Murray Jones, Host: My special guest this morning to find out a little bit more about the passing of this legislation, going to the Senate, the National Reconstruction Fund, is the Assistant Minister for Manufacturing, Senator Tim Ayres. Tim, good morning. Thanks for your time this morning.

Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Assistant Minister for Manufacturing: G'day, Murray. Really happy to be on the show.

Murray Jones: Let's talk a little bit more about this, helping Australian industry move up the value chain to become one, more productive, two, take advantage of opportunity it is in a net zero economy and address these ongoing supply chain vulnerabilities, number three. Tell me a little bit more about what the National Reconstruction Fund is aiming to do. Apart from these big broader statements on the ground and in places like Tropical North Queensland. What is it set to achieve?

Assistant Minister: Well, it's important to start with the problem that we're trying to solve, Murray. Australian manufacturing has declined to be less than 7 per cent of GDP. In terms of manufacturing self-sufficiency, we are stone cold last in the OECD. Our position in the Harvard University in the United States as a measure of economic complexity, that is, how far up the value chain is your economy? We have fallen more than 20 places to 91st in the world.

Murray Jones: Wow.

Assistant Minister: Now, you know, we are facing a challenging 21st century, with challenges that we face and opportunities that we have in the region of the world that we live in. Do any of your listeners think that we can meet the challenge, reap the opportunities, build prosperity, deliver good jobs without rebuilding our manufacturing capability? We've seen what's happened over the course of the last decade. The auto industry, 40,000 jobs just gone. The other sectors of the economy, your listeners in regional centres and country towns in North Queensland will have seen the impact on manufacturing.

Now, this fund, $15 billion in a modern fund, it's not a grant fund, it's a sovereign fund dedicated to rebuilding manufacturing, that it will do co-investments and loans and guarantees that will crowd in private sector investment. It will mean that there will be a return to the Commonwealth, return to the fund so that it continues to reinvest in new capability perpetually.

This is the biggest industry policy offering in Australia's peacetime history. It's a very substantial venture and it will help us reindustrialise the Australian economy. And that means when new factories are built, when new facilities are built, where blue collar jobs go, they will not be in the central business districts and inner cities of Brisbane and Sydney and Melbourne. They will be in regional centres and country towns and outer suburbs because that's where they've got to go. This is a very significant opportunity for regional Australia.

Murray Jones: Well look, you know there's ongoing frustration about the NAIF, the National Infrastructure Fund there, let's talk about this region and some of the possibilities we've got here in Northern Australia and particularly in our part of the world when it comes to food production, we've obviously got the soils. We got the rainfall, mining, rare earth, particularly further north here through the Gulf of Carpentaria and the whole of Cape York, a defence geographically, where Cairns and the region is basically positioned. We've got capacity, we’ve got the navy base here and of course, down in Townsville, the army base as well. And also new energy, there's a lot of options there for new energy. How do those possibilities for industry dovetail into the National Reconstruction Fund?

Assistant Minister: Well, the fund has seven priority sectors and those sectors that you've identified, new energy, including hydrogen, shifting Australian mining and resources up the value chain, so both in terms of the mining technology that goes into it, where we have a real strength and a real capacity, but also in making sure that we're refining and adding value to what it is that we extract out of the ground before we send it overseas. Australian agriculture, where we need to shift Australian agriculture up the value chain and defence as well, where I know that in Cairns and in other parts of far North Queensland, there is real capability in terms of shipbuilding and other opportunities.

Those are all spelt out in the National Reconstruction Fund's objectives. It is of enormous potential benefit. The only thing that's standing in between realising this benefit is the decision of Peter Dutton and David Littleproud to put the Coalition against it. They make a lot of noise, there's a lot of chest-beating, a lot of carry on about manufacturing. But when it's come to an opportunity to support a nation-building fund that the whole Parliament should be behind, Liberal National Party politicians in Queensland in particular are trying to find every reason to say no. And I honestly don't understand how it is that they've reached this position. You know that - hide the partisanship.

Murray Jones: What argument, what arguments could they legitimately bring forward in relation to this? I mean, it's really a no-brainer without playing politics to either side. But, I mean, what we've discussed is something that is important. We talked about the NAIF and of course, that has basically not really delivered the way that it should. Anything that we can do, particularly in regional Australia and, of course, in Northern Australia for us, why would it not? I mean, what's the reasoning there?

Assistant Minister: I've really struggled to understand it. I've read some of the comments that have been made by Liberal National Party MPs and they just show two things. One is that they haven't read the legislation and they don't understand what it is that it's trying to achieve, and they haven't paid attention to the details, so there's a lack of understanding there. But secondly, it's a sort of hyper-partisanship, a reluctance to accept that they lost the election, a reluctance to accept that somebody else might have a good idea and just an effort to say no to everything.

If you remember, back in the last term of government, Scott Morrison was the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese was the Opposition Leader. We really focussed on doing opposition in a different way. We supported the government through the COVID period. We opposed where it was absolutely necessary to, but we as a Labor Party, brought a positive approach to opposition. I think that's what voters want to see, where there is a good idea, back it, right?

Murray Jones: They do, yep, sure.

Assistant Minister: Where there's a good idea, back it, even if it's not a perfect idea, that you wouldn't have developed yourself, back it if it's in the national interest and this is in the interests of the nation in terms of our manufacturing capability, but it's also in the interests of blue collar workers in country towns so why on earth is David Littleproud and the LNP and Peter Dutton turning their back on blue collar workers in country towns?

We've actually got to build good jobs. We've got to use our strengths, our strengths in mining, our strengths in resources, our strengths in agriculture, defence and all these areas, to rebuild manufacturing capability. And there's a lack of confidence in Australian capability that's been showed by the Liberals and Nationals here. You've seen what's happened in New South Wales, where the New South Wales Government gave up on manufacturing, public transport and rail. So, billions of dollars’ worth of jobs and opportunities went offshore. And by contrast, the Queensland and Victorian Governments have backed in rail manufacturing, and they've got billions of dollars, thousands of new jobs, apprenticeship opportunities, and they've built industrial capability for the future. We've just got to have a bit of vision and commitment to the country and confidence in our capability. And Peter Dutton and David Littleproud have just walked away from all of that.

Murray Jones: Now, look, you did touch on this also the ability of potential private investment, possibly up to about $30 million. So, I mean, that's something that can't be sneezed at as well. And of course, that investment for private companies to actually get involved in these types of projects provides further wins right across the nation.

Got to head to news. Interesting. All the best with the passing through the Senate and, of course, the Upper House as well. Been great to talk to you this morning. Senator Tim Ayres. He's the Assistant Minister for Manufacturing. Have a great day, cheers.

Assistant Minister: Terrific, thanks Murray.