2GB with Chris O'Keefe

21 June 2024

CHRIS O’KEEFE (HOST): We just heard from the boss of the AMWU. Senator Tim Ayres. He is the former boss of the AMWU and he's a big proponent of building stuff in Australia. He's been on this programme many, many times. He's on the line. Senator, G'day.




O’KEEFE: Firstly, can we start with the three eyed fish? The Simpsons cartoons. Mocking Dutton's nuclear plan. What's that all about?


SENATOR AYRES: Well, I know Peter Dutton doesn't want a discussion about the risks associated with nuclear power. I think if you live in Lithgow or Callide or in the Latrobe Valley, you're entitled to ask a few questions about what happens if everything goes wrong in a nuclear facility. And it does occasionally go wrong. It went wrong at Fukushima, it went wrong at Three Mile Island, it went wrong at Chernobyl. It doesn't go wrong very often, but when it does, Chris, it goes very, very wrong.


O’KEEFE: Are our sailors entitled to ask questions about you, the Federal Government, putting them (with this logic) right next to nuclear submarines, are they going to get three eyes?


SENATOR AYRES: We’re entitled to talk about the risk to Australians.


O’KEEFE: Well, are our sailors entitled to talk about that risk?


SENATOR AYRES: We're going to continue to talk about the issue of risks. Of course, the position of nuclear powered and conventionally armed submarines, which we will be manufacturing jointly with the United States and the United Kingdom. It is the height of just a lack of regard for national security. Peter Dutton, who, in order to try and win an argument for an expensive, risky proposition like nuclear power for Australia, wants to conflate that with what's happening with a big investment that is about securing the defence and national security of Australia. These guys have stopped worrying about being the adults in the room acting in the national interest. They are now hanging out with extremists, advancing positions that are all about ideology. You said that we should care about the future of Australian manufacturing and I agree with you. The worst thing that we could do for the future of Australian manufacturing is lock us into an expensive nuclear cul-de-sac that would force manufacturing jobs offshore because our energy would be too expensive. It is such a bad idea for blue collar jobs.


O’KEEFE: Let's just talk about manufacturing for a second. Right? Because I don't know how you just said any of that with a straight face. That Peter Dutton is the one being juvenile, honestly. But anyway, since Labor came to power you've seen 18,000 business insolvencies. A tripling of insolvencies in manufacturing industries. Senator, energy costs are killing our manufacturers. What is labour doing to protect them? Zero.


SENTAOR AYRES: Well, after a decade of energy policy failure where four gigawatts went out of the energy system and only one gigawatt went in, where fourteen power stations announced their closure under the Liberals. It does take a bit of time, Chris, to turn this ship around. It does take a bit of time. Those insolvency numbers you quoted, you know that what they represent is largely what the tax office had to do in relation to the COVID period when there was a hold on particular practises. There are in the construction industry, in a range of other areas, an increase in insolvency figures that reflects that COVID period.


O’KEEFE: So, these are ghost businesses that were going out the door anyway?


SENTAOR AYRES: The truth is we have announced the biggest pro manufacturing package in Australian history. Production tax credits to bring back critical minerals manufacturing to bring back green steel and green iron manufacturing. Ninety seven percent of our trading partners want to reach net zero.


O’KEEFE: Senator, none of that happens without cheap energy and reliable energy.


SENTAOR AYRES: Then why would you buy the most expensive energy on the planet?


O’KEEFE: Well, hang on a second. Because you guys keep saying this, right? But I just want to take you to Ontario in Canada. So, Ontario operates three nuclear power plants producing thirteen gigawatts of energy. You know how many people are employed in manufacturing in Ontario? One million. And it's at a fifteen year high just in manufacturing. And its manufacturing centre sector in Ontario produces 12% of Canada's entire GDP. Do you think it's an accident that they're being powered by 60% nuclear?


SENTAOR AYRES: Well, let's go to the examples around the world if we want to trade examples around the world. In a nuclear jurisdiction like the United States with an existing nuclear industry - at the site of the Three Mile Island 1979 nuclear meltdown, the government there is trying to build a new nuclear facility. This is the kind of facility that Peter Dutton said, “I don't support the establishment of big nuclear facilities here at all. I'm opposed to it.” He said that last year. In the United States, they're building a new facility at the site of this 1979 meltdown. It commenced in 2009. It was projected to cost $35 billion. It's now going to cost $53 billion. It is delayed by seven years. Eighty percent of that cost overrun will be borne by taxpayers. In the United Kingdom, at Hinckley Point, a project commenced around 2010. It will be completed in 2031, 21 years later. It started at $25 billion. It will now cost the taxpayers of the United Kingdom at least $80 billion.


O’KEEFE: You've got 440 nuclear power reactors, and you've just quoted me two examples. Back to Ontario. You know what prices are for families in peak in Ontario, a place where there is 60% nuclear power? It costs in Ontario, if you want to turn the lights on, nineteen Australian cents a kilowatt hour. You know what it is in NSW right now, Senator, thanks to your government? Fifty cents a kilowatt hour in peak. How do you reconcile that?


SENATOR AYRES: There's been a big spike in energy prices. It has been moderated by the Federal Government's policy proposition. Just a few days away from now reductions in power prices… $300 coming out of our budget. The truth is, those jurisdictions that you talk about have had nuclear industry since the 1950s. In Australia, we do not have that. The costs for new projects in nuclear is stratospherically expensive, measured in the tens of billions of dollars. And like all of these Liberal projects, there will be cost overruns in the tens of billions of dollars, and they will get delivered decades late.


O’KEEFE: Similar to Snowy 2.0, right?


SENATOR AYRES: Yeah. Malcolm Turnbull's project, Snowy 2.0, delivered late, much more expensive. Now, the truth is, these kinds of projects will push up the price of power for ordinary households and drive manufacturing offshore. We have within our grasp the cheapest form of electricity on the planet where Australia has natural advantages.


O’KEEFE: Senator, Senator, Senator, I was out there. I was out there with you when you were in Opposition.


SENATOR AYRES: The idea that we will squander our natural competitive advantages…


O’KEEFE:  Hang on, hang on, hang on. Remember when we were at Snackbrands? Snackbrands in Smithfield? I did a story; you were involved in it with the AMWU. You were a Senator at the time. We were in Snackbrands at Smithfield. Now, talking to us about just how expensive their gas prices were, and they're trying to lock in a gas price. And I said, “well, have you had a look at solar?” These are the guys who make CC's chips, mind you. He said that he needed something like three or four acres of solar panels next to him and they'd only be able to run his manufacturing plant at certain times in the day. That is not sustainable. They need gas. We're in the midst of a gas crisis right now, again, thanks to your government.


SENATOR AYRES: That's why we need to secure a gas supply for Australian east coast manufacturers. Why is it that there are still elements in the Greens political party and others who don't recognise that gas is critical.


O'KEEFE: So why, why did members of the Australian Labor Party who are in government move the Hunter pipeline? Which in effect puts Santos off making a decision on the Narrabri gas field?


SENATOR AYRES: All of these projects have got to work through all of the processes.


O'KEEFE: Because you're not fair dinkum about it, you're not fair dinkum about it.


SENATOR AYRES: Just like any development requires approvals, all of these processes have got to happen. That's the truth. But the idea that you would create the disinvestment risk, the banana republic risk that Peter Dutton is creating with this uncosted, risky, expensive proposal. If you imagine, like a political party that seriously aspires to government issues, a new direction position about the future of the Australian energy sector, critical for our manufacturing, critical for our energy and national security, and it's uncosted. I mean, it's just nonsense.


O'KEEFE: I will say this though, you must be a fan that the proposed power plants would be in public hands, right?


SENATOR AYRES: This is the North Korea option.


O'KEEFE: Hang on, hang on, hang on. Am I listening to an Australian Labor Party Senator in the New South Wales Labor Left say that we should be privatising our energy system again? Reprivatise it. Do it again. It was a great idea.


SENATOR AYRES: It is private. Chris,


O'KEEFE: I know, that's what I'm saying. So, you support that we got on it. Let's keep going.


SENATOR AYRES: The risks are borne by the private sector for these projects. Peter Dutton wants ordinary taxpayers to be on the hook two ways. You know, projects like this UK project; $85 billion and more expensive electricity.


O'KEEFE: Do you reckon that our electricity grid has been better off privatized?


SENATOR AYRES: I think we are where we are. You’ve got to have a clear-headed assessment of where we are.


O'KEEFE: So, the answer is no then?


SENATOR AYRES: You don't make up energy policy based on your ideological biases.


O'KEEFE: Well, you do.


SENATOR AYRES: You determine it on the basis of what is in the national interest.


O'KEEFE: And again, I'm not pro-nuclear, I'm not pro-solar, I'm just pro manufacturing in Australia with reliable, cheap energy and pro-bills-down for Australian families, and I'm agnostic to the technology. It makes no sense to me whatsoever why there's a moratorium on nuclear, and I think that it is absolutely fair in a liberal democracy that we can have two ideas and a debate about two ideas. Senator, I appreciate you coming on. Thank you so much.


SENATOR AYRES: Thanks Chris, see you later.