2CBD Radio, with Paul Wilson

21 September 2023

Paul Wilson, Host: We've got the privilege of having Federal Senator Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Assistant Minister for Manufacturing visiting us today. G'day, Tim.


            Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: G'day, I'm delighted to be here.


            Paul Wilson: So you went to Glen Innes High School and you're here to do something with the school tonight.


            Assistant Minister: I did, I went to Glen Innes High School. I finished there in 1991, so I'm very old now, and I'm really very happy to have been invited back to speak at the Year 12 graduation and awards night at the old town hall.


The last time I went to a Year 12 graduation and awards night was in 1991, and it really is very exciting for me and a deep sense of nostalgia coming back to the town that I grew up in.


            Paul Wilson: And when was the last time you were here?


            Assistant Minister: Well my mum and dad moved out of Glen Innes in the early 2000s down to Armidale. But I spent four years living here and whenever anybody says ‘where do you come from’ I say I come from Glen Innes. It's a fantastic part of the world. It's a beautiful community. I feel very strongly about the connections and the growth and development, the sport, all of the things that I did as a kid here. And it's been wonderful to come back and have a look at what's happened and what's changed over the last 30 years.


            Paul Wilson: Yeah, well I've only lived here 18 months and I call it the Goldilocks town. It's not too big, not too small.


So you've been in town today. What are your impressions of the place at the moment?


            Assistant Minister: Well first of all in terms of the town, it's really evident that there's been a lot of growth and a lot of care and the town's really in what appears to me to be good shape.


I mean every country town is diverse. There are people who are doing really well. There are people who are struggling. It's always got its challenges. One of the great things about growing up in a country town is, you know, if you grow up in the city you get to see your suburb, a whole lot of people who look just like you and split up demographically and economically in different communities around the city.


In a country town you're here with everybody. You learn about difference. You learn about diversity. You learn about what it is that it takes to get a community to work together. Whether it's for a sporting team or for the school. And it's really apparent to me that economically the town’s in pretty good shape.


Secondly, I spent some time at the high school with the senior staff there and having a look at that school, and it's really evident to me the care and love and attention that that teaching staff have put into making that school really special. It was a great school when I went there but they've done some remarkable things to shape that in the interests of, you know, generation after generation of kids who are going to go through there.


And that cohort of kids that I'm going to speak to tonight have been through a real rollercoaster and I'm really keen to meet them.


            Paul Wilson: They’ve had full disruption in the middle of the senior years.


            Assistant Minister: Well they've had the disruption of COVID. Of course, Glen Innes was at the epicentre of the really tough bushfire season in 2020. They've had everything thrown at them these kids. It's a resilient group of kids who I think ‑ probably shouldn't call them kids on your radio station. Young adults. They probably bitterly resent being called kids. I'll have to keep that in mind.



            Paul Wilson: Future Trade Ministers.


            Assistant Trade Minister: That's right. But I'm really looking forward to meeting them tonight and to seeing what they've got to say to me as well as making them suffer through a speech that I give them tonight as well.


            Paul Wilson: How long is it?


            Assistant Trade Minister: Well I said to my ‑


            Paul Wilson: Just so they can get ready.


            Assistant Trade Minister: I said to my son who - my son D'Arcy - who's doing Year 12 this year, so he's in the same position as these kids, and I said to him, he had his awards night the other night and I said, "I've got to speak at my high school, what do you think I should say? What would you want to hear?"  And he looked at me and he sort of scratched his head and he said, "I don't know, Dad, but I'd keep it short". 


            Paul Wilson: He's your reality check, isn't he?


            Assistant Trade Minister: He really is. My wife and I called our son D'Arcy because we named him after D'Arcy Niland who grew up here in Glen Innes, who went to ‑


            Paul Wilson: In Meade Street. 


            Assistant Trade Minister: He grew up in Meade Street, he went to St Joseph's. The nuns at the convent there who bought him his first dictionary because they could see that he had a vivid imagination, and he went on to write some of the great Australian books, some of the great Australian stories about shearers and all sorts of characters, and he was able to tell stories to ordinary Australians about ordinary Australians. I love D'Arcy Niland, so the wonder boy got called D'Arcy, that's why, because of Glen Innes.


            Paul Wilson: That was a real literary power couple, D'Arcy Niland and Ruth Park. So I wanted you to choose a song. What have you chosen? We'll play it now and we'll get back into the wider world of trade and manufacturing after.


            Assistant Trade Minister: Well I've chosen River Boy from of course Troy Cassar‑Daley, and I think the version you've got for us is a duet with Shane Howard.


            Paul Wilson: It is.


            Assistant Trade Minister: I had, with the greatest of respect, chosen an alternative Troy Cassar‑Daley song. It's not available. Firstly about that, Shadows on the Hill. Troy Cassar‑Daley, who's one of our great country artists, grew up just down the road at Glen Innes ‑ at Grafton, I'm sorry. He sang this song called Shadows on the Hill which I mentioned in my first speech in the Parliament because it's tough listening.


It's a beautiful song but it's a song about a massacre of Aboriginal men, women and children that happened between here Glen Innes and Grafton, and he sings about it happening on the Old Grafton Road. It really hit me like a tonne of bricks because it sent a message to me about what had happened in the place that I grew up in, and I think it's important that if we're going to become a strong, fair country we have to be fair dinkum about our past. It doesn't make you weaker by looking at the tough things that have happened in your past, it makes you stronger. That's one of the things that I've been determined to do and Troy's song I think really sent that message in a really powerful way.


River Boy is a song about being a young kid growing up in Grafton and it's a beautiful song and I hope your listeners enjoy it.


            Paul Wilson: Well sorry we haven't got Shadows on the Hill. I'm just looking. I do have a version, not with me today, of the new version with Briggs.


            Assistant Trade Minister: Well, promise me you'll play it next week.


            Paul Wilson: And I'll open my show with it next week.


            Assistant Trade Minister: Perfect, excellent.


            Paul Wilson: Okay. Here's Troy Cassar‑Daly and Shane Howard.




Troy Cassar‑Daly and Shane Howard, River Boy, and I'll be opening the show with Tim Ayres’ choice of song, unfortunately we didn't have it.


So Tim, it's super interesting at the moment. I can't even list the number of issues and exciting topics here and globally in both trade and manufacturing. What are you focusing on and what is energising you at the moment?


            Assistant Trade Minister: Well maybe let me start at the beginning. We came to Government in May of last year and Australia is in an incredibly consequential period for our history. We live on the edge of the fastest growing region of the world in human history. It's full of opportunities and it's full of challenges as well. It is a theatre now for more great power conflict than we've seen for many, many decades.


And the challenge for the Government is to set Australia up for the future, for a prosperous future, for a peaceful future, to see the world as it is, not how we want it to be. And in a clear‑eyed way think about how it is that we position Australia for the future, and that means on issues like the big challenges of climate and energy. That Australia's role here is not just to reduce our own emissions and to lower costs for our energy for manufacturers and for households but is also to work with our region and the commercial opportunities that come from that.


It's our job to work with the countries of the region to make sure that the region is safe and that it's a region where there's a strong sense of sovereignty and that we work together to protect the sovereignty and self‑determination of the region.


And all of these challenges are coming at us thick and fast in an ever-increasing way. Opportunities too as well as challenges.


            Paul Wilson: And often linked as well.


            Assistant Trade Minister: Yeah, so the challenges of climate and energy. Of course, one hand, you know, your listeners who are in the agriculture sector will be seeing the impact of climate when they look at their own rainfall patterns, when they look at what's happening in the weather more broadly in seasonal variations. So we're dealing with climate adaptation, but we're also the enormous opportunities of the clean energy revolution about making sure that Australia is at the forefront of the new industrial developments and that we're building a manufacturing sector that projects into the region.


Now for me having junior portfolios in trade and manufacturing is an enormous opportunity. We have to as a country rebuild our manufacturing capability. It has declined to a position where it hovers between 6 and 7 per cent of GDP. It is very difficult I think to imagine that Australia can successfully navigate the next three or four decades without rebuilding our manufacturing capability. We certainly can't meet the climate and energy challenge without doing that.


It's also really important that we maintain our capacity to be an open market trading economy, that's trading with the world. That's where the good jobs and the big economic opportunities and the opportunities for investment in new jobs lies. It's in our trading part of the economy.


Historically these two objectives, strong industry policy, building manufacturing on one hand, and open market confident free trade approach the world had been seen as competing objectives. It's the job of this Government to bring that together in a coherent way, rebuild our manufacturing sector, diversify our markets, diversify our product offering to the world and strengthen the country’s long‑term economic capability.


            Paul Wilson: Now, I listen to a few podcasts, Giles Parkinson, those types of guys, and often in recent episodes the IRA comes up, which is just heaped on another challenge of stealing brains, basically, from Australia. That's just another challenge that adds to all the other ones.


            Assistant Trade Minister: You're absolutely right. You said in the lead‑up to this that you're not a political interviewer. You've nailed one of the big political challenges of the time, that is when we came to Government the big challenge for Australian manufacturing was the commercialisation challenge.


We develop really good intellectual property in Australia, good research and development. We invented solar here. We invented Wi-Fi here. You know, there are so many inventions that have been developed here with Australian taxpayer funded university capability, and then commercialised offshore.


            Solar PV, 85 per cent of it made in one country. None of it made here. So the big challenges, was and is, was and remains about commercialisation and that what we brought to government was the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund, which is the biggest industry policy offering in Australian peace time history, to rebuild our manufacturing capability and to work with those - to work with those product development, you know, the engineers, people to bring these products to commercialisation in Australia.


Halfway through last year the US Government announced the Inflation Reduction Act. It is the biggest piece of economic policy that has been developed around the world for many, many decades. And that of course will be a net positive for the world in terms of how fast the adoption of new technologies is, in particularly in the climate and energy space. It will work harder than any other piece of economic policy to lower emissions and to rebuild American manufacturing. That is a good thing for the United States, and it is a net positive for the world, and we are working with industry to make sure that Australian industry remains competitive.


The $2 billion Hydrogen Headstart Program that we announced a few months ago is really a down payment, a sign of intent from this Government that we are determined in areas like hydrogen, metals processing, new generation solar, these technologies that are going to determine the future structure of our economy, that we are leading the way and that we're building Australian capability in these areas.


            Paul Wilson: And it seems that if the Americans continue to choose to play nicely we can actually be a partner in that rather than a competitor.


            Assistant Trade Minister: Well there’s already been some very good work done by my Senior Minister Don Farrell, the Trade Minister; Ed Husic, the Industry and Science Minister, working bilaterally with the United States to make sure that we're sharing those technologies and sharing those opportunities.


There's been some very good work done in my trade portfolio area, led again by Don Farrell, with trade agreements that maximise Australia's capacity for investment in these areas. But we've still got more work to do. It turns out, of course, that the world comes at you fast and if we're to make sure that Australian industry and that young school leavers have got good opportunities in apprenticeships, the trades, in engineering cadetships, in the jobs of the future, we are going to have to fight hard for the future that Australia needs and Australia wants, and this is a government that's on the side of manufacturing and industry capability.


And as I reflect on the town that I grew up in, these are the kinds of jobs that make a difference to country towns.


            Paul Wilson: Yeah, sure. Well, sounds like you're up for the job and it sounds like a really busy job and a speech tonight is almost like catching your breath. Have you got any closing remarks, Tim?


            Assistant Trade Minister: Well, I hope ‑ I really think that tonight's about these 46 kids who’ve done their 13 years of school, who’ve been through the roller coaster and for their parents and their carers and the teachers who put in such a big contribution.


It's an overused saying, of course, Hilary Clinton said it takes a village to raise a child. It's a real thing though. You get to see that in a country town, that families and communities, sporting clubs, schools, you know, schools are at the centre of our community in towns like this and I think it's an opportunity to reflect on the achievement for these kids, and to wish them the very best for their future.


            Paul Wilson: Well thanks for visiting town. Thanks for calling by 2CBD and I'm going to go out with a song called The Truth Walks Slowly and it's by an artist called O'Shea, who's the daughter of Rob Hirst who was the drummer in Midnight Oil.


            Assistant Trade Minister: Fantastic.


            Paul Wilson: They didn't know each other for a long time and only just rediscovered it. So this is actually a duet, and this is about, in summary, gas fracking near Chinchilla.


            Assistant Trade Minister: I can't wait to hear it, fantastic.