88.9 FM Tamworth

29 January 2024


Matt "Macca" MacCarthy: One fellow we've been looking to speak to is New South Wales Senator, the Honourable Tim Ayres. How are you this morning?

Senator Tim Ayres: Oh, I'm good mate. Good. Really good to be on the show.

Macca: Absolutely.

Senator Tim Ayres: Sounds a bit funny, doesn't it?

Macca: Yeah, it certainly does. And thank you very much for agreeing to be quite a regular guest on the show as well, because we've got questions. And as you know, it's a bit tricky. Uh, quite a few nationals in our area, uh, we're getting the message at the moment. I guess this is the first question for you. The statement the government won't give us any money seems to be off the back of quite a few of our major projects. How do you respond to that?

Senator Tim Ayres: Well, it is good to be on this show in particular in this area. Um, I grew up just up the road, uh, in Glen Innes. So, I'm very, uh, very happy to be talking to you on, this radio station in the wake of the country music festival as well. Of course, Yes. On the broad point about what's, going on with funding in the broad. Um, we are a government that understands that Australia, the regions, and the outer suburbs as much it is about, uh, our big cities and the inner suburbs.

Anthony Albanese is a prime minister who has done more in his previous career as the Minister for transport and Minister for infrastructure, has built more, uh, country roads, funded more regional infrastructure than any transport or infrastructure minister in our history. Um, so he gets it in his guts. What is important for the regions? Um, I've known this bloke for a long time, and he cares deeply about infrastructure, cares deeply about the transport system, uh, about making sure that we've got the infrastructure that we need, not just for today, but to build a productive, efficient Australia that's good for building businesses around and good for, you know, commuters getting around. And we know that those challenges are bigger in regional areas than they are in the big cities. So, we are absolutely committed on those things.

I'm very happy to be drawn to specific, programmes. The only other thing I'd say about our approach on funding is, you know, I think people got pretty sick of all the big announcements and no follow through. Uh, they got pretty sick of funding being allocated for political and partisan purposes rather than what's in the national interest. And we have taken the approach that, we are going to run a rigorous, uh, a rigorous government where funding is made on the basis of what's defendable in cost terms, what delivers a real outcome in the national interest, and what's going to deliver for the long term so in the national interest rather than in the partisan interest. And I know that comes as a shock to some of the local MPs and people who are engaged in the last government where everything was about the partisanship, not about the country.

Macca: We're finding that quite a bit. Actually, Tim, just on the, uh, subject of roads, Roads to Recovery has been announced. It's my understanding that we're getting double the allocation than before. But speaking to people like our, uh, mayor and our local council for example, we may not see that money. We might see it in instalments, but we may not see all of that money for four years.

Senator Tim Ayres: Well, I'm very happy to come back to you on the detail of when funding arrives. It is good news that road to recovery funding has been increased in the local area. I'll, get some answers about, you know how that funding is spread out. Um, of course all of these programmes involve cooperation between the Commonwealth, the state and local government. Um, and we won't be pointing fingers. We believe that everything works better when Australians work together and when levels of government work together, and everybody puts their hand up for their responsibility.

Macca: Your portfolio is, Tim, assistant minister for trade and also assistant minister for manufacturing. We're noticing some big tensions with China at the moment. Is this affecting current trade?

Senator Tim Ayres: Well, we've made significant progress, uh, on working to stabilise relationships with China and to make improvements on removing the impediments to some categories of trade that were put in place there. Now, it's not all resolved. That's the first point. We still need to see progress in wine. Uh, we still need to see progress in categories like, uh, like lobsters, which is a big export. Now, both wine and lobsters, of course, big, regional profile in terms of the in terms of the people who, um, the growers and the lobster fishers, but also in terms of regional employment. So those categories are important. Out of the about $20 billion worth of exports that were, uh, that had impediments put in front of them at the border in China, uh, around about $18 billion in round numbers has been resolved since the government was elected. Uh, and that's a good thing. However, market there will be you know, this is a relationship that we are seeking to stabilise. There will be, though, from time to time, challenges, and issues in the relationship. Now, this government believes that, uh, it's important to engage in dialogue. We've done that in a calm and consistent way, acting in the national interest Uh, but, you know, there will be challenges from time to time. We've made significant progress on the trade questions.

We will keep focused on what is the core, uh, trade mission for the Albanese government, which is to diversify our trade, that is to yes, work with big markets like China but to make sure that as broad a possible suite of markets available for Australian exporters and also to diversify the products that Australia exports to the world so that we're engaged in, uh, you know, exporting more products and particularly more value added manufacturing products. That's the task of the government if we're going to make sure that Australia is resilient for the future and finally made on exports, what I'd say is, you know, actually really matters. You'd expect me to say that as the trade minister.

Macca: Yeah, definitely.

Senator Tim Ayres: But it matters because if you're employed in a firm in Australia that exports products to the world, your job is more secure. It's a better kind of job on average, and it offers better wages than firms that are only able to, you know, engage in, the market domestically. So trade is one of those things that enables more good jobs, that helps lift wages and it helps lift productivity, particularly, as I said at the outset of this interview in the outer suburbs and the regions, because if we're building factories, manufacturing factories for the future, they won't be built where I am here in Redfern on the edge of the CBD. They will be built in our outer suburbs and in our regions, and that's that that's one of the reasons that trade matters for the future of the country.


Macca: Well, there's quite a bit of arable land across Australia not being used at the moment yet. We uh, see losses of uh, companies like Holden and Ford, whatever, over the years that we're probably never going to get back. Just on the subject of, uh, trade, Tim, obviously, the lobsters are 3.5 hours down the road, the wines, 2.5 hours down the road. We're looking at, uh, lamb, we're looking at beef. You know, we're looking at, uh, pig farms. We're looking at barley. We're looking at wheat at the moment, what we're seeing. The farmers aren't picking up any extra money at the gate. Although these multinational supermarkets seem to be just bringing up the price of everything. They've changed our bags from paper to plastic, uh, the plastic to paper. We're just seeing all of these rises at the trolleys. But our farmers aren't seeing any extra money at the gate. What's the federal government doing about this? I've heard inquiries into this are happening at the moment. When do they start?


Senator Tim Ayres: Yeah. That's right. I mean, firstly, on the trade front, on those, categories, particularly barley, um, reopening the barley market to China did see increased volumes of barley. Um, and it did see increased prices for barley. It did have an impact for, uh, Australia's farming sector. And that's a good thing. But your broad point is right. You know, what Australians have been seeing is elevated prices at the supermarket. That's the case, too, in terms of, uh, issues like petrol, where we've seen big fluctuations, big spikes in price. Um, we, are doing, three things that I can point to, first of all, the cost-of-living relief that people would have seen over the course of 2022 reduced childcare costs, big impact on Medicare and pharmaceutical benefit schemes. So that medicine costs have gone down for people, energy price caps uh which means that while electricity prices went up, they went up by about 18% less than they would have gone up had we not put those caps in place.

Uh, secondly, big inquiry is now into the supermarket system. It's absolutely right. We see farmers getting low prices for lamb, for example, but there's no evidence in the supermarket of low prices for lamb for customers now that it's not always the same thing. You know, the abattoirs and the supermarkets have got a story to tell about these issues. But it's very hard to explain why farmers are out of pocket on one hand and customers are still out of pocket on the other. There should be some relationship between those prices. So, two big inquiries, one led by Craig Emerson, former trade minister, one of Australia's most eminent economists into, the supermarkets pricing. Uh, and the ACCC has been directed towards an inquiry into that work where they've got real power and real teeth to deal with the issues.

Finally, of course, big changes to the tax system. Stage three tax cuts modified so that now every taxpayer gets a tax cut. But middle and income Australians get much bigger tax cut cuts than they were going to get before. So, if you are an individual taxpayer earning $150,000 or less, you will get a dramatically bigger tax cut than you would have got under the tax cuts that Scott Morrison designed five years ago. They are going to offer a position where all, PayG tax earners get some tax cut. So, I'll get a tax cut, but it'll be a smaller tax cut than I otherwise would have got. But 90% of Australians get a bigger tax cut. And again, disproportionately that will mean that will have a greater effect, more tax cuts being delivered in outer suburbs and regional areas.


Macca:  This was mentioned obviously, to be the budget for the families and for the everyday Australian. At the moment we're seeing, uh, power stations being closed down. I'm just going to flip the script on this one for a second, Senator Ayres, and actually say to you, we're playing the blame game. We always do that when we have a change in government. What should or could the, uh, the previous government actually have saved some of these decisions? And have the labor government had to make some pretty tough decisions that should have been made prior with the last government?


Senator Tim Ayres: Well, there is I mean, I'm reluctant to do the partisan blame game, um, even though you're inviting me to do it,

Macca: that that's unusual for a politician.

Senator Tim Ayres: Well, you know, I think people are, um, uh, are sick of the sort of hyper partisan politics. Um, now we do say that the government sitting on its hands and being unable to come up with an energy strategy, you're pointing to power stations closing down, uh, has meant that we've had a ten year, uh, collapse in investment in new energy generation and in storage and in grid transmission. And that does mean that we are behind the eight ball as a country, uh, on electricity now, there hasn't been you know, we are losing um, uh, some of these, um, some of these coal-fired power stations. That is the case, uh, and over the course of the last government, four gigawatts left the system and only one gigawatt was put back in. Um, so we've got a mountain to climb in terms of new energy infrastructure. That's why the government's got the $20 billion Rewiring the Nation program, which is really about fixing our transmission grids, uh, so that we can have the energy system of the future as cheap as possible, you know, with lower energy prices, which is good for households, but it's good for manufacturing and for business as well. That is a multi-year strategy to fix our energy system. Um, there will always be periods of drought. We know that there will be more intense periods of drought over the coming years and more, uh, you know, dramatic weather conditions. That means we are going to have to future proof the country. But, the New South Wales government made a call on the Dungowan dam. Um, I believe they made that call because, you know, the business case couldn't possibly be made to stack up.


Macca: Just before we let you go, Senator. I appreciate your very busy. What's on the whiteboard for the government, for our region, then? Is it recycled water? Uh, how are they going to solve the problem for us if it's not the dam?


Senator Tim Ayres: Well, I haven't heard the argument for recycled water in Tamworth. I'd be very interested to hear it. it's not something that, um, that I've heard an argument been made for before, but I'm very happy to come back on your show, having heard a bit more about that. I'll make some inquiries and, uh, and see what the, see what the strategy is. This is, as I said earlier in the interview, going to require cooperation between the water utilities, local government and the state government. In the first instance, uh, when there are big projects and often people put their hand up to the federal government, I know that the minister will be engaged in all of these issues across the country. I'm not going to shoot my mouth off about an option that I hadn't heard of before. I'll make some inquiries and very happy to talk to you about this as the debate unfolds through the year.


Macca: New South Wales Senator Tim Ayres, thank you very much for your time today, and look forward to chatting to you weekly when you're available on Monday mornings, no doubt next week with a few listener questions from Facebook.


Senator Tim Ayres: Terrific. Good on you, mate.


Macca: Good chat. Thank you very much.