliable, coal-fired generators that will retire from the system. What that means is reduced reliability, and increased prices for households.

JOURNALIST: Here in South Australia we do have the diesel generators to help us; wouldn’t that suggest we haven’t been going well with Labor state governments?

BUTLER: What we’ve seen is an energy policy put in place by the last state Labor government that got us through the last summer. The concerns, frankly, over the last summer were more concerns about Victoria and New South Wales - but again we got through the summer because of measures put in place across the system, not just here in South Australia, but across the system by the Market Operator to ensure the very, very hot weather we experienced across the south east of South Australia didn’t lead to interruptions in electricity supply. That is the sort of forward thinking energy policy that we need, but Malcolm Turnbull and Josh Frydenberg are incapable of delivering that because of their inability, frankly, to stand up to Tony Abbott and his merry group of climate change deniers in the Coalition party room.

JOURNALIST: This push by Tony Abbott and co towards coal is that energy policy or is it leadership tussling by him?

BUTLER: It is hard to distinguish these things now, there is such instability within the government, there is so much leadership wrangling, not just by Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull but also by the next generation of pretenders to the throne, like Peter Dutton, Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg himself - who extraordinarily over the last few days have started to flaunt their ability to be Prime Minister.

What is happening is the country is suffering through the government’s focus on itself rather than some very, very serious issues that the country needs to come to grips with. And right at the top of that list is the energy crisis that has emerged under Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership.

Thanks everyone.