15 February 2021


SUBJECTS: Electric Vehicles.

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST:  The Government's focusing on getting businesses to invest in the plug-in hybrid and electric car fleets. Labor is asking why we can't revive the manufacturing industry in Australia by making electric vehicles here. The Shadow Minister for Innovation and Industry, Ed Husic is behind the push. He joins me now. Ed Husic, thanks very much for your time. We've heard at various points, I think the billionaire Gupta in South Australia talking about this, how close is this prospect that Australia can make electric vehicles at scale in this country?

ED HUSIC, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND INNOVATION: I think that a number of people who are involved in this manufacture in terms of EV manufacture have been interested in scoping out whether or not Australia's got capability. I have been greatly concerned by the way in which the confidence in manufacturing has been diminished over the years, particularly in terms of the Coalition goading out car manufacturers in this country. 

I think if you look on a number of levels, either the rare earths or the tech capability we've got, we have the muscle memory of manufacturing in this country. We've got people with the skills, we've got the finance capability, that the question should be asked, 'can we make all this work to be able to create longer term work for people in this country?' Because we are thinking deeply about how to revive manufacturing in an environment where we've been hammered by the economic impact of COVID. So we do need to rethink how do we do things and importantly, how do we do them at scale?

GILBERT: Yes, indeed and we've done it before. But when you talk about the muscle memory that only lasts so long, so you would imagine that there needs to be some momentum on this.


GILBERT: Are you optimistic of this happening? I mean is there capital to invest in this? Where does it come from other than if you get someone like Gupta a billionaire, who will say, look I'm going to do this, how else can you make it happen?

HUSIC: I'm under no illusion about how difficult it is and there'll be a lot of things that are thrown up. I think the issue that I've got and the thing that I'm really trying to drive here in posing the question Kieran, is just to test the reaction. 

When you put the question, ‘why aren't we making our own electric vehicles in Australia?’ The instant response is to say, it's too hard. That is a reflection of basically long-term belief in some cases, when you compare it overseas, where a lot of countries are already doing this with high wage areas in the UK, Germany and the US. There is something in the attitude here that we've got to shake. We've got to challenge the model of manufacturing as well, given the battery component of this means that you want to manufacture as close as you can to the end market.  

So it's changed the game in many respects and with the number of factors we've got going for us,  it should force us to go well hang on a second, why is our natural response to bag out the idea rather than actually pursue it? I totally get coming to your question - it's a tough call. But really, I think we owe it in terms of longer-term economic prosperity and jobs, and particularly for blue collar workers. And particularly for those in the tech sector that have got something to contribute, merging forces to make that happen. 

Recognising too there have been a lot of commitments in other parts of the world to make this a reality. While they've had a lot of resources to support them from the ground up, the biggest thing that had an impact on me was visiting the Tesla headquarters and their manufacturing site outside of San Francisco about five years ago. Where they had taken the heart of a disused car manufacturing facility and brought life, breathed complete metal life through it. So where there's a will there's potentially a way and I'm asking the question, ‘well can we make this happen?’

GILBERT: What do you say to the Minister? I know you've only been in this job a couple of weeks, but the Energy Minister Angus Taylor says that a fleet first approach is better when we have fleets invest in this technology. Rather than subsidising the technology, he says that the effective carbon price of subsidising the EV's is too expensive.

HUSIC: Well, I would never expect the Government to have a ‘can do’ approach to this. They'll be looking at more reasons to bag out or not actually think creatively on this front. I think it's not that there's just one lever you pull and everything works, it's going to require a broad approach. It's going to require the Coalition to apologise for making this such a bogey issue at the last election when consumers see the value in EV. From my point of view, as a western Sydney rep who sees manufacturing happening in our part of the city. If you go to Melbourne, if you go to Adelaide and there are a number of parts of the country that would all be able to play a part potentially, in manufacture. They want Government to take a leadership role to think this through and recognise too a lot of other governments pitch in. 

Finally, I'll make this point. The Government before the Eden-Monaro byelection announced $270 billion in terms of future procurement in the defence space, right? The money is there if you've got the will and I'm not denying the value of those investments. But, I think a lot of people would value the investment in this space and the question you got to ask is, does the Government have the will to make all this happen? Like I said, manufacturing at scale.

GILBERT: Despite the negative campaign the Government ran before the last election, I recall an opinion piece by the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, a year or two before where he said that EVs, electric vehicles will be as ubiquitous as iPhones are. Is the cost curve coming down to make them affordable in the short term? Where is that at?

HUSIC: Well first don't bait me to say anything nice about Josh Frydenberg. I see what you're trying to do there. Love you Josh. Not really. I think in time - but Josh, don't text me, I do love you - I think the thing is this, once you make the initial investment, once you have the brains to sort out the production processes and think through potentially how things can be done differently. Over time, it does. The question that comes as a result of what you're asking is whether or not that happens quickly enough and how much investment needs to be directed in this space and what you're willing to tolerate. These are all valid questions.

GILBERT: Some firms are basically saying they're stopping it. The UK is putting a ban on petrol car sales from 2030.

HUSIC: Yes, I think you'll see in some jurisdictions the pressure go on about the use of petrol in vehicles. I don't think we are necessarily seeing it in this space, but I think people do realise that longer term it's going to be an issue about at what point are we going to gear up. I think Australians would want to see some sort of investment in manufacturing that generates jobs, and particularly for blue collar workers in different parts of the country. 

GILBERT: Ed Husic, appreciate talking to you.

HUSIC: Thanks.