27 February 2023

Monte Irvine, Host: I've been joined on the phone now by New South Wales Labor Senator, Minister Tim Ayres. Good morning, Tim. How are you this morning?

Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Assistant Minister for Manufacturing: I'm good, Monte. Good morning to all your listeners.

Irvine: Now, first things first, first week of the footy tipping. You are in the 2TM footy tipping. Going for the 2TM Perpetual Tipping Trophy. Boy, that's a hard word to say. So, how confident are you feeling?

Ayres: Well, it's a hard word to say, the 2TM Perpetual Tipping Trophy, but it's a very prestigious prize and I'm in it to win it. I'll give you one hot tip for this season. It's going to be a big season for the South Sydney Rabbitohs again, okay? And I know all your listeners will feel the same way, the same way as I do about the Rabbitohs and looking forward to it being a big season for them. It's pretty exciting, isn't it, really? That footy is back on. I'm going to try and catch a few games and if I can get up there for a couple of local games, I'll try and stick my head into those, too.

Irvine: Well, up here we've got the West Tigers are the local big team because we got the Wests League Club up here and they're bringing up, I think at least one game is happening up here at one stage. So that's pretty exciting for Tamworth. But I've actually jumped on board the Dolphins, the new team in the league.

Ayres: Very fickle, Monte. Very fickle indeed. In the local competition. I don't know. Last year, I know, the Glen Inness Magpies didn't make their way into Group 19, and I don't know whether they've secured a place in Group 19 this year. But -

Irvine: I think they were working hard. They were working hard for it. So that's the neighbouring group for us. But, yeah, absolutely. It's not fickle. It's not fickle. I supported Manly for 47 years and everything that happened with Manly last year, I just went, you know what? I've had enough of this. This is just stupid. I can't stand hypocrisy. I'm out. And with the Dolphins and the new team coming in, they need supporters outside the Gold Coast.

Ayres: They're going to be pretty exciting. They're going to be a pretty exciting team and that's going to be a big development. I'll tell you what, the other thing that's relevant for the NRL, but also for our relationships in the Pacific, is that if this PNG team comes to fruition - and there's been a lot of discussion about this PNG team and the National Rugby League - would be a fantastic thing to see. Good for Papua New Guinea, good for the National Rugby League, and good for people-to-people relationships around the region. So, over the next few years, it'd be good to see more concrete steps being taken towards that.

Irvine: Yeah, absolutely. Well moving on from sport to politics. The New South Wales Parliament is set to be dissolved today. Goes into caretaker mode, I think, on the 3rd March, means that the campaign is going to well and truly kick off. As the Senator for New South Wales, what would you like to see this campaign actually fought around?

Ayres: Well, I think it's going to be a very close election, and this is a long-term Liberal government that has been in place for many, many years now and I think voters will be asking themselves whether they've been in government for too long. I can tell you, beside the traditional issues that I know Chris Minns and the Labor Party are focused on, they’ve got strong policy offerings in terms of health and education. The area, that's directly in my portfolio area, that I have been very passionate about for many, many years is local procurement for industry. And New South Wales has been the outlier amongst the states here, where the New South Wales government offshored billions and billions of dollars’ worth of train contracts in particular, but bus and ferry contracts as well, offshore in a quest to lower prices. What it meant in the end is what had been predicted. The trains actually cost a lot more than they were supposed to cost and –

Irvine: And had issues too, didn't they?

Ayres: Had all sorts of safety and quality defects and issues, some of which are yet to be resolved. You know, the trams, the inner city tram line, you know, the wheels are still, you know, not functioning and that tram line has been closed. Thousands and thousands of jobs, mostly Hunter Valley and regional jobs. So, jobs that really matter in country communities, skilled trades, jobs in the bush and in the regions, and billions of dollars of opportunity, let alone all of the apprenticeship and engineering cadetship, opportunities for school leavers that have gone. It's been an absolute debacle for the local economy, but particularly for local employment, and it means that we've lost capability here in New South Wales. So, [at] the federal level, we are working hard, and I am working hard to build an approach of cooperation across the states to deliver more and more of these procurements locally so that there are more and more jobs here and that we get high quality Australians train delivered on time and on budget. But it's really time for a change of approach in New South Wales on these questions. To back local manufacturing. To back Australian manufacturing.

Irvine: Well, another example of these debacles, as you called them, is the ferries. I mean, it may not affect us here in Tamworth, but one of the issues is the new ferries that are meant to be coming in, they've had to put them on the back burner again.

Ayres: Well, you're right, the ferries aren't a big issue in Tamworth. You could run a ferry across Chaffey Dam or something, I suppose, or across Lake Keepit. But the Sydney ferries are an iconic part of New South Wales. And we've had yet again, because there's been a failure to back local manufacturing, ferry contracts being deferred, ferries manufactured offshore that can't handle the swell off the Sydney heads. Here comes my dog, Monte, he's got some views about this too. Ferries that can't handle the local conditions and that's what happens when you get ferries made offshore. In fact, I'll be inspecting a local boat builder today in Port Macquarie that's got the capacity to do this kind of work. We should be backing our local shipbuilding industry. It's going to matter for the future, construction of ferries and private aircraft, but a private watercraft, but it also matters in strategic capability and sovereign capability terms.

All these decisions to reduce local manufacturing capability have hurt Australia's national interest over the long run. And as a government, we are determined, I'm determined, to make sure we rebuild Australian manufacturing. Doing it in rail and rolling stock and ferries and buses is important but doing it more broadly across the manufacturing sector. That's why the National Reconstruction Fund, $15 billion for co-investments in smart industry and local jobs in the bush and in the outer suburbs. That's why this set of policy propositions that Anthony Albanese and Labor got elected to implement, that's why they're so important.

Irvine: Now, we did speak about superannuation and the debate that's going on around that at the moment. Last night, the Prime Minister clarified a bit more on the project, saying that, you know, they're not shutting down debate. It's appropriate that there is a debate about the policy future and the range of issues, particularly in the context of the trillions of dollars or the trillion-dollar debt that's been inherited. The Australian this morning has also now come out and saying, well, the reason why the debate is happening around superannuation is to shore up the money for industry super funds and particularly in helping the unions. The debate is happening, but it seems to be coming down 50-50 in a lot of respects.

Ayres: Well, I mean, there's always going to be people who want to play politics with superannuation. You know, Peter Dutton and the Liberals are going to, you know, take every opportunity they get to try and politicise these issues. What's in front of us, though, is pretty straightforward. First of all, there's going to be legislation in the Parliament, which will go to making sure we've got a clear definition for the objectives of super. That will help provide a lot more certainty for superannuation investors, people who invest money on behalf of superannuation account holders. It'll provide certainty for Australians who are planning for their retirement. So that's an important piece of work. There'll be broad consultation about that.

As you said, $3 trillion in superannuation accounts in Australia. The average super balance is about $170,000. It is the way that wage earning Australians, salary earning Australians, can plan for their retirement. It is a big achievement that we've managed to secure for ourselves as a result of decisions that the Hawke and Keating governments made primarily. This vast reservoir of retirement savings that are in the interests of ordinary Australians. And it's absolutely legitimate that there's a public debate about these issues now and that people consider how it is that we ensure that your listeners who are working hard, putting money aside every pay cycle into their superannuation accounts have got the best possible superannuation system that means that they've got a comfortable retirement. That's a very important Labor objective, very important government objective, and we won't be distracted by some of the some of the sort of cheap politics that's being engaged here.

Irvine: Senator, we'll have to leave it there. Thank you so much for your time. I look forward to seeing what your tips are and I'll talk to you next Monday.

Ayres: I will make sure they're in on time every week, Monte. I'm very committed to making sure I make a real dent on this tipping competition.

Irvine: Well, you've got you and you'll be able to stir up Barnaby Joyce because he's in it as well.

Ayres: Well, very good.

Irvine: All right, talk to you next week.