Interview on ABC Radio Adelaide
Topics: Peter Dutton; Energy policy; Adam Bandt Facebook post; Serena Williams




David Bevan: Let’s say good morning to Mark Butler, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Labor MP for Port Adelaide. Good morning to you.


Mark Butler:     Good morning.


David Bevan: Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator from South Australia. There’s a bit of rumbling going on in the background. Have you kicked something over Sarah?


Sarah Hanson-Young:              No, I’m still here. Hello. Good morning everyone.


David Bevan: Good morning to you, Greens Senator from South Australia. And I think now on the phone line Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade and South Australian Liberal Senator. Good morning to you.


Simon Birmingham:     Good morning David and good morning everybody.


Ali Clarke: We’ve been talking about what was said under parliamentary privilege yesterday. Now this is the escalating fight between Minister Peter Dutton and former Australian Border Protection Force boss Roman Quaedvlieg. Here is a bit of what Minister Dutton said.




Ali Clarke: Simon Birmingham, was parliamentary privilege abused yesterday?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, no, it’s a fact that Roman Quaedvlieg was sacked as the Australian Border Force Commissioner. He was sacked in circumstances that frankly leave him as a disgraced individual in terms of the way in which he conducted employment practices and the real question here is: are the Labor Party co-conspirators with this man? Is Bill Shorten or his office or his shadow minister engaging with this man in an attempt to smear Peter Dutton?


Ali Clarke: But the words ‘grooming somebody 30 years his junior’ and the fact that Roman Quaedvlieg has now actually written to the Speaker to see if he can have it withdrawn, do you have any problem with that?


Simon Birmingham:     Look, I think it’s factual that there was a relationship. How the relationship came about, well I don’t much care. In the end, the relationship and the employment practices that Mr Quaedvlieg engaged in, the preferential treatment or otherwise that he showed to somebody he was in a relationship with, led to his sacking and we now have a situation where it seems as if a former staff member or a friend of his is working in Bill Shorten’s office and the Labor Party appear to be relying very much on a drip feed of incorrect and wrong information from him to run a smear campaign.


David Bevan: Mark Butler?


Mark Butler:     Well I think this is why people sometimes call Parliament the coward’s castle. This was an extraordinary attack by Peter Dutton yesterday and I think an outrageous abuse of parliamentary privilege. That’s a brave attempt at defence by Simon Birmingham. He didn’t just use the verb grooming which everyone understands has a particular meaning. He also called his partner a girl which again just tends to send the message that this person was underage. I mean it was an extraordinary and very clearly premeditated attack. Now I understand that Peter Dutton is feeling under pressure because of the series of leaks about a range of decisions he has taken both for a number of au pairs to stay in the country but also in relation to jobs for people he’s known in his past career. But to use parliamentary privilege in that way, using language that is incredibly loaded, that everyone understands has a particular meaning, I think was an outrageous abuse of the privilege that is given to parliamentarians really with the aim of allowing us to have full and frank debate about the interests of the country, not to engage in vicious personal attacks.


David Bevan:    Simon Birmingham, the risk here for the government that it just feeds into the widespread perception that things are out of control in Canberra, that standards are not being kept. You are talking about things you should not be talking about and that will be expressed at the next election in a landslide.


Simon Birmingham:     Well I would much rather be talking about the number of the issues that are in the newspapers today. The new aged care reform package that the government is announcing in response to Oakden which [indistinct]…


David Bevan:    Well maybe you should have told that to Peter Dutton yesterday before he got up and made this [indistinct].


Simon Birmingham:     Well maybe the Labor Party should ask questions about policy rather than personality.


David Bevan: Okay well let’s ask about policy. Have we got a national electricity policy? And we’ll come to Sarah Hanson-Young in a moment, give her an opportunity. But Simon Birmingham, your government spent weeks, months, telling us you had a plan, that collapsed: what are we left with?


Simon Birmingham:     Well a lot actually. There’s a range of things we’re acting on. We are going to support new generation capability by acting on the ACCC recommendation to underwrite new generation capability. We’re going to introduce a new default price mechanism so that no longer will pensioners or families or anybody else who runs out of their electricity contract then be shoved onto the highest rate. They’ll instead actually have a guaranteed fair default price that will then be also used as a benchmark against which energy companies who go out and pitch discounts or the like will have to actually pitch against that default price. So it will be much simpler for people to understand whether or not they’re getting a cheap deal, a good deal and to get them onto the cheapest deal. We’re going to keep working as we have already in terms of getting more gas into the domestic market and we have already seeing gas prices come down dramatically because of the new laws and rules we put into place. We’re putting in place reforms into the way in which energy transmission systems operate.


David Bevan: You’ve got a great plan.


Simon Birmingham:     We have lots of things we’re doing in relation to continue to drive down …


David Bevan: You’ve got a great plan. Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator …


Simon Birmingham:     … energy prices which have already seen reductions actually in terms of prices from 1 July in SA and a number of other states.


David Bevan:    Sarah Hanson-Young from the Greens: they’ve got a great plan.


Sarah Hanson-Young:              Oh, if only. I mean the biggest thing of course here and what the Coalition just don’t seem to understand, is that Australians right across the country are concerned about climate change. They want to see a plan that is integrated with how we manage our electricity system and how we reduce carbon pollution in the atmosphere. And unless we start putting these plans together and in tandem, what we will see is power companies continuing to rip off the consumer; price gouging, ripping off the consumer; and the government continues to run around and blame renewable energy. Well the public know that is just not true. There’s a new report out today – I heard it being reported on …

Simon Birmingham:     [Interrupts] Now [indistinct] we’re blaming the power companies. We’re blaming the power companies …


Sarah Hanson-Young:  Well …


Simon Birmingham:     … we’re taking action and in fact we have a [indistinct] …


Mark Butler:     You had a fairly good go Simon.


Sarah Hanson-Young:  You’re doing …


Simon Birmingham:     They don’t act, if they don’t act …


Sarah Hanson-Young:  Listen, Simon. I listened to you.


Simon Birmingham:     We will actually force the monopoly to break up in terms of the [indistinct]…


Ali Clarke:        Simon Birmingham, thank you, but Sarah Hanson-Young is speaking.


Sarah Hanson-Young:  Thank you. Look, Simon, I understand that you are frustrated with the lack of policy direction in your own party. I get that. So are the Australian people. They’re up- they’re sick to the back teeth of the infighting in the Liberal Party that has meant an obsession with coal rather than doing what is right to transition to clean, green renewable energy and putting our electricity sector and our climate reduction plans in tandem. That’s what the public want and I think you’ll hear that loud clear. I just want to go back if I could …


David Bevan: Sarah Hanson-Young, at the risk of sounding like a Crows pre-season training camp, we’re now going to hand the speaking stick to Mark Butler so he can have a turn. Mark Butler, there’s a report on the front page of The Australian today saying that Victoria wants to build six big renewable energy projects. Now, that sounds great except if it’s not part of a national strategy, could projects like that have unintended consequences?


Mark Butler:     Well, I don’t think so because the market operator is continuing to do the work on the reliability obligation in spite of the fact that the Government has walked away from the National Energy Guarantee. So, I’m very confident and I think industry is very confident that the Energy Market Operator, along with a whole bunch of other agencies and state governments, are continuing to work to make sure that there’s enough firming technology – batteries, pumped hydro storage, and such like – to continue to allow the building of new renewable energy projects through the system.


But can I just go back to Simon’s point, I mean, he listed off a range of talking points about what the Government either is doing or is intending to do in response to a report from the consumer watchdog. The trouble is all of that was being done under Malcolm Turnbull. The thing that’s changed under the new prime ministership is that they have walked away from the National Energy Guarantee and that is what is really causing enormous shock within the industry because that was the only policy that can deliver the investors certainty that is necessary to have new projects built.


Now, Scott Morrison said a couple of things. First, he said that that policy had broader support than any initiative he’d ever seen in his 10 years in the Parliament. He said that only three or four weeks ago. And he and Josh Frydenberg, the new Treasurer, have been saying with the National Energy Guarantee, power bills will come down by $550 but without it, they’re going to go up by almost $300. So we’re left with an enormous vacuum in an energy policy because Scott Morrison…


David Bevan:    [Interrupts] But hang on. Hang on. For weeks, we were ask- we were asking you for weeks and weeks and weeks, Mark Butler, is Labor going to get on side and endorse a mainstream middle-of-the-road policy just for the good of the nation and just to get something in place? And you can tweak it after the next election if you needed to and you always stop short. You always pulled your punches. And now, you’re saying, look it was the best thing, why didn’t we have this enshrined in legislation?


Mark Butler: We pulled our punches for two reasons. Firstly, we were going to have a debate about the level of ambition in the Parliament and that debate hadn’t even started. And secondly, because we hadn’t even been shown the legislation, we had briefings scheduled with Malcolm Turnbull and with Josh Frydenberg that were cancelled as the parlour game started in the Liberal party room and when we tried to reconvene those briefings, they were refused. So, we weren’t going to give a blank cheque to the former Prime Minister and the former Energy Minister, but we’ve been clear for two years that we would sit down with the Government and agree a bipartisan investment framework. Tony Abbott and his group though vetoed that time and time again including by deposing the former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.


Ali Clarke: This is Super Wednesday on ABC Radio Adelaide. It’s a quarter to nine. That’s the voice of Mark Butler, Shadow Minister for Climate Change. We also have Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade, and Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator for SA. And on that, Sarah Hanson-Young, a federal member, Greens MP for Melbourne Adam Bandt, had a weekend of criticism after he posted online that he was with his hot wife at an opening night. He was accused of objectifying his wife in a sexist manner. Are you happy that he calls his wife a hot wife?


Sarah Hanson-Young:  Look, I’ve caught up with some of the commentary around this over the weekend. Now, I feel- I kind of understand the difficulty that Adam’s got himself into here, and I think while obviously, there is an argument around how we need to do better to ensure women are not objectified. And I guess I saw it in light of: here’s a bloke who’s in love with his wife and wants to tell the world actually. So, I think while there’s obviously reason for the criticism, I understand their arguments. I really think Adam was just actually showing affection for his wife. I’m going to see her here tonight. The Parliamentary Ball is on and apparently, she’s coming up and I look forward to saying hello.


Ali Clarke: Is this the ball that Barnaby Joyce turns up with a whip all the time? Is this this one?


Sarah Hanson-Young:  Well, I don’t know but I suggest given his recent antics, he leaves the whip at home.


David Bevan:    Simon Birmingham, is it okay to say you’ve got a hot wife?


Simon Birmingham:     Yes and it’s a pretty poor state of affairs when you can’t pay your wife a compliment without a social media backlash.


David Bevan:    Okay. Mark Butler…


Simon Birmingham:     …or without being attacked by the politically correct brigade.


David Bevan:    Mark Butler, are you happy to call your wife hot?


Mark Butler:     Look, I agree. If it was someone else that Adam Bandt had said that about, maybe there’d be a bit of criticism but frankly, how he describes his wife and how she describes him is a matter between them, I think.


David Bevan:    Okay. But before you leave us, while we’re talking about what we can and can’t say, what did you all think of Mark Knight cartoon of Serena Williams? Mark Butler, is it racist?


Mark Butler:     I haven’t seen it. I’m not quite sure what you’re talking about.


David Bevan:    Okay. Simon Birmingham, did you see the cartoon? It’s all over the media in the last 24 hours.


Simon Birmingham:     Look, sorry. I have seen it and I think all three of us on air have been depicted by cartoonists. And the thing about being depicted by a cartoonist is it’s usually pretty unflattering. That’s the nature of it. I could be outraged on behalf of everybody who has big ears that stick out for the way I’m depicted in cartoons…


David Bevan:    No.


Simon Birmingham:     …but I’m not. I cop it on the chin. It’s all in good fun and it’s all, of course, the way in which cartoons are drawn. And frankly, I think the social media backlash that we saw against Adam Bandt on one issue, against Mark Knight on a completely different issue, is one of the real problems we have. There’s a whole brigade of people out there who just want to see how damned offended they can be by something rather than accepting that often things are said in good humour or in this case, was simply highlighting that a tennis player had a tantrum on a tennis court.


Ali Clarke: Sarah Hanson-Young, do you think it was racist?


Sarah Hanson-Young:              Look, I don’t think it was a particularly nice cartoon and, you know, I can understand the racist overtones that people are pointing out. The clear…


David Bevan: You’re really trying to understand everybody today, aren’t you?


Sarah Hanson-Young:              Well, I’m a listener, David.


Simon Birmingham:     [Indistinct] the Greens.


Ali Clarke: Well, we’ll get you a survey book then Sarah.


Sarah Hanson-Young:              But let me be clear, I think the issue here is that the other player in this cartoon was drawn as white and so the analysis that I’ve seen around the cartoon is actually that depiction between Serena and the other player wasn’t correct and I think, yes, we can all acknowledge that cartoonists don’t do flattering pictures. I’ve been the butt of many jokes of cartoonists across the country, I don’t think that’s going to end any time soon. But I do think we need to think about how that issue for Serena Williams on the tennis court has been managed and spoken about in the social realms but also of course in the media. I do think the questioning around the treatment of female players is something that can’t just be brushed under the carpet.


Ali Clarke: Well after all this…


Simon Birmingham:     Can I just make one extra point there…


Ali Clarke: Yes.


Simon Birmingham:                 …because Sarah reflected on the other player being drawn- Sarah said is white. I think the criticism has been the other player was drawn with blonde hair even though she’s a Japanese player but she actually has blonde hair. She had bleached blonde hair that was dyed at the time of the tennis match. So I think some of the criticism that’s been drawn is just so unfair and it’s people looking for outrage.


David Bevan: Fair enough.


Sarah Hanson-Young:              Well, after all of this Naomi Osaka is the other player’s name, she won the US Open and maybe that’s what we should be talking about.


Simon Birmingham:     She did and we should celebrate that. She’s the first Japanese player ever to win a Grand Slam.


Ali Clarke: Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment. Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator for South Australia and Mark Butler, Shadow Minister for Climate Change, thank you to you all. That wraps up Super Wednesday.