Transcript - ABC Radio National Drive with Patricia Karvelas - EPBC Act Review Final Report and Shadow Cabinet Reshuffle

By Terri Butler MP

29 January 2021

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: A once in a decade review of environmental legislation is calling for urgent reforms to prevent the continued extinction of Australia's plants, animals and ecosystems. Former head of the competition watchdog Graeme Samuel handed his review to government in October last year, but it was quietly released late yesterday afternoon. The report backs the federal government's decision to hand environmental approvals to the states but says National Environmental Standards must be legally binding. Terri Butler is the Shadow Minister for the Environment and Water. Welcome back to the program.

KARVELAS: What do you make of the report's findings?
BUTLER: Look, Graeme has done a really good and thorough job. He's engaged a lot of different stakeholders, a lot of different interests. And I think it's a high quality report and I'm very hopeful that the government is carefully and properly considering it. But I have to say they've had it now for a few months and to drop it out very quietly on a non-sitting day, I found quite surprising. There's no reason why it couldn't have been tabled and published next week during the parliamentary sitting. And I think people are a bit sceptical about whether this government will actually even deliver on environmental protection. I mean, this is a report that shows very clearly that the Australian natural environment is being failed when it comes to protection, and so is Australian industry. So somehow they've managed to be both hopeless on environment and jobs. And it's very clear that some reform is needed. I don't trust them. I don't think the Australian people trust them. But having said that, if they come up with something serious that reflects this important review process, and I'll be really looking forward to seeing that, and considering it properly .
KARVELAS: The report recommended urgently beefing up compliance and enforcement to stem the loss of wildlife, what would be the most effective way to achieve that?
BUTLER: Well we've been calling on them to establish a genuinely independent cop on the beat, and to introduce strong National Environmental Standards. And we've been doing that because that's what Graeme's interim report - many, many months ago now - called for. Unfortunately, the day that that report was published, the government ruled out the creation of the cop on the beat that Graeme had actually recommended and they started cherry-picking from the day that they released it, which they shouldn't have done. They should have done what we did, which we said, we'll look at the whole thing, we'll consider it, we will be sensible and we'll give it the respect that it deserves for being such a significant review.
KARVELAS: Okay, if the National Environmental Standards the government legislates are legally binding, will that give you confidence?
BUTLER: Well, here's what I want to see. Obviously, I've only seen this report since yesterday afternoon when it was dropped out very quietly by the government. I want to see what industry, what conservationists, what scientists and what environmental lawyers, to name a few of the people who've got expertise in this area, have got to say about the National Standards as they've been drafted through Graeme's process. That's the first thing I want to see. The second thing I want to see from the government is an explanation of how any National Environmental Standards will be implemented, and how we can make sure that they'll actually then be monitored and enforced properly. Because of course, one of the problems with this government is they're a government that have cut 40% of the funding from the environment department and we've seen an auditor's report last year show that the environment department is not making decisions properly. 79% of their decisions were affected by error or non-compliant. So it's not just about having good laws, having good standards, we also want to know that they're actually going to be upheld and that they're being monitored and that it's not all one big exercise of saying they're going to do something then doing something else, which unfortunately, is this government's track record. Always there for the photo up and never there for the follow up.
KARVELAS: Does Labor support the principle of a one touch environmental approval system and will you support that legislation when it comes to the Senate for a vote?
BUTLER: Well, the Abbott era bill that's in the parliament right now is supposedly doing just that, but this is a bill that has no National Environmental Standards in it. It was lobbed into the parliament, it was inconsistent with what they said they were going to do, which was to prepare some Environmental Standards. They lobbed it in, and then they gagged debate. They didn't just ram it through the House. They didn't even let the crossbench move amendments in the substantive discussion about this bill. They just rammed it through, for no apparent reason, because ever since then, it's been languishing in the Senate without going to a vote. Now this has been going on for months. So when you say to me, what will you support, well, we haven't seen anything sensible from them to consider yet. I am very interested in having a look at anything that they want to put to us that is serious, that is measured, that is consistent with Graeme Samuel's work. I'm not going to rule anything in or out because we're taking this process seriously.
KARVELAS: Was taking the climate change and energy portfolio off Labor's Mark Butler and giving it to Chris Bowen the right call?
BUTLER: Well, I think the great thing about Chris and Mark is that they're both really committed to serious action on climate change as is the entire Labor caucus and of course as is Anthony Albanese. And I think what's really great about the change is that Chris will bring to the portfolio, as Anthony said, his track record in economic portfolios. He's been a very long serving Shadow Treasurer who was of course, also Treasurer. He is someone who will bring an economic lens and we need that right now because climate change should be, and is, an economic portfolio. And this country is missing out on jobs and opportunity because of the current government's absolutely hopeless, completely hopeless approach, to climate change and climate change energy policy.
KARVELAS: It's an active pivot, as you say, to put it through an economic lens. Is this trying to address the problems Labor had obviously in the 2019 election? Is this a message to Australians that Labor won't go too far on its ambitious emissions reduction policies?
BUTLER: For the entire time that Anthony has been the leader, he has been talking about the economic opportunities of climate change, and of course, so have many other people in our community, including Ross Garnaut, who has been putting out lectures and books on the issue as well. And I think everyone in Labor and everyone in the Australian community is getting frustrated by the fact that Australians are missing out on good, decent, secure jobs because we've got a government that's too busy waging ideological warfare in relation to climate change and not sufficiently paying attention to the practical applications of climate change. So those things are things like, how do we get a stable energy policy that takes into account the future of energy affected by climate change, it also lowers energy prices that can help with manufacturing jobs in this country, also things like equipment, manufacturing, jobs in energy generation and other climate change affected areas. We have to see this as an opportunity for us to improve our own prosperity. And I think that if you look back at what Anthony has been saying, through the speeches that he has made consistently since he became the leader, this is something that we have been talking about, that he has been talking about, for the entire term.
KARVELAS: Will Anthony Albanese take Labor to the next election?
BUTLER: Well Anthony's leadership is so secure because he is so authentic, he does care about these issues. He's putting jobs at the heart...
KARVELAS: Well can he beat Scott Morrison?
BUTLER: Well, absolutely he can. Scott Morrison, the marketing man, all photo up no follow up. I mean, this is someone who rolls around the country making announcements, never delivers on them, and then hopes that people just forget about it.
KARVELAS: Yet he's proven to be a formidable, successful politician.
BUTLER: Look,  he's a very clever, very clever, politician. That is absolutely what Scott Morrison is just like John Howard was before him.
KARVELAS: And John Howard was in power for 11 years.
BUTLER: But do you know what beat John Howard in the end? It was authenticity, it was working hard on the issues that mattered around the dining room tables of Australia. And I've got to tell you, people are talking to me about jobs, and they're talking to me about the future. And what Anthony did in the re-shuffle, when he elevated the jobs portfolio - making the Deputy Leader of the party, his portfolio, jobs, jobs, jobs, shifting him out of defence and making jobs the forefront of what we are doing as an Opposition, and as a Labor party as you would expect us to do - I think he made absolutely the right call. Because while Scott Morrison is out there waging culture wars and having his people like Craig Kelly and Gerard Rennick out there spewing conspiracy theories about the vaccines and conspiracy theories about the Bureau of Meteorology, we've got Anthony Albanese and Richard Marles and the entire Labor team talking about jobs. 
Where is your job going to come from? Where is your income going to come from? How are we going to make sure that that income is secure? And what is going to happen with your kids and your grandkids and their future? And that's how you beat Scott Morrison. 
Yes, he's a tricky, clever marketing guy politician. But people are I think getting a bit sick of that. I also think we saw that in the Queensland election when someone really authentic in the form of Annastacia Palaszczuk really took it home and showed that you can have the sort of leadership that responds to people's material needs. And make sure that you take the State in that case, and the nation in our case, into the future in a positive and optimistic and pragmatic way.
KARVELAS: Terri, thanks for joining us.
BUTLER: Thank you so much Patricia.