2SM, Mornings with Richard King

10 April 2024



Richard King, Host: Joining me now, Senator Tim Ayres. Tim is the federal Assistant Minister for Manufacturing, and he's written an opinion piece which is in my local daily today, the Newcastle Herald, and he's on the line. Good morning, Tim.



Senator Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: G’day, Richard. Good to be on the show again.



Richard: Yeah, likewise. Nice to talk to you. I did speak to the Prime Minister when the announcement was made about this $1 billion investment by the Federal Government to try and ensure that more solar panels are manufactured here in Australia. As I understand at the moment, there's only 1% of the solar panels that are going on roofs around the country and all over the place are actually manufactured here. And so, they're actually going to be built at the former Liddell coal fired power station, Tim?



Senator Ayres: Well, this is good news for the Hunter. This facility will employ more people than the Liddell power station has employed. It's a very significant decision. We are in a global race for jobs and investment here in Australia. And the government's decision to back local manufacturing here has meant that immediately, this one investment from Sundrive Solar, who are making new solar panels, a new generation of solar that is invented here in Australia, based on copper rather than the old silver solar panels, more efficient and, of course, cheaper to produce. This is Australian innovation that is going to be commercialised and manufactured here in Australia.



Richard: And easier to recycle. I mean, it's one of the problems we hear continually about, you know, a lot of these solar panels, they're terrific, but they've got a lifespan. What happens when their lifespan, they hit their used by date?



Senator Ayres: Absolutely. The government is focused on recycling for a couple of reasons. One is it's, you know, of course it's environmentally the right thing to do, but it means that we capture more of the value chain here in Australia. It captures more jobs in Australia. At the moment you look at a product like lithium that is absolutely essential. You know, as the world transitions to net zero, 97% of our trading partners with their own net zero commitments, so demanding lower carbon products from Australia and demanding clean technology and renewable energy technology, if we just export lithium to the world, we are capturing about half a percent of the value of the lithium. If we get into processing lithium, if we get into making batteries, but also if we get into recycling batteries, we are capturing more and more of the value here. And that means good jobs in our outer suburbs and in our regions. That's why we've established the net zero economy agency, because as this transition happens around the globe, the Albanese government is determined to do two things. One is make sure that we coordinate this and do it in an orderly way. Attract investment into the regions so that we capture the benefits of this here in the regions, and secondly, so that we rebuild Australia's manufacturing sector.



Richard: My guest, Senator Tim Ayres, the federal Assistant Minister for manufacturing, focusing on the Sunshot program. The Prime Minister came to the Hunter Valley a couple of weeks ago to announce a $1 billion investment from the Federal Government into hoping we manufacture more solar panels here in Australia and a unique Australian design, which sounds pretty good, but would it have happened without the $1 billion investment of taxpayers’ money?



Senator Ayres: Well, I think the evidence is there to show that there are plenty of other countries out there hungry for investment, you know, competing with Australia for these kinds of investments and these kinds of jobs. It is absolutely, it's no coincidence this was announced on the same day as the Prime Minister announced this important program. It's announced, when companies have confidence that the government is moving in this direction, you know, pro manufacturing, pro cheap, reliable energy, then companies are going to make investments. We saw what happened over the last decade where none of these investments were made. In fact, in energy terms, we had four gigawatts go out of the system and only 1 gw go in. 24 coal fired power stations announced that they were going to close. Policy paralysis from the Abbott-Morrison-Turnbull government and it means that you get disinvested.



Richard: Right, and there obviously is private investment these days. You'd be happy about that. Well, it opened yesterday, the Casella wines, or Casella family brands, which are one of the largest wineries in the country, at Yenda in Southern NSW, they use apparently more electricity than many small towns in the country, but they're now drawing a fair percentage of their power from their privately funded solar farm, which they've built on land, apparently, that's not suitable for agriculture. A lot of people complain, saying we're chopping down trees and using good agricultural land to put up solar farms and wind farms, but not in this case. So, there's a company that's forked out a lot of money to generate their own power. So, it is happening. And obviously also, too, Twiggy Forrest also opened, I think that's yesterday, the largest electrolyser manufacturing plant in Gladstone. In Gladstone, up in Queensland, which is necessary for the manufacture of hydrogen, which is a hot topic. So, there certainly is plenty of private investment at the moment.



Senator Ayres: Well, there certainly is. And we're seeing companies, supported by the government through the safeguards mechanism, delivering their own pathways. Energy intensive Australian manufacturers working with the government to deliver pathways through this transition. And the truth is that most of this investment happens in regions that have the capability and the big coal regions of Australia. The Hunter is the energy capital of Australia, Gladstone in central Queensland, the heart of Queensland coal country and industrial capability in central Queensland. These are the places that are the beneficiaries of this investment. What it requires is a government that's committed to, you know, not afraid of the future, not running around with all of the silly arguments to try and avoid where it is that the direction of travel here is, towards net zero and towards a lower emissions economy, but working towards the future with the private sector, with communities, to deliver better outcomes. That means that you do see investments like the Sundrive proposal, which will, as I say, deliver more jobs than the Liddell power station employs today, or has employed in recent memory. Investments in Gladstone, investments in places like Yenda in country NSW, where building that solar capability delivers more jobs, but it delivers industrial capability too, so that it's easier for the next investment. This is why the Net Zero Economy Agency is so important. We are not afraid of the future. We are fighting for a strong manufacturing future for Australia, reindustrializing our economy for what are going to be some pretty challenging decades ahead.



Richard: And pretty challenging also for you, being a South Sydney Rabbitohs fan, Tim. I mean, talking about the future, it's not looking that good for Rabbitohs fans at the moment.



Senator Ayres: Well, look, the future looks better than the last six weeks has looked.



Richard: You hope. You hope.



Senator Ayres: Well, if you're a Rabbitohs supporter like I am, hope is a very important part of the equation.



Richard: No, I think it is for every footy, it doesn't matter what team you follow, I think hope’s a very important part of the supporting of your team. Anyway, look, thank you very much for your time. I hope you have a good day and good luck. I think you got the sharks on Saturday night, haven't you? The Rabbitohs?



Senator Ayres: Yeah. Look, really good to talk to you and to your listeners and, yeah, I'll be glued to the TV on Saturday.



Richard: Well, good luck, good luck Thank you for time.



Senator Ayres: Good on you.