POLITICS

Mark Butler Points The Finger At The Liberal Party's Climate Insurgency

The Shadow Minister for Climate Change says Australia is in a "pretty bad place" after a decade old policy paralysis.

03/07/2017 3:55 PM AEST | Updated 03/07/2017 3:58 PM AEST
Andrew Meares/Fairfax
It takes two sides to start a war, but shadow minister for climate change and energy Mark Butler is pinging Turnbull Government "insurgents" for stringing the "climate wars" out for over a decade.

CANBERRA -- In this biting heart of winter, it seems everywhere you look in Australian politics there is a war going on. In the Liberal Party. Within the Greens. And usually inside the Labor Party, although the ALP has managed to be fairly quiet on this front of late and it insists it is "ready to govern".

What really has been ripping apart alliances, ousting party leaders and not helping the environment has been a "decade of toxic politics" over climate change policy in Australia.

Despite former prime minister Kevin Rudd stating in 2007 that climate change is the "greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time," Australia is the only country to introduce and then remove a carbon price.

Labor's climate change spokesman Mark Butler described the "policy paralysis" on the issue as a "pretty bad place" for Australia to be in. And as he launches his book, "Climate Wars," he has told HuffPost Australia he views sections of the Liberal Party, including former Prime Minister Tony Abbott as climate "insurgents."

"We are in a pretty bad place. We are seeing all around the world, in corporate boardrooms and other governments in our own region, but also in the northern hemisphere, making a shift to a low carbon economy," he said.

"And Australia because of our policy paralysis is really missing out on a wave of investment and jobs and really missing out on the opportunity to lead in innovation, in energy and a whole range of other areas of that transition.

"Investors have been spooked by the instability of the past ten years."

And then there's the environment itself.

"At the same time, the science is getting clearer and the impacts of climate change are starting to unfold before our eyes," Butler said. "Most notably perhaps, the severe bleaching events that have happened over the last 18 months on the Great Barrier Reef."

"Yet still, you only have to look at the newspapers over the last six or seven days, and still, the media commentary and our political discourse is dominated by this insurgency, particularly lead by Tony Abbott that seeks to make sure that we continue to do nothing."

Butler freely admits Labor has got climate policy wrong in the past, citing Rudd's sudden dumping of an emissions trading scheme (ETS) in 2010.

"I think we have been more honest than any other political grouping about our role over the last ten years," he said. "While also being proud over the significant things we did achieve."

So yes it takes at least two sides to start a war and Butler is pinging the Coalition -- and elements of the media -- as the aggressors.

"Really what has happened over the last ten years is that there has been a concerted attempt by parts of the Liberal Party and a number of groups in the media to stymie any action on climate change," Butler said.

"To challenge what is an increasing orthodoxy across the world. You don't see it in the UK Tories."

Under the Paris climate accord, Australia has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26 percent on 2005 levels by 2030. But Australia is one of the world's highest per-capita polluters whose second largest export is coal.

To achieve Australia's Paris target, the Finkel Review by Australia's Chief Scientist, has recommended a clean energy target (CET) be adopted after 2020, to stimulate new investment in power generation and take Australia's renewable energy use to 42 percent by 2030.

The Labor Party has offered to support a CET, a shift from its preferred model of an emissions intensity scheme (EIS).

Butler told HuffPost Australia he holds out hope that Malcolm Turnbull and (Environment Minister) Josh Frydenberg will be "given the authority" to sit down with Labor and thrash out consensus on a CET.

"It is quite clear that there is a real insurgency within the Coalition partyroom to stop even than pretty modest development," he said.

Has Labor compromised enough?

Butler tells HuffPost Australia that adopting a CET is a "significant shift" for Labor and there is "nothing else on the table". Potentially, he said, even a CET is not on the table.

"Australia is really now a bit of an outlier," he said. "It will become harder and harder for Australia the longer we leave the beginning of our transition."

"It is important we get over this, sometime very soon."

The last report from the Climate Institute, released last week, revealed Australian's frustration and disappointment with what they see is bickering and stalling over climate change action and renewable energy.

96 percent of the 2,600 Australians surveyed wanted Australia's primary source of energy to come from renewables, while 41 percent considered the Turnbull Government to be doing a fairly poor to terrible job on climate change and energy.

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