MONDAY, 20 AUGUST 2018
SUBJECT: National Energy Guarantee, Liberal Party Division.
ANDREW LEIGH, MEMBER FOR FENNER: Well good morning everyone, my name is Andrew Leigh, the Federal Member for Fenner and it's terrific to be here at Majura Solar Farm. A venue that's seen the creation of a solar plant creating 45 jobs in building it, which is now powering 6000 homes. This renewables plant put downward pressure on energy prices, downward pressure on emissions and created jobs. This behind us is Australia's future and it's great to be here with Bill Shorten and Mark Butler.
I'll hand over now to Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everybody, it's great to be here with Mark Butler, my Shadow spokesperson for Energy and Climate Change, and Andrew Leigh who is the local Member here. What we see behind me to my right is the future of energy in Australia. The future of energy in Australia is renewable energy. It's the future of lower pollution and as importantly, it's the future for lower prices. But what we see every day under the Turnbull Government is that they have, for a long time, given up doing anything on energy policy.
What we now have is an energy policy which is about one thing only from the Turnbull Government, it's to save Mr Turnbull's job. The reality is that this government is not focused on lower energy prices or reducing pollution, it's just about appeasing Mr Turnbull's enemies in the Liberal Party so he can keep his job. I mean I think it's fair to say that every day it's a new policy from the Government, every day it's a policy not designed to lower energy prices but just for Mr Turnbull to keep his job from his enemies. But I want to say, I think even more importantly than this, Mr Turnbull has demonstrated that he's not the leader this nation needs.
Real leadership is about fighting for the principles you believe in. Real leadership is about not always giving in to your enemies every time they disagree with you. Real leadership should be about putting lower pollution and lower prices at the forefront of energy policy. But the problem is with Mr Turnbull, every time people who don't like him in his party disagree with him, he gives up. From day one of his Prime Ministership, we've seen the same pattern, Mr Turnbull has never seen a fight that he won't give up his principles in order to keep his job. Mr Turnbull is truly a white flag Prime Minister.
I'd now though, like to hand over to Mark Butler to talk about Labor's positive alternatives to lower energy prices and to tackle pollution.
MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY: Well thank you Bill, thank you Andrew. While the government has been at war with itself over energy policy over recent weeks, Labor has been busy developing a plan that will make a real difference to households and to businesses. And yesterday, Bill and I announced another element of that plan to accept the ACCC, the consumer watchdog recommendation to set a default price in the retail market. Something that would put up to $165 back in the pockets of 1.2 million hardworking households. We'd also make sure that any discounts offered in the retail market would operate off that default offer which would benefit millions more households as well.
Look, we're glad that Malcolm Turnbull this morning has agreed with the Labor Party position, but what he's done is effectively as the Prime Minister who has presided over the biggest energy crisis in living memory, this morning he gave up on trying to resolve that crisis. He gave up in the face of the opposition of a few members of his partyroom on doing something that would ensure we continue to see solar farms, windfarms like this behind me, built to bring down power prices and to cut pollution.
Now, we have seen this film before. In 2016 Malcolm Turnbull proposed an Emissions Intensity Scheme to start to draw in new investment into the system. This was a scheme proposed by his own Energy Markets Commission, supported by all industry, supported by all state governments Labor and Liberal alike, and by Federal Labor. But in the face of some opposition by Tony Abbott and other malcontents in his partyroom, he dropped it.
In 2017 we saw exactly the same film around the Clean Energy Target proposed by his own Chief Scientist. Broad consensus, support from Federal Labor, but again some opposition in his own Coalition party room caused him to surrender yet again. And this year for the third year in a row, Malcolm Turnbull has given up on any chance of starting to bring this deep energy crisis to an end and provide some real power price relief for households and businesses that are really struggling.
I want to address a couple of comments the Prime Minister made in his press conference this morning. He talked about the Labor Party's position on this Bill. I want to make clear that we had asked for briefings about the government's legislation and had a briefing scheduled for last Thursday. That briefing was cancelled by the government, and after a number of times where we have tried to have that briefing rescheduled, we have heard nothing from the Government at all.
We have been up for a briefing to understand what it was Malcolm Turnbull was proposing but we have been rebuffed on a number of occasions now since late last week, in our attempts to sit down with the government and understand their latest proposals.
SHORTEN: Thanks Mark, are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: Malcolm Turnbull said he wouldn't move to legislate the Emissions Reductions in Parliament because he wasn't confident he had the numbers. Will Labor offer bipartisan support on that?
SHORTEN: We won't give Malcolm Turnbull a blank cheque and I don't think anyone reasonably would expect us to do that. But we are available to talk about energy prices, so long as - and energy policy - so long as it delivers more renewable energy, lower prices, and less pollution. As Mark Butler just enumerated, Labor hasn't been the problem in this issue. We were prepared to engage on Mr Turnbull's first idea of an Emissions Intensity Scheme in 2016. Labor was again prepared to compromise and engage on Mr Turnbull's 2017 plan which was a Clean Energy Target designed by the Chief Scientist. And in 2018 we are prepared to discuss Mr Turnbull's latest policy. But I think in all fairness if you know what his latest policy is could you let us know? Because he keeps changing his mind every day.
The real problem is Mr Turnbull believes bipartisanship is when he can get the two wings of his own party to agree, he's not talking about us. And I say to Malcolm, you've got my number, we're down the hall from you, on other matters we have worked together. I am not saying that we will automatically agree, but I am willing to put aside party politics just to do something to lower energy prices, to lower emissions and to have more renewable energy in the system.
JOURNALIST: Will you seek to legislate an emissions target through a Private Member’s Bill?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all let's see what Mr Turnbull's proposals are. We are committed to lowering pollution. If there are no targets, then how do you know how you are going? I mean, this is really - energy prices is now at the tyranny of the lowest common denominator. Can't we just call it straight here? Mr Turnbull cannot sort out his own party, he doesn't control the Parliament and he is incapable of negotiating with Labor.
See, the wicked position which householders and small businesses are in is, you've got a Prime Minister who has been told by his own party that if he talks to Labor he loses his job. But Labor is willing to talk with him. We are not saying that we will agree but we're not saying that we'll disagree You know, what we want for Australians is not - I don't care if Mr Turnbull's the Prime Minister or Peter Dutton or anyone else they recycle through the system. What I'm worried about is that energy prices have exploded under the Liberal Government for the last five years.
We are no closer to putting more renewable energy into the system through government policy, and of course we need to do more to lower our pollution emissions.
Mr Turnbull's got to realise that if he wants to stay leader of the Liberal Party, he has got to show real conviction. He should stand up to the people in his party who want to hold the future back. I'm willing to work with the government, because that is what the Australian people expect me to do. We won't work at any price, we won't just give up everything about renewable energy and tackling lower pollution.
But when Mr Turnbull gets up today and says that he doesn't have bipartisanship, the real problem is, it is families and small businesses who suffer the price of the fact that Mr Turnbull and his enemies in the Liberal Party are more consumed about fighting each other than they are about lowering energy prices and lowering pollution emissions.
JOURNALIST: What will it take for the Government to get Labor's support on their energy policy?
SHORTEN: Do you have any idea what the current government position is? I think it is a fair point, but when you ask us what we will have to do to agree with them, what is their current position? I mean, on Tuesday Mr Turnbull said it must be legislated, an emissions target. He said in fact not to legislate it would be an assault on democracy. Then on Friday he was prepared to assault democracy, and he said no it can just be done by regulation. Now today, we have our best hieroglyphics interpreters out trying to understand the merchant bankers' gobbledygook press conference this morning. But we're not clear what he wants. When they've got a position, come and talk to us. But when Mr Turnbull says that bipartisanship is beyond us, that's unfair. We've been available to talk for two years, plus. Our track record is we have been willing to consider whatever proposal they come up with. They don't have a functioning proposal, and it's not just us. Remember Mr Turnbull sat down with the states before Parliament resumed, and he had one proposal for them, and they said well we might look at that, we might not, but that's all changed, I can't keep up with the Liberal Party internal warfare.
JOURNALIST: Do you expect to face Malcolm Turnbull at the next election or is it on now?
SHORTEN: I'm not worried about who I face from the Liberal Party at the next election, frankly. What worries me is that the price of everything has gone up except people's wages. The pensioners are having their energy supplement cut, there's still cuts on the books for hospitals and health care, cuts to schools and TAFE and universities and child care. It think what the Liberal Party has got to do is stop playing the personality game, either with Labor or amongst themselves. The reason why the Government's going poorly is because they've got very poor policies.
JOURNALIST: Do you think Peter Dutton poses a threat for Labor or do you think he would actually struggle to appeal to marginal voters especially in inner-city electorates?
SHORTEN: I think the only threat Peter Dutton is at the moment is to Malcolm Turnbull. The real threat to the Australian people is a lack of energy policy. I think a lot of people in their lounge rooms are watching this debate and saying, what is this National Energy Guarantee or emissions reductions, what does that all mean? Labor's got a very clear message for Australians who are working today, raising their families, running small businesses. We think that energy prices are out of control. We truly believe that if we can get more renewable energy into our system then that's going to lower power prices, and that's also going to have the very positive benefit of lowering carbon pollution. Now we think that the future is in solar, and wind and other technology. It will work with fossil fuel energy, but what we've got to stop doing is holding back the future. We've got the best technology in the world, we've got the best scientists in the world. Renewable energy is getting cheaper every day, and we want to focus on lowering power prices. The real threat to Australians isn't who the Liberals pick, it's the fact that they haven't got a policy to help with cost of living. They are so out of touch, and so busy fighting each other they have forgotten the people.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, how about those other two proposals put forward by Mr Turnbull this morning regarding the ACCC. He said he wanted to give the ACCC powers to divest companies of assets and also give them $32 million for increased monitoring. Would you support those aspects of his proposal?
SHORTEN: I will hand over to Mark to talk about specifics. But you know, I would just say to Malcolm Turnbull, please, you're the Prime Minister of Australia, get your act together, get your house in order, start focusing on the people and lower prices not just saving your own job.
BUTLER: Thank you Bill. Look, we'll study the announcements from Malcolm Turnbull this morning. They are coming fast and furiously. We're getting new announcements every 48 hours or so, that's about the shelf life of a Malcolm Turnbull announcement in energy policy at the moment -
JOURNALIST: What about the principle of it?
BUTLER: We're going to study it and we'll do that carefully. That's what we have done for more than two years. We don't jump at the first sort of whiff of gunshot as the Prime Minister appears to be doing. We're taking a steady approach to energy policy to ensure that consumers get the best possible outcomes, so we will study everything that the Prime Minister puts on the table. Hope that it lasts more than 72 hours, and check whether it's going to be in the best interests of consumers. As I said, I am glad and Bill's glad that the Prime Minister came to Labor's position on making sure there was a default price in the system, which would work in the interests of consumers. He's been jumping around on this question for months and months and months now, and it is a pity that it took Labor taking a stand on that the Prime Minister finally to act.
JOURNALIST: But aren't you just exacerbating the turmoil by not actually coming to an agreement here with the government, which is what Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition wants. To find a consensus, you want the 26 per cent, you'd like to ramp it up to 45 per cent. Isn't some framework better than no framework and you actually just extend an olive branch, work on a deal and get this done rather than just exacerbating the turmoil?
SHORTEN: Well again that is just what we have done, I mean I have to say -
JOURNALIST: You could vote with him in Parliament and pass this.
SHORTEN: Come on Jono, they don't even have legislation, they don't even know what their own position is. They don't even tell their backbench what is going on. What you're doing is you're saying why can't two sets of mature adults come to a rational understanding? We're ready, but the problem is, that circus which is currently the government can't agree on anything between breakfast and lunch time. The reality is, if you want to have lower power prices we do need a policy framework, and we're up for that. We accept that we might not get everything we want in a deal with Malcolm Turnbull, but the wicked problem that Australians find themselves in, is that Mr Turnbull has been ordered by the backroom, nameless backbenchers and the powerbrokers of the Liberal Party, if they catch Malcolm Turnbull negotiating in the national interest with the Labor Party, he's out on his bottom. He loses his job.
So the real problem here is that there is a significant proportion of the Coalition Government who are so consumed with their political fight with Labor that they'll put the national interest second. I promise Australians now, that if and when we are elected, we will have more renewable energy in the system, we will help deliver and work our very best for lower prices, and we will reduce pollution, which we're currently not doing enough of. And we are prepared in the meantime to have a conversation with Malcolm Turnbull. He's rung me on other matters, he's spoken to me on other matters, but on this issue we know that he is a hostage to the right wing of his party.
And to return to what I said in the opening, Mr Turnbull's entire Prime Ministership, from day one, has been marked by a failure of understanding real leadership. Real leadership is fighting for the principles that you believe in. But every time there is a struggle with his opponents in the Liberal Party, Mr Turnbull gives up the fight. He is truly a white flag Prime Minister.
JOURNALIST: Do you think Peter Dutton would be a better Prime Minister in dealing with those issues such as energy policy?
SHORTEN: Do you mean is Mr Dutton renowned for his negotiating skills and coping with views that he doesn't like? Don't know, haven't seen any sign of it. But I think we're getting ahead of ourselves. Malcolm Turnbull's still the Prime Minister today. What Malcolm Turnbull said this morning is he can't get bipartisanship, he can't control the Parliament, so he won’t even put forward what he believes in.
I'm saying Malcolm, we're available to talk, we're not promising to agree with you. We do need to see some concrete propositions from you, but what I'd say beyond that is that what we're looking for is lower prices for business and for families. What we're looking for is more renewable energy, because we know that the future is more renewable energy, equals lower power prices and we certainly want to do more about climate change than the government is willing to do.
But in the meantime, my real concern is that this government is so consumed with fighting themselves, they've forgotten about the energy bills which Australians are paying right now.
JOURNALIST: Have you been in touch with the Coalition regarding getting briefings on this new aspect of the policy?
BUTLER: Well, as I said, we had a briefing scheduled for last Thursday on NEG mark I, which had passed according to the Prime Minister - passed the Coalition Party room with overwhelming support. We had a briefing scheduled for Thursday, that was cancelled by the government, we asked for a new briefing to be organised, put a formal request in for a new briefing to be organised again on Friday afternoon, after it became clear the Prime Minister was changing the policy again, and we've heard nothing from them.
So look, we've been clear now for months as this National Energy Guarantee has been worked up, that we are willing to be constructive, willing to be positive, because of the depth of the energy crisis.
We've got out points of disagreement, we have a much more ambitious plan for investment in renewable energy that will create jobs, cut pollution and put downward pressure on power prices. But it's the Government that walked away from the table last week, and they refused to brief us on any of their legislation.
JOURNALIST: Is there any part of you that feels sorry for Malcolm Turnbull?
SHORTEN: I feel sorry for the Australian people paying higher energy bills. Actually, I feel sorry for Australians watching politics this week, they are just sick of this circus. I was at a council depot in Western Sydney a couple of weeks ago and had a good talk and explained our good policies on wages which the workers liked.
But a number of them just said they're sick of the constant, you know, changing leaders proposition. And so, what they must think this week, I mean, it reflects on the whole of the state of the health of politics. But what I can assure people who are sick of this circus, is Labor's learned its lesson.
We've had one leader for five years, Tanya and I are working really closely together, the whole team is, and the point about it is when we've had a bit of pressure on us, people have generally stuck together. What we see under the Liberals is unless they are winning by a country mile, they start slagging and bagging each other. It's just very unedifying.
What we say and what we promise people is even with the Liberals carrying on in a circus which makes people sick of politics, I just want to say this to people: I get you, I understand you, we've got a policy which will see more renewable energy in our energy mix which will lower prices, we've got policies to get your wages moving again.
We say to the pensioners who have had their energy supplement cut, we're going to put that back on the table.
We say to the people who are currently waiting for elective surgery in our hospitals, we'll property fund our hospitals.
We say to every parent who wants their child to get a quality education, we'll put the money into your school and we'll also make sure if they want an apprenticeship or go to university, they can.
I just want to say to people, we understand this is what you hate about politics this week, but I also want to say that we've learnt our lesson.
We're united, we're focused on the needs of everyday Australians.