Interview with Rafael Epstein, ABC Radio Melbourne

Rafael Epstein
Tax cuts, electricity prices, emissions reduction, commuter car parks

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Tim Wilson joins us he is the Assistant Minister to the Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction. He is also, of course, the Liberal MP for the Melbourne seat of Goldstein. Tim Wilson, good afternoon.

TIM WILSON: Thanks for having me, Raf.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Are we getting tax cuts next year?

TIM WILSON: Well, that's obviously a decision for the Treasurer. But my speeches in Parliament make my record pretty clear. I'm always in favour of lower taxes, particularly in making sure that we encourage work, and also so we address some of the broader challenges of intergenerational justice in the tax system. I actually wrote a book in part about this last year, because I think it's so important that young Australians aspire to their own economic opportunity and through the pursuit of work.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: If you go for tax cuts though, does that mean you've given up on paying back debt?

TIM WILSON: Not at all. I mean, our focus is always going to be on how we grow the economy. You have a bigger economy, a stronger economy, and of course, you can have the tax to pay off the debt.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: [Interrupts] That sounds like a Labor line. We'll pay off the debt with a bigger economy.

TIM WILSON: Well no- only because they're copy and pasting us. I mean, the reality is a strong economy is the most critical way you can provide the essential services Australians need, that we can broaden and lower taxes, and of course, also address the challenges of the debt, particularly obviously the legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic. And I'm very clear that I consider the debt to be a critical part of the conversation, as is tax and making sure we lower…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: [Interrupts] You can't do both though, can you? I mean we're heading towards trillion-dollar debt. You can't deal with debt and give people a tax cut.

TIM WILSON: Well, you can do more than two things at once, or more than one thing at once. You can actually have taxes that are lower, which can stimulate the economy and make sure that you can then repay the debt. But you know, in the end, it comes down to a question of who you trust to deliver lower taxes. And what's being consistent is we've cut taxes as a government, And it's always been part of the Liberal DNA to cut taxes, because we want to make sure that Australians are in the best position to support themselves.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Mind you, you promise surplus forever and never delivered as well. It speaks a lot about lower taxes, okay. Promised a surplus forever, never delivered.

TIM WILSON: Well firstly, there was this thing called the COVID-19 pandemic.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: [Interrupts] Yeah, but you've been in government for quite a while before that.

TIM WILSON: And we've been consistent in making sure that we get the budget back to balance. But the challenge we face is a COVID-19 pandemic as we were in on the precipice of delivering a surplus. And we're not going to apologise for making decisions necessary to back Australians at that critical time, because our objective has to be to how we empower Australians to support themselves.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: If I can ask you something about your portfolio. You're the Assistant Minister for Energy and Emissions. The ACCC has a report saying that electricity prices are going to continue to head down. Isn't that in spite of your government, not because of what your government's done?

TIM WILSON: It's an enormously exciting thing that Australia's household electricity prices are going down, and that's a directly result of regulatory reforms that we've introduced, like the default market offer, which has reduced electricity prices. And what we also know is that, through the adoption of Renewables, there's lower-cost power going into the grid. And we're not just delivering electricity prices down, it's being matched by a missions going down as well.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But you've been gunning for renewables most of your nine years in government. You wanted to get rid of the Renewable Energy Target when you first got into government. You wanted to get rid of the agencies responsible for funding renewables. Your own government blew up over things like the Clean Energy Target and the National Energy Guarantee. You've been gunning for renewables, you haven't been supporting them.

TIM WILSON: That's completely false. You know, the reality is, renewable energy target for starters was introduced by the Howard Government many years ago. What we've been doing is focusing on how [indistinct]…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: [Interrupts] And Tony Abbott wanted to get rid of it when he was Prime Minster.

TIM WILSON: …and electricity prices. One of the biggest challenges that we've all collectively face is making sure we get lower prices and lower emissions working concurrently, rather than having higher prices and lowering emissions. So our focus is how we get good policy and good policy outcomes, and it's being experienced by Australians through lower electricity prices and lower emissions right now.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Can I just go back to something I said about trying to gun for renewables rather than support them. You tried to deliver a Clean Energy Target as a government and failed. Malcolm Turnbull try to deliver a National Energy Guarantee and failed. You haven't actually done anything to support renewables into your ninth year in government, have you?

TIM WILSON: That's complete rubbish, Raf. Just in the last sitting of Parliament, we passed the first piece of legislation to enable investment in offshore energy generation. This landmark legislation, which I personally delivered through the Parliament, is a critical part of making sure that we have the full option of renewables. We've also, of course, got the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which we've recapitalised. And of course all the funding that's supported through the CEFC. There are so many different programs, including the Emissions Reduction Fund and what it's doing. So politely, your assessment is just false and based on misinformation.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Tim Wilson is the assistant Minister for Energy and Emissions and Industry, 1300-222-774 is the phone number. I'll get to calls and texts later. Tim Wilson, I do want to ask you some other questions, but an open-ended one, because you've got a few different people now contesting your seat. I don't know if you want to get into that or not. But number one, if you had to pick one issue that people in your seats say is of the top of their list, I'm going to force you to pick one issue. What do you think is going to be the vote decider at the federal election next year?

TIM WILSON: Well people raise lots of issues with me, Raf, and I know you want simplistic answers, but we're a substance and a balance based approach to government. And so a strong economy captures lots of things, from making sure Australians can get jobs, that they're in the best position to support themselves and their families, that they're able to do things like buy a home. Everything hangs off a strong economy. If you want to protect our environment and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, you need a strong economy. If you want to make sure that you fund Medicare and health services, you need a strong economy. Everything flows from that, and that's consistently what I get from the community. Now, there are other people who raise other issues, but all of them can be solved through a strong economy, and I think that's going to be, ultimately, the vote decider, is who do you trust to deliver that.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: You tweeted on the weekend, Tim Wilson, about picking up rubbish - for which I applaud you, I wish more people would do it. But, you did say this, you said in your tweet; if everyone takes responsibility, we will have a better nation. If every country in the world had Australia's emissions goal of 28 per cent, the world would heat up too much, we know that, the science says that. So why does- everyone takes responsibility, why does that apply for picking up rubbish but not for emissions?

TIM WILSON: It absolutely does. And, in fact, if every country had a record of emissions cuts like we do, we're actually delivering, not intent, delivery, where our emissions are already down 20 per cent on 2005 levels, we would be much closer to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. Instead, the OECD average is only seven per cent delivery. Aspirations higher, delivery lower. And so what we're focused on is making sure…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: [Interrupts] But average belies something, doesn't it? There's a ton of countries in the world who've got much higher goals. And if I can just ask that question again, because it's about what we do, not what other countries do. If every country had a goal of 28 per cent, that would be too much. So why does everyone taking responsibility apply for picking up rubbish, but not for emissions?

TIM WILSON: But it absolutely does, the principle absolutely remains the same. Which is, if every country actually delivers on emissions cuts on the way that we are doing, we will be closer towards carbon neutrality by 2050. But instead, what we got is a lot of intent, but not outcomes. Our government, Australia, is very focussed on delivering carbon emissions and reduce…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: [Interrupts] But we've barely cut emissions. If you take out the land clearing that's been stopped in a place like Queensland, we've dropped emissions two or three per cent. We haven't really cut emissions that much.

TIM WILSON: Firstly, they're really important because offsets are an important part of the conversation, but that's just false. Our economy has grown 45 per cent in the same time frame as we've cut emissions by 20 per cent. The decoupling has begun, and now we've got to keep driving it forward. And that's what we're focussed on doing with a strong economy so that we can build a better Australia and the foundations of Australia's future economy.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: How many people bring up climate change or emissions when they speak to you in the street Tim Wilson? Like, as a percentage?

TIM WILSON: Oh, many people raise it as part of an important- as many- part of a conversation about many issues, which includes climate change. But people also know that, you know, it's a part of a factor of many considerations that ultimately move their vote. Of course, they know that I'm strongly committed to climate action. I'm very proud of our emissions reduction. But part of my job is to keep it going further, and I'm proudly going to do so.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: The commuter car parks that were promised and mostly not delivered. Are you trying to blackmail the councils in your seats into accepting that money?

TIM WILSON: Well, not at all. They applied for the funding. They submitted proposals. I'm very proud that we've got significant funding investment for infrastructure in our community. But when you apply for funding and then it's provided, as we've provided it, and then they turn around, say they don't want to spend the money or they're concerned whether they want it, it raises questions.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  [Interrupts] Well, they really say that you didn't really consult. You're sort of- you're talking across purposes. You didn't really consult with them. But to write to a council…

TIM WILSON: [Interrupts] Well, sorry, Raf. That's an assertion which is just false? We literally called them up and said, we understand there'll be the opportunity to apply for the commuter car parking. Do you have proposals on this? They then submitted actual hard copy documents saying, yes, we would like to apply for this funding. Here is our proposal about how we're going to do it. So…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: [Interrupts] Sure. So why didn't you consult with them before you promised them?

TIM WILSON: We did. That's how we got the proposal.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Well, the Auditor-General says you didn't consult with barely anyone. The whole point the Auditor-General's report was you didn't consult with local councils. Most of those car parks were promised in Victoria at the last election, and the Auditor-General says it wasn't designed. The process wasn't open and transparent, and you didn't consult. So is the Auditor-General wrong?

TIM WILSON: That's not a reflection on my experience. I went and spoke to the local council CEOs. We got proposals from them, so that's normally considered consultation. We then delivered the funding, and now we're looking forward to it. And make no mistake Raf, I am incredibly proud that we have been able to deliver some of the largest grants to our community in their history. The City of Glen Eira, their grant for nearly $18 million for car parks is the biggest…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: [Interrupts] How many car parks have been built?

TIM WILSON: Well, their council is currently considering how they can do it, because they are arguing- or they're questioning whether they want to deliver it. And I keep saying to them: Biggest grant in the council's history. I reckon you should get on with it. Because when I stand on railway stations, people say to me; they want more car parking for commuting to encourage them to use public transport, so they can help cut emissions.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: You don't seem at all embarrassed by the Auditor-General's report. He's basically accusing you of pork barrelling. That doesn't- you don't seem embarrassed by that at all. No consultation, no real planning…

TIM WILSON: But Raf, I just outlined to you that…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: [Interrupts] But having a chat to the council is not planning.

TIM WILSON: No, no. Then they gave us a proposal, often in cases where they had already developed plans, and were trying to get funding from the state government. In fact, the City of Bayside actually wrote letters, in their letter, their covering letter, saying how disappointed they were that there was continual failure of the state government to invest in commuter car parking in our community. The city of Glen Eira already had a plan developed, which they ultimately sent through to us to apply for the funding. That's called consultation, and that's called backing in communities to be able to deliver, so we have a better lifestyle for our community.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Tim Wilson, have a merry Christmas. Thanks for talking to us.

TIM WILSON: Merry Christmas Raf, and to all of you listeners.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Tim Wilson there, the member for Goldstein and Assistant Minister on Energy and Emissions.