Interview with Rafael Epstein, ABC Radio Melbourne

Gippsland offshore wind announcement, net zero emissions, defence spending

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Tim Wilson is, of course, the Liberal MP for the Bayside seat of Goldstein. He is also one of Scott Morrison’s ministers. He is the Assistant Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction. Good afternoon, Tim.

TIM WILSON: Good afternoon, Raf.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Can I just play you one more piece of Antonio Guterres and ask if you think it applies to Australia. Here’s the United Nations Secretary‑General.

ANTONIO GUTERRES: Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals, but the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Tim Wilson, we’re increasing use and export of fossil fuels, is Australia a dangerous radical?

TIM WILSON: I don’t agree with that assessment. I think we’re one of the countries that’s made a clear commitment to decarbonise to 2050 and what we’re doing is getting on with the job. I’m actually in rural Tasmania. I’ve just gone and visited Sea Forest which is a company that is producing asparagopsis which is a type of seaweed which is used to reduce the emissions from cows and the methane emissions that come from cows and this is how we are taking a technology‑led approach to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. What we need is other countries is, frankly, to follow our lead, where we’ve made a commitment and we’re meeting them and we’re not just meeting our targets but we’re beating them along the way.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I’ll come back to targets and emissions if I can. Just on the simple maths as presented by the IPPC report and the UN chief, we’re one the world’s biggest exporters of coal and gas. Isn’t that the exact opposite of what this report says we need to do?

TIM WILSON: What the report says the world needs to act and, of course, that requires countries to change their energy supply, and we’re making sure that there’s investment and innovation for us as I country to do so. Today we made a very significant announcement, the declaration of the first area in Australia for offshore wind development, off Gippsland in Victoria. And the way we’re going to get not just Australia but the world to decarbonise is by building the future because that’s the way we’re going to be competitive and make sure that there is a transformation in the energy need while taking the community with us.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Let’s go to the offshore wind announcement. It’s taken you all of nine years to make offshore wind-legal. How come? Britain’s been doing it for 20 years.

TIM WILSON: We’ve had to have the enabling legislation in place which we passed through the Parliament last year. Before that there was a lot of consultation.


TIM WILSON: Well, there are a lot of countries that have actually attempted it offshore wind, got it wrong and then it’s backfired and delayed delivery. So we’ve made sure we’ve got it right. We passed the legislation last year. We’ve released – this won’t excite people unless you’re in the industry – but the regulations to make it, bring it into effect. And today we declared our first area, because we are putting the foot on the accelerator of investing, or attracting investment offshore wind because the potential for Australia is huge. Just –

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: When will the project start, Tim Wilson? Have you got a date or a year?

TIM WILSON: Well, we’ve got our process of assessment of the area right now, but it’s going to take over this decade, and when people say that the decisions we make in this decade will define the century, they’re right. That’s why we’re getting on with it right now. But that’s just one project – –

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But is it one year, a couple of years? I mean, this is off Bass Strait, Gippsland, so an area we’re all familiar with. I’d hate saying I won’t hold you to it, but I won’t. Is it six months away? Is it five years away? When is it actually going to happen?

TIM WILSON: The process for assessment will be done over the next six to 12 months, but in terms of actually seeing turbines in the sky, it’s going to be toward the end of this decade. That’s why we’re taking action now to get the outcome now, because it needs to the build the confidence of investors and of course building the industry. Because our interest is how do we build Australia’s industrial future which creates job, cuts emissions and also electricity prices too.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Tim Wilson is one of Scott Morrison’s ministers, assistant Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction. On emissions reduction, Tim Wilson, if you take away all the of the fancy accounting, the actual emissions produced by this nation since you’ve been in Government have barely dropped. When are you going to genuinely stop emitting as much into the atmosphere as a Government?

TIM WILSON: There’s no – I don’t accept your claim about fancy accounting. The reality is our economy has grown by 45 per cent since 2005 while we’ve seen a reduction in emissions by 20 per cent; so that’s what we call the decoupling, where the economy grows despite emissions. Where once upon a time they would have grown in sync, we’re making sure that they separate.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: The actual stuff that goes into the atmosphere, you can go to your department’s website – it’s on the Department of Industry and Energy website – the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory. It’s 540 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2013. It was 525 metric tonnes – that’s less than a three per cent cut to 2021 of the stuff actually going into the atmosphere; isn’t that a failure?

TIM WILSON: Not at all, and this is precisely the point I’m making. Emissions have traditionally gone up proportionate to population and economic growth, and we have decoupled that. Meanwhile, we’ve found opportunities to sequester emissions and reduce – –

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I’m not saying they’re not going down; I’m saying they’re not going down nearly enough.

TIM WILSON: No, no, but that’s the basis in which we achieve our targets today, tomorrow and into the future, and every country will do so by decoupling economic growth and population growth from increases in emissions. So, we’ve started that process. We’re going to continue, and the announcements today, like in off‑shore wind, like what I was just seeing with seaweed that’s going to help reduce the emissions from methane from the one in three – it used to be one in four only recently – it’s now one in three households that have solar PV on their rooftops is all part of the journey. But it’s a journey we need to take people with us on, Raf, and it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s not flick a switch. It’s got to be sustainable and it’s got to make sure that we cut emissions over the long term because that’s how we do it sustainably.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Do you agree that it’s a problem? That the actual stuff, if you don’t include land use, which is basically a credit you get for not doing something, if you take land use out of the picture, we’ve barely cut emissions. Isn’t the real message of that IPPC report that you as a Government are not cutting nearly enough?

TIM WILSON: No, that isn’t the lesson. In fact, we have got a lot of country that is are backsliding on their commitments even to net-zero by 2050. The UK Government has said they need more wiggle room or flexibility. We’ve seen China has never been prepared to commit to net-zero by 2050. Meanwhile, we’re not just meeting our targets, we’re beating them, and we’re also making sure that we decouple economic growth from rising emissions. So this is the fundamental difference. One of the things that was said in that first package was a complaint that countries were making commitments but not beating them. We’re making them, we’re meeting them, we’re beating them and we are going to keep doing them, Raf. Emissions are going to set to cut by – our target was 26 to 28 per cent by the ended this decade, and down by –

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Can I ask you about that target? Can I ask you about the 2030 target? If everyone in the world did what you aim to do, we’d be royally stuffed.


RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I mean, if everybody did 28 per cent by 2030 we know that’s a disaster. That’s exactly what that report says.

TIM WILSON: If every other country actually followed our lead and delivered emissions reductions at the scale we’re delivering them, the world would be a lot better off. This is the difference between what commitments are and whether they’re broken or what commitments are and where they’re meeting them and beat. That’s the complaint of the introductory package, is that so many countries talk big but when it comes to materially delivering emissions cuts and decoupling their economic growth, their population growth from their emissions footprint, other countries make bold pronouncements and fail. We make pronouncements, we commit to them, we meet them, we beat them, and we’ll continue to do so.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Just away from the numbers if I can, Tim Wilson, I have a few other things to ask you.


RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But is climate change going to be a vote decider at the election?

TIM WILSON: I think it is shapes many people’s votes, but it isn’t the only issue. We know that cost‑of‑living pressure is very real for many Australian households. People look at the world. They see it as very uncertain particularly as a consequence of global or international conflict in places like Ukraine and Russia and of course the economic uncertainty that comes and flows from that. So, it’ll a factor, but it won’t be the sole factor.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: It does seem, especially in the last week, each day there is another person inside your own party calling the Prime Minister a bully and basically saying that he is a horrible person. Catherine Cusack is the latest. She’s the Liberal from New South Wales. Just the issues they may have with the Prime Minister aside, what’s going on with your party that each day there are people willing to traduce the Prime Minister’s character?

TIM WILSON: We know that we’ve got a current Senator who has been disendorsed for re‑election, who has chosen actually not to allow themselves to be put forward at the ballot and they have a grievance with the Prime Minister because they’d rather a different outcome – 

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: There’s more than one person.

TIM WILSON: No, I know, but I’m giving you a context. And you’ve got hundreds of party members that made a decision that perhaps loyalty was something they expected out of their Senators and they’ve gone to demonstrate, I think, for a lot of people why it is that they were, frankly, not given endorsement. And I think this is – in politics everybody has grievances. It’s, you know, unfortunately – –

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: The Deputy Prime Minister said horrible things about the Prime Minister.

TIM WILSON: And of course, you know, people are entitled to their views. But I think one of the biggest challenges in public life is that people always throw allegations at you. Often they’re baseless and rubbish.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But they’re all internal, is what’s curious.

TIM WILSON: I understand that, but part of the test of fortitude and the test of character of somebody in public life is against the headwinds whether they persist and do what they think is right and that’s the basis on which you assess whether somebody has character and that’s what I consistently see from the Prime Minister.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I know the Government is keen to make defence a significant issue. If I can just ask the final question on that. We made $5 billion by for submarines. We’ve no idea when they’re coming or where they’ll be built. We’ve just cancelled the armed drone program that Peter Dutton was talking up a few months ago. We were going to build a naval base in PNG a few years ago. That’s barely able to hold a patrol boat for more than a few days. Your Government appears unable to turn defence announcements into real action; why?

TIM WILSON: I don’t agree with that assessment. What we’ve always made sure is decisions are made in defence that delivers the kit and equipment that Australia needs to defend itself – – 

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But we don’t have the kit, that’s the point, isn’t it?

TIM WILSON: And many of these projects, as you and I both know, Raf, are done over long-time frames. We don’t just go down the shop and buy them, retail them – –

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: You’ve had nine years. That’s a long time.

TIM WILSON: 100 per cent, and that’s why there have been decisions of cancellation of contracts and turned them around, because some of the scale of the problems that emerges over time need to be confronted and addressed. We’re absolutely committed. When Labor was last in Government, they cut defence spending. We’ve increased it because we know how critical and important it is, because we live in an uncertain world, in an uncertain region, at an uncertain time and the need to invest in our national security is now paramount. That’s why last week in the Budget you saw major investment in cyber – –

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I’m not doubting the money’s there. I am just – if it I can try once more, Tim Wilson: $5 billion by for submarines that don’t exist and choppers that can’t fire their weapons. Why should we trust you to deliver defence projects?

TIM WILSON: Why, because in the end sometimes you’ve got to cut your losses if you don’t think projects work to shift towards the projects that will, and of course they’re just a couple of the procurement projects that this Government’s investing in, as I was just talking about. One of the biggest challenges we face now as a nation is on the online space and in cyber and in space and we’re making major investments in those so that we can defend Australia’s interest, working of course with other countries because they’re new frontier and you’ve got to shift your resources to the frontiers where you face risk.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Appreciate your time, thank you.

TIM WILSON: Thanks, Raf.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Tim Wilson the Liberal MP for the seat of Goldstein, also assistant Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction.