Interview on ABC Radio Adelaide with Ali Clarke and David Bevan
Topics: Political future of Rebekha Sharkie; Monash forum; Tim Storer
David Bevan: Well let’s welcome our studio guest Mark Butler, Labor member for Port Adelaide, National President of the ALP and he hopes for much much longer, holding that position, good morning Mark Butler.

Mark Butler: Good morning, good to be with you.

David Bevan: And Rebekha Sharkie, the NXT member for the Federal seat of Mayo which much of it is up in the Adelaide Hills, good morning to you.

Rebekha Sharkie: Don’t forget the Fleurieu and Kangaroo Island, and good morning.

David Bevan: You forget those regions at your peril.

Rebekha Sharkie: Absolutely.

David Bevan: And you will not. Now also on the phone line, is the Liberal Senator and Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham, good morning to you sir.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning David and good morning everybody.

David Bevan: Now let’s clear up this business about Rebekha Sharkie and the Liberal Party. Rebekah Sharkie has anyone from the Liberal Party been making overtures to you about, you know, come on, join up?

Rebekha Sharkie: I most certainly wouldn’t say it like that. Let’s clear up; it’s been said that I was going to be the candidate for Morialta, that I was going to be the candidate for Finniss. And, I’m still here as the Member for Mayo and that’s where my focus is. There’s no doubt that our party has changed since the 2016 election but my focus is on Mayo and I’m with a good team

David Bevan: Has someone from the Liberal Party come to you and said, we think you should join the Liberal Party?

Rebekha Sharkie: Oh, definitely, definitely not in those words.

Ali Clarke: What words?

Rebekha Sharkie: I have many friends in the Liberal Party. Don’t forget I did work there for six years and you have conversations with friends that are private conversations but let me say I’m the Member for Mayo. I’m with the Nick Xenophon Team, we are looking at changing our name, Nick is no longer in the Senate, and my focus is entirely on Mayo.

David Bevan: Have you contemplated joining the Liberal Party?

Rebekha Sharkie: No.

David Bevan: Okay. Has a former staffer with Isobel Redmond’s office come to work for you?

Rebekha Sharkie: A close friend of mine who is now out of a job will be coming and filling in for a maternity leave position that will be coming up in my office, yeah, I’m really excited about Gaynor coming on.

David Bevan: So that’s Gaynor Slaughter?

Rebekha Sharkie: Absolutely, Gaynor is fantastic.

David Bevan: Gaynor, she worked for Isobel Redmond for many, many years.

Rebekha Sharkie: With me … the two of us together, absolutely.

David Bevan: Right, so your ties go back to the Liberal Party, they’re quite strong aren’t they?

Rebekha Sharkie: I have a staff member in my team, my senior constituent advisor, who’s been with me now for nearly two years who was a trainee of mine when I was under Rachel Sanderson, I have no issue with that.

David Bevan: Can you rule out joining the Liberal Party before the next Federal election?

Rebekha Sharkie: Yes I can rule that out.

David Bevan: You’re going to stay with the Nick Xenophon Team?

Rebekha Sharkie: We are going to need to go through some rebranding as the Nick Xenophon Team but we are still working so hard together. Yes, the makeup has changed but what Rex and I have been able to work together just on uncovering water purchases in the River Murray, this is really important stuff that we’ve been doing and I’m really keen to stay with the team I’m in.

Ali Clarke: You just said a rebranding as the Nick Xenophon Team, do you mean involving that name and that brand still or completely changing away and moving away from what was his focus?

Rebekha Sharkie: We are going to need to obviously change the name, Nick Xenophon has wanted us to change the name for a long time, that’s been in the plan but we’ve had by-election after by-election which has made that rather difficult with the Electoral Commission, but we’re in a space now where we’re working together and planning for the future.

Ali Clarke: And you mentioned Rex there, but Stirling Griff?

Rebekha Sharkie: Oh, Stirling and I work together all the time particularly around health and ageing. I mean I have the oldest electorate in South Australia so we’re working together on a number of issues.

David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, you’d like to have Rebekha Sharkie back in the party wouldn’t you?

Simon Birmingham: I’m always open to new recruits David but Rebekha has chosen to be a member of whatever the Nick Xenophon Team is now going to be come without Nick Xenophon. That’s her choice. We have welcomed with open arms Lucy Gichuhi and Dennis Hood into the Liberal Party over the course of the last 12 months. We of course welcome new members and new recruits but if Rebekha stays put where she is then we will keep working with her and having constructive dealings with her wherever we can.

David Bevan: And while we are sorting out each of your futures. Mark Butler …

Simon Birmingham: Mark, like his grandfather would be welcome in the Liberal Party too if he wants…

David Bevan: Mark Butler you have held the position of National President of the ALP for some time now, for a term and you’ve signalled you’d like to have another go, when’s that going to be sorted out? Because I think the right of the party have said I don’t think so Mark?

Mark Butler: Our rules don’t permit us to talk about the presidential election but I will say that the timeframe is that the ballot takes place over May and June, leading into our national conference which will be back in Adelaide for the first time since 1979, in late July.

David Bevan: Does that help you having the national conference?

Mark Butler: No I don’t think. Or it doesn’t hinder me I don’t think it’s a factor.

David Bevan: Are you confident?

Mark Butler: We’re not allowed to talk about the presidential election David so let’s move on.

Ali Clarke: Just like fight club. Simon Birmingham…

Simon Birmingham: That doesn’t seem to stopping Wayne Swan floating a whole lot of policy ideas.

Ali Clarke: Simon Birmingham. The Monash group, who’s on it and what do you know about it?

Simon Birmingham: I’ve heard some of the media reports, and I can’t say I’ve sat down and read every column that’s appeared in the last day or two, but from what I can tell it’s a group of MPs that want to get together and talk about policy and that’s a good thing.

David Bevan: In particular, what they want is a new coal-fired power station built in Victoria, is that correct?

Simon Birmingham: Well I’ve seen those reports and if people sit down and look at the case for that they’ll find that the economics struggle to stack up. That ultimately the approach the Turnbull Government is taking is a technology neutral approach that is backing in the National Energy Guarantee, says what’s important in our energy grid, well what’s important is that prices are kept as low as possible, the power is there when you need it, and it’s reliable, and that we meet our emissions targets. How you achieve the combination of those things doesn’t really matter as long as you achieve the combination of those things but I think anybody who looks at the economics of a new coal-fired power station would find that it would probably struggle to stack up financially.

David Bevan: But this group is saying that if you can’t get a private investor to build one the Federal Government should consider building its own?

Simon Birmingham: I’ve haven’t seen representations to that specific effect. In the end, I think there will be a question if it’s not economic to do so why would anybody seek to do so, whether it’s with private capital or with public capital. Of course you can get better returns by extending the life of existing assets, when you’ve built something already and its already there, if it can run for longer efficiently well then that can of course make sense and that’s what the Prime Minister has been having discussions with AGL about in terms of their willingness to potentially sell their Liddell plant that their proposing to close, to sell that possibly to Alinta Energy who have expressed an interest in doing so. That would be more likely to make economic sense, but again ultimately it will be for the energy generators to decide what the best mix of energy in Australia is to meet the conditions that the Government is setting out and those conditions under our National Energy Guarantee are very very clear; it’s about reliability, affordability, and meeting our emissions targets …

David Bevan: So your message to your colleagues which may include some South Australian colleagues. There is speculation that the group includes Nicole Flint member for Boothby and Tony Pasin, down in Barker in the south-east. Your message to them is get real?

Simon Birmingham: Well my message to all Australians is that the sensible way to address energy is not to be ideological and not to have the Labor-Greens position of saying you must meet a certain proportion of renewable energy. Not to say you must build new coal-fired power stations but instead to say that what matters are getting the outcomes that are required and those outcomes are ensuring the reliability of the grid, meeting emissions targets and doing all of that at the lowest cost. We have a policy framework in which to do that and then you let the generators generate the energy capacity that’s required within those parameters, whatever that mix may be.

Ali Clarke: Mark Butler?

Mark Butler: Well the Prime Minister flirted with this idea early last year. He began the year in 2017, with a National Press Club debate where to everyone’s surprise he invited expressions of interest from the corporate sector in investing in new coal-fired power stations and the silence was deafening and you could hear the crickets chirping away because all of the industry include the companies that run very big coal generators now said to use their words that building new coal-fired stations was unbankable, it was uninvestable, there was utterly no interest from private investors and private lenders indeed the only business identity that indicated any interest in partnering with Malcolm Turnbull to do this was Clive Palmer whose other great idea was building Titanic 2. So I think that sort of idea really dropped off the table. It was surprising to everyone that the Prime Minister even flirted with it but the latest foray from the so-called Monash group, has enormous historical resonance. Kevin Andrews has drafted the letter, Tony Abbott is in on it, Barnaby Joyce is on it. This is the same group that destroyed Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership nine years ago over exactly this area of policy, climate change and energy policy. And as we’re leading into the 30th Newspoll which will be in the field over the coming 48 to 72 hours, this is a brutal frontal attack on Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership by a ginger group. Now whether Tony Pasin or Nicole Flint are in on this I don’t know but certainly the leaders of this group are undertaking a very clear attack on Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership, dressed up, masquerading as a policy debate, but this is a brutal political exercise from them.

David Bevan: You said nobody is interested but the front page of the Oz reports today that Alinta Energy allied with the manufacturing body representing some of the nation’s largest employers moved to acquire the plant and extend its life for up to seven years, so there is interest?

Mark Butler: No, I said building new coal-fired power stations which is what Malcolm Turnbull was talking about last year and what this Monash group is advocating for now, that taxpayers foot the bill because I think they recognise that nobody in the private market is going to go near it. The idea of extending a power-station that will soon be 50 years old for a few more years is a completely different proposition and I think there are questions over it.

David Bevan: Do you think that has some merits?

Mark Butler: Ultimately that will be an investment decision taken by AGL as the current owner about whether or not they want to sell the asset and Alinta as a potential purchaser. South Australian listeners will remember Alinta as the company that owned Northam and the Playford power stations and shut the Northam power station with only 11 months’ notice which had a serious impact on the…

David Bevan: But they were also prepared to extend it and it was the state government, the former Labor government that wasn’t prepared to…

Mark Butler: Well again that is the question, is the taxpayer going to have to foot the bill. Now AGL says that to extend the Liddell power station which is an increasingly unreliable old power station for five years would cost almost a billion dollars, $940 million that would have to be recouped over a very short period of time from consumers. Now, is that a good exercise of money. Now if it’s a matter between AGL and Alinta well that’s a corporate decision. But if Alinta has got to approach taxpayers through Malcolm Turnbull to foot the bill for extending an old asset by a few more years rather than looking at investment in the NSW grid that will last a few decades not a few years, then I think there is a question about whether this a good decision. But we don’t know the details of this. All we’ve seen is really quite a defensive positon put out there by the Prime Minister this morning after the attack he received last night.

Ali Clarke: Rebekah Sharkie?

Rebekha Sharkie: Well I’ll start with the disclaimer that energy is not in my portfolio mix but I do think that Paul Kelly in the Australian today was spot on when he said we’re talking about coal power socialist’s in relation to the Monash group. What we’re taking about is a group within government that are the absolute free marketeers within government and yet at the same-time they want $4 billion of taxpayer money to build a coal station and while we’re at it lets thrown in another billion dollars for Adani. You can’t be both, you either say that development should happen in accordance with free market or we should have big government, it just doesn’t make sense.

Ali Clarke: Simon Birmingham, sounds like you’re standing amongst some birds. We’ll reset here that we’re on super Wednesday that was the voice of Rebekha Sharkie, NXT member for Mayo, on the phone with birds Simon Birmingham and Liberal Senator and Education Minister, and Mark Butler, Labor member for Port Adelaide and also the National President of the ALP.

Simon Birmingham: I thought after dropping the kids at school, I’d walk into a park where I thought it would be nice and quiet but it seems the birds had another plans. Anyways that aside, let’s be very clear here, firstly contrary to what Mark Butler is trying to spin. Malcolm Turnbull’s never gone out there suggesting the Government was going to have a government policy where we would fund people to build new coal-fired power stations. Yes, he has spoken about the fact that technology around higher efficiency, lower emissions coal-fired power station has evolved but ultimately nobody wants to seem to invest in that in Australia because the economics don’t stack up as we were discussing before. The Government’s policy is crystal clear, and it’s a policy that is focused on the outcomes that matter and those outcomes as I have said repeatedly now are about reliability in the grid so there is no point in pretending you can do it all as Labor does just with a big bang renewable energy target if you don’t consider how you meet the reliability in the grid as well. Doing it at the lowest cost and meeting our emissions reductions targets. Now we’ve set that out, we’re getting good progress in terms of implementing those policies. The PM won’t be distracted from that but equally nor should people read some giant conspiracy into a bunch of MPs sitting around talking about policy. That’s the job of MPs, it’s a great thing when MPs get together and do that but the Government’s policy is very very clear.

Ali Clarke: Mark?

Mark Butler: Can I also say that I think the use of Sir John Monash’s name in this is somewhere between disrespectful and ironic. I’ve noticed the RSL is pretty unhappy about this group using Sir John’s name in what is a pretty political exercise but the other thing I think about Sir John Monash is that he was an innovator, if he’d hung on to the old ways of doing things World War 1 would have turned out very different for the Australian army and I think appropriation of Sir John’s name to this blatantly political exercise on the 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1 really requires a bit of reflection by this group.

David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, what is it about the Liberal Party and World War 1, aren’t the Christopher Pyne supporter’s referred to as the black hand?

Simon Birmingham: There is an old joke that goes back a long way in relation to the black hand dinner’s, well before my time, but look Monash obviously played a big big role in opening up energy development in Victoria and particularly the coal-fired developments around Hazelwood and in the Gippsland region. It’s up to those who have decided to have this discussion to explain the rationale and the background, I don’t see anything particularly offensive about recognising the role that Monash played in terms of development of those energy resources. But looking to the future rather than the past it really is a case of let’s get on with putting the NEG in place, which is an important policy which can give us reliability and affordability and meet our emissions targets, can do it in a technology neutral way. Ultimately if keeping Liddell is going to be efficient and viable and work, then Alintas should buy it from AGL if that’s what they want to do and get on and do that within the market parameters.

Ali Clarke: Simon Birmingham we’re just coming up against time and just on that issue, a simple yes or no, I mean looking into the future, have you been involved in any conversations within your party, what happens if the next Newspoll, the 30th Newspoll goes badly for the Prime Minister?

Simon Birmingham: Well the government is going to keep doing what we’re doing very well at present…

Ali Clarke: Yeah but have you been involved in any conversations in what if?

Simon Birmingham: No, we are very focussed on delivering the types of things that the Prime Minister has talked about from day one, economic growth, jobs growth, that’s why we’ve generated more than 400 000 jobs last year

Ali Clarke: Ok, we understand that. Thank you

David Bevan: Just one other thing, very quickly Simon Birmingham. After 9.00 am we’ve got Tim Storer in the studio, the mystery South Australian Senator who stopped tens of billions of tax cuts for companies just last week. Have you got a message for Tim Storer?

Simon Birmingham: Well, Tim is somebody we will keep working with and I think Tim understands that Australian businesses needed to be competitive and I hope we can continue to have discussions with him about how we maintain that competitiveness, how we improve it and how we build on the record jobs growth we’ve already got.

Ali Clarke: Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator and Education Minister thank you. Mark Butler, Labor member for Port Adelaide as well and Rebekha Sharkie NXT member for Mayo.