Interview on ABC Radio Adelaide, Breakfast with David Bevan and Spence Denny
Topics: Energy; Schools funding; My Health
David Bevan: Let’s welcome our Super Wednesday panellists to discuss the bigger issues. Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator, is on the phone. Good morning Sarah Hanson-Young.
Sarah Hanson-Young: Good morning, thanks for having me. Hi guys.
David Bevan: Mark Butler, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Labor Member for Port Adelaide. Good morning to you.
Mark Butler: Morning everyone.
David Bevan: And Simon Birmingham, Federal Education Minister. Good morning to you.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning David and Spence and everybody.
David Bevan: Now- oh. You got a dodgy phone Simon Birmingham?
Simon Birmingham: I don’t think so.
David Bevan: We’re going to get a FundMe page so we can buy you a decent- how many phones are you on now, Senator Birmingham?
Simon Birmingham: You guys are the only people who ever seem to have this problem.
David Bevan: Maybe it’s we don’t pay our bills. Anyway, look, we will…
Spence Denny: It’s got to be us.
David Bevan: We will persist. But let’s start with Mark Butler, because you’re Shadow Minister for Climate Change. There’s an article which caught our attention in The Guardian today, saying that The Australia Institute has suggested that if we impose a 26 per cent target on emissions, on the agriculture sector, we will end up having to cull herds. In 2030, we would need 2.9 million fewer beef cattle, 8 million fewer sheep, 290,000 fewer dairy cows and 270,000 fewer pigs. Mark Butler, is this right?
Mark Butler: Well I don’t think anyone seriously thinks that we’re going to impose a specific emissions reduction target on the agricultural sector, certainly the Labor Party policy for some time has been to exempt the 115,000 or so farming businesses in Australia from any arrangement we have, whether it’s an emissions trading scheme arrangement or otherwise. But the problem for the Government is that they’ve imposed this rule that we’ve argued against very strongly, that the energy sector, the electricity sector, will only cut its emissions by 26 per cent. Now, this is 26 per cent of 2005 levels, and given that it’s already cut its emissions because of the Renewable Energy Target, what that actually means is over the course of the 2020s, the energy sector will only have to reduce it’s emissions by 2 per cent, and the Energy Security Board set up by Malcolm Turnbull, advised everyone last week that it will achieve that by the first year of the 2020s. So it won’t have to do anything which Barnaby Joyce has finally realised will impose a burden on manufacturing, on farming and on transport and a range of other sectors that don’t have the low-cost technology available to them that the energy sector does.
David Bevan: But why should…
Mark Butler: Now that’s why the National Farmers’ Federation has been complaining about this …
David Bevan: Yeah, but why should the agricultural sector be quarantined from this?
Mark Butler: Well, because they don’t really have the capacity short of this sort of extreme things that The Australia Institute has identified, short of culling herds. They don’t have the technology right now available to deal with emissions from beef cattle, for example. Beef cattle produce quite a lot of emissions. There’s really interesting research going on by CSIRO in partnership with organisations overseas about feeding seaweed to those cattle which will cut down substantially on their emissions, which I noticed your schoolboy humour in the introduction, David and Spence, talking about farting. It’s actually about 90 per cent burping. It’s front end, not back end.
Spence Denny: Really? Oh, thank you for clearing that up.
Mark Butler: Yeah, just wanted to get the ends right. It’s about 90 per cent front end, 10 per cent back end.
Mark Butler: We can get- we think we can get…
Spence Denny: Who studies that?
Mark Butler: Sorry?
Spence Denny: Who studies that?
Mark Butler: Well, people who get very substantial doctorate qualifications do that, and we have monitoring above cattle herds and such like. This is a serious issue for the climate, but we are just going to have to do some more research on this. Sectors like energy, where there is substantial opportunity to reduce emissions thorough the deployment of renewable energy should be doing more of the heavy lifting. We’ve been arguing that, the National Farmers’ Federation has been arguing that, the manufacturing sector has argued that. And finally, Barnaby Joyce, who tends to spend most of his time arguing for the coal industry, rather than arguing in the interests of agriculture, has finally realised we’ve got a problem here.
David Bevan: Well we have come a long way from our laughing over Rooty Hill. No more schoolboy humour please, Mark Butler. We’re too good for jokes about farts.
Mark Butler: I’m trying to be mature and sensible here and you’re bringing the standards down, David.
David Bevan: Wouldn’t be the first time. Let’s go to Sarah Hanson-Young from the Greens. Should the agriculture sector be quarantined from any of these changes?
Sarah Hanson-Young: I think actually, I have to agree with Mark on a lot of this, that part of the problem is just how difficult it is to get a good bang for your buck in terms of reducing emissions from the agriculture industry, and that’s part of the problem here. We need to be reducing carbon emissions in a much faster way if we’re to tackle climate change. So clean, green technology and renewables is available. The problem that Barnaby Joyce has here is it’s because of how weak the Government’s NEG is. It’s because it’s so weak that it’s now going to be a threat to the agriculture industry unless something else happens. So Barnaby Joyce might think: oh well, we should just pull out of Paris, we should just stop trying to tackle climate change at all. Well thankfully most Australians disagree with that. We know we’ve got a warming climate, we know we have to do something about it. The most easiest and effective and inexpensive way of doing it is to do it through reducing as many carbon emissions as we can through the electricity industry. That’s what we should be focused on. But it’s because the Government’s NEG is so weak and pretty pathetic that we’re now seeing all the cows left out to pasture.
David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, if Barnaby Joyce does pull his support from the 26 per cent target for pollution, do you have a political problem?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we’re determined to see the National Energy Guarantee implemented and it has the support of a wide range of organisations, including the National Farmers’ Federation. And it’s because it’s recognised as a way to ease power prices on the latest modelling released by the Energy Security Board around $500 per household benefit. And the problem with what Mark Butler’s talking about there is that Labor is actually committed or says they want to see even higher emissions reduction targets. So the question then becomes; if they’re going to have even higher targets and they’re going to load it all onto the electricity sector, then how much more would Australian households, businesses and farmers end up paying for their electricity under their policies relative to ours, which have now been well developed, well modelled and have the backing of industry groups, of the National Farmers’ Federation and a range of different stakeholders who can see that there are clear benefits providing certainty around energy policy and getting the least cost emissions reduction in the energy sector done alongside of a reliability guarantee because that gives you then a downward pressure on prices.
David Bevan: Do you agree you’ve got to quarantine the agriculture sector?
Simon Birmingham: Well our government won’t be doing anything that harms agriculture but it is wrong to pretend that agriculture hasn’t helped Australia in different ways in terms of impeding of all of our emissions targets to date. That land use practices and a carbon capturing soil, all of those different factors have indeed played a key role. The trading of carbon credits in Australia has been something that the agricultural sector generally has played a big role in and so there may well be other ways that are positive to the agricultural sector to contribute towards meeting emissions targets. But the agriculture sector and farmers I speak to also want to see downwards pressure on electricity prices and that’s why Labor should be clear in its position and it should support our National Energy Guarantee because the modelling is very transparent now that there will be downward pressure on electricity prices because of our policies.
David Bevan: That’s the voice of South Australian Senator Simon Birmingham, Federal Education Minister, before that Mark Butler from the Labor Party and Sarah Hanson-Young from the Greens. It’s a quarter to nine. Simon Birmingham, your South Australian colleague Tony Pasin says your relationship with the Catholic school sector is toxic and he’s welcomed the Prime Minister intervening. How did you get it so wrong with the Catholics?
Simon Birmingham: Well David, let’s recall what the Government is trying to do here and for the first time in Australian history we’re seeking to try to apply consistency to the way in which school funding applies across the country from the federal government. So we’re trying to ensure that schools are based on the needs of those school communities to ensure every child can have the best opportunity to get ahead. In previous governments, and particularly the previous Labor government, squibbed that by basically saying well we’ll let different arrangements apply to different schooling sectors or to different states. We don’t want that to occur. And now last year when we undertook these reforms, Catholic school systems raised concerns about one element, one element which was the socio-economic status score which impacts on the way the formula works. At that time last year we committed to review it. Last month we received that review. We’re now acting, in meetings that I had yesterday and with Catholic Ed, we’re acting to implement the recommendations of that review. But it is about trying to do what has been unachievable for all previous governments, but we are determined to stick to the principle of doing so and that is apply school funding fairly, consistently based on need and the result of that is that South Australia sees the second highest rate of growth around the state to around $703 million.
David Bevan: Did you get a phone call from the Prime Minister saying Simon, I’m intervening?
Simon Birmingham: The Prime Minister and I have spoken at every step of this dating back well over a year…
David Bevan: Yeah, yeah, but this is something new and Tony Pasin has welcomed it because he’s saying it’s so toxic what’s happened between you and the Catholic education sector. So can you explain to our listeners what happened. Was there a phone call from the Prime Minister and he said, Simon, I’ve got to intervene?
Simon Birmingham: Well, no. Although, I’m not going to go to the tenor or the content of my conversations with the Prime Minister. We speak very, very regularly, as you would expect the Education Minister to speak with the Prime Minister. It’s public knowledge that a number of archbishops met with the Prime Minister a couple of weeks ago, they had a number of issues to discuss, they discussed school funding as well. That’s not unusual, the Prime Minister meets with stakeholders right across the board all of the time. Catholic Education Authority met with me once again yesterday as we’ve had numerous meetings working through what this report we’ve received says, what its recommendations are and how we can fairly and consistently give effects to its recommendations. And that’s what we’re getting on to do.
Spence Denny: Mark Butler, Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Labor Member for Port Adelaide, is this the right model for funding education?
Mark Butler: Well, what is unusual here is the lack of confidence, I think, that’s been signalled by the Prime Minister and by the Prime Minister’s Office, in Simon Birmingham’s handling of this. It might be one thing for the Prime Minister to have one meeting with stakeholders just to try and inject confidence but reports this morning indicate that the Prime Minister is going to have further meetings with the Catholic authorities to try and get this thing back on the rails. And although Tony Pasin, I guess, has courageously put his name to his lack of confidence in Simon’s handling of this, there have been a host of other ministers and Liberal MPs who have been backgrounding reporters across the country to say that this thing has gone completely off the rails. I mean, this is just one example, I think, since the weekend, since the 10 per cent collapse in the primary votes for the Liberal Party in Queensland and the collapse in the votes here in Mayo…
Simon Birmingham: But Mark, do you believe we should be consistent in the way we treat non-government schools?
Mark Butler: You’ve had your go Simon, you’ve had your go…
David Bevan: Well, it’s a fair question, Mark Butler, it’s a fair question. Do you think it should be consistent?
Mark Butler: Well, I think that this government has had five years to put together a schools funding policy that has the confidence of all the stakeholders. And Simon – and Christopher Pyne before him – has abjectly failed to do that. Now, at the heart of that is the $17 billion cut in schools funding over the period of the schools funding arrangements that Malcolm Turnbull and Simon Birmingham are seeking to implement. So of course stakeholders are going to have concerns about that, whether they’re public school stakeholders or Catholic school stakeholders. But for five years they’ve had the opportunity to fix this, and over the course of this week, the Prime Minister and Simon’s colleagues have made it abundantly clear that they have completely lost confidence in Simon Birmingham’s ability to do this.
David Bevan: Have all three of you lost confidence in My Health? Sarah Hanson-Young, will you be staying in or opting-out?
Sarah Hanson-Young: Look, I’ve been trying to weigh up whether I stay in or opt-out, for the last couple of weeks. But I think what is good, of course, is that the Government has seen fit to amend some of the legislation to allow for proper warrants before information is handed over to authorities in relation to My Health.
Can I just- I just want to go back though, to this issue of the schools funding if I could. Because I find this extraordinary that after years and years of debate that we need a funding model that is based on need, so we’ve got taxpayer money going to schools, it should be going to the schools who need it the most. That overwhelmingly is the public school system. And to see now this scrap continuing particularly from the Catholic school sector asking and begging for another special deal so that- at the cost – let’s face it – at the cost of money that could be going to our public schools, I find the whole thing just absolutely revolting. Our public schools need more money and [indistinct]…
David Bevan: So do you think Mark- do you think Simon [indistinct] should stare down the Catholic sector?
Sarah Hanson-Young: Absolutely. Absolutely they should. And the idea that their going weak at the knees on this and the Prime Minister’s starting to get a wobble because there has been a political campaign run by the Catholic school sector, is just really off. I mean, if the Catholic schools can’t find enough money from all of the buildings that they’ve got, all of the money that the Catholic church has to fund their schools properly or to distribute the money in a fair way so that the poorer Catholic schools in their system get more money, then there is something wrong with their system. We shouldn’t be at the expense of money that should be going to public schools and our public school kids.
Spence Denny: Sarah Hanson-Young, thank you. Young Greens senator for South Australia, spokesperson for finance and trade. Also, Mark Butler, thanks to you. Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Labor Member for Port Adelaide. And Simon Birmingham, the Federal Education Minister, thank you for your involvement in Super Wednesday.