Interview with Rafael Epstein, ABC Radio Melbourne

Rafael Epstein
RAT stockpiling, Hydrogen exports, vaccine boosters, Peng Shuai

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Tim Wilson's the Assistant Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction, and he's the Liberal MP for the seat of Goldstein. Tim Wilson. Good afternoon.

TIM WILSON: Good afternoon, Raf.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: How many RATs do I need at home to be considered a hoarder?

TIM WILSON: Well, I think what people should be doing is purchasing what they need and so if they don't need RATs and they shouldn't be having them. But in the end, it's like toilet paper, it's like everything else. We generally trust people to do the right thing and to make sure that they take responsibility for themselves and buy what they need, because they need to realise.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: How many do I need, Tim Wilson? I mean, I don't have COVID as far as I know, no one in my family's got COVID as far as I know. How many do I need at home and how many is hoarding?

TIM WILSON: Well, these are, politely, silly questions. I mean, the reality is people need RATs when they need them and they're available. But if people are stockpiling them in case of something in the future, without any sense of proportionality to what the family needs, and that's when it becomes ultimately hoarding. If you're buying them everywhere you go, just because they're available in the fear of them not being available, there's millions flowing into the market every day and people should be making sure they take sensible, proportionate responses to the challenge.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: How many have you got at home?


RAFAEL EPSTEIN: If I've got ten, is that too many?

TIM WILSON: Well, I don't know. How big is your family?

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Four people.

TIM WILSON: Four people? Well, it's not for me to say, but I wouldn't say that's a disproportionate number. But if you've started to stock them beyond that, that would start to seem disproportionate to me.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Why did you tell six million people they could have a free RAT, the pensioners and others, but you didn't organise for the pharmacies to have any?

TIM WILSON: Well, no, we've made sure that pharmacies are getting them by, both bulk purchasing them and making sure they're in the flow of the market. I mean, the reality is, since the beginning of the pandemic, we've all been there. The states have run testing centres, across the states, they've actually specifically not accepted RATs as a legitimate form of testing. So, unsurprisingly, pharmacies didn't stock them. And so we're now back filling that market to make sure -

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But pharmacies have to buy them themselves, don't they? I mean, you clarify that for me. I thought pharmacies had to buy them themselves and then they get a rebate from you?

TIM WILSON: The pharmacies do have to get them. And that's one of the ways we get RATs out into the community is through making sure supply chains work. But we're making sure that there are the supply chains and we're making sure there's a volume of RATs that are being purchased to be brought to Australia to make sure. There's a global shortage in RATs and we're making sure that Australians have them. But one of the most important things we need is Australians to be proportionate and sensible about the numbers they need so that they don't take away the opportunities for others as well.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Max has got a question from Brighton, which is in your electorate. Max, what's the question? Oh, Max, are you there? Hello? I thought Max was there. Tell you what, Max, I'm going to put you on hold. We'll come back to you. Harry's in Geelong. Harry, what's your question?

CALLER - HARRY: Hi. I was hoping to ask Tim Wilson what he intends to take into this election in terms of addressing climate change and the anxieties that a lot of younger people have about the issue?

TIM WILSON: Sure. Just today I was actually out looking at Star of the South, which is possibly the first large offshore wind farm to be approved in Australia. What we're doing is getting on with the job of heading to a carbon neutral economy by 2050, by backing technologies that are actually going to work. We've made a commitment, now we're going to the pathway of implementing it. So we're also looking at the hydrogen energy supply chain investment that was made in Gippsland but exported out through the Port of Hastings at the moment as part of the trial phase. Because what we're actually doing is focussing on how we can build the future of the Australian economy backed by low carbon energy, so that we can make sure that Australians have jobs in the future.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Harry, does that answer your question?

CALLER HARRY: Not exactly, because I think that a lot of young people really want to do more about climate change just in their day to day life. So it's just a little bit disappointing to hear that perhaps politicians don't have the same alacrity and urgency and aren't committing to have more ambitious goals towards 2030. I think some people would like to hear a bit more about the shorter, like the midterm targets, not -

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: You mean ambitions over the coming decade. Okay, ambitions over the coming decade, Tim Wilson, anything to add to that?

TIM WILSON: Well, we made it clear that we've got a target to get by 2030, which we're going to meet, we're going to beat, and the projections show we're going to comfortably do that by 35%. But frankly, target are yesterday's conversation. The focus is now on getting on with the job and the technology.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: It's not what most countries think, Tim Wilson, there's a meeting at the end of the year. They think targets are very important.

TIM WILSON: We've had this whole conversation before Raf, where countries have made big promises and failed to deliver on their targets. What we've done is we've made commitments, we've then beaten them, and now we're actually helping other countries decarbonise, too. The hydrogen energy and supply chain project being exported out of the Port of Hastings is creating zero emissions fuel for Japan to help them decarbonise. We're not just focusing on what we can do for us, we're actually helping the world decarbonise in the process. And we're immensely proud of that.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: You mentioned one of the world's first, I think it's one of the world's first shipping tankers designed to actually carry liquid hydrogen's arrived in Victoria.


RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Why are we interested in some of the most expensive liquid hydrogen in the world that has an incredibly large amount of emissions for very little gains? Squeezing brown coal in the Latrobe Valley to make hydrogen, it's some of the most expensive, most emissions intensive stuff in the world. Why are we interested in that?

TIM WILSON: We're interested because we want to save the planet and we want to make a buck. And when we've got a country like Japan that can see how hydrogen can be part of its future, offset the emissions, offset or captured, which is what the plan is, we have the potential to build an industry that could rival liquid exports of LNG. That's an incredibly exciting opportunity to create jobs -

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But not when you squeeze it out of brown coal. It's $150,000,000 per tonne. It's the most expensive form of liquid hydrogen probably in the world. Why are we interested in that form? When you make it more cheap, you could make it far more cheaply just using a renewable energy source?

TIM WILSON: And Raf these are exactly the same arguments that people used against solar when it first started. The first module, it was expensive.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: With great respect Tim Wilson, you can make liquid hydrogen right now and it costs less than one thousandth of the stuff you and Dan Andrews' government are investing in. It is ridiculously expensive, squeezing brown coal, you could burn the gas and produce less emissions. So why are we interested in this version of hydrogen?

TIM WILSON: We're interested in this hydrogen because it uses the existing and available resources in Victoria. It's a partnership, not just between the Victorian government, the federal government, a consortium of six Japanese businesses, as well as the Japanese government, because what it has is the capacity of scalability. One of the challenges with hydrogen is you can produce very small amounts of it with things like at this point, solar. Now I think that's going to get a lot bigger and I'm really excited about where that can head. But when you map this type of hydrogen with carbon capture and storage, you can scale, which enables you to have the transport fuels for not just Australia, but for the world. So it's actually a huge export earner. The potential for it to increase in size and industry is incredible and exponential, and something to be very excited about.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Liquid hydrogen might be.1300 222 774 is the phone number. Tim Wilson is who you are listening to. He is of course, the Liberal MP running again, of course the Melbourne seat of Goldstein. He's also, as you can hear, his portfolios are Industry, Energy and Emissions. Tom is in Elsternwick, not sure, Tom, if you're in Tim Wilson's seat but go for it. What's your query?

CALLER - TOM: Hi, let's think Liberal wins the next election, hope they're not. But if by 2030, world phase out coal and we have nothing to sell to world, what's the plan b for the Liberal government, okay, to buy our job? Because I'm in my 30s, I don't think so any future, like we don't make anything here, we don't have any future direction where we are going and energy crisis every day, it's just, it's getting intense, and, yeah.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Is that the question, Tom, what's the plan b beyond coal? Is that what you mean?

CALLER - TOM: Yes, beyond mining and all.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Okay. Beyond coal and mining. Tim Wilson?

TIM WILSON: They are critical parts of the conversation that I've just been going through, we've not just got obviously other sectors like hydrogen and its potential, which can create thousands of jobs. As I said, just today, I was down in Gippsland looking at potential offshore wind farms which would reduce the cost of energy and create hundreds of jobs in those communities which will feed into the heavy manufacturing we have throughout the whole southeast corridor of Victoria, of Melbourne, which is a critical industry or critical industries as part of Victoria as you just say. We're getting on with the job in making sure that we have jobs in a low carbon economy, but there's no single answer. What we're doing is diversifying it and achieving it. And remember, even for things like solar PV, they require critical minerals from mining to be part of, to be commercialised and manufactured, whether it's here or overseas. So there's not just a plan b, it's plan a on how we get to a lower carbon future and create the jobs and secure your opportunity too.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I'll get to some traffic. Tim Wilson, if I can reduce the polling questions to a bare minimum, there was a poll showing that 40 per cent of the people in your seat supported the independent candidate, Zoe Daniel, compared 24 per cent support for you. Did that worry you at all?

TIM WILSON: Not at all. Because it was a self selecting group of people off Twitter, that was shared amongst extreme Greens on Twitter to say go and support that. The reality is, if you believe that poll, then I've got some magic beans that I can sell you, Raf.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Do you think you're safe, confident you'll win?

TIM WILSON: I'm very confident of winning, but I've never taken the electorate of Goldstein for granted. I've always worked extremely hard over the full six years that I've been in office. And more of the point, I've got a strong track record of delivery in making sure that we deliver environmentally sound, economically prosperous and socially inclusive policy. And I'm immensely proud of it.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: You've got a new office, I think opposite the Good Guys on, is it Nepean Highway, used to be, I think it was that Moroccan furniture and homewares place

TIM WILSON: Yes, 677 Nepean Highway.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: How long has that been there? Because all of a sudden your face is all over your electorate. How long has that office been there?

TIM WILSON: The office we opened about October, but the Council had to give us approval for the signage, so that went up late last year.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: You have to get approval to put up political signage?

TIM WILSON: No, no, there's a certain amount of signage.


TIM WILSON: Before you have to get Council approval and we follow the law.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: We'll get to more questions with Tim Wilson. 1300 222 774 is the phone number. Let's just get those traffic details. ABC Radio Melbourne Traffic.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: You're with Raf on Polygraph. Your questions for Tim Wilson, Chris is in Moorabbin. What's your query, Chris?

CALLER - CHRIS: Look, my query is just about, I think with the pandemic, we can all accept there are [indistinct] circumstances and we get that. But my concern is, the reason I'm calling is just with the rollout of the boosters into the aged care sector, why did we repeat the same mistake of not rolling out boosters to the residents and the carers at a given facility at the same time?


TIM WILSON: Because when people go into aged care facilities, we need to make sure that people, you have qualified people to administer and provide those booster shots and it can't just be done momentarily. There are many aged care sectors. They're naturally decentralised in the communities where people want to live. And we've been getting on with making sure that people can get those booster shots in a safe way with proper medical supervision.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: So what's [indistinct] about doing the workers and the residents at the same time? I didn't understand your answer at all. Why is it unsafe to boost the staff at the same time as the resident?

TIM WILSON: Well, because people have individual care needs. And when we go into aged care homes, people get medical services from their doctor and other people seek out medical support services from their doctor, which can be outside of an aged care home. And people often have issues of medical privacy which we need to respect and they may not be comfortable sharing in front of other colleagues.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Sorry, I have no idea why that means you can't do the staff at the same time, what medical privacy got to do with it?

TIM WILSON: Well, people have their own doctor and when they have their own doctor, they often need, they might have other medical conditions which have other medications where they might seek counsel and support. We don't just jab people in their arms without their consultation through the channels in which things normally go.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Okay, I've asked that question a number of times, up to others to judge whether or not you have given a complete answer. Just on China, Tim Wilson, was the right or wrong thing to do to stop people wearing shirts at the tennis, that said, "Where is Peng Shuai?" You can't take political stuff into the Open, just like you can't take stuff to the Olympics. Is that okay?

TIM WILSON: Well, it's a very challenging proposition from somebody who believes in free speech, when something as simple as asking a question is now amounts to a political statement. It's an entirely, I would have thought, reasonable proposition to ask where somebody is. But ultimately, Australians don't want their tennis to be politicised. They want to focus on the tennis.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: You're not telling me you're okay with them banning the t-shirts are you? That seems contrary to all your instincts.

TIM WILSON: No, no, absolutely. And I think all that Tennis Australia, frankly, has done is amplified the message, which I think is a good message, which is where is Peng Shuai? And why is it that she isn't free? And when the Women's Tennis Association has legitimately drawn a focus on it, why is it that this is not a conversation that is being had? And why can't we get an answer?

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Does the Australian government ever raise issues? I think it's totally legitimate to raise issues about, especially ethnic minorities in China and dissidents. We never raise issues, for example, in India about anti-Christian mobs, anti-Christian laws, people who are stopped from even gathering on Christmas, people who are targeted with bizarre conversion laws. Does the Australian government ever say anything about that sort of Christian/Muslim persecution in India?

TIM WILSON: The reality is we raise these issues all the time with foreign governments. We used to actually, for instance, have a bilateral human rights dialogue with the government of China. Now the government of China cancelled that. I think it was about four or five years ago. And as a consequence, the ways to raise those directly with Chinese government officials as declined only to what's being done diplomatically. So those issues are arising.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But why doesn't anyone in your government ever say anything publicly about Christians in India?

TIM WILSON: I don't know the specifics on whether people have. I haven't. But I certainly know there are issues that have been raised in the past, human rights abuses, particularly in context of Christians or Muslims or any other section of the community where things are occurring by states.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Question from Carla in Coburg. Pleasing we actually had tonnes of questions inside Tim Wilson's electorate. Happy to take them from outside his electorate as well. Carla, what's your query?

CALLER - CARLA: I'm just wondering why the federal government still insists on relying on carbon storage and capture as one of their solutions to greenhouse gas emissions and their solution to the energy problem when it has not been proven to work at scale anywhere in the world?


TIM WILSON: Well, first of all that's incorrect. It actually has been proven to be used at scale, and it's going to increasingly be used. And the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the international energy agencies say it's a critical part of getting the world to carbon neutrality -

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: For industry or for electricity, Tim Wilson?

TIM WILSON: So, well, it -

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Not for electricity, you can't use it for electricity.

TIM WILSON: Well, politely, you can. It's been identified -

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: It's ridiculously expensive.

TIM WILSON: by the IPCC and IEA as part of the solution, because even if you build a solar panel, it uses critical minerals which have fugitive emissions that have to be off-set.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: That was my question. For industry or for electricity production?

TIM WILSON: Well, there are multiple ways it can be used, including for electricity as well as, of course, for industrial purposes. But we're taking a technology neutral approach. Our objective is to get to carbon neutrality, create jobs for the future of the Australian economy. And, of course, the technology has been said, explicitly, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the IEA -

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But no one's really making it work on large scale. I mean, there's the odd minor project around, no one's actually turned it into significant technology. And I think federal governments have spent about a billion dollars on it. Is that right?

TIM WILSON: Well, the federal government, across Liberal and Labor governments, has invested in CCS because it is part of the conversation about how we get to carbon neutrality and the opportunity, for instance, like the project in Gippsland, is dependent on it increasing at scale, but it is an important part of getting to the outcome, as well as backing job creation and the economic opportunities for Australia in a carbon neutral world.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: And, Lana, you might have to be the last question from Prahran. I'm guessing the seat, the neighbouring electorate of Higgins. What's your query, Lana?

CALLER - LANA: Okay, yeah, just to Tim, I want to know if chemists can opt out of distributing the free rapid antigen tests under the federal government rollout?

TIM WILSON: Opt out?

CALLER - LANA: Well, because I rang my chemist a week ago when you announced the programme and he said, no, you can't get them here, you'll have to go somewhere else and chemists won't be rolling them out for free.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Good question, Tim Wilson.

TIM WILSON: I'm not quite sure I understand the question. Can Tennis Australia opt out -

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: No, no it's the chemist. The chemist doesn't want to give her a pensioner or pension card free RAT test. They want to opt out. Are they allowed to opt out of that programme?

TIM WILSON: As far as I'm aware, they get a rebate for those that's provided ultimately to individual customers, but I'm not aware of any of them having option to opt out per se. It's just whether they're ultimately, with their limited stock, able to do so. And that would be a question you'd probably have to put to the Health Minister.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: That's a good one, Lana. I'm not sure how we're going to answer that. Stay on the line. I don't know how and when that happens. Tim Wilson, final question to you. I know it's not your portfolio and you're not an epidemiologist. But do you think we're past the worst of Omicron from a case number point of view?

TIM WILSON: I hope so, but ultimately that will be informed by the numbers that continue to go on. And what I hope is we get to a point where we can get to a COVID normal which enables people to have confidence to get on with their lives. Because ultimately I think that's what the community wants and it's certainly what I want.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Is Ash Barty going to win?

TIM WILSON: Well, I'm hopeful and optimistic.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Oh come, you can can gamble on this, you're not responsible for this. You're just a sports fan, you can tell me you think she's going to win.

TIM WILSON: Oh well, I don't know who's going to win but I know that I'm going, when is it, next Saturday so I'm hoping she'll be playing and I hope she'll win.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Did you pay for the ticket?

TIM WILSON: No, I don't think I did. I think I'm a guest.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Lucky you. Thanks for your time.

TIM WILSON: Cool, thank you.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Tim Wilson is the Assistant Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction. He's also the Liberal MP for the Melbourne seat of Goldstein. You get not one, but two elections this year. You very rarely get a chance to have a significant say in the formation of the people who collect all of our taxes, spend them, control policy, all those different sorts of things. You get two elections this year, Sarah's text in response to our conversation Tim Wilson, "For the love of god, stop using those dreadful sound bites your party is pushing, "meet and beat", kill me now". Respect to Tim Wilson for coming on consistently simply to answer questions you might not agree with the answers but he turns up.