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Shorten Says ALP Will Support Carbon Tax Abolition Provided ETS Remains

The Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, has announced that the ALP will support legislation to abolish the fixed carbon price but will move amendments to retain the emissions trading scheme.

Shorten said the ALP will oppose the legislation outright if its amendments are rejected.


Shorten spoke at a press conference with the ALP’s shadow minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water, Mark Butler.

The legislation to abolish the carbon tax will be the first item of business when the new House meets for on November 12. Following its passage through the House, attention will focus on the Senate where the ALP and the Greens have a majority until June 30. The legislation is most likely to be passed by the new Senate after July 1.

Despite speculation that the ALP might agree to support the legislation, Shorten’s announcement comes as no real surprise. The former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, committed the ALP to abandoning the fixed price on July 1 in favour of bringing forward the commencement date of the ETS. Any decision to support abolition of the ETS risked splitting the ALP. The coalition is committed to abolish the fixed price and the ETS.

The Liberal Party was quick to seize on the ALP announcement. The party’s Federal Director, Brian Loughnane, emailed members and supporters: “Today’s decision by the Labor Opposition not to support the unconditional removal of the Carbon Tax confirms that nothing has changed with Labor. Bill Shorten has failed his first test of leadership.”

  • Listen to Shorten and Butler (16m)

Transcript of Bill Shorten and Mark Butler press conference.

BILL SHORTEN: Good afternoon everyone. Labor accepts the science of climate change, and that Australia cannot afford to leave the challenge of climate change to future generations. Tony Abbott does not.

We believe the best most cost-effective way to deal with carbon pollution is an emissions trading scheme. So the Opposition will move amendments, consistent with our pre-election commitments, to terminate the carbon tax on the basis of moving to an effective emissions trading scheme.

However, if our amendments are not successful we will oppose the Government’s repeal legislation in line with our long-held principled position to act on climate change to build a modern economy.

No credible expert argues that the Coalition’s Direct Action policies will work. Instead, Tony Abbott’s policy is to pay tax-payer money to big polluters. As we said during the election we want the carbon tax to go on the basis that we move to an effective emissions trading scheme to act on pollution.

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, will the amendments reflect the ETS you proposed during the election, linking to the European price on July 1 2014 or will it be a bit more general than that?

SHORTEN: We’ll unveil our amendments obviously prior to the Parliament. I might ask Shadow Minister Butler to respond a bit more to that process.

BUTLER: As the Leader said we’ll be outlining our amendments in more detail once their drafted before Parliament sits. But broadly speaking we took very clear indications from business that international linkage, the ability to trade overseas, is the most effective way for them to work within a capped system. A system where they legislate a cap on carbon pollution, so that will be the feature of our amendments.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, what do you say to the response that you made, that Labor lost the election, you should suck it up and give Tony Abbott what he wants and listen to the will of the people. What do you say to that argument?

SHORTEN: Labor will never be a rubber stamp for Tony Abbott. We accept the science of climate change, Tony Abbott doesn’t. We decide our policies based on our long-held principle that climate change is real. We also want to build a modern economy for the future and not put off to future generations the challenges we should be dealing with now. We won’t be bullied and I won’t be bullied by Tony Abbott merely because he doesn’t accept the science of climate change.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, what do you make of the arguments that by standing in the way of repeal you’re going to push up power bills?

SHORTEN: We’ll vote for the repeal. We just want to replace it with an effective scheme that deals with climate change and pollution. So we’ll do what we said before the election and what people said for us to do. We will terminate the carbon tax to replace it with an effective emissions trading scheme. What we won’t do is mortgage our children’s future, what we won’t do is ignore the best science available just to keep Tony Abbott happy.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any allies in the business community, there is some talk that some energy companies, especially the ones that deal in gas support an emissions trading scheme, in other areas of business however, they support no price on carbon. Do you call on those who do support a price on carbon to speak up?

SHORTEN: First of all, most Australian companies, like other companies around the world have already priced carbon pollution into a lot of what they do. I don’t think there is a serious economist in any bank in Australia, who supports for instance the Direct Action Coalition policies which are tax-payer subsidies, your money and mine, tax-payer money going to big polluters. I actually think what companies want is certainty. We would, if successful with our amendments, support the repeal of the carbon tax as we said before the last election, but only on the basis that we have an effective emissions trading scheme. Because we accept that the science of climate change is real, Tony Abbott doesn’t.

JOURNALIST: But do you say to business though, because you’ve got Shell for example it assumes a $40 price a tonne, you’ve got British Gas – other energy companies, specifically gas companies, what do you say to them?

SHORTEN: We say to companies who have already priced carbon pollution, we say to them that we support having certainty. We don’t support pretending to Australian business that the economy can shelter and ignore what’s happening in the rest of the world and somehow that’s in the best interest of shareholders in building a modern economy going forward.

JOURNALIST: Do you want a Senate inquiry on any of this legislation?

SHORTEN: The Senate has it’s processes, clearly the Government’s proposed legislation does deserve examination. No doubt the Senate will do what it does well, which is scrutinise the Government’s legislation.

JOURNALIST: There’s the threat of the double dissolution hanging there in the background. Do you think the Government is serious about that? Are you comfortable if they go fighting an election on what you’re just putting forward?

SHORTEN: What governs the Labor Party that I lead is an assessment about what’s in the best future interest of Australia. We make our decisions not based on the politics of the day, but rather what’s in the best interest of building a modern, competitive Australian economy. What’s in the best interest of future generations, so they don’t look back and say why didn’t you act on the science of climate change when everyone told you it was real.

JOURNALIST: I assume this will be put to the caucus, two points, are you confident it will approved by the caucus and when will it be approved by the caucus?

SHORTEN: It will be put to the caucus, I felt that because of some of the debate in the past few days and it being unanimously supported by the shadow cabinet colleagues that we would clearly state our principles. We will put it to the caucus, I have no doubt the caucus will support what we are saying but we will put it to them before parliament starts.

JOURNALIST: If this final vote is left up to the new Senate make up do you think there’s an issue with conflict of interest with the Palmer United Party, given Clive Palmer himself has an outstanding $6 million carbon tax bill? Would you expect members of his party to abstain from any vote on the carbon tax repeal legislation?

SHORTEN: First of all I congratulate Mr Palmer on being declared elected for the seat of Fairfax. I recongise that Australians voted for his candidates in the Senate and I respect that. I think what happens after 1 July, and all of the new Senators will be a matter that make for easy guessing in how they conduct themselves. I’m sure that all the new Senators and the Palmer United Party will adhere to the laws of the land. I have no doubt about that.

JOURNALIST: The next federal election, you will go to that declaring to reinstate an emissions trading scheme, if the carbon tax is terminated, and will that next election then be another referendum on carbon trading?

SHORTEN: We’ve got three years to go between now and the next election. We will work our policies towards an emissions trading scheme. The precise detail of what we present at the next election will be unveiled before the next election. But at the moment we hope that the Abbott Government accepts the science of climate change, because Labor certainly does, and we intend to have the debate now to repeal the carbon tax and replace it with an efficient, effective, emissions trading system.

JOURNALIST: Are you saying that whenever Labor is in power [inaudible]

SHORTEN: What you get with Labor is a party which makes its decisions based on the best future for Australia and Australians. What we will do, is our policies on climate change will be based on the best science possible, we won’t sneer at the scientists and the economists who tell us climate change is real, and that our industrial production processes have some contribution to that. We’ll make our decisions upon terminating the carbon tax and having an effective, efficient emissions trading system as we promised before the last election.

JOURNALIST: The Climate Change Authority has said in recent days that emissions reductions of 5 per cent by the year 2020 is not going to be enough. They’ve got two recommendations of a 15 per cent cut or a 25 per cent cut. Is Labor in Opposition considering changing the policy which is bipartisan at the moment, changing it to increase maybe 10 or 15 or as high as 25?

SHORTEN: I’ll ask Mark to go to the detail but I’ll just make one initial remark. I’m not even convinced the Coalition is committed to the current targets. Because if they are, they wouldn’t have the Direct Action policies which they’re offering because they won’t achieve them, or they’ll do so at such horrendous cost to the Australian tax-payer. So I’m not sure there is bipartisanship even on the current targets to deal with climate change, and I think the Abbott Coalition said one thing in Opposition and now they’re in Government they’re intent upon ignoring climate change.

BUTLER: One of the bills that will be brought before the Parliament abolishes the Authority if the Government has it’ way. It’s part of an emerging theme you see with this Government to shut down strong, independent voices. This is a very important body, chaired by former Reserve Bank Governor, Bernie Fraser. It has Australia’s chief scientist and many other well-qualified people on it. We said before the election we would pay serious regard to their report, but its important to note this is only a draft report at this stage and the Authority has called for public comment, public submissions about that report. And we’ll certainly be very interested to see what the views of business, environmental groups, and the community more generally about the draft report in coming months is going to be.

JOURNALIST: What price will the ETS be set at? Is it the same price you took to the election?

BUTLER: The whole point about an emissions trading scheme is it puts a legislated cap on carbon pollution and then lets business work out the cheapest way to operate within that cap. So, it is a market-based price, but Treasury advice was that it would be substantially lower than the carbon tax, which is a price set by Canberra, set by Bureaucrats in Canberra. So, that is why so many countries are picking this up, that is why so many economists support an emissions trading scheme, because business works out what the cheapest and most effective way to operate with that cap on carbon pollution is going to be.

JOURNALIST: So there’s no fixed-price period?

BUTLER: No fixed-price period. That was the position we took to the election, to terminate the carbon tax and to move quickly to an emissions trading scheme.

JOURNALIST: What’s your view on the Clean Energy Finance situation, are you supporting the repeal of that?

SHORTEN: Repealing the Clean Energy Finance Corporation? No. We think that they are doing a good job according to their remit right now.

JOURNALIST: The Clean Energy Finance Corporation would need to be only abolished by an act of parliament, by legislation?

BUTLER: Our view about that’s neither here or there really. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation is a create of statute. It is required to act according to the law of the land, they continue to invest a certain amount of money each year in clean energy. Now Tony Abbott’s trying to bully them out of undertaking their statutory role and I’m very glad to see their not being bullied, and they’ll continue to do that. We haven’t seen draft legislation yet to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Government has said it is coming, but we’ve not seen it yet.

JOURNALIST: Just on the amendments you might move, will they try to keep the architecture that’s basically there under the current package?

BUTLER: As Bill Shorten said, we’ll be releasing the detail of our amendments as we get closer to parliament but broadly speaking they would see an emissions trading scheme start on 1 July 2014 as we argued would be the case during the election campaign. And broadly that architecture is well-known, there is a legislated cap on carbon pollution, a cap that Tony Abbott wants to abolish and business then works out the cheapest, most effective way to operate within that cap.

JOURNALIST: Like the Climate Change Authority goes under the repeal bills – does that stay under your amendments? Have you got that far?

BUTLER: We will be opposing the abolition of the Climate Change Authority. We oppose this emerging trend by this government to shut down strong, independent voices. We think it’s important that business and the Australian community get that strong, independent advice about a very complex area like climate change, rather than having all of that advice controlled politically, which is clearly what the Abbott Government wants to do.

JOURNALIST: Can I get your attitude on a bit of a debacle out west with the Senate count. Do you think there should be another election there, a Senate election? Or do you think that you should stick with the initial result?

SHORTEN: It is a very serious matter. What Labor believes is that in the first instance it’s up to the Commissioner to make some recommendations, we’ll have to see if it goes to the Court of Disputed Returns, there’s a bit of a journey to go here yet. I feel for all of the candidates involved. Clearly you can’t rule an election out, it is a possibility. But Labor won’t provide running commentary, we’ll let the processes in our democracy work their way through. But it is a very serious matter and certainty I think West Australians have a right to know how this happened.

JOURNALIST: If there is another election could be around March or April, do you see that as potentially a dry-run on this whole climate change issue and the carbon tax or no carbon tax?

SHORTEN: First things first, I believe West Australians deserve to have an explanation how this could happen. They voted and now the result is unclear. But I also think we’ve got to let the Commissioner and the processes work their process, work through what’s happened and what will be necessary to be done. I’m not going to start answering hypotheticals about what the issues will be in the next Senate election in West Australia if there is a next Senate election in West Australia.

JOURNALIST: You said the decision was unanimous, were there any views expressed that maybe Labor should be more pragmatic and also you were reported in the press, your view was, your alleged view was reported in the press as softening on this issue. Have you had any doubts at any stage about this tactic?

SHORTEN: I won’t comment on the discussions in Shadow Cabinet. I and all of my colleagues firmly believe that the science, and we accept the science of climate change is real, Tony Abbott doesn’t.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

SHORTEN: There’s been no doubt I believe amongst all of my colleagues in the Shadow Cabinet that the policy we went to the election with, which was to terminate the carbon tax and replace it with an effective and an efficient emissions trading scheme, it is the right policy and that principle, and the principle of using the best science possible and what is in the best interest of the future of Australia is what we’ll do with our actions and our amendments.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any concerns that the Jakarta embassy has been used spying on one of our closest partners?

SHORTEN: It’s a long-standing convention on both sides of politics not to comment on intelligence matters, so I won’t start now.


Statement by Brian Loughnane, Federal Director, Liberal Party.

Today’s decision by the Labor Opposition not to support the unconditional removal of the Carbon Tax confirms that nothing has changed with Labor.

Bill Shorten has failed his first test of leadership.

Instead of supporting the repeal of the Carbon Tax, Mr Shorten and Labor now want to “amend it” and, importantly, keep in place the laws that underpin the Carbon Tax.

Labor wants to keep the Carbon Tax, so that they can easily re-start it, if they are elected again.

A strong leader would have stood up to Labor’s left and opposed the Carbon Tax – but Bill Shorten was too weak to do so.

Bill Shorten’ s refusal to unconditionally support the removal of the Carbon Tax threatens local jobs and will mean higher electricity prices.

Only the Coalition opposes the Carbon Tax and will remove it – no “ifs” or “buts”.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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