Thursday, 18 July 2013

Butler unexpurgated my IN box today

Sent: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 10:23 PM
The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Climate Change
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Water


16 July 2013

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:   Your electricity bill will drop next July. At least that is how the new Rudd Government is selling its latest move on carbon pricing. The fixed price is disappearing one year earlier, so the floating price, paid by almost 400 of Australia's biggest polluters, will begin in July next year. The announcement was made by the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Climate Change Minister Mark Butler.
                                    They are now in Rockhampton in Queensland and Mark Butler joins us. Minister, thanks for joining us.
MARK BUTLER:        G'day Raf.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN:   How do you ensure my electricity bill will be smaller? Do you force, by some law, the electricity company to pass on a saving?
MARK BUTLER:        Well it is different in different states. I make the point that Treasury has told us that electricity prices will be about seven per cent lower, and gas prices about six per cent lower, than they would have been under the carbon tax. And Treasury was very accurate about their forecasts about the introduction of the carbon tax, and we're very confident those forecasts are right.
                                    Victoria and my own state of South Australia don't have regulated electricity prices in the way that New South Wales does, for example. But we're very confident that the capacity for consumers to look at what their electricity retailer is charging them, make a clear assessment next year about whether those prices are coming down in the way that we expect them to.
MARK BUTLER:        Vote with their seat if they're - one of the retailers is trying to [indistinct].
RAFAEL EPSTEIN:   Sure. It just seems a bit odd when you've spent years saying it's not a significant contributor to the increase in our electricity bill, and then you sell this as something that will in fact have a big impact on our electricity bill.
MARK BUTLER:        Well I think our language has been pretty moderate throughout. We were very clear about what we thought the introduction of the carbon tax would mean for electricity prices, in contrast to the doom and gloom that the Opposition spoke about it.
                                    And our forecasts, the forecasts we took from Treasury, ended up being spot on. So we're very confident that our forecasts will be spot on in this way as well.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN:   Mark Butler is with me, the Climate Change Minister, he's also, of course, Minister for Environment Heritage and Water.
                                    1300 222 774, I want to know if you think it makes a difference - the fixed price going one year earlier. I suppose the important question, Mark Butler, is does it work, do our emissions head down? The last figures I looked at, and they're from the Department of Industry, they actually have our emissions increasing in the December quarter with the fixed carbon price.
                                    So, do you know if our emissions are actually going to go down now that you've got a floating price?
MARK BUTLER:        Well the point about having a fixed price is that there is no legal cap, or legal limit, on the amount of carbon pollution being produced in Australia. An emissions trading scheme, which is what we're going to move to more quickly, has two features. First of all, it sets a legal limit on the total amount of carbon pollution that can be produced, and that limit reduces over time, so that we can turn around the impacts on our climate.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN:    Who sets the limit? You're talking about a limit now on our emissions, who sets the limit, and will I know what that limit is when I vote on your policy at the election?
MARK BUTLER:        Yeah, well we established a body called the Climate Change Authority, which is an independent group. It's chaired by Bernie Fraser who used to be the Governor of the Reserve Bank, and they've got some clear timeframes in the legislation they need to comply with. So, we expect a draft report about the caps, or the limits, going out to 2020, to be released in October. And they're required by law to produce a final report in February so that we know what those limits are.
                                    There's obviously going to be a fair bit of debate about what those limits should be, particularly going out to 2020. But that's the essence of the Emissions Trading Scheme.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN:   But the mechanism of the trading scheme is kind of pointless. How do I assess that as a voter? You say your mechanism's better than Tony Abbott's, but how do I assess your mechanism if I don't actually know what the emissions reduction target will be before I vote? What am I voting on?
MARK BUTLER:        Well we've said that our emissions reduction target will be at least five per cent by 2020, and potentially more depending on what happens with international negotiations. So, somewhere between five per cent as a minimum and 25 per cent depending on how well we progress the international negotiations.
                                    So, the authority is working on that band, between five and 25, and they'll provide some clear advice about that. Tony Abbott's policy, on the other hand, has no cap whatsoever. It's a policy that pays polluters a whole lot of money, and then hopes that they change their behaviour with no legal capacity to enforce the amount of carbon pollution going into the atmosphere.
                                    But, Raf, I just want to respond to another point you made, which is about what's happening to emissions now. What happened last year, in the 2012/13 financial year, is that we saw, for example, carbon pollution from electricity, so the biggest source of pollution, come down by more than seven per cent.
MARK BUTLER:        Yeah, mainly because we saw renewable energy sources - wind power and solar power, increase their share of the electricity market by more than 25 per cent. So, this does work - if you get the policy settings right, this does work.
                                    But it's important to note that we're currently going through a transitional period with no cap on carbon pollution. So the sooner we move from a carbon tax to an emissions trading scheme, the sooner we can make those very serious inroads to carbon pollution, and start to turn this climate emergency around.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN:   Look, 1300 222 774, I wonder what you make of what Mark Butler has to say. Minister, I still don't understand though, what I'm voting on. I don't know - I still don't know what you're driving for. It's some - if you tell me five per cent reduction by 2020 compared to a base year level, that's precisely the same policy as the coalition. What am I actually voting for that's different? I don't know what your cap is.
MARK BUTLER:        Theirs is a policy that pays polluters and hopes, ours is a policy that sets a legal limit that aligns with that five per cent reduction. And depending on the advice from the Climate Change Authority, so I'm not just plucking a figure from the air, depending on that advice, the cap, between now and 2020, might be more ambitious than five per cent.
                                    But this is all set in appropriate ways, taking independent advice, and then once it's set it's legally binding. Under Tony Abbott's policy there is no sense of legal enforcement to the amount of carbon pollution put into the atmosphere. They'd simply pay polluters and hope. And that's simply not a policy picked up anywhere else in the world.
                                    What we're moving to, an Emissions Trading Scheme, is overwhelmingly around the world seen as the most efficient and effective way to drive down carbon pollution. While at the same time we're very seriously supporting the growth in our renewable energy sources. There's no country that's more blessed than - for sources like solar and wind, than Australia, and we want to make the most of that.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN:   I just wonder if this will ever see the light of day. You're going to have to implement this before July next year, the Greens will retain control in the Senate until July next year. They have been distinctly unhappy with everything the new Prime Minister - or the reinstalled Prime Minster has said on climate.
                                    What hope do you have of actually implementing this policy if they control the Senate - no matter what happens at the election, they control the Senate until July?
MARK BUTLER:        Well the first point I'd make is that we will take the clearest possible policy around climate change to the election. We'll have draft legislation, we've put out today the costings, that ensure we can deliver on this in a budget sense. We've got the ambitions, we've got all of the systems set in place, and no one will be able to complain that they don't know what we took to the election.
                                    But I also make the point that the Greens Party turned its back, in 2009, on emissions trading. If they hadn't done that we'd already have this system in place, and I think that was a terrible mistake. But for them to do it twice would be more than a mistake, it would simply be unforgivable.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN:   But they could impose a much tougher target. If I decide to be a Labor voter at this election, they might still completely change whatever it is that you are proposing. I'm not sure anything that you said to me then changes the fact that the Greens still will control this. You're the party that want to bring this in by July of next year, but the Greens are going to control practically all of that, aren't they? They'll control the Senate.
MARK BUTLER:        Well I think we also make the point that it's not just the Greens that need to face up to the way in which the world is moving here - emissions trading schemes that we see starting in Korea in 2015. China has already started to move, city by city, province by province, to a national emissions trading scheme they hope to have in place by 2015. France, Germany, the UK, California already have these schemes.
                                    Tony Abbott has run a very clear, destructive political attack on this type of policy now for a couple of years. If he can't sustain it through the election, the Liberal Party is also going to have to face up to what they want to do as a long-term policy around climate change - something that Australians feel very strongly about.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN:   Okay Minister, look thank you for taking the time. I know you've got a community cabinet meeting in Rockhampton tonight, we'll try and organise something in the election perhaps with you and your opposite number Greg Hunt.
                                    I appreciate you giving us your time.
MARK BUTLER:        Thanks Raf.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN:   That's Mark Butler, he's the Minister for Climate Change, Environment Heritage and Water.

Media contact:          Tim O’Halloran            0409 059 617

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