Transcript: Chris Bowen interview on the Energy Insiders podcast

Giles Parkinson  00:00

Chris Bowen, thank you very much for joining the Energy Insiders podcast.

Chris Bowen  00:04

Great pleasure Giles, longtime listener, first time caller.

Giles Parkinson  00:07

Well, thank you very much. Three years ago, Scott Morrison, then Treasurer, smuggled a lump of coal into parliament and waited about, I presume he might have put it in his pocket or something, or in his briefcase if he’s allowed to bring one of those in. Last month, you brought in a bigger object – it was a solar panel. How did you manage to get that past the sergeant at arms?

Chris Bowen  00:28

Bit of practice, Giles. Just quietly, I had it under a couple of foolscap folders, and I had it under my chair during question time. Then I had to get it up to the despatch box and I did it at the end of a 15 minute speech. So then had to sort of push the foolscap folders out of the way to reveal it and yes, I was a little bit worried I was going to drop it in between my seat and despatch box, but we got away with it. We got away with it.

Giles Parkinson  00:57

Any harsh penalties for such things? Or do you just get scolded by the speaker?

Chris Bowen  01:03

Yeah, you can get sat down and sort of put out but putting it at the end of the speech was probably…… But you know, look, I thought it was important just to send the message back to the Liberals, and more broadly that that sort of stunt by Morrison with coal – there is an alternative narrative. And they are afraid of renewable energy on the other side, they just are. There’s multiple examples of which we can talk about. But it’s prejudice.

I don’t call it ideology because ideology is sort of a consistent framework, even one I might disagree with. You can have conservative ideologies, which I respect, I might disagree. This is just prejudice. There’s no sort of consistent logic to it. So they’re just prejudiced against renewable energy, and it needs to be said.

Giles Parkinson  01:03

Why do you think that is so?

Chris Bowen  01:12

Look, it’s hard to say. I mean, look, to be fair, there are people of good faith on the other side who do get it. But unfortunately there’s enough who just have this prejudice that have an effective power of veto over any sensible policy, and some of them are in very senior positions. I mean, Keith Pitt, as Resources Minister; Angus Taylor as Emissions Reductions Minister; and others, Matt Canavan, who is on the back bench, but who’s very vocal; they just have enough heft within the coalition just to let this prejudice hold back any sensible policy.

I find it very difficult to explain because I’m not saying they’re unintelligent, they’ve just got this this mindset against renewable energy which I really can’t explain. The politics of it used to work for them. They used to be able to divide. I’m not so sure it works for them anymore, but they just can’t change gear.

Giles Parkinson  02:46

Well, we’ve been wondering about why this is, but let’s just get on about Labor’s messaging then. We’ve had Mark Butler on the program several times and Mark came to the election, well Labor came to the election last year with some what we thought weren’t very good policies, and what many people thought were very good policies. Mark has been moved on, he’s gone back to Health, you’ve now taken over that portfolio. What do you hope to bring to this portfolio and this conversation and this policy development term that Mark was unable to?

Chris Bowen  03:17

Look, I wouldn’t put it in terms of what Mark was unable to. I mean, Mark had been Shadow Minister for eight years, that’s a long spell. And you know, when you’ve done the job for eight years, it is often time for a fresh challenge, a fresh set of eyes. And so it just made sense on a number of levels. Mark and I are very good friends. So I wouldn’t put it in terms of what I can do that Mark couldn’t. I wouldn’t express it that way. But what I do hope to bring to the job, and what I have been attempting to bring to the job since January when I took it on, is very much an economic frame.

Giles, I think the moral case for action on climate change is won, you know that case is over. We’ve won that case. What we haven’t won in Australia so far is the economic case for action on climate change. And the case that it is in our national interest. You can make the case and we won the case that it is in the world’s interest for us to move. We haven’t prosecuted and won the case that is in our national interest. And that’s what I’m doing, is prosecuting that case that it is in our national economic interest to have a strong and ambitious climate change policy. Doesn’t mean less ambition. It does mean almost everything I do is through that economic frame, because look, Giles, if you, let’s just be frank, you know, we need to change the government to get proper action on climate change. These guys just wont do it. And if you’re voting on the morality of climate change, you’re already voting for a change of government.

If you’re a climate change denier, you’re probably not voting for a change of government. And it’s very hard to convince those people. But there are a whole bunch of people in the middle who, for whom, you know, they think climate change is real and they think that something should be done about it, but it’s not in their top one, two or three issues and they are open to have been scared by a scare campaign saying this could cost you your job or your kids job.

Now we have to win that argument that it is in our national interest to act on climate change, it’s in our economic interest. It’s not just our moral, international obligation, it is very much the right thing to do for Australia. And for the Australian economy in, you know, I’m a former treasurer, I’ve got an economics, academic background. And that’s the sort of perspective that I bring.

David Leitch  05:27

So I’ve got an economics background and accounting and finance and something of a political background in that my father was a state Member of Parliament. And I watched the last election campaign and saw Labor completely stuff up its climate change message, in terms of the marketing of it, notwithstanding the policies were okay. And I also read the ANU study after the election, which says that climate change was actually a winner for the government after the Labor Party, as you’ve already said.

There are a lot of things I could ask about, but let me just ask you about how you intend to prosecute the economic case, because it often comes down to jobs. And I’ve seen, you know, the CFMEU in Queensland, for instance, being very anti climate change or pro coal mining just as a for instance, because they say there are more jobs, but I personally don’t think there are many direct jobs in either renewable energy or coal mining. Coal mining employs 50,000, renewable energy employs the same number, give or take 10,000, compared to like health or more professional services, it’s next to nothing. So how do you make the economic case?

Chris Bowen  06:40

Well, I think, David, that we make it by pointing out, for example, that the world is changing, and being honest about that. You know, I do that everywhere I go, I do that on television, I do that when I go into regional Australia, and I take the view that I have to take the case where it’s hardest. You know, I can hold forums of environmental activists in inner city Sydney, and you know, win the argument. That’s not where it’s hardest. I’ve got to go into coal mining communities and win it. And I’ve been doing that, you know, I’ve been to Emerald, I’ve been to Gladstone, I’ve been to Yallourn power station. We’ve got to win the argument where it’s hardest, which is, and that argument is, look, the world is changing. 70% of our coal is exported. 70% of that goes to countries who have committed to net zero, either by 2050, or 2060. And that is going to impact on coal mining communities. Now we can pretend it’s not happening. And just leave those communities on their own until it’s too late.

Or we can say, look, we’re going to continue exporting coal for some time, but your kids are going to have a different job to you. And we need to create those new jobs now. And the jobs that we can create are of a similar nature to the coal mining jobs or the coal fired power stations that that we have, ie. similar metrics in terms of numbers. And also similar in terms of skill set. The term just transition is one that people use, it’s not a term I use because it implies to me that the workers are at the end of the conversation. They’re sort of a footnote, that we’ll get to them later, we’re going to transition our economy and we’ll retrain. Now, if you’re an energy worker, and you hear retraining or just transition, you think, oh, they’re gonna get me a job in a cafe, or they’re gonna get me a job in graphic design. And that’s not me. That’s not true. These jobs are a similar skill set. Yes, some renewable energy is less labor intensive, but other elements of it are more labor intensive, including the transfer to storage and hydrogen, pumped hydro, etc. And then there’s the flow on jobs from the manufacturing we can instigate. I’m an optimist about renewable manufacturing in Australia.

You know, David, we put 60 million solar panels on roofs in Australia in the last 10 years. A tiny sliver of those are being made in Australia. But we’ll put many multiples of 60 million on roofs in the next 10 years, as we move from effectively one in four houses with solar panels, to much closer to four in four. We’re going to put much more than 60 million solar panels on roofs. It’s unthinkable that we continue to make less than 1% of those in Australia. We’re a huge solar market. We have the size, the economies of scale, it adds up to make more in Australia, but we haven’t been. And so we have to bring together: it’s a climate change policy, regional development policy industry policy, to be able to say to those workers who rely on traditional forms of energy, whether it’s directly in coal mining or coal and gas fired power stations, or more indirectly, down the train, that these are remarkable opportunities that the world’s climate emergency is Australia’s jobs opportunity because we are very well placed.

We have got more solar power than any comparable country, we’ve got better than average wind. These are opportunities. And then there’s other opportunities through things we haven’t done yet like offshore wind which is more labor intensive. It does take more maintenance out there. It does take the ship to get out to the offshore turbine.It is very strong in power generation, you know, Star of the South whom you’ve had on your show, you know, that will create 20% of Victoria’s energy needs if it was up and running today. So it’s very power intensive, but it’s also very labor intensive. And I don’t see that as a bad thing. I see there’s a good thing linked to those communities which have powered Australia for so long. And this is the other argument we have to win: the communities which have powered Australia for so long, with cheap and reliable energy of traditional forms are the same areas which will power us into the future, because they’re the areas with the pipelines, the ports, the railway lines, the space for renewable energy. That energy will be generated there and will create those jobs there. And that’s theargument we have to tackle head on and win.

David Leitch  10:49

No I agree with that. I have said, we’ve all said, and I’m just gonna ask this one more question, and then hand back to Giles, so I’ll make it a two part question. But it’s quite obvious that the strong wind and the hydrogen manufacturing capacity can both just supplement the traditional coal and gas and you get the same amount of power and continue to have a global advantage. And maybe if you turn it into hydrogen or do something you can continue to export energy to Asia in the way that we’ve always done, even as those countries themselves decarbonize. I guess my questions are in two parts: every economist you ever talk to or talk about, a carbon price as been the most efficient way to do it across the whole economy, but Labor seems to have given up on that, even though, if I was to go back to 2007, I could argue that was maybe the trigger on which really pushed the Rudd campaign over the line.

So that’s one question – why  abandon the carbon price? Is it just so politically impossible? I mean Zali Steggalls got a climate change bill in Parliament that was very successful in the UK, a similar model. And my second question is about 2030 targets. As far as I know, you haven’t specifically said anything about that committing to 2050. 2050 is just like an act of religion as a sort of, doesn’t really get you anywhere in today’s world?

Chris Bowen  12:11

David, you said it was two parter. I think there’s about a sixth parter in there. There’s a lot in it, but I’ll do my best to try and answer every element that you’ve raised. Firstly, I agree with you completely on exports. And this is the other optimistic story that we need to tell the Australian people and energy workers. Our opponents like to paint action on climate change as some sort of austerity program that we’re going to be cutting back. On the contrary. We’re going to have to electrify everything that can be electrified in Australia and transfer the energy generation to renewable and export as well. We’re one of the world’s largest energy exporters. And we can continue to be in a different form, whether it’s through Sun Cable, or the Asian renewable energy hub, which has hit a bump, but I’m hopeful that they can overcome that bump. And you don’t need me to go through all the export opportunities that that provides. Because you’re right, we live  on the edge of a region in Southeast Asia, which is going to have some difficulty creating their own renewable energy because of the space constraints. So we have to be very optimistic about that. Now onto the nub of your question, firstly, on carbon pricing.Yeah you’re right. Carbon, an economy wide carbon price won’t be part of our policy, hasn’t been part of the policy we’ve taken to the last couple of elections. I was a member of the cabinet that put it on. In Julia Gillard’s cabinet, we knew what we were doing. We knew it was a big call, we knew it was going to be politically difficult, but we knew it was the right thing to do for the times. But we then became the only country in the world to impose a carbon price and then repeal it. You don’t go back. You certainly don’t propose that lightly. And I do think we’ve moved on, I do. I do think we no longer need an economy wide carbon price to achieve the sort of progress that we need. What we now need is a sectoral approach. Sector by sector approach.

So looking at it through transport, and obviously a very strong emphasis on EV’s going forward, looking at what we do with industry, looking at what we do with agriculture and having a sector by sector approach. I think that’s now the better model given that where the economy is, given how the cost of renewables has progressed since 2013, it’s now almost 10 years ago, and we’re now looking at a different set of policy levers. On 2030. Yep, you’re right. It should not be remarkable that we’re the only party of government, we’re the only party capable of forming a government in Australia, which is committed to net zero by 2050. That shouldn’t be something that I’m able to boast about. Unfortunately, in Australia, it is. It is a point of contest. We’re the only developed country in the world where the government is not committed to net zero by 2050. So it is a point of contest. So where’s the alternative government are. But I fully agree with you. It’s not enough. We need a strong roadmap to get there. You don’t start in 2040. We can’t do that.

We’re going to have to provide a roadmap to get there and we will, and I’ll be providing further details. I haven’t announced a 2030 or 2035 target yet, but we will be providing strong roadmap. And, but importantly, David, not just what we think will be happening in 2030 and 2035, but the policy levers to achieve it. You know, I could announce, you know, an 80% reduction by 2030, unless I put the policy levers out there, which are capable of credibly being understood to achieve something like that, then we’d be kidding the Australian people and ourselves. So it’s got to be all the above. We’ve started announcing some of the policy levers, we’ve got more to do. And we’ll also be announcing that roadmap to net zero by 2050.

Interim targets

Giles Parkinson  15:37

Let’s just hop into those interim targets. And you mentioned 2030, you mentioned 2035. After the last election it was suggested that couldn’t hold the current or the targets that you took to the last election because time will have elapsed, and I’m presuming you get back into power at the next poll either later this year or early next year so therefore they’d have to be recalibrated.

The suggestion then I guess, might have been that you would have lesser time to reach those targets, and it’s certainly the case that the coalition has done nothing to lower emissions. In the meantime, however, the science also tells us that we need to be accelerating our efforts by 2030. So would it be safe to assume that you’re going to come back with stronger targets that you actually had at the last election campaign?

Chris Bowen  16:18

Well, Giles, I’m not gonna announce them on your podcast as much as I do love your podcast. I think the statement that I have made, and would continue to make that 2021, is not 2016 or 2019. And so the targets that we outline then are not necessarily exactly the same as the targets we outline in 2021. Hold, I think that’s a statement of fact. But also, you take into account what the science, what is happening around the world, I mean, we will have to look at what the government takes to Glasgow as well, they are meant to not only commit to net zero by 2050. But they’re meant to take a more ambitious approach to Glasgow than they took to the last COP. We’ll see what they do. So there’s more work to do there. I don’t dismiss the premise that you put in that question.

But all the above can be true, it can be harder to get there if you’re starting in 2021, than in 2016, or 2019. If we’d won either of those elections, that is a statement of fact. It would be easier if we won those elections, it’d be easier to get there by 2030 than starting in 2021, or 2022. I think that’s a statement of fact. But also, I except that, you know, we clearly again, in our national interest, have to be laying out that very strong roadmap towards 2050.

Giles Parkinson  17:33

At the same time, I guess you could argue that technologies are also helping us because the cost of wind and solar and battery storage have all come down. Battery storage is now better understood, electric vehicles are nearly upon us. So if there’s no targets to be announced on this podcast, very disappointing. Perhaps you can tell us more about your about your policy levers then. You mentioned that you’ve announced some of them. What are they and what else are there to come?

Chris Bowen  17:55

So what wev’e announced so far  just running through them relatively quickly, we’ve put out some elements of electric vehicle policy out there. So we’ve announced our cost element of our electric vehicle, our offering to reduce the cost of EV’s. So that is to take the tariff off electric vehicles, the 5% tariff below the luxury car tax threshold. I’m not here to tell you that’s the be all and end all. But it’s material, it’ll take $2,000 off a $50,000 Nissan Leaf. So you know, if you’re looking for a new car, that’s material, and then you add that to the state rebates, which we’re seeing more and more of, I think now we’ve got New South Wales and Victoria, putting state rebates up for for EVs. And Tasmania has a slightly different offering, but they’re in the space, it adds up. And then we’ve got what I think is actually even more powerful, is our FBT concession for fleet purchases. So basically, if you’re an employer who gives an employee a car, you don’t pay fringe benefits tax if you give them a ute, which you do if you give them any other sort of a car. In effect, it’s a little bit more complicated than that. I’m simplifying slightly, but you take that as, as the basis of it. So we provide the same FBT concession for an electric vehicle as is currently available for a ute. That’ll bring $9,000 off the cost of an EV at an affordable price. So that is real. That is really significant I think because 50% of purchases in Australia are a fleet so that’s a real driver.

If an employer can get a car $9,000 cheaper that will really drive behavior in my view. And that’s important not only because of the numbers, but also just the demonstration effect, getting more EVs out there. If a neighbor sees their neighbor pull up with an electric vehicle, which is a company car and you know, they might take it for a spin and see actually, it does go all right, and it can travel a good distance, just in terms of breaking down those misconceptions, I think will be very important. So that’s the cost offering on electric vehicles. We’ve got to still look at some of the other elements of our electric vehicle policy. I’ve said we’ll take an electric vehicle strategy to the election. So I’m still working on other elements, happy to come back to those if you want to talk about those. And then other things we’ve announced – community batteries policy.

So, you know, I think that we are going to need a massive effort on storage as we move to a much more renewable economy, a renewable energy economy. That’s going to require household batteries, grid scale batteries, and community batteries. So we’ll fund 400 community batteries across the country. They’re already starting to be rolled out in small numbers by distributors and others. But I think that’ll be a big spur having 400 federally funded community batteries. We’ve announced our new energy apprentices, which is about the skills that we need if we’re going to have a renewable economy and we’ll do more on energy efficiency. There are a lot of skill shortages out there, a lot of  solar companies already reporting skill shortages.

So we’ll pay apprentices $10,000 over the course of their apprenticeship, 10,000 apprentices $10,000. And also we’ve announced our Rebuilding Australia fund, and they will have that renewable energy manufacturing as one of its key focuses. So going back to that point I made about we have to make more of this stuff in Australia if we’re to win the argument and deserve to win the argument. And that will be an element of it, so that’s what we’ve announced so far. More to do but more renewable energy policy than the government out there by far. And of course, I guess the final one Giles is rewiring the nation, which is, as you know, as you understand, we’re gonna have to massively upgrade the grid to get the energy to where we need it. So whether it is, you know, you can have a solar panel on every edge of the desert,  and wind turbines up and down the Great Dividing Range, unless we’ve massively upgraded the grid and done all sorts of things in the RSP and other ideas we won’t achieving it. So $20 billion Rewiring The Nation Fund.

David Leitch  21:54

And I could add to that, I think there’s a lot of opportunities in education and software and professional services, which is the fastest area of job growth in Australia, professional services. And you know, all this behind the meter stuff provides, you know, there’s like inverters and things like that, that universities and the scientific community would love a bit of support and the sort of industry partnership that you see in countries like Japan, where they decide to go with something. Which brings me to one other quick question, it seems to me that the federal government at the moment has contributed to the fighting between the States and the Federal government.

The federalism within the NEM is sort of breaking up. Do you think, there’s probably not a lot of votes in it, but getting the States onside and everyone pulling in the same direction might in the end result in lower costs for everyone and a more efficient system? I just wonder how you think about that, if at all?

Chris Bowen  22:57

Potentially, I mean, I see it in terms of a broader conversation with the states. I think the states are filling a vacuum at the moment, frankly. Not just in the NEM with the lack of federal leadership, but just more broadly, and I welcome their involvement. I mean, I think, I don’t pay politics on this. I recognize Matt Kean’s achievements. He’s playing a very constructive role. I recognize the efforts of the Victorian Government. I recognize Tasmania’s government here, and they’re all getting on with it, but they’re also filling a void. If we had a national EV approach we wouldn’t have this sort of state by state approach so much. Victoria has even put emission standards on the table. Well, the state can’t do that with all, you know I understand why they’re doing it but that’s not going to work at a state level. We are going to need some national leadership.

So if we do win the election, you know, one of my first necessary acts will be sitting down with all my state and territory colleagues and trying to get us all on the same page because regardless of partisanship states tend to  be a lot more progressive on these issues. Every state and territory is committed to net zero by 2050, regardless of party. But we’ve got to all got to all be rowing in the same direction without a national framework, national leadership, we won’t get there

Giles Parkinson  24:11

Can we just get back to targets. Last time you came with a 50% renewables target for 2030, 50% electric vehicles target by 2030. They were sort of ridiculed as being you economic wrecking policies by the coalition government. But funnily enough, they’ve actually admitted that 50% renewable is going to be achieved even under their lack of policy, so presumably you’ll be going a bit harder than 50% now that we’re going to get there anyway so you dont even have to  do anything to to reach that target. And also on electric vehicles, if with your FBT and the last policy was based mostly around fleets and encouraging fleets with your FBT exemption, that’s going to make it a bit of a no brainer for fleet. So surely 50% EV’s will be a bit of a no brainer.

Chris Bowen  24:58

Well, the policies I agree with you will work. I don’t think we therefore need an EV target. And the problem with that just in terms of the, to be frank with you, the politics last time, and I say this with complete hindsight, is that the 50 cent target enabled the Liberals to point to it as a mandate, to point to it as some sort of compulsory government edict that 50% of cars would be EVs. Now, of course, that was complete nonsense.

It was never never the case and couldn’t be the case, completely unrealistic. Even if you wanted it to be the case it was never the intention. But they got away with it. Morrison was able to say, you know, 50% EVs will mean the end of the weekend. It’s complete garbage, as we all understand, but it was pretty effective. So I prefer the levers, the powerful levers, are bringing the cost of EV’s down and I paint it as a choice. You know, I want to I want Australians to have more effective choice.

At the moment, there are a lot of people who would love an EV, but they can’t afford one because the cost is high, we don’t get enough affordable EVs into Australia compared to other countries. You lknow EV’s are a lot more competitive with manufacturers just not bringing the affordable ones here because the policy settings aren’t right. So I prefer to look at it through a choice prism, providing the policy framework to encourage more affordable EVs into Australia and giving people that choice.

Giles Parkinson  26:18

Longer term targets for a 1.5 degree outcome, we kind of recognize that we’ll probably need to get net zero emissions well before 2050, at least from the industrialized countries. It’s hard enough getting an agreement over 2050. How hard is it going to be to actually bring forward that target as the science suggests?

Chris Bowen  26:38

Well, you know, we’re committed to zero by 2050. But as I said, we’re going to have a strong roadmap to get there and look, I anticipate a strong partisan fight about that. I fully anticipate climate change being front and center at the next election. And a strong partisan barney about our roadmap to get to 2050. But I’m absolutely determined to make the case as I said at the outset, that actually, a strong roadmap is in our national interest, our economic interest and the interest of our regions.

You know I completely reject this sort of identity politics, and we see it almost daily, you know, from the Liberals and Nationals, dividing Australians between inner city dwellers who allegedly care about climate change and rural dwellers who pay the price for action on climate change. It’s not true. It’s offensive. It’s not an accurate reflection of the views of rural and regional Australia in my experience. Armidale Council, in the heart of Barnaby Joyce’s electorate declared a climate emergency in 2019. Farmers get it. They’re seeing their incomes fall today, farm incomes fall because of climate change today. They understand the need for action, they understand the opportunities. So we’ve got to take that argument robustly up to the coalition, but I do expect it to be robust.

David Leitch  27:58

Look,  farmers, yes. We interviewed a farmer in the last episode and there’s a lot of people signed up in their farming community for climate change action and their incomes are down. I can support that. Just as a foot note, as I said, my mum was the mayor of Armidale, and my Dad was a state member. Armidale has always been the Labor side of that electorate. So the climate emergency there doesn’t necessarily reflect what a farmer at Walcha would think.

Chris Bowen  28:24

Sure. It’s not inner city Melbourne David is my point. We don’t hold the State seat there. We don’t know the Federal seat there. It’s been a while since there was a Labor member for Armidale. I think 1988 was the last time we had an Labor member  for Armidale. So it’s been a while so it’s not socialist Central.

David Leitch  28:44

No, no, I agree with you. And I was gonna make the additional point as you have made, that it’s going to see $10 billion of wind and solar investment in the New England renewable energy zone. And hopefully everyone will see a lot of benefits with that. The other thing, I guess the point that I keep when I listened to Angus Taylor and it’s funny, I did a lot of reading about politics, and I was going to ask you about marginal seats and how climate change will sit on them, but I’m not going to do that. I’m just going to ask about the cost of climate change, which is the way that the Liberals always paint it, that every everything, it’s going to cost us a lot to have this policy, or this tax. And you’ve talked in terms of the economy and giving people choices, which I think is a good way forward. How are you going to talk about the benefits of the whole policy broadly, not just talk about it, but be able to demonstrate how this transition to a wind and solar energy base with hydrogen or whatever it is actually going to leave Australia better off?

Chris Bowen  29:48

Well, that’s the key job and that requires thorough analysis, which we will do and keep doing and release, the impacts of our policies. Thorough analysis of the cost of inaction. We said that at the last election, again, this is all in hindsight, we said the cost of inaction is greater than the cost of action. But you can’t just say it, you’ve got to have the backing for it. Now, we all know that’s true. We know that going back to the Nicholas Sterns’ review a long time ago, that it’s been the case since then. But we haven’t been able to win that argument. And we’ve also got to win the argument that it’s good for the different parts of the economy, not just that it’s good for the cities. And, we mentioned carbon price before. I make this point, there will be a carbon tax in Australia, but it won’t be put on by us. It will be put on against us by the rest of the world through the form of carbon tariffs. Unless we act. Angus Taylor and Scott Morrison say we’re lobbying against the carbon tariffs . Well, okay, fine. I would respectfully suggest it would be more effective if we improved our policy, so we wouldn’t be subject to them, even if they come in which they are likely to do.

Giles Parkinson  31:00

We mentioned Barnaby Joyce, or at least New England, his electorate. What do you make of his ascendancy back to the throne of the National Party? He’s talking now about putting a nuclear power station on the back of a truck and powering towns like Armidale? Does that make it an easier task for you or a more difficult one?

Chris Bowen  31:17

I think it makes it sharper. You know, obviously, I agree with Barnaby Joyce about very, very, very little, I can’t think of anything we do agree on, apart from maybe the fact that sun comes up in the morning, I can’t think of anything else we’d agree on. And maybe even that on Sundays, we’d find a way to have an argument about. But you know we shouldn’t underestimate his sort of retail capacity to sell a simple life. You know, he’s good at that. He’s done that for a long time. We have, I have, a more complex truth, to communicate. And that has a higher degree of difficulty. I don’t shy away from it. I relish it and I relish taking the argument, as I said, right, where it’s hardest into rural and regional Australia, where they have just sort of misled for so long, but I think people are up for that conversation.

So Giles, I wouldn’t say Barnaby Joyce’s elevation makes it easier or harder. It does make it sharper, because he’s just so out there. You know, he’s prepared to say anything. Basically, he’s promoting nuclear. He’s promoting a coal fired power station, which they tried last time. And, you know, all we’ve had is a fraudulent $3 million feasibility study for Collinsville. And you know, it’s a movie we’ve seen before, there will be no new coal fired power stations built in Australia. One side of politics is honest about that, the other side of politics is dishonest. That’s just the argument we’ve got to win. And I’m prepared to back honesty as the winner. But I’m not suggesting it’s going to be always easy.

Giles Parkinson  32:53

The Greens have also suggested and put out an olive branch to suggest some sort of cooperation in a future government. It worked pretty well last time with Gillard and Bob Brown and Christine Milne. Would you try it again?

Chris Bowen  33:05

No! No, you know, the next Labor government will be working very hard for a majority Labor government. And the Labor government may….

Giles Parkinson  33:14

You may not have a choice.

Chris Bowen  33:15

Well, we’ll govern alone or not at all. But you know, there are areas where we can work with the Greens. There are areas like we work together to disallow the ARENA Regulation a couple of weeks ago, because we agree on that. So obviously, where there elements of agreement, we will work together, and where there’s areas of disagreement we will differ. And at election time we’re up against each other.

You know, I’ll say this about the Greens, you know, they tried to take seats off us. Okay, that’s their right in a democracy. I don’t see it as a pathway to defeating the Liberals to remove Tanya Plibersek, or Anthony Albanese, or Josh Burns from the parliament, but you know, they’re in there and they’re fighting for those seats and fair enough, but no, no, we’ve ruled out any sort of arrangement like that with the Greens. I understand why it’s in the Greens best interest to promote it, but it’s not something we’re interested in. A Labor government and we’d welcome the Greens support on good climate change legislation when I introduce it as Climate Change Minister.

Giles Parkinson  34:17

I’m not too sure if David’s got any other questions, but my final one is just about electric vehicles. You talked about the policy. What about your personal choices? Have you got to experience one of the I think there’s one EV in the in the federal car fleet. Are you’re going to ruin your own weekend by buying an electric vehicle?

Chris Bowen  34:34

I have driven in EV’s,  in this job I’ve spent a bit of time visiting EV facilities  and I’ve driven a couple and they very impressive. I don’t have an EV yet. I’m sure my next car will be an EV. I’m sort of gradually approaching 50 so still trying for a midlife crisis. So I’m thinking about a motorbike. I thought you guys might be the go to people to send me in the right direction for which electric motorbike I should get. I don’t think I could get the Harley Davidson Livewire, I think that’s out of my price range.

Giles Parkinson  35:07

It’s 50 grand, but we did do a video this week about the Evoke motorcycles, which is about 14 or 15 grand,

Chris Bowen  35:14

More in my price range. I’m thinking you guys might be the go to people who, you know, advise me, if I am going to have a midlife crisis to make it a carbon neutral one. And the Evoke is on my list, I’m thinking, but am I on the right track with that thinking?

Giles Parkinson  35:30

I think you’re on the right track with that thinking. But don’t take my word for it. I had a test ride on the other the other week actually, and my skills as a motorcycle rider aren’t very great. So I sort of wobbled up the hill and wobbled back down.

Chris Bowen  35:42

Last time I was on a motorbike I think I was 18. So I will go back to the…  my daughter’s learning to drive at the moment. I’m teaching her but I have probably got to go back to the driving school and learn how to drive a motorbike myself.

David Leitch  35:58

So Chris, I guess my final question is just about divisions. You know, to me, we’ve seen that younger people are very supportive of climate change, and they’re more supportive of the kind of seats that Zali Steggall won, and you know, the Greens want to win in Victoria and stuff like that, and how do you make the Labor Party represent a representative party that people are going to have confidence for, and how important is climate change and just energy policy, let me call it energy policy rather than climate change,  within that overall image of Labor that you hope people will vote for?

Chris Bowen  36:43

With honesty. And that means I have, like most politicians, I have sort of a basic speech that I give at general events. And it is the same whether I’m talking to, you know, LEAN, the Labor Environmental Action Network in Melbourne, or if I’m talking to a bunch of coal miners in Gladstone. I say the same things. Now, that can sometimes mean some difficult conversations, that sometimes means that, you know, people at the environmental forums come at me from a particular angle, and they come at me from a different angle in Gladstone. But I have the same answers. And that is that the world is changing, we need to respond to that change. It’s in our economic interest to do so. And that’s how we’ll win that the case for good climate change action in Australia, not by lecturing people in Queensland that their jobs have to go, but by bringing them with us. I say that at the environmental forums, you know, we can all agree on this, we’ve got to make this economic case.

We’ve got to make the economic case for them. And they are right, because you and I think that climate change is an existential threat. We’re right. But if somebody thinks that action on climate change will cost them their job, it is a more direct existential threat to them. And they are right too so we have to bring those people with us, not demonize them, not tell them the wrong, not moralize to them, but bring them with us with a broad and optimistic story for the future which happens to be based in fact. And I think we can win that argument. But it means a laser like focus on consistency and honesty and saying the same thing wherever we are, even if it leads to some difficult conversations. It means making, as I keep saying, making that economic case for action, not just the moral case. Because, you know, we’ve tried the moral case, we’ve won, we’ve won not enough elections. We need to win the economic case as well. And on your point about division, sure, it’s a challenge for for Labor. Of course it is! We are a broad church, we represent traditional blue collar workers who, you know, work in traditional industries. But, you know, let’s not pretend this is a one way street, the coalition holds Dawson and Leichardt. And they hold Kooyong and Wentworth. It’s a challenge for them as well.

They get away with it I think effectively with dishonesty because the urban liberals say, Well, I’m committed to net zero by 2050. I’m for renewables, but they’re members of government which isn’t. So that’s the task for us to  win that argument. But I think if they can hold Dawson and Wentworth, then we can hold Grayndler and we can win Capricornia. You know, we can do that. But it does require that fundamental honesty and commitment to our national interest, which happens to align with strong action on climate as the core of our policy, but I do think climate will be important in the next election. And I do think it’s important for making the case that Australia needs to change. We need a fresh approach, because we’ve had now eight years of coalition and it’s been almost now a wasted decade,

David Leitch  39:48

Thank you very much for talking to Energy Insiders, at least on my behalf.

Giles Parkinson  39:53

I’ve got one last question, Chris, you said before, right at the start, a very brief question at the end. You said before that the coalition or many of them were scared of wind and solar, didn’t know why, have a stab at it though. Is it because of  ideology, ignorance, or is it funding? And why is this fear also shared by so many in mainstream media?

Chris Bowen  40:15

I just think it comes down to old style prejudice. You know, Keith Pitt’s said, he actually said this, you probably heard him, I thought this, this astounded me, even for him and even for them. He said, You shouldn’t have to look out the window to decide whether you can turn the dishwasher on to see if it’s sunny outside. I mean, the guy hasn’t heard of the term storage or batteries, or pumped hydro or hydrogen or anything. You know, they say the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. Yeah, that’s true. The rain doesn’t always fall either. But we drink water. We’ve found a way to store it, we can do the same with renewables. But they just don’t get it.

Now, as I said at the outset Giles there’s enough of them to be an effective veto over good policy. That has been the case since 2013, will continue to be the case. I could sit here all day and work out why they just don’t get it. I just prefer to go out and make the case for a change of government and get them out of any capacity to hold Australia back for a day longer than we otherwise have to put up with.

Giles Parkinson  41:22

Chris Bowen, thank you very much for joining the Energy Insiders podcast. We do have to get you back when the election is called and your policies are unveiled and we’ll have a chat about them then.

Chris Bowen  41:31

Great. Look forward to it. I’ll be back. No worries.

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