SUBJECTS: NEG and coal-fired power stations, Government donation of $444 million to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Emma Husar
MICHAEL ROWLAND (HOST): Shadow Environment Minister Tony Burke joins us from Parliament House. Tony Burke, good morning to you.
ROWLAND: Front and centre this week, the National Energy Guarantee, a key meeting on the other side of politics in the Coalition party room meeting. The Turnbull Government is reportedly set to underwrite a new coal-fired power station as part of these negotiations. Is that something you'd support in the Labor Party?
BURKE: It's an extraordinary development today. Malcolm Turnbull has been claiming for ages that it will all be neutral, in terms of what sort of technology. And now we find when industry believes that it's not a sensible investment when the energy companies believe it's not a sensible investment, Malcolm Turnbull wants to, again, use our money, tax payer’s money, to fund something that's not about the future. People know that renewables are cheaper and know that what you need to make sure of is that you have the hybrid systems, the gas systems and the storage systems to make sure that you've got long-term reliability. But if no-one else in Australia is willing to invest in new coal-fired power stations, why is Malcolm Turnbull willing to do it with taxpayer money?
ROWLAND: The Prime Minister has been guided by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and it comes on the back of a report by the ACCC which recommends greater investment in so-called dispatchable power to ensure greater competition and lower prices.
BURKE: Dispatchable power is not specifying coal. You’re covered there by the other forms of energy and the other forms of generation that I just covered there.
ROWLAND: Isn't coal still the most reliable form of power in the short-term?
BURKE: We're talking about whether or not something is a sensible investment as well. We're talking about whether something is economic and whether something is going to be the best use of taxpayer money. A new coal-fired power station doesn't tick any of those boxes. The only thing it does is satisfy some of the people in the Coalition party room who are obsessed with their belief that the climate isn't changing, that Paris is some global conspiracy. Well, if they're the people running energy policy, then Australian taxpayers can know that Malcolm Turnbull is as careless with their money on energy as he was with the Great Barrier Reef.
ROWLAND: And we'll get to that shortly. But before we leave energy, the Greens are calling for the modelling behind the National Energy Guarantee to be released. Is that something you'd support?
BURKE: Mark Butler would be more up to date on the specifics of those issues but we've been asking for transparency in this area, generally, for a long time now.
ROWLAND: Let's go to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. Anna Marsden the managing director has now written to all MPs, I don't know if you've got the email personally yet, but she's welcoming all forms of scrutiny into the $440 million grant, including, if need be, from the auditor general. So they're quite happy with all eyes on the process behind this.
BURKE: It's not all eyes. They've just signed an agreement with a whole lot of confidentiality proceedings in it. A whole lot of confidentiality rules, where some information, including how they do their fundraising, doesn't just get kept confidential until the end of the agreement in 2024, some of it is confidential ‘in perpetuity’, forever. No end to the confidentiality dates in this agreement. So it's one thing to write a letter - it's another thing to sign a binding agreement with the Government. This deal, from beginning to end, has been an inappropriate and dodgy use of tax payer’s money. And the Foundation, it's a small private foundation, it has played a small and effective role, there are some particular projects they've done which have been worthwhile. They should not be the gatekeeper for every piece of work within the Great Barrier Reef, including, as a barrier between Government-funded scientists and tax payer’s money. Every question that gets asked about this, the more the Government answers them, the more dodgy the whole process becomes.
ROWLAND: And yet, we have the Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg telling Barrie Cassidy on Insiders yesterday that in his view, there was nothing unusual about the decision-making process behind handing out the money and that it followed all formal grant guidelines.
BURKE: Well, let's just piece together the logic of that. First of all, when they were offered half a billion dollars, the small private foundation hadn't asked for it. They didn't, at that point, have the capacity to manage that sort of money. A scientist at the CSIRO will have to go to the foundation to get tax payer’s money - not to the Government. All the normal methods by which you have continuous scrutiny are of work that's done by departments and direct ministerial involvement - gone. All the administration fees add on. So if, for example, some of this work is subcontracted out to other agencies, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, this small private foundation, will still be taking admin fees for itself. $44 million goes straight to the foundation - gets nowhere near the reef. A small private foundation that's entire turnover had been nothing like that, now gets $44 million of taxpayer money directly for itself.
ROWLAND: Emma Husar, your colleague, of course, will be back in Parliament this week as well. She has said that she won't be recontesting her seat of Lindsay in Sydney. She has pointed the finger at what she described as dark forces within the Labor Party piling on to her. Was she the victim of a factional pile-on Tony Burke?
BURKE: I certainly don't see it in those terms, but I will say the information from the inquiry that was leaked, whether it was some of the more constrained details or some of the more salacious ones, it shouldn't have been, simple as that. And I think complainants as well, have a right that if they make a complaint, to know that it will be dealt with professionally and confidentially.
ROWLAND: So it wasn't a great process in your view?
BURKE: I'm not criticising the process, I'm criticising the fact that the confidentiality of it ended up not being maintained. I don't know where that came from, but that certainly shouldn't have happened.
ROWLAND: Are you worried - she certainly believes that she's the victim of foul play. She's back in Parliament and whether she'll use parliamentary privilege to settle a few scores?
BURKE: What I think Emma Husar will use Parliament for is to stand up for her area. Emma has been an extraordinary advocate on issues that is she is passionate about. No one has stopped the Parliament and made people think about the impacts of family violence the way Emma Husar has. And I think when people talk about how Emma will use the Parliament, they should do so in the context of understanding - you'd be hard-pressed to find a Member of Parliament who has used that chamber more responsibly and to better effect than Emma.
ROWLAND: Tony Burke, we'll leave it there at Parliament House. Thank you very much for joining us on News Breakfast.
BURKE: Thank you.

Tony Burke