Interview with Raf Epstein, ABC Radio National

Raf Epstein
Future Fuels Strategy, electric vehicles, Commonwealth Integrity Commission

Raf Epstein: Tim Wilson joins us, he is now the Assistant Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction, so that means as the Assistant to Angus Taylor. He is, of course, the Liberal MP for the Melbourne seat of Goldstein. Tim Wilson, good afternoon.

Tim Wilson: Good afternoon, Raf.

Raf Epstein: The 50000 charging stations the Prime Minister spoke about today. How will you decide where they will go? How does that work?

Tim Wilson: Well, we're firstly, we're going to work and partner with industry to resolve where they should best be done. But critically, what we're going to do is make sure that there's the infrastructure to address people's concerns about electric vehicles and other types of vehicles around range anxiety. So whether you can go between Melbourne and Sydney or Melbourne and Brisbane so that there are enough charging points along the way so that people can feel confident that they can buy an electric vehicle or a hydrogen cell vehicle and be able to charge it as part of an ordinary pathway and use.

Raf Epstein: So 50000, how many in the next term of government, let's say, those three years? How many charging stations would be funded and built in the next term of the parliament?

Tim Wilson: Well, the funding is being allocated, but of course, we'll work with the industry to to allocate it. But of course, we'll keep also meeting with the technology as it evolves, because if you had to install these sorts of facilities a few years ago, a lot of them required up to eight hours to charge a car, whereas the ultra fast ones, the newer ones do it in a much shorter timeframe. So it would be more like a commercial vehicle. And again, it changes depending on the type of vehicle. If It's using batteries It can be short around 20 minutes when it comes to, for instance, a hydrogen fuel cell car like the one we saw at the Toyota plant in Altona this morning with the Prime Minister, it can be topped up in three to four minutes.

Raf Epstein: So there's just not very many specific details like that 50000 charging stations. You can't tell me when how many they'll be in the next term of parliament. Is that like? Over how many years you expect to install the 50000?

Tim Wilson: Well, these details are all being, of course, practically worked out because-

Raf Epstein: So it's not really a policy is it then?

Tim Wilson: No well - I'm sorry that's that's not right-

Raf Epstein: Well if you haven't got any detailed answers, Tim Wilson, it's just a fluffy brochure, isn't it?

Tim Wilson: No, no. We're outlining what we're going to do and then work with industry. We don't own this technology-

Raf Epstein: I could outline what I want to do on the back of an envelope.

Tim Wilson: We are working through with the industry on delivery of these charging stations as required based on the different technologies. But we know we will make sure that it is delivered in an appropriate way so that we can address the concerns that Australians have. And of course, the partnership opportunities aren't just with businesses in addressing range anxiety. It's also where electric vehicles are being used in Australia and partnering with other levels of government and the like to make sure that they can be part of the solution, too.

Raf Epstein: So you can't tell me over what period of years they will be built. Can you tell me how I'll know where they will be built? Is there any detail on this policy under than a few other than a few numbers you can actually tell us?

Tim Wilson: Well, apart from the fact that we're convening $250 million towards making -

Raf Epstein: Is there a time period for the 250 million?

Tim Wilson: Well, for instance, there is the opportunity to invest in battery electric vehicle charging black spots between now and 2025. A lot of the work that we're doing will be over the next three to five years because that is the point in which Australian uptake of electric vehicles will dramatically improve because the technology is getting better and the costs are getting lower. And of course, Australians are going to lean into the technology to be part of the solution so that they can be part of getting to carbon neutrality by 2050.

Raf Epstein: You're not embarrassed you can actually tell me when they're going to be built or when the money will be spent?

Tim Wilson: Well, that's because we're going to work with industry first. I've given you time frames-

Raf Epstein: And what's the timeframe for the 250 million?

Tim Wilson: Well, I said the policy actually outlines that a lot of its of its implementation is between 2022 and 2025-

Raf Epstein: And what does a lot mean? Is a lot in a year? Is a lot in 10 years?

Tim Wilson:  We can go through each line by line if you want, Raf. I'm happy to do so-

Raf Epstein: I just as I'm sure, I'm sure the details there, Tim Wilson. I just want to have some sense of proportion because I don't know. I honestly, I don't know, 50000 charging stations are going to be built in the next term of Parliament. Maybe they're going to be built over the forward estimates, the four years of the budget? I'm just trying to give people some sense of what it is that you're actually announcing.

Tim Wilson: Well, well, what we've announced is that there's a whole package of policies to support electric cars, from research and innovation to investing in charging stations, and much of the policy is being implemented over the 2022 to 2025 period. And of course, what we'll be doing is working directly with businesses and industry to deliver it. But if anybody wishes to go and read the details and you can go to because the clear intent is to make sure that Australians have confidence that they can purchase electric vehicles, that we can make sure that Australians who do do so have their concerns addressed, and that Australians can feel empowered to be part of getting towards net zero by 2050.

Raf Epstein: It's very different to saying electric vehicles can't tow a boat and would ruin your weekend. Why the backflip?

Tim Wilson: Well, there's no backflip, that's a complete mischaracterization. We have always backed technology, in fact, our plan towards net zero by 2050 has explicitly been focused on empowering the use of technology. What's changed is the technology. If you had gone and tried to purchase a Tesla or an electric vehicle three years ago, five years ago, it would have cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. There's more products in the marketplace. They're cheaper, they're more accessible, and the volume and availability is increasing. And as we've already discussed, the charging capacity is improving. And so the options for Australians is increasing in a way that simply did not exist in the way three years ago. This morning, we're at the Toyota Altona plant with a hydrogen fuel cell car, which simply wasn't available only a few years ago. So we're moving with the technology and we're backing the technology to be part of the solution to get Australia to a cleaner climate future.

Raf Epstein: Didn't the Prime Minister misspeak this morning that he said Bill Shorten had a mandate to tell people what car to buy. That's not true, is it?

Tim Wilson: Well no actually Bill Shorten did have a plan about having an explicit target, which would make it clear that certain vehicles were not going to be available-

Raf Epstein: It doesn't say that Tim Wilson. That's not what the policy said.

Tim Wilson: Well, no, I'm sorry it did it by creating a target. It ultimately means is a binary choice about what is going to be achieved by a timeframe. In the same way that we set a target for net zero by 2050, we want to make it clear that we want to get to carbon neutrality in that timeframe. And so what we've always focused on is how do we empower and use technology to be part of the solution, not just say the government is part of the solution, but that Australian households and Australian businesses can be part of the solution to getting carbon neutrality to.

Raf Epstein: Most car markets - most countries have some minimum emissions standards before they're sold more than 80 per cent of the global car market. We have very low standards on our emissions lower, than most countries. Why don't you want to raise them?

Tim Wilson: Well, we actually have just raised them, as the minister outlined this morning when asked about this as part of the investment we made in refining capacity in Australia so that we can have the fuel security we need as a nation there has been an improvement in emission standards, particularly related to sulphur, to make sure that vehicles have less emissions and less pollutants in the emitted as a consequence of their use.

Raf Epstein: Do you think that whatever the small adjustments you've made, do you think that's going to make a difference to electric vehicle use?

Tim Wilson: Well, absolutely, I mean, we know that one of the critical concerns that Australians have about changing over their vehicles isn't just the cost, but it's also the concern around range anxiety and whether people feel that they can drive electric vehicles, hydrogen cell fuel vehicles or other newer types of technologies in a way they use their traditional petrol vehicles or diesel vehicles. So resolutely It's going to be part, and that's why we're focusing on the infrastructure we need so Australians can go out and purchase with confidence and be part of that solution.

Raf Epstein: And just on range anxiety with the tens of thousands of charging stations. Does that mean most of them, or even maybe the majority would be outside of major cities? Is that the implication of that or not?

Tim Wilson: Well, there certainly be many that are outside of major cities to address those issues of range anxiety, but we know that inside capital cities there'll be a market incentive where businesses will want to invest because they'll be able to make a buck out of it.

Raf Epstein: So when the PM said, I think filling the gap, so that's the sort of gap you're looking at filling?

Tim Wilson: We're looking at filling the gaps where there isn't the private sector have the incentive to invest, where they'll be able to make a buck out of it. But we're looking at what we need to do to make sure Australians buy with confidence and use vehicles into the future.

Raf Epstein: Tim Wilson if I can just turn to two recent inquiries into your colleagues. Michael Sukkar had some allegations made against him. They were examined by a private law firm contracted by the Finance Department. Alan Tudge had some claims made against him. Again, they were examined by a private law firm attached to a government department. Neither of those law firms spoke to a range of people who are actually involved in some of the allegations. Does that feel to you, as someone who is interested in the integrity in government, does that feel to you like a legitimate level of scrutiny?

Tim Wilson: Well, it's appropriate these investigations are done independent of what politicians think, so that proper processes are followed. And when people are alleged to have engaged in conduct that it's it's followed up appropriately. And so I'm not going to pass judgment on the Department of Finance. I have no doubt they're doing those things in an independent way to try and get to the bottom of the facts.

Raf Epstein: For two independent law firms who are private, not speaking to the people involved, does that sound to you as effective as, say, an anti-corruption body federally?

Tim Wilson: Well, this is a process we have now, and we know that there was going to be anti-corruption body legislation being introduced into the Parliament. Now, I'm not sure whether even these cases would fit within the definition of an anti-corruption body, and I suspect you don't either. And I'm not sure that it fits within that framework. What matters is that these processes are hands off from politicians, and they're done by independent bodies that look at them from the basis of integrity and getting to the bottom of the facts.

Raf Epstein: Do you know if we'll get that legislation this year?

Tim Wilson: Well, my understanding is that legislation will be introduced in the next term of parliament, but I'm not the responsible minister, so it's probably a question best put to the Attorney-General.

Raf Epstein: So you said there, Tim Wilson, the next term of Parliament- 

Tim Wilson: Sorry I mean next term of sitting.

Raf Epstein: Right so, still potentially before Christmas, the sitting week before Christmas.

Tim Wilson: That's my understanding. But it's a question best put to the Attorney-General.

Raf Epstein: Thanks for your time.

Tim Wilson: Thanks.

Raf Epstein: Tim Wilson, the Assistant Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions and of course, Liberal MP for the Melbourne seat of Goldstein.