23 September 2019

PATRICIA KARVELAS: As world leaders meet in New York to discuss climate change, the world meteorological organisation are warning that it's effects are accelerating dramatically. Global temperatures have already risen 1.1 degrees Celsius and the UN says that a five-fold increase in carbons emissions reductions is needed to limit warming to the 1.5 degree tipping point. That's well beyond what Labor and the Coalition have committed to and promises to be highly contentious. Terri Butler is the Shadow Minister for Environment and Water and joins us tonight, Terri Butler welcome.
KARVELAS: So this warning says that the last five years have been the hottest on record. Carbon emissions increased by 20% during that period and they're still rising. Is that a crisis?
BUTLER: Well Patricia, I think what this report reinforces for everyone in the lead up to the UN summit is the importance of real and serious action on climate change. And unfortunately we have got a Government who is taking very little action, in my view, to take real action on climate change. And in fact we have been in an energy crisis since 2015 under this Government where we've seen emissions rising. Under us, of course, emissions declined, but under this Government emissions have been rising. And it looks very clear that on the Government's own projections the Liberals are going to miss the 2020 Kyoto commitment of a 5% cut on 2000 levels, and that emissions are going to keep rising all the way to 2030 which will miss their already inadequate 2030 target by a huge margin.
KARVELAS: OK, but my question is, do you consider this now a crisis?
BUTLER: Well I think around the world, people are gravely, deeply concerned about climate change and I think of course  a very important conference coming up and I think it’s regrettable that the Prime Minister, even though he is in New York, is not attending. Because the UN has been very clear and serious about the warning that it has been sounding and about the need for ambitious action on climate change. Australia should be participating in that, in good faith, appropriately. I just don't have much faith in the current Government to do that given their complete failure so far.
KARVELAS: Global temperatures have risen 1.1 degrees above pre-industrial levels. 1.5 degrees is considered the tipping point and the UN says we'll need a five-fold increase in carbon emissions cuts to meet that. Do you think that's politically achievable?
BUTLER: Well we have a massive problem facing the world. It's a wicked problem. We have a range of concerns from both developed and developing countries in relation to how to meet the required reduction, I should say, in emissions. I think that what is really important right now is remembering that taking real action on climate change requires goodwill and buy-in from across the globe. Here in Australia we need to pull our weight when it comes to reducing emissions. We are a significant emitter of carbon emissions, of course, and that means taking serious, sober and committed action on climate change. My point is just that we've got a Government that has seemingly got no real appetite for interest in taking serious action. They kind of turn up to Question Time and say everything's fine, everything's fine, we are going to meet our targets in a canter, but Australians see that as being completely disingenuous. They're not even going to meet their own targets which are inadequate and I think Australians are getting pretty sick of it and we saw that at the climate march on Friday when millions of people turned out to demand real and serious action on climate change.
KARVELAS: Your colleague Mark Butler has suggested Labor should work to the IPCC target of zero net emissions by 2050. Do you agree?
BUTLER: Well Mark of course, is the Shadow Minister for Climate Change and he's been very clear that our commitment to reducing emissions is and should be unshakeable. The question of how we reach those targets, of course, is a live one. I'm not going to purport to be Mark Butler in his absence. We're actually not related to each other or clones of each other. But I think it's really clear that Mark has a serious approach to climate change. He's just calling on the Government to take the same approach, which is to actually step up and take some real action. As I said to you, we've got a situation now where the Government's targets are inadequate - they're not even going to meet those.
KARVELAS: Sure, but you can't just critique the governments without providing an alternative. Do you think you need to get to zero net emissions by 2050?
BUTLER: Well, I think that right now it is important to be critiquing the Government because we're at least two and a half years away from the serious prospect of having a Labor Government. I wish we were in government, we're not, the consequence is that the fate of Australia's emissions reduction, relies on what the Government is prepared to do.
KARVELAS: Sure but you're sort of saying do more, but you won't say how much more.
BUTLER: Well the Government needs to come out and say what it's going to do. We're in a situation now, we just had an election, we lost it, I wish we didn't because we had very strong policies in relation to climate change. And all the Government's got is the Abbott era ERF rebadged, which I think no one, who's paying any attention, has any confidence in, in relation to reducing Australia's emissions, particularly since they've had that the whole time, particularly since emissions have been rising since 2015, in contrast to what happened under Labor. So yes, I wish I could tell you that we could somehow force the Government to take real action on climate change tomorrow, but as I said, we are at least two and a half years away from the prospect of potentially being in government.
KARVELAS: But the actual question at the centre here that I'm putting to you, is, do you think that that zero net emissions by 2050 is something you should work towards?
BUTLER: Well, I wish that we are in a position to be in government and work towards any emissions reduction.
KARVELAS: But is that the one you work towards, if you were?
BUTLER: Well, I'm not going to answer a hypothetical question. We have a Government right now, today.
KARVELAS: But, do you think zero net emissions by 2050 is a good idea?
BUTLER: I think they should actually take some action at all Patricia. I think all Australians are really sick and tired.
KARVELAS: You're just talking about action but you won't articulate a position on zero net emissions by 2050.
BUTLER: Well, I've articulated that I think that the current situation where the Government's going backwards on emissions reduction, where emissions have been growing, where the only real policy they've got is the Abbott-era emissions reduction fund rebadged, where we've had sixteen energy policies since this Government was elected but at the same time we've had an increase in emissions since 2015, is the wrong approach. Now I wish we had a Government that I could confidently say would have an appetite for appropriate, proper, ambitious action on climate, but we don't, and wishful thinking about what we might do if the election result had been different doesn't help anyone. What we do need is to put some pressure on Scott Morrison, who, as I said, is in New York but is just skippin' the conference, isn't rollin' up to the conference. Most important issue facing the world right now and the PM is too busy for it. Well, you know, there's plenty of world leaders who aren't too busy to come to grips with the realities of climate change and I'm just asking for ours to be one of them.
KARVELAS: Anthony Albanese says that all of Labor's policies are up for review, including policies around climate change. Would it be irresponsible for Labor to weaken those policies, given the urgency of this threat?
BUTLER: Well, Mark's made very clear that we are unshakeable in our commitment in relation to climate change. Of course, with policies under review, then we can talk about how we get to emissions reduction, the policies that we implement along the way to get there. But let's be very clear, of course all of our policies are under review, it's just after an election which we lost. That doesn't mean that our values are under review.
KARVELAS: Labor is calling for money from the Future Drought Fund to be made available now to help towns that face running out of water over summer. What measures do those towns need to help them in your view?
BUTLER: Patricia this was a fund that was announced last year, but the first money won't start being released from it until July next year. We're suggesting that those towns that are in severe situations need some help from the Commonwealth Government. I don't want to be prescriptive about the form of that help, but I will say this; there are towns that are facing a real and serious prospect of running dry and having to truck in water, and that is a direct legacy of this Government's failure, now that they're in their third term, their failure over the preceding six years, to take serious action to protect the water security and water supply for these towns. That's towns in my state of Queensland, it's towns in regional New South Wales. People are distressed, they're anxious, they would like some leadership from the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth unfortunately has been too busy pointing the finger at the Labor Party and at state governments to actually have articulated a real and serious drought plan. They've had a drought envoy, they've had a drought coordinator, they've had a drought taskforce, they've had a drought summit. The thing that they haven't had is a real plan to protect communities and make them more resilient in the face of serious drought.
So it's up to them, but I would say this: this is a fund that they made a lot of noise about, they criticised us when we had the temerity to suggest that you shouldn't be axing an infrastructure fund to create a drought fund, you should be able to do both. Well now they've created it, let's have a look at it, let's see what it can do. But I tell you what won't help, leaving all the money in the Government's coffers until July next year. People need help now.
KARVELAS: You are calling for the release of the drought envoys reports sent via text message by Barnaby Joyce. He obviously sent them by text messages he's told us. Why do you want to see all those text messages?
BUTLER: Well Barnaby got extra staffing, he got extra travel entitlements, he was created in the position of drought envoy to much fanfare. We weren't able to ask him questions about that role in Question Time because it wasn't a ministerial role, it was a role conferred upon him as a backbencher. So there's been a lack of transparency about the bang for buck that Australians have got with the additional resources for that role. I think it's pretty reasonable to say, well, show us the output. Where's the report? Well if you say that the reporting was done by text, well presumably he's still got those on his phone.
KARVELAS: Thank you so much for time.
BUTLER: Thanks for yours.