ABC AM WITH SABRA LANE
THURSDAY, 7 SEPTEMBER 2017
SUBECT/S: Energy; Barnaby Joyce; Turnbull’s $122 million postal survey.
SABRA LANE: Good morning. Welcome to AM.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thank you very much, Sabra, good morning.
LANE: For nearly a decade now, politicians have been pointing the finger of blame at one another over energy policy. How would you end the partisan wars if you were Prime Minister today?
SHORTEN: You are quite right, for the last 10 years, on both sides of politics, it's been more about politics than policy. We have an energy price crisis and we have a problem that we're just not doing enough to reduce our pollution and our emissions. There are four things I think should be done straight away.
One, we've got to end the ideological war against renewables.
Two, we need to immediately agree on a design of a clean energy target.
Three, we need to pull the trigger on export controls so that the gas produced in Australia is adequate to supply the needs of Australian industry.
And, four, as a result of the important report by the market regulator yesterday, I think we need to seriously work in a bipartisan fashion to develop a strategic reserve to get us through the shortages predicted this summer.
LANE: Alright, let's break some of that stuff down. Regarding the gas supply problems, your energy spokesman Mark Butler admitted last week that in 2012 everybody knew gas prices would surge. When Labor was in government that's what you were told. If that's the case, why didn't Labor do something about it at the time?
SHORTEN: I believe undertakings were given to the then Labor Government making sure that there would be more than sufficient supply for domestic use.
LANE: What happened to those undertakings?
SHORTEN: I don't think those undertakings have been kept. And the second thing, now, this government has been in for four years. I think today is actually the fourth anniversary of the election when the Liberals won in 2013, and this is clearly a problem which has mounted and mounted over the last four years. And now this government has allowed an element of crisis to creep in. All they want to do is blame Labor. We have not been in government for the last four years. This crisis didn't just start four and five years ago, it has been ongoing for the last four years.
LANE: Sure. Let's go back to that. Undertakings were given and they weren't kept. How can voters trust Labor, if you government win again, that you will muscle up to business, if you don't ensure that they don't carry out the undertakings that they give you?
SHORTEN: That's my record. That's my personal record. We will stand up to big business if we don't think that they're doing the right thing.
LANE: But your personal record shows you haven't in the past?
SHORTEN: No, that's not right, I wasn't the gas minister five years ago. What is the case is that we've said we would work with the Government, we say pull the trigger on export controls now. I meet with industry and manufacturers, businesses big and medium size, businesses who rely on gas – and small businesses are getting screwed at the moment.
And let's call it as it is. The power of large energy companies, their ruthless pursuit of profits at all else, is hurting Australia. We haven't had a conversation in this country about the impact of the privatisation of our electricity in the 1990s. And what we've seen is that we've lost control of prices, and we're seeing that the profit of large companies is being put ahead of the needs of consumers and business.
There is a mechanism which we've supported the Government introducing, an export control mechanism. It is beyond a joke that industrial gas users in Japan can buy Australian gas more cheaply than companies in Australia can buy Australian gas.
LANE: Alright we've got a few energy issues to get through. Some of those electricity utilities are still in the hands of Labor governments?
SHORTEN: But there is no doubt that privatisation has been a big problem, Sabra, and I think the debate in Australia needs to recognise that. Now it's very hard to wind back the clock, but what we do need to do is get on and end the blame game. We can look at the past, and I say privatisation is a big culprit of a lot of our problems.
The current Government says that what happened before four years ago is part of the problem, but in the last four years, what has been done? That only gets us so far though, the politics of who is at fault. What we need to do is move forward.
The Finkel recommendations, the Chief Scientist's recommendations, he proposed 50 recommendations. It's a serious report. The Government has enacted 49 out of 50, but the problem is that 49 out of 50 is a fail unless we have a clean energy target. The report has been available for months. What is the Government doing on that, and we will work with them.
LANE: The Liddell plant in NSW is slated for closure in 2022, would you support taxpayer money or incentives being used to extend the life of that plant?
SHORTEN: I think that is an issue for down the track, in other words, it's a legitimate debate to have, and we haven't formed a final view, but what I understand –
LANE: Sorry just to pick up, I'm sorry, AEMO points out there are going to be major supply issues around this summer, next summer, the next four to five years.
SHORTEN: Sabra, Liddell is going to be there until 2022 at the very least. My concern is there are shortages this summer. They've said there needs to be a strategic reserve this summer. I'm happy to work with the Government right now on that issue.
And the fact of matter is we're not going to get new investment in energy generation until the rules are clear, and the only way we can get clear rules is by having an agreed clean energy target and working out the design. I've offered the Government, from day one when the report came down, for my Spokesperson Mark Butler, to work with Frydenberg, their fellow, the Minister, to work out how we would design a Clean Energy Target.
I mean, the problem is, Turnbull's talking about Liddell in 2022, he has picture opportunities flying helicopters over the Snowy for something which might happen in eight years. We have meetings gas companies about the gas companies sending letters to customers. The problem is here and now. And what we've got to do is, Mr Turnbull's got to stop worrying about blaming Labor, work with us, because we have a problem right now which isn't going to be fixed in 2022.
LANE: If that's the case, you seem to agree that energy is the pressing issue right now, why were there no questions about this to the Government yesterday during Question Time?
SHORTEN: There's no doubt the Government's got another issue, and this issue is that tonight Mr Turnbull –
LANE: But there weren't any questions yesterday about energy or power.
SHORTEN: There's plenty of places where we're canvassing energy issues, and there is another problem the Government's got, and we can't walk past the failure of the Constitutional legitimately of the Deputy Prime Minister to sit in the Parliament.
When Mr Turnbull goes out of Australian airspace tonight, the Acting Prime Minister will be someone who no one actually knows if he's eligible to be the Acting Prime Minister. Now the Government want to say, oh you shouldn't talk about that, talk about other things. We don't want to talk about Barnaby Joyce, but the Government should have been cooperative with us, and said, how do we work through this issue? Instead, they just want to play games, and say, Labor's the enemy, therefore we're just not going to agree with Labor on anything.
Defending the integrity of the Parliament is not a small issue. In our political system, Parliament is the cornerstone, and so we will make sure that the Parliament is operating according to the Constitution.
LANE: When Tony Abbott was the Opposition Leader, Labor claimed that the parliamentary tactics at the time were destructive, desperate, a long dummy spit, your tactics now are a carbon copy. Labor notched up seven consecutive attempts yesterday to suspend standing orders, meaning fewer questions to the Government in Question Time. How is that a good thing for scrutiny and voters?
SHORTEN: The Government wants people to not worry about the Constitution. They say it's not a big issue. Well this is unprecedented, Sabra. When was the last time that the Government referred their own Deputy Prime Minister to the High Court because they couldn't confirm if he was eligible to sit there? This is a problem where the Government want to pretend it's not an issue. But at the same time, we're going to the High Court.
We are in unchartered waters here. And even if there is a political cost to Labor, even if the Government make the sort of cheap lines – don't worry about the Constitution, look at something else – the fact of the matter is, I and Labor will defend the Constitution and the Parliament operating as it should.
LANE: You're taking a trip to Korea later this month with the Shadow Foreign Minister, why?
SHORTEN: There's no doubt the North Korean crisis and the challenges on the Korean Peninsula are of grave concern to the security, not only of the region, but of the world. We've been very supportive of Government actions. I think it is appropriate that the Opposition acquaint itself on the ground with what is happening. We've got a series of meetings scheduled with political leaders, business, civil society –
LANE: The President? Prime Minister?
SHORTEN: We're still working out the itinerary of all the final meetings. The point about it is, on this, Australians should be reassured that Labor and Liberal will work together. And I think it's important the people of Korea in particular, because they're right in the middle of the threat and the tension, should know that all sides of Australian politics are committed to security in the region.
LANE: If the High Court rules against the same-sex marriage ballot this afternoon, and it's rejected, how confident are you that opposition from some Labor Senators who are opposed to it won't be enough to defeat this in the floor of Parliament if it gets to that?
SHORTEN: So you're asking if the High Court says the survey isn't legitimate –
LANE: And there's a free vote, there's a chunk of Labor Senators who are absolutely opposed to same-sex marriage.
SHORTEN: If the survey is defeated, and it's said it's not to be legitimately found, there should be a full free vote in Parliament. I'm confident marriage equality will pass if Mr Turnbull allows a full free vote, just like Labor will. There are enough –
LANE: Actually, there's big doubts over that, given there are a significant number of Labor Senators, who are opposed to same-sex marriage.
SHORTEN: Sabra, with respect, I'm very good at counting the numbers in the Labor Party. And if there is a full free vote in Parliament, and by that, I'm using specific words, if every MP, Liberal and Labor, is allowed to vote according to their conscience, I guarantee you marriage equality will pass. Full stop.
But Mr Turnbull has to commit to allowing all of the members of his executive a free vote. Currently, what the Liberals are saying is they'll only allow their backbenchers. He's got to agree that if the survey goes down, that all of his frontbenchers have a free vote if that's the case –
LANE: All right.
SHORTEN: And for the record, the overwhelming number of Labor MPs are in favour of marriage equality.
LANE: Politicians have sometimes had a prickly relationship with this program. Yesterday we heard Bob Hawke's testiness with the program when he was Prime Minister. We're celebrating 50 years. How do you regard it?
SHORTEN: It's a big year for turning 50, because I too celebrated that anniversary, that milestone. But I think the extraordinary thing about AM is not that it's lasted 50 years, it's that it's managed to keep changing over the last 50 years. I think it continues to maintain a high standard of journalism, it continues to inform and it continues to entertain – sometimes.
LANE: Bill Shorten, thank you very much for joining us this morning.
SHORTEN: Good morning.