Interview with Rod McClure, Braidwood FM

ROD MCCLURE: And good morning, it’s Rod McClure here. And we’re having a special interview, and it gives me great pleasure to welcome the Minister for Climate Change and Energy, the Honourable Chris Bowen.

How are you, Chris?

CHRIS BOWEN: Good morning, Rod. Good morning, everyone in Braidwood.

ROD MCCLURE: Yeah, now, what sparked this off is a media release that has been put out by yourself regarding more choices on cars, saving fuels and cutting emissions. Would you like to outline for us what it’s all about?

CHRIS BOWEN: Yeah, sure, Rod. So, around the world most governments require the car companies to send them good cars, send their country good cars. And Australia and Russia are the only major countries without those rules. And 85 per cent of cars sold around the world have to comply with those rules, but in Australia they don’t. And that really means Australia has been a bit of a dumping ground, unfortunately, for cars that are inefficient to run, use more petrol than cars than the rest of the world use.

So the best example of that is probably us versus the US. Now, I think people would understand that the US is, you know, famous for its big pickup trucks, it’s big cars. They love big cars, they travel long distances like us. But in the US on average motorists spend 20 per cent less on fuel because their cars are 20 per cent more efficient than ours.

And so what we’ve announced is, one, we’ll have emission standards, new vehicle emission standards. So there’s no impact on used cars or the cars you drive now. This is people buying new cars going forward. And we’ll start it next year and we’ll gradually build it to match the United States by 2028. So it’s a well overdue reform. It’s been talked about for a long time. It’s about giving Australians more choices of better to run, cheaper to run, lower emissions cars.

ROD MCCLURE: The head of the NRMA in New South Wales has gone on record as saying that he thinks the industry is ready for the change. The car companies, are they cooperating? Or will they have a choice?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, ultimately they’ll have to comply, of course, with the law if we get it through the parliament, which I believe we will. And they comply with the law, as I said, 85 per cent of cars they sell around the world comply with these laws. You know, obviously some companies would prefer no regulation, they’d prefer to do whatever they like. But I think it’s important that Australians get better choices.

And to be clear – we are not saying to the car companies in any way, shape or form what models they can bring in. You know, they can – or what models they can’t bring in. They’ll still be able to bring in big cars, utes, vans, of course and Australians will still want them and still have access to them. But even with those big cars and utes, there’s a big difference in fuel efficiency.

It's partly about electric vehicles and hybrids. You know, we have fewer than 100 electric vehicle models available in Australia. In the United States there’s more than 150. And you might say, “Oh, the United States is a much bigger market, but there’s more than 150 available in New Zealand as well. Now, I know electric vehicles and hybrids aren’t for everyone just yet, but, as I said, it’s also about just getting more efficient petrol and diesel cars into the country as well.

So we’re all on a journey on what type of cars we might want to buy over the next few years. But I want to give Australians better choices of more affordable, easier to run, cheaper to run and lower emissions cars.

ROD MCCLURE: Now, I think it was Bridget McKenzie and a couple of other people have hinted at the idea that somehow the tradies ute is going to be put on the altar of emissions.

CHRIS BOWEN: Yeah, we’ve seen this movie before, haven’t we, Rod, back in 2019. You know, it’s just a bit of a scare campaign. It’s easy to run a scare campaign, you know, and be against things. What we’re doing is being for things and for better choices. But, as I said, you know, look at the United States. They’ve had these standards since the 1970s – for about as long as been alive. And you can get a pickup truck, what they call – they call their utes pickup trucks – you can get a pickup truck in the United States pretty easily. So the idea that if you have emissions standards and somehow you won’t have utes is just a fantasy. And it’s just the normal sort of, you know, partisan scare campaign we’re used to seeing every so often in Australia.

ROD MCCLURE: So we can guarantee that she can load up the shotties and the ammunition and still get to the Wagga shooting range?

CHRIS BOWEN: You can still do whatever you want, whatever floats your boat, in your ute, in your van. But with a bit of luck and if you buy a new one, you’ll be paying a bit less for petrol because you’ll be using less petrol in it.

ROD MCCLURE: Okay. Is the car itself likely to be initially more expensive?

CHRIS BOWEN: Look, there’ll be a range obviously. And when you give people more choices people can – people have access to a bigger range of options. I want to see more affordable EVs and lower emissions cars in Australia. A lot of young people are particularly interested in buying EVs. Even in the regions. Some people say EVs are just for the cities. But even in the regions a lot of young people in particular are thinking about their first car and they want a hybrid maybe or an EV. But there’s just not enough affordable models in Australia. There are affordable models elsewhere.

In other cases, you know, there’ll be other choices given to people. But, really, as I said, it’s about getting more choices into Australia. We’re not banning any model. We’re not banning any type of car. We’re not making any of it compulsory. We’re just saying on average – to the car companies – on average send us better, more efficient cars, just like you do everywhere else in the world.

ROD MCCLURE: Yeah, you were quoting 20 per cent below America. I actually saw a figure saying 40 per cent below some countries –

CHRIS BOWEN: Yeah, 40 per cent below Europe. So European cars are 40 per cent more efficient than ours. US cars are 20 per cent more efficient than ours. And I tend to use the US just because, you know, it a bit more of a comparable example rather than Europe where the cars tend to be a bit smaller and people don’t drive as far. But it’s still a fair comparison, both of them.

ROD MCCLURE: Yeah, yeah. It’s quite amazing, the difference. Obviously fuel tax helps to fund our roads, and as we move more to hybrids and electric vehicles – and the whole point of this is that fuel consumption, especially in rural areas, will drop – how are we going, are there plans in the pipeline or are we looking at how to recoup the money that we will need to build our roads and construct them?

CHRIS BOWEN: Yeah, that’s a longer-term discussion, Rod, that particular the Treasurers are having, the federal and state Treasurers over the longer term, because you’re 100 per cent right. We’re not planning any changes any time soon because we know these things take a while to get right. And also we want to encourage people to look at all their options. But ultimately that’s a conversation that governments across the country can have. But we want to have it in a coordinated way. We don’t want some states going off and – or the Commonwealth going off and doing something in a way that’s not coordinated with other governments.

ROD MCCLURE: That makes sense. Moving on to a couple of things that are a little bit different, on a local issue, there’s a proposal in Braidwood to actually harness the solar panel power that’s generated and build a battery and put it into that to get us through times when we have blackouts, which we do have. And I was wondering, is that happening across the country, and is your department sort of right behind that sort of idea?

CHRIS BOWEN: Yes, we are. And I’m aware of the Braidwood proposal and I’m aware of the issues in Braidwood – you know, the link to Captains Flat is one line and if a truck goes into that line Braidwood gets cut off. And that’s something the community is trying to fix.

Across the country, yes, I’m a big supporter of communities taking control of their own renewable energy resources and working out what best suits them. We have some programs to help. I know that community proposal is talking to ARENA, which is the funding agency in my portfolio. So that’s good. That’s great. Obviously I won’t pre-empt what ARENA says, but, you know, that’s – we do support those sorts of initiatives.

We’ve got a community battery program across Australia – 400 community batteries we’re rolling out. Those bids are being assessed at the moment. Again, I’m not quite sure where Braidwood will fit in there because there’s a process underway. But across the board we are – I’m a big supporter, the government is a big supporter, of community renewable energy. We have solar banks programs as well, microgrid programs. And, you know, there’s communities like Braidwood, like Cobargo, of course, which was heavily impacted by bushfires and they got cut off by electricity. Bawley Point over on the coast, they’ve got a microgrid that’s been set up. So I’m a big supporter of these sorts of plans, and we’ll help where we can.

ROD MCCLURE: That sounds terrific. We’ve seen the Leader of the National Party hold a meeting and talk about, you know, the loss of arable land and lack of compensation and wind farms will, you know are negative things and we need to look at nuclear power. What’s your take on what he’s talking about?

CHRIS BOWEN: Look, Rod, I think there’s two separate things here. There’s the need to ensure communities are properly engaged, consulted and communities get benefits from renewable energy. So there’s a report out just yesterday showing huge economic benefits for regions from renewable energy going in. But we’ve got to make sure that that’s how it actually plays out. You know, I don’t want the renewable energy revolution to help the country but not help the regions that host it.

So that’s one thing that’s happening. And that’s very legitimate and fair and we’ve got lots of work going on on all that stuff.

The other thing that’s going on that’s not legitimate is people whipping up campaigns for their own political purposes. Now, at that small rally we saw at Parliament House, the National Party speakers we saw there they weren’t talking about better community consultation, they weren’t talking about community benefits; they were talking about, frankly, climate change denial, conspiracy theories and all sorts of things. That’s not a legitimate debate to be having.

And I think, you know, what they’re trying to do is conflate two things for political benefit, and I’m pretty disappointed in that because the National Party should be the party that stands up for the regions and says let’s get benefits out of these things. Instead, they’re in a bit of a war with One Nation and Palmer about, you know, who can be the most anti-renewables.

Well, I mean, I think in my experience, Rod, across the country cities, regions, remote Australia, people understand that renewables are the future, and it’s about getting it right and rolling them out the right way, not sort of denying climate change and saying, “Oh, well, we want a moratorium, we don’t want any more renewables in Australia.” We are the sunniest country in the world. We have the best renewable resources in the world. We would be crazy not to harness that and turn it into a massive economic opportunity not only for Australia but for the regions that host them.

ROD MCCLURE: And isn’t it a question that farmers who have easements across their land for the new power grids and so on, they’ll be compensated in some way, won’t they?

CHRIS BOWEN: Absolutely. And a lot of farmers I talk to say, “This is great.” You know, I was actually talking to a farmer in Grabben Gullen not too far from you, I guess, week and he said, look, he owns the land surrounding a wind farm. And he said to, “I was dead against it. I was stressed. I was campaigning against it. I read all the conspiracy theories about wind farms. I really thought this was going to be a disaster. I thought I’d have to move out.” And he said, “Chris, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It went ahead against my objections, and now I am the biggest supporter of it. They let me agist my cattle around the wind farm – wind turbines, no problem. I’ve expanded my farm on to this land. It’s made my farm more viable. I can now pass it on to my kids knowing that it’s viable. I’ll get” – he actually told me and he said, “You know, it will make a million dollars for me over the life of my farm. And it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I can’t hear the wind turbines. You know, it’s just magnificent.”

And I want to see more stories like that. If you host a transmission line in New South Wales, Victoria or Queensland you get a compensation package. You get yearly rent, basically, and that’s drought proof. A lot of farmers say to me, you know, “My income went up and down with the drought. It still does a bit but at least I’ve got a guaranteed income from the transmission line or the solar farm or the wind.” Not all agriculture can co-exist with renewable energy, but a lot can. You know, I’ve seen plenty of sheep grazing under solar panels. I’ve seen plenty of cows wandering up next to wind turbines. They can co-exist if it’s properly planned and farmers are part of the conversation with the renewable energy developers. And I want to see much more of that.

ROD MCCLURE: That Grabben Gullen story is a really good one, really positive one.



CHRIS BOWEN: It is, yeah, yeah. Absolutely.

ROD MCCLURE: The wind farms leads me to the next thing. There’s been some interesting people who’ve discovered whales and the importance of looking after our oceans. The offshore wind farms off the coast of New South Wales that are slated to go ahead, there’s – there seems to be, you know, a bit of a division of camps into, you know, will the whales be affected, will the whales not be affected, will the oceans be affected. Can you bring us up to date on the latest research from your department?

CHRIS BOWEN: Yeah, there’s no evidence anywhere in the world where offshore wind exists that has a negative impact on whales. Offshore wind has existed around the world since the 1990s and whales are smart animals; they co-exist with offshore wind, they co-exist with oil and gas rigs, they co-exist with cargo ships and cruise ships and they, you know, navigate all sorts of hazards around their migration patterns. But I tell you what will impact on whales Rod, it’s climate change.

The impact on their food chain, a small increase in water temperature, you know, moves where the krill lives, kills the krill, impacts their food chains. Whales are – you know, whales are one of the most, probably the most magnificent creature that you could ever hope to see.

And I’ll tell you what their biggest threat is – climate change. So of course, again, it’s a similar sort of story. Do we need to get offshore wind right? Do we need to plan it right? Do we need to make sure every environmental concern is taken into account? Absolutely. Do we need to do it? Yes, absolutely. Because it’s a massive source of renewable, emissions-free energy. It’s very windy at night when we need it. There’s tens of thousands of kilometres of space which, you know, is necessary. And it’s jobs-rich as well. A lot of these areas, you know, are undergoing economic change. Look at Gippsland and Latrobe where coal-fired power stations are going to close. Offshore wind is going to create a lot of jobs as well.

ROD MCCLURE: Yeah, and they’re located well out to sea, aren’t they?

CHRIS BOWEN: Yeah, I mean, we’re going through the process of declaring zones, but, you know I’ve declared two zones so far. And, you know, you’re talking 30 kilometres offshore, 20 kilometres minimum in most cases. So, you know, we put a zone out, we see what people think, we make it smaller, we take into account concerns, and that’s an appropriate way of doing it.

ROD MCCLURE: Okay. And, lastly, there’s a lot happening, and it’s good – well, many people would say that it’s a good thing to see. How confident are you, given your opponents are saying, “Oh, we can’t possibly reach the set emissions target,” how confident are you that we can do our bit, that we can reach that level? And just if you’d like to go back over the role that rural Australia will play. Because I think that’s a pretty important role.

CHRIS BOWEN: It’s vital. Yes, Rod, we will – we can meet our targets. There’s bumps on the road. You know, this is a massive economic change. Nothing happens, you know, exactly as planned and, you know, there’s the odd thing you have to change here or there. But – and that’s just part of reform. Reform and change is difficult. And I’m used to that. But we will get there because we have to get there, not only for the environment, as important as that is, but also for the economic opportunities for our country. As I said, we have the best renewable resources in the world and we can create a lot of jobs as we do it.

And to your point – those jobs will be in the regions by and large, jobs for people who are in industries that are changing, jobs for younger people to give them the option of staying in the region they grew up in if they want to. You know, I want young Australians in the regions to have a choice about whether they stay in the regions or move away and not have to move away for work. There’ll be a lot of jobs created in the regions, a lot of great blue-collar jobs – electrical engineering. You know, we need tens of thousands of sparkies just over the next decade for this task. You know, I want young people having the opportunity to take up a trade in the regions, and that’s exactly what we’re doing and exactly the sorts of opportunities we’re creating.

ROD MCCLURE: And that is the way in which policies intermesh, isn’t it? Because you’ve got the – a very, very big move with TAFE and training people so that as they become trained they’re available for these sorts of positions.

CHRIS BOWEN: Absolutely. Absolutely. And we’re working the states on reforming TAFE to make sure it’s doing the job we need to create these jobs of the future. Brendan O’Connor, the Skills Minister, is doing a great job working with the states on that. He works closely with me. We’ve got Jobs and Skills Australia, and really the main thing they do at the moment is make sure we’re getting this right, we’re skilling people for all these jobs we’re going to create. We’re going to be finding, you know, people for jobs, not jobs for people. And it’s a pretty good opportunity to have.

ROD MCCLURE: Funny, isn’t it – I went through an era where TAFE was being dismantled. I watched our railway lines come to a dead halt, and it’s sort of like groundhog day. We’ve come back to the point where we’ve realised perhaps that these things are really, really important for the economic wellbeing of the country but, more importantly, our young people in particular. They’re our future.

CHRIS BOWEN: Of course. Of course. And, you know, you’re 100 per cent right. TAFE went through a period where governments, you know, reduced investment in it. We see TAFE as absolutely vital. You know, universities are very important, but they’re not for everyone and nor are they key to our economic future. TAFE in many ways is.

ROD MCCLURE: Yeah. So we’re looking at a whole range of new, much more fuel-efficient cars coming into the country, and there’ll be a variety of prices, a variety of models. And in regional areas, I think the figure is you can save up to $1,000 because the cars are more efficient.

CHRIS BOWEN: Yeah, that’s right. And I know people in the regions drive a long distance, but when you drive a long distance you save more if your car is more fuel efficient. So in many ways this is a pro-regional policy. If you’re scooting around in the city and only driving a few k’s every day, well, you’re probably not going to save that much. But if you’re driving long distances in the regions and you’ve got a more efficient car, you’re going to save a heap.

ROD MCCLURE: Okay. Look, Minister, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you.

CHRIS BOWEN: My pleasure.

ROD MCCLURE: And, you know, it’s nice to have some of the points cleared up that you’ve been able to clear up for us and give us a direction. And, you know, I hope there’ll be another time. You’re more than welcome.

CHRIS BOWEN: My pleasure. And, you know, I sometimes stop for brekkie in Braidwood on the way to Canberra. So if I ever see you, make sure you say hello.

ROD MCCLURE: Okay. More than happy to do so. You have a great day.

CHRIS BOWEN: Cheers, mate. Ta-ta. Bye, thanks.