88.9 FM with Macca

28 May 2024

MATT “MACCA” MACCARTHY, HOST: Today, New South Wales Senator, Tim Ayres joins us. Tim, how are you this morning?

SENATOR TIM AYRES: I’m Good Macca. It's a cold morning here in Canberra.

MACCA: Mate, fair bit going on. Obviously, we sort of, I guess to a degree, indirectly have the government to thank for the inquiry into multinational supermarkets. Apparently one of the big chains dropping 450 item lines, the price just apparently slashed with hopefully other supermarkets to follow. Now we know how important this is at the moment, as far as cost-of-living. Obviously the government, this is the first step in many steps to be able to try and regulate this to help us at the trolley.

SENATOR AYRES: Yeah, well, there's still more work to do. Of course, we've seen broadly at the economy level, inflation has reduced from its highest point, just before we were elected, it's steadily decreased. But there's more work to do to get inflation within the target band for the Reserve Bank of Australia's considerations but also to continue taking pressure off families. Sometimes the last mile is the hardest mile. I'm pleased to see at least one of the supermarkets taking steps and that is in response to the work that the government's been doing here. Focus on the cost of living, focus on competition, and these reviews that, you know, transparency...sunlight’s the best disinfectant Macca, and the work that the government is doing here is having an impact. But of course, there is more work to do and we are not going to lose our focus on these cost-of-living issues. That's why, July 1, the government's delivered a new tax cut regime that means every single Australian taxpayer will be paying less tax. Together with our industrial relations reforms, lifting up minimum wages, that means people are earning more and keeping more of what they earn. That is the focus of the government here, is on the cost-of-living issues. And we're not going to let up.

MACCA: Obviously manufacturing's close to your heart. We'll talk back on the inflation thing, get a couple of those steps off you shortly. But manufacturing's the big one. We still seem to be sending a lot of stuff overseas, they process it, give it back to us. Yet we've got all of this arable land that, surely, we should be able to do some of this stuff ourselves. I mean, what's the story here? As I said, I know manufacturing is very close to your heart, in particular. Why, for a start, are we still getting so much stuff manufactured overseas and then sold to us for a premium price?

SENATOR AYRES: Well, that's what the Future Made in Australia agenda is all about Macca. This is the biggest pro-manufacturing package in Australian history. And it's all about making sure that we grab the opportunity. We are facing, and the world is facing, the biggest industrial transformation since the Industrial Revolution. 97% of our trading partners with their own net zero commitments, that means investment in new energy, in clean technology, and in all the critical minerals. You know, we have vast resources in Australia, below ground, all of the critical minerals that are required for the net zero transition; lithium, you know, at the moment, we export lithium ore, we capture about half a percent of the value in the overall lithium value chain. So, the Future Made in Australia agenda for example, is all about making sure that we're processing these minerals here. We've got fantastic resources above the ground; our solar and wind resources are the best in the world and of course above the ground as well; our people, we've got the capability. There are big challenges here, but there are enormous opportunities. And this week, the Albanese government will not let this once in a generation opportunity to rebuild Australian manufacturing capability, go. We are providing very significant incentives here for firms to locate their manufacturing operations and manufacture in Australia. They don't get support until they actually manufacture product here. And that means good jobs and investment in the outer suburbs. But also in regional Australia. We don't build new factories in the inner city. We build them in the outer suburbs and big industrial regions and in regional Australia and this is a big opportunity for the bush.

MACCA: I keep saying it Tim, thirty percent of Australia uninhabited. You got the desert, you got the Northern Territory, pretty much Central Queensland. So many places at the moment we could be bringing some of these factories and giving our own workers... fly in fly out is not an unusual thing for our mines. Why can't we get this happening with manufacturing plants?

SENATOR AYRES: Well, we absolutely can, and we must. Look at our iron ore areas, in North Western Australia. We've got the iron ore there, we've got enormous land reserves, which means solar capability. That gives an opportunity for firms to invest in green iron production. Going up the value chain instead of just exporting iron ore... going up the value chain, these are the opportunities for Australia. In solar, you saw the government announced the Solar SunShot program, significant incentives for firms. And at the same time, we announced that, we saw one of Australia's solar companies announcing a partnership with AGL at the Liddell power station, which was mothballed under the last government. That factory COULD employ more Australians, more locals, than the power station has employed in living memory. These are the opportunities for us. Now, what we need is a government that's determined to fight for it and make the investment in the national interest. That's what the Future Made in Australia plan is all about. It is a very substantial package, and everybody across the parliament should be supporting it.

MACCA: Tim, you made steps, obviously to, I guess, help curve inflation. You made a short mention of that earlier, what are a couple more steps that the government has, to try and stop this problem?

SENATOR AYRES: Well really, it's about making sure that we're taking pressure off ordinary Australians at the same time as having a responsible budget strategy. We delivered the first surplus for fifteen years last year. The other side of politics talked about surpluses, promised them, never delivered one. You remember the “back in black” ads and of the carry on about a surplus that was never delivered in their term of government. We delivered one in our first substantial May budget. Jim Chalmers, the Treasurer, delivered another surplus in this budget. Now, that's really important to making sure that we're taking pressure off cost-of-living and putting downward pressure on inflation. But we've also delivered through the budget in a responsible way, measures that make it easier for families; the tax cuts that I referred to, tax cuts for every single Australian taxpayer; energy relief; that means that energy bills are going to be lower. And what you're seeing with some of the recent indications from the energy regulator that wholesale prices are declining, particularly on the East Coast. You've seen it particularly for low-income families, the biggest in generation increases to payments like Commonwealth rent assistance. So, we're working through these things in a really targeted and systematic way, assisting families in a way that doesn't put upward pressure on inflation, and keeping our overall fiscal settings right, so that we're delivering budget surpluses and keeping a cap on spending. That's the immediate priority of the government, everything is all about cost-of-living relief. And then our longer-term priorities are about building Australia for the future through our Future Made in Australia strategy.

MACCA: What about our seniors, particularly on the pension, Tim. Obviously, we're looking at joint household, of say, I don’t know, a minimum of 80, or $90,000, with mum and dad, or the average household being around $100,000+ I guess, for the year, but the seniors that have got to survive on the pension, they can't cope with inflation at the moment. Government are not giving him anywhere close to enough to $4 here and there, whatever they get with their pension, they can't afford bread and milk or to turn the heaters on. And now they're looking at taking away their wood fires. I mean, how are the pensioners supposed to survive at the moment? With this situation?

SENATOR AYRES: Don't forget cheaper medicines, Macca, we're making sure our reforms to the way that the PBS is delivered and to the cost of medicines, meaning you can get two rounds of scripts, means that there's been a significant impact, particularly for older Australians who’ve got more chronic illnesses, so they're, you know, they're presenting to the chemist more often. So, that is working with community pharmacies to deliver lower costs. Of course, indexation is available for people on fixed incomes. So just like the previous government, and governments before that, we’re continuing to try and make sure that increases to the pension keep pace with the cost-of-living, but I'm not pretending, I won't whitewash this for your listeners. Life is tough for people on the age pension, if that's their only source of income. It does mean, of course, we're going to continue building a superannuation sector so that future generations have got reliable decent incomes that a family can rely upon.

MACCA: Majority of these people, Tim have paid fifty years in tax, whether it be to your government, or the prior government or back to the Commonwealth of Australia. Surely there's got to be some better raises for them.

SENATOR AYRES: I think that's right. You know, the truth is, I don't have much patience for people that call for cuts in government expenditure. Because often what that means is cuts to the indexation of the pension. I mean, where else do you get big savings from? We've had a focus on savings, that means...so the surpluses overwhelmingly have been returned to the bottom line. That means $80 billion less in interest payments over the next decade for the Commonwealth, that means $80 billion more that is available for, whether it's supporting pensioners, supporting the NDIS, making sure we're meeting our commitments more broadly. We've delivered savings through getting rid of labour hire, expensive labour hire across the Commonwealth public sector and returning to full time direct employment. That means, in areas like Veterans Affairs, that we've shortened up the big, long queues for assessments for Australian veterans, who under the previous government, I remember in estimates, there were forty and fifty and sixty thousand deep queues of people who were making claims to Veterans Affairs and it was all labour hire. All people on dodgy labour hire arrangements. We have trimmed that right back so there is a more efficient expenditure of Commonwealth resources, but also just decent jobs, and veterans are treated with decency at the same time. So, we're doing what we can to trim the budget, but we're not going to do it through cutting indexation to age pensioners. You know, every budget we get to, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have a really close look at what is it that we can do for Australians on fixed incomes, including pensioners.

MACCA: Very good. Tim, thank you very much for the chat. Senator Tim Ayres. One question I've got for you. When you get these CEOs of these multinational supermarkets like your Woolworths and your Aldi's and your Coles and whatever, into a room, can you get rid of those self-service checkouts for us?

SENATOR AYRES: It's a mystery to me. I never go to the self-service checkout. I always go and talk to the person who's working at the checkout. I know how important those jobs are. My kids worked in supermarkets. The truth is, Woolworths and Coles and IGA and the other supermarkets actually provide important jobs in suburbs and country towns.

MACCA: Seven thirty last night, Tim, I was there with my two kids at the supermarket and literally the only option I had was self-service and I said, look, I don't work for you. People have said “okay, can we get fifteen or twenty percent discount maybe on our groceries where we can swipe a card if we have to serve ourselves.” This lady said; “I'm sorry sir, I had to put a full trolley of groceries through.” Juggling their paper bags and all of that sort of stuff myself like I was a checkout man or woman operator. It's not good enough, so at the end of the day, if you can get them on the stand, tell them Macca wants those self-service checkouts gone.

SENATOR AYRES: I reckon I’m as hopeless as you are when confronted with a self-service checkout. I'm pretty old fashioned about that kind of thing. It's a good thing to see people employed in good jobs in those supermarkets, particularly in the bush.

MACCA: Absolutely. You get those fast-food joints to knock back the paper straws, give us plastic back surely.

SENATOR AYRES: You’ve got a long list! Plastic straws as well. What is there anything else I can do for you?!

MACCA: Friends in high places! That'll get that sorted by the weekend? We'll come up with something else next week.

SENATOR AYRES: We’ll see how we go. See what my report card looks like next week.

MACCA: Good on you Tim. We'll talk to you then.

SENATOR AYRES: Good on you Macca, take it easy.