Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Launceston - Labor backing the Clean Energy Council's position on the Renewable Energy Target





SUBJECT/S: Labor backing the Clean Energy Council's position on the Renewable Energy Target; Abbott Government’s broken promise on renewable energy; National ice crisis; Energy White Paper; HMAS Stirling.


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everyone. It’s great to be here at Haywards Steel with Mark Butler, my shadow spokesperson on climate change. We're at Haywards Steel which is a great Tasmanian manufacturing success story because we want to talk about providing more certainty for the renewable energy manufacturers, investors and people who work in renewable energy. Haywards Steel is a successful company, it's got four sites in Tasmania and employs 300 people. Part of the work which has helped generate their success in the past has been wind towers of the renewable energy sector. But for the last 18 months Haywards, like many other companies, has seen a drought in renewable energy investment. This drought has been caused by the confusion and broken promises of the Abbott Government.


Before the last election Labor and Liberal had bipartisanship on the Renewable Energy Target. The target's necessary, of course, as part of ensuring a proportion of renewable energy makes up our total energy mix in Australia and by having a proper target it allows people to invest with confidence. For businesses such as Haywards to be confident in their flow through of work, the skilled workers like the boilermakers we've been meeting here today, to know that there is ongoing work arising out of renewable energy. But since the election, the Abbott Government has thrown this all up in the air, they commissioned a report, the Warburton Review, and even though the substance of the Warburton Review said there was a bright future and a role for renewable energy, the Government has proposed slashing the renewable energy target.


Now Labor's got a very clear position, we believe that renewable energy is a mainstream part of Australia's energy future going forward. The rest of the world is setting renewable energy targets, confidently and strongly, because they believe in the role of renewable energy in the future of our energy policies. But the Government has cut and cut and cut at this target. The Clean Energy Council has asked Labor to support their position of a renewable energy target of 33,500 gigawatt hours.

Now, 33,500 is what the Clean Energy Council have asked for and in the last 48 hours we've seen business voices from right across the spectrum demand of government and opposition that we work on sensible bipartisan solutions. Be it the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group, the Aluminium Council of Australia, the Clean Energy Council, large-scale solar power investors have all said for goodness sakes, in the last 18 months we've seen projects shelved, we've seen jobs put at risk and we've seen Australia slip from the 4th most attractive investment destination for renewable energy to the 10th most attractive destination.


So today I'm pleased to announce with Mark Butler on behalf of the Labor Party, we will support the Clean Energy Council renewable energy target on the basis the Clean Energy Council says this is the floor that they need to make sure we don't lose another industry overseas. We lost the car industry under the Abbott Government’s watch. Labor will do a deal to help save the Renewable Energy Target and the renewable energy industry at the request of the Clean Energy Council because we believe Australia should have renewable energy in the future as part of our energy mix and if we got into government we would do more on renewable energy in terms of raising the target. But this is a floor; Labor's prepared to do that and we call upon Tony Abbott and his Liberal Government to save the renewable energy sector, not kill it, and I might ask my shadow colleague Mark Butler who has been instrumental in driving a lot of our policy in this area to further talk about the importance of today's announcement.


MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE CHANGE AND WATER: Thank you very much, Bill, and thank you also to the management and staff here at Haywards for allowing us to come and visit their place. This is one of so many factories around the country that have been building business on the back of the explosion in renewable energy in Australia over the last several years. During our time in government, wind power in Australia tripled, the number of jobs in renewable energy tripled and we went from a position where we had 7,000 households with solar panels on their roofs when we came to government, to there being 1.3 million households with solar panels when we left government in 2013. And as Bill said, because of that incredible support from Canberra, bipartisan support for more than 12 years, Australia was one of the four most attractive countries in which to invest in renewable energy projects along with China, the US and Germany.

Since then, though, because of Tony Abbott's reckless attacks on this industry last year, walking away from his election promise in 2013 to support the existing renewable energy target, investment in this sector has absolutely collapsed. Last year investment plummeted by 88 per cent in Australia while it grew around the world by 16 per cent. This has caused enormous disruption to investor confidence in this industry, creating very real sovereign risk in an industry that is very important for Australia's future. Now, as Bill said, we've been having very close talks not only with the renewable energy industry but also with the finance sector about ways in which we can restore investor confidence, put a floor under this renewable energy industry and then move to a future where we can express real ambition, great ambition for the future of renewables in Australia.

That's why we've agreed to support the Clean Energy Council's position of 33,500 gigawatt hours as a renewable energy target. We recognise that Labor simply cannot stand by and do nothing while an industry potentially slips away from this country again. This industry is at a cross roads. It requires both major parties, the Labor Opposition led by Bill Shorten and the Government led by Tony Abbott, to put this debate aside and get behind the Clean Energy Council's position, so that more jobs can be created and more renewable energy projects can be built.


SHORTEN: Thanks Mark, just before we go to questions on renewable energy, there's a couple of other issues which are being spoken about nationally and I've encountered today in my visit around northern Tasmania.


One is the mess that the Abbott Government's making of our pension system in Australia and the anxiety which pensioners are feeling in Tasmania and throughout Australia. Today we've seen the fifth thought bubble from Minister Scott Morrison talking about another ‘perhaps’ angle on the pensions.

It's really simple, Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison: keep your election promises, hands off the pension, don't cut the pension, that is what Australians want to see.  There are millions of pensioners on a fixed income of not very much money, who are very confused and very anxious about your intentions in terms of cutting the pension, so just let it go, don't cut the pension.


The other issue which has been raised with me as I've travelled around northern Tasmania today is the issue of the GST.  Joe Hockey keeps saying he doesn't want to increase the GST, doesn't want to talk about increasing the GST yet every other day we have Joe Hockey talking about touching the GST and increasing the GST. For a man who doesn't want to increase the GST he seems to have a very, very enthusiastic case to put about why he should increase the GST. Labor's problem with the GST is pretty straightforward. For less well-off Australians they don't get to save money, all of the money they get they spend in just making ends meet and consumption.

If you put on extra taxes on consumption, the people who will be hardest hit by a GST increase are the people with the least capacity to afford a tax increase. Here's another free tip for Joe Hockey, perhaps if you were a little more vigilant about making sure that large multinationals pay their fair share in taxation as Labor has proposed, then perhaps you wouldn't need to start taxing and increasing the taxes on the less well-off in Australia. We're happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: The Government says they don't want a target of above 32,000 so how is this going to go ahead?


SHORTEN: Well it's now time for Tony Abbott to do a deal. What this country needs at the moment is not a Prime Minister who just wants to fight with other people, we need a bit of consensus, we need this nation working together. Labor had a position that we thought somewhere between 35,000 and 37,500 gigawatt hours was the appropriate target, the Liberals have parked themselves on 32,000. The Clean Energy Council has asked Labor and Liberal to meet in the middle. Well Tony Abbott, Labor's prepared to meet in the middle. We are prepared to do a deal to save tens of thousands of jobs, to save billions of dollars of investment.

Australia was, before Tony Abbott became Prime Minister, the 4th best nation in the world for renewable energy investment. Under Tony Abbott it's slipped to 10th place, that's not good enough. And so we are prepared to work with the Government, it's what business wants, it's what the solar industry want, it's what the renewable industry want, it's what manufacturers and workers want, it's what we want. Tony Abbott is odd man out here and he needs to get with the program about saving jobs and making sure that Australia is a world leader of renewable energy not a world follower.


JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] and accept the Government’s proposal of 32,000.


SHORTEN: Because the Labor Party believes in science and we believe in listening to industry. The figure that we've settled on today isn't a Labor figure. It is from the Clean Energy Council who represent the peak investors. who represent the peak employers, who represent the manufacturers, the people who every day put their businesses on the line. Labor's doing what industry wants. Labor's doing what the environmental movement believe is at least the minimum we should be doing.


Why is it that Tony Abbott says it either has to be his way or the highway. If everyone else in Australia, Tony Abbott, thinks that this deal is the right deal to do, why is it that Tony Abbott is so stubborn, such a climate sceptic, so anti-renewable energy that he would rather destroy the industry if he can't get his way? That's not leadership, that's a lack of leadership.


JOURNALIST: Is today’s offer your final offer to the Government?


SHORTEN: Well our position today is that of the Climate Energy Council. This is not an issue of Labor versus Liberal. We strongly believe in renewable energy and I strongly believe Tony Abbott's a sceptic about renewable energy. But ultimately what we think and what Liberal think is only part of the picture. It's what about the men and women who work here?. It's what about the people, the millions of Australian households who have solar power on their rooftops?


It's what about anyone who travels around the rest of the world from China, to India, to Germany to the United States, they're all investing in renewable energy. How did we get the bloke who’s not interested in renewable energy? He needs to get with the 21st century. We need a leader who will unite the place and who is a modern person, not someone stuck 30 years ago.


JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] are you risking the government getting around you entirely and doing a deal with the crossbench for a smaller Renewable Energy Target?


SHORTEN: Well, first of all, I think the crossbench Senators will be relieved that Labor has gone with a Clean Energy Council's proposition. I mean what we've got to be careful here is just thinking that because someone's got the title Prime Minister, they shouldn't think they're smarter than everyone else. He's certainly not when it comes to this issue.


The Clean Energy Council, the Aluminium Council of Australia, the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group, the Electrical Trade Union and the Australian Workers Union, if big business and unions, if welders and investment bankers can agree on 33,500 gigawatts per hour, why is it that the only bloke who is stuck in the wrong position is Tony Abbott?


He just needs to do what we've done, let's get on with business. What I'd like to hear from Tony Abbott is not only that he’ll agree with what everyone else says, that he even enunciates a plan on renewable energy for 2030 and beyond. The rest of the world knows renewable energy should be part of our energy mix in the 21st century. Why do we have a Prime Minister who is so stuck in the past that he's a climate sceptic?


JOURNALIST: But will you compromise any further?


SHORTEN: Well first of all, you use this word compromise. What Labor has done is we have chosen jobs, we've chosen investment, and we've chosen the voices of industry and the vast consensus. Leadership is about forging a consensus and making a decision. I've done that, does Tony Abbott have the same capacity to listen to people, forge consensus and move on? That is the test for him.


The test on renewable energy for Tony Abbott isn't just about saving 24,000 jobs or saving billions of dollars of investment, making sure we've got a greener future for our children than the one we currently face. The test is, he is a leader, does he have the capability and the capacity to work together with the Opposition and to work with people or is he just in conflict mode perpetually?


JOURNALIST: What would an agreed RET mean for power bills?


SHORTEN: When it comes to power bills, in the large scale Renewable Energy Target, we know that in fact what this will do, is this will improve our position over time in terms of energy generation, it will diversify us from purely just relying on fossil fuels. The whole world is moving to invest more in renewable energy and see it as a greater part of their energy mix. And when it comes to the small scale Renewable Energy Target we don’t believe that Tony Abbott should be touching that at all. There’s over a million Australian households who now have solar panels on their roofs, we like that, we think it’s good and we think ultimately it gives consumers greater control over their power bills. I might invite my colleague to talk further about this debate about electricity and power.


BUTLER: Tony Abbott made a very rash comment early last year saying that the Renewable Energy Target was placing upward pressure on power prices. There were then about four different reports that all independently said that renewable energy, expansion of wind and solar power places downward pressure on power prices. Indeed, the Prime Minsters own handpicked panel, the group of people he picked to review the Renewable Energy Target said household power prices will be higher if the Renewable Energy Target is abolished then otherwise would be the case. There’s no question that renewable energy expansion improves power prices for households and businesses.


SHORTEN: Are there any other questions?


JOURNALIST: I’ve just got one on RET still, sorry, would you support an RET exemption for Tasmanians big industrials though?


SHORTEN: Listen, thanks for mentioning that, that’s a really important part of Labor’s platform. Labor’s made it clear that we believe in a 100 per cent exemption, a 100 per cent exemption for emission intensive, trade exposed sector companies. That would include Bell Bay, that would include Newstar amongst others.  Labor is firmly on the side of jobs. What’s guided Labor’s decision today is one, a commitment to an energy future in Australian with greater independence and a greater mix of renewable energy in our energy future and of course the other thing which has driven this is jobs.


These are good jobs here, they're good jobs at Bell Bay, they’re good jobs in Hobart at the smelter. What Labor is interested in is making sure that we have a renewable energy mix in our energy future and protecting jobs. It is now time, and we've done that on the best advice of investors, of employers, of people who work in the industry, of environmentalists and now it is time for Tony Abbott to end the crisis in renewable energy, in the uncertainty, show some leadership, come to the party, Labor's there, industry's there, the people are there, now it's time for Tony Abbott to turn up.


JOURNALIST: Just on other issues, the ice national taskforce, what's your reaction to that?


SHORTEN: It’s a good idea - we think ice is a scourge. It's been too long left to our state police to have to deal with, our federal police do a good job on our borders, but there's no doubt that for any of us in the community who’ve seen the effects of ice on people, it is a dreadful scourge, it's a virulent drug which is quite unlike some of those that we've had to deal with before in illegal narcotics and the whole changing scene of drug taking and ice.


But we also believe it's important, just as we unreservedly support the Government's initiative here, is that they’ve made, the current Abbott Government made some dreadful short-term decisions on drug and alcohol support services in Australia. Dealing with ice is not just a police issue. We're rapt that they're going to use Victorian former police chief, Commissioner Ken Lay to lead the task force but we also ask the Abbott Government to reconsider their 12 month funding envelope for drug and alcohol services in Australia.


We think that it's not just a police issue, it's a community health issue, we've got to help people so we need, I think, the Abbott Government in this Budget needs to address not just the policing question but where they've got control over the levers of health funding, they need to provide longer funding profiles for drug and alcohol service because there's no point in just arresting people if you've got no other part of the plan but for what the Government's said, in so far as they've said something, we do support that.


JOURNALIST: Do you think a taskforce can really reduce the use of that drug though?


SHORTEN: Listen, I think there's a lot of valuable work being done by police and by health experts and people in the community right now. I think greater attention on the issue is a good thing, we think it is a good thing. We can't just leave it all to the states so I think this is a good announcement. But again your question's quite right, it's not just a police issue. The police just cannot arrest their way out of an ice epidemic. If anyone's seen a family member or someone they love caught up and addicted to ice you know it's a long journey back and you know that we need good health services because we can’t just expect all our existing nurses and doctors and health professionals just to deal with this epidemic and treat it with the status quo of resources.


JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] says Australia needs to be compliant with international standards by holding 90 days of fuel reserves, should the Government be subsidising this?


SHORTEN: Well we’ve seen this report out today and we’ve seen a debate about fuel independence. Several years ago we had eight oil refineries in Australia, what we’ve seen over the last decade is we’ve seen the large oil multinationals progressively shut down refineries in Australia and rely upon Singapore and larger refineries elsewhere to supply our needs.


I think there’s been a lot of people concerned that Australia’s losing some of its economic control. We’ll have to have a look at the Energy White Paper and the reports today and consider them in-depth but there is a bit of an issue. We’ve seen a lot of our oil refineries close, you know, through economies of scale, the multination’s say, and there has been a growing concern in certain areas that this makes us more vulnerable to interruptions in fuel supply in the future.


But again I have to say, whilst we’ve got to look at that, doesn’t again it make it the whole point about energy in Australia, mean that we should be developing our renewable energy? We’ve got more sunlight than Germany and yet they’ve got a bigger solar industry, isn’t that the challenge? Australia can be really world class at renewable energy; we can be really world class at building things like we see at Haywards Steel. I just think we need a government who has as much confidence in the ability of the Australian people as the Australian people should expect their government to trust them.


JOURNALIST: Are you disturbed by the revelations at HMAS Stirling that were aired on the ABC overnight?


SHORTEN: Yes, they were very, very deplorable reports which emerged. Obviously we’re getting a briefing from the Defence Department but some of the reports of the abuse which we’ve seen are quite devastating and obviously amongst all of that is the lack of transparency to the families of young service people. My view is that if there is a problem going on, and there clearly appears at first glance to be a significant problem, families have a right to know what’s going on and victims deserve the support of the institutions and we’ll be pursuing this matter further with the Government.


Thanks everyone, have a nice day.