03 July 2017

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Gadigal People of the Eora Nation and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

I am very honoured that my friend Mark Butler has asked me to launch this book.

I am a supporter of active Members of Parliament writing books about important issues. Politics is about more than thirty-second grabs, the constant analysis of who is ahead and behind in the polls and the intrigue of personalities.

It has to be about big ideas and the battle of those ideas.

And sometimes big ideas and important issues need more than a grab, an interview or even a speech. They need a book.

There have been few bigger battles of ideas than climate change and energy in the last fifteen years in Australia.

Or, more accurately, a battle between ideas and slogans. Too often, the slogans have won.

But I want to say this. Mark Butler is an outstanding policy thinker. Hes got intellect, courage and judgement. It augurs well for a prospective Labor Government that we have someone of Marks calibre in this robust, important and challenging area.

Bill Shortens decision to combine the climate change and energy portfolios on our front bench to deal with the twin challenges of renewing our energy production capacity in the most efficient and cleanest way possible was the right one, as of course was his decision to task Mark with this important agenda.

And Mark has written a very good book, as you would expect. This is Marks second book. His first was an important contribution to the important issue of demography and ageing. This work is, I think, even more important.

Disraeli said If you want to really understand a subject, write a book about it. But whilst I am sure Mark found the research and thinking about some of his points useful, theres no doubt that Mark already understood these topics as well as anyone in Australia when he set about the project. Distilling his ideas and arguments onto paper has only sharpened his already impressive breadth of understanding of a complex policy area.

I suspect Mark asked me to launch this book because we see this issue through a similar light. As an important economic reform.

There are important environmental reasons for tackling climate change.

There are vital economic reasons as well. And compelling reasons to get energy policy right.

Labor Governments dont choose the economic and international environments in which we embark on our reform mission.

But, at our best, we make the most of them.

Hawke and Keating took the furnace of international economic events and decline of the Australian model and forged a new model of openness with strengthened community standards and a safety net, which set us up for a quarter of a century of economic growth.

Now, it will fall to Labor not to deny climate change like too many of our opponents, but to grasp the opportunity to reform to future-proof our economy and actually capitalise on Australias clean energy opportunities and provide a new impetus for growth, while meeting our environmental responsibilities.

The Climate Wars is a sober, fact-filled polemic. Mark lets the force of his arguments do the talking without hyperbole or exaggeration.

But that doesnt mean this is not a passionate book. Marks passion shines through with the strength of his arguments and his conviction.

My copy is filled with highlighted sentences, underlined facts and figures and killer arguments that I wanted to mark out to remember.

Ill buy a clean copy Mark and get you to autograph it!

By 2017, we all might have hoped that it wouldnt be necessary to use some of the book to establish that climate change is real and caused by human activity, given that the science that supports this thesis is as certain as the conclusion that tobacco causes cancer.

Nevertheless, with climate sceptics still influential over policy decisions in Australia, it is necessary.

Mark of course does it very effectively in this book.

Let me just provide my own perspective for a moment.

2016 was the hottest year on record. The previous record holder was 2015. Before that, it was 2014. The trend has been occurring for fifty years and is getting worse. Nine out of ten climate scientists agree that carbon emissions are the main reason. How much more obvious does it need to be?

Marks book comes at a very important time.

Climate politics has bedevilled Australia for fifteen years. Prime Ministers and Leaders of the Opposition.

But more importantly, our nation has paid and is paying a price for this policy paralysis.

As Mark points out, we are the only country in the world which has introduced but then abolished a carbon price and binding emissions reductions. And we are pretty much the only major advanced economy where carbon pollution is going up. Those two facts are linked.

But its even worse than that.

Its not as if Australia has benefited from lower power prices and cost of living relief as result of this policy zig-zagging.

This week, energy prices are going up around Australia, and not in an insignificant way.

Manufacturing is facing a crisis and households are facing higher charges at a time of real wage decline.

The Finkel Review and the current challenges should confine to the dustbin of history the notion that it is action on climate change and a commitment to renewable energy which has put upward pressure on energy prices.

In fact, its policy paralysis.

But we now have a rare opportunity to fix it.

The Finkel Review presents us with a window.

Mark, Bill Shorten and I all understand that the most important thing we can do to encourage investment in clean energy is policy certainty.

If energy policy is hotly contested in the political arena, investors will be scared that the regime under which they make their investment decisions will change with a change of government, a change of prime minister or indeed a change of political whim.

That is why Mark and I negotiated with the Government to reach bipartisan agreement on the Renewable Energy Target, which Tony Abbott so recklessly undermined as prime minister and saw renewable energy investment plummet. Jobs were at stake. Tony Abbotts reckless undermining of the RET, in breach of an election commitment; saw a precipitous decline in investment and employment.

And even more importantly, its why Labor is willing to see an end to the partisan bickering over energy policy using the Finkel Review as a vehicle.

Mark writes about the remarkable political consensus on climate change and energy in the United Kingdom with all three parties agreeing on the policy prescription. A development, until now, almost unthinkable in Australia.

But heres my point: the body politic chooses what to contest and what to agree.

In America, gun control and reproductive rights are highly contested political and partisan ground. In Australia, we choose not to contest that ground, we have broad consensus.

Australia can continue to have energy policy as a highly contested political football, or we can choose not to.

Now the Finkel recommendations are, not to Labors way of thinking, perfect. They do not represent what has been our preferred way forward.

But they do represent a unique opportunity, a window to get to a policy framework with which both sides can live, and those who need to make the investment decisions in clean energy we so desperately need, can have the certainty and stability they so desperately need.

So we wont let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Were prepared to sit down and negotiate a framework with the Turnbull Government based on the Finkel recommendations.

But it appears at this point, we have nobody to negotiate with and nothing to negotiate on.

We cant negotiate with a puff of smoke.

It appears, at this point, that the Turnbull Government is so riven with faction discord and climate change denial that they wont be able to put forward a concrete proposal that could be the basis for proper negotiation and a platform of bipartisanship.

We hope this changes.

But if it doesnt it will fall to an incoming Shorten Labor Government to get it right.

And I can think of no better partner in this important reform endeavour, no better Minister for Climate Change and Energy than Mark Butler.

The task is big, but we are up for it and Mark is up to it.

As he shown in his important contribution to the public policy debate Climate Wars. Its my great pleasure to officially launch Climate Wars by Mark Butler today.