Interview with Lisa Millar, ABC News Breakfast

Lisa Millar
Deployment of renewable-research hubs; Net-zero transition; Offshore wind turbines; Artificial intelligence.

LISA MILLAR: We're going to be talking about the cost of living, we're also going to be talking about a bit of science and joining us in the studio is Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic.

Ed, good morning.


LISA MILLAR: Now, I know you appreciate the way our program does science and all the work that Nate has been doing.

ED HUSIC: Very much so, yes, yes.

LISA MILLAR: want to talk about cost of living but you've got a couple of science announcements that are very important. Run us through them.

ED HUSIC: Well, they're also relevant to what we're talking about here in terms of making the transition to net zero. The world scientists were the first to detect that the climate was changing and alerting us to the need to do it.

Now scientists are leaning in to help us in that transition so as part of a global push with the National Science Foundation out of the US, the CSIRO and AEMO will be setting up, there'll be two particular research hubs. One here in Melbourne, another in Adelaide. One to deal with electric power and the other to deal with hydrogen, working with our universities and getting our minds, some of our really top minds in the country to scale up to really get the thinking developed into practical products to help us in terms of the transition.

So, it's a really good - I have to say it's a phenomenally great reflection on Australian talent, research talent, that they're getting this backing out of the National Science Foundation as part of the push with the UK, US, Canada and Australia to help us in the transition.

LISA MILLAR: Is the renewables goal still on track for the Federal Government though?

ED HUSIC: Well, we're definitely working towards that. The reason I put it that way is it's a big challenge. We're trying to convert an old energy grid into one that is suited for the times where we've got it reduce emissions and find new ways to get energy to people.

LISA MILLAR: And nuclear is just completely off the table, you won't counter anything that the Coalition's putting up?

ED HUSIC: Well if you look at it, solar and wind are the cheapest, quickest ways to get energy generation. And what the Coalition is proposing is something that they never really worked on when they were in government, and if they were to get back into government it would take ages to generate energy and it would be much more costly.

LISA MILLAR: But is the 378 billion that the Minister Chris Bowen put up as the cost of what that would be actually accurate? Because a lot of people have said that's a bit over the top.

ED HUSIC: No, I think if you look at it that is the scale of the investment that would be required. That is a huge amount of money that would be required, and without   and then the key ingredient here is community consent where these potential nuclear power plants would be built.

And apart from the fact that this is a massive distraction by the Coalition that's refused to engage on the need to make the transition to net zero, you've got the Liberal Party pushing for the creation of nuclear power plants, while the National Party fights the establishment of transition lines. So, you'll generate the energy, won't be able to move it.

What we really need is to get focused on how we make this transition as efficient as possible, and it will also longer-term deliver lower prices too when we get it right.

LISA MILLAR: Well, you talk about community consent.


LISA MILLAR: The Minister Chris Bowen it's being reported is meeting with key stakeholders in New South Wales who are very concerned about the offshore wind turbines. If you can't get people on board for those projects then your renewable goal is going to be off track, isn't it? And is the Minister meeting with those   first of all, is Chris Bowen meeting with those people today?

ED HUSIC: But this now comes to the very point I was making; we recognise you've got to get community consent. And if you're having those challenges you need to confront now, imagine trying to build nuclear power plants to meet that challenge as well? So is    

LISA MILLAR: So is the Minister meeting with people this morning?

ED HUSIC: Look, I don't have vision of his diary.

LISA MILLAR: Oh yeah, you'd know if you've got trouble and you're worried about keeping Labor seats because people are so upset.

ED HUSIC: I don't know Chris's diary as he doesn't know mine. He may well be doing it. What I do know of Chris is that he does like to work with people, and particularly in terms of communities that might have issues and we'll continue to do that. But it is an important part of the overall transition.

We've got to work with, as obviously the ageing coal-fired power plants start to go offline, they're just so old it's very hard to keep them going and finding new ways of creating energy. You've got to make that transition work and that involves listening with people and working with them.

LISA MILLAR: Okay. One of the issues that we're discussing this week is scams and today artificial intelligence is being put up as the most worrying aspect for a lot of people.


LISA MILLAR: You've talked about regulating what you can but it's the unregulated AI that is the issue. Is the government doing enough?

ED HUSIC: And to your point it goes to the heart of trust around technology. I think this is the big issue longer term. People have gone from looking at technology as providing all this wonder and now recognise you've got to have a much more balanced approach.

That's why we kicked off the consultations some time ago around developing framework on safe and responsible use of AI. If we get it right can deliver a lot of benefit, but people are rightly concerned about some of the issues you've just touched on.

LISA MILLAR: Yeah, is the government, I mean you're saying people are rightly concerned. Is this panic stations for the government? Is it crisis point with AI and what's going on with our banking and the safety of people's money?

ED HUSIC: Okay, so two things. One is obviously we want to get our legal frameworks right. Governments notoriously, there's always lag between development in technology and the way in which legal frameworks can manage that, and that's why we've invested in the consultation process to go okay, what are the laws that we've got to target? What are the high-risk areas that we need to tackle and get those done?

The second is in terms of scams, as you led with your question earlier, that's why we've invested in terms of setting up national scam centres, making people much more alert to them, encouraging them not to fall for that. And working as well with businesses that have got a role to play, particularly in the financial services sector in being able to help people that are affected.

LISA MILLAR: Ed Husic, thanks for coming in this morning.

ED HUSIC: Thank you.