88.9 FM with Macca

08 April 2024

MATT “MACCA” MACCARTHY, HOST: We have Senator Tim Ayres on the phone, how are you?


SENATOR TIM AYRES, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TRADE AND ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR MANUFACTURING: Good, good, very happy to be on the show. And good morning to your listeners too.


MACCA: Absolutely. No, good to have you here we sort of cut out last time we spoke, we were having a good chat and I always appreciate the fact that, you know, we can hear both sides of the story, which is good. And just to find out what the government's up to. It's a little bit tricky, obviously, with our national members around the place, our mayors. And then you've got our local member, and then also the federal member. So, people are saying, well, okay, you've got the opposition on, what's the government actually doing? So, it's nice to be able to do that each week, Tim, and that we appreciate it.


AYRES: Always happy to come on the show.


MACCA: Very good. So, a fair bit happening, obviously, we've been watching our grocery bills, as I said, through the roof, skyrocketing there, the government has turned around and said, "we've got this interim report happening at the moment," but they're not moving slow enough, or not moving fast enough rather, as far as getting government information they require, is that right?


AYRES: Well, the first thing is, what the nature of the problem here, we are absolutely focused on the cost-of-living issues for households, and everybody nominates that the rising cost at the supermarket till, you walk away with a bag of shopping, that's much more expensive than it used to be. But if you've been engaged in manufacturing, or in the agriculture sector, you know, the other side of the problem as well, the big challenges for suppliers for the farming community. So, beef prices traveling down at the farm gate, and beef prices at the supermarket traveling up. So that's why we commissioned Craig Emerson to do this report. We've got the report now, there's another report coming in for the ACCC. So, the government is considering that. The Emerson report has got some pretty big findings for the government to consider it recommends $10 million fines, it recommends making the Code of Conduct compulsory, not voluntary, which is what the last government did. So, there are some big changes for us to consider there. But we are going to make them in the national interest in and focused on people's household grocery bills.


MACCA: What does this mean, Tim, for mum and dad and the two kids and the trolley at the end of the day?


AYRES: Well, there's a lot of pressure out there on the supermarkets now and there should be. people are asking questions about, about what's happening with the cost of living at the supermarket. And that is a good thing, that there's public pressure there on the supermarkets, the government is going to make decisions about future regulation and future arrangements around supermarkets. But we're not going to make them in a hurry. And we're not going to make them in a way that creates bad outcomes. You know, this is a government that is going to be an adult government and make decisions that set the supermarket sector up and the retail sector up in the interests of Australian consumers and in the interests of Australian agriculture, and in the interests of the hundreds of 1000s of people who are employed in our supermarkets. You know, in every country town and every suburb there are there are good jobs there for Australians in the supermarkets and we are going to make decisions about the future regulation of that in a way that balances out all those concerns properly.


MACCA: Can you get them to get rid of the paper bags while you're at it, they couldn't carry it?


AYRES: It turns out you got to park your car a lot closer to the supermarket than it used to be.


MACCA: And have a house without with stairs. Otherwise, you're absolutely buggered.


AYRES: The problem for me is I'm such a forgetful fella. So, I never ever remember to bring the bloody bags to the supermarket.  I'm always the dude with the paper bags looking silly out the front of the supermarket.


MACCA: Maybe the government, I know Kevin Rudd back in the day, was happy to throw us all 1000 bucks for a flat screen TV. Why don't you give us all bloody 20 or 40 bucks for the bags each, recyclable bags that we can take to the supermarket? I mean, that's a better use of money sometimes than some of these campaigns we're seeing.


AYRES: That is very novel policy proposal, Jim, and I'm sure if it got in the queue. And, what's the bureaucratic language? It'd be considered in the fullness of time.


MACCA: Absolutely. Power bills, obviously, the government telling us at the moment that these are looking to decrease. I had a lady call this morning, "Macca my power bill has gone from $400 to $700. I've done absolutely nothing different, haven't even turned the heaters on in the colder months. I've had the air conditioner off in the warmer months." This is contrary to what we're hearing with these reports out there at the moment. What are we going through?


AYRES: On the individual level, let's make sure I'll get some information for your listener who's called in and I'll make sure my office gets in touch with your team there and if there's somebody that this lady can call to get a second opinion on her bill, and to get a bit of advice let's make sure we look after her. Second thing is that we are seeing downward pressure on electricity prices, the Australian electricity market operator or energy market operator has released its wholesale pricing report that sees very sharp downward travel for electricity prices over the coming 12 months. That is, because two things have happened. One is the energy price caps that the government introduced, have been working. They were opposed by the Liberals and Nationals, but they are working to hold back electricity price rises. And of course, as we're seeing more low-cost renewables go into the system that is also putting downward pressure on prices. But there is a long way to go. There's been some moderate improvements here. Just like the broader cost of living issues, we are not running the victory flag up the pole here, we have made progress but we are going to keep focused on these issues and keep downward pressure on the cost of living, downward pressure on energy prices, and of course we want to see we want to see increases in real wages and Australians living standards continue to travel in the right direction.


MACCA: On the subject to that Tim, I saw an interesting, probably a pretty horrifying statistic yesterday to see that the EFT fees, so the EFTPOS fees from the bank, in one small business in particular, I guess this is the same story across the board, equaled one employee's daily wage. Yet the government's leading us towards using less cash, we had the day last week where all Aussies turned around whether we said all Aussies, but it was one Facebook page 132,000 followers, I think that's increased since then, everyone I know on my Facebook feed, went out got some cash went and spent it on a small business myself included. I got a bloke to mow my lawns and did an absolute cracking job and whatever and give him some coin. So literally that's what it was about as far as keeping the economy running, I know the government wants to be taxed on all of these dollars. But at the end of the day EFTs from one bank and you're talking one employee's daily wage. This is not even talking about wages to increase in line with inflation, which, obviously we need to look at something towards that as well. But then you got the small business owners that are going well, we can't afford to pay any more than minimum wage. So how do we solve the problem, Tim?


AYRES: Well, let's unpack this a little bit. First thing is you're right. EFT fees are very high, I took some money out this morning, took some cash out, $3.10 In a little shop, the EFT fee. So, you know, every time you take cash out, there is a cost to it. That is right. It is not the government's approach here, that is about reducing the use of cash in the economy. If the governments not engaged in the way that you describe, its consumers shifting away and using more digital transactions, because it's more convenient. But I'll always make sure I've got cash. I cannot see, I know that there's a lot of action on Facebook and all the social medias, which you know, you probably shouldn't pay too much attention to, that talks about a cashless society, I don't see that ever being a reality. Cash is always really useful, particularly like you say, if you want somebody else to mow your lawn, cash is pretty handy, right? So, there's always going to be cash as, as a part of this. You've seen the government in discussions with for example, Armagard, to make sure that, there's a viable business model for cash making its way around supermarkets and to ATM machines. There are going to be challenges and we are going to act to deal with them as they emerge. But I'm not in the sky falling in brigade that thinks that there's going to be some big changes here. On the broader question on wages. We need to see upward pressure on wages. The last government's business model was the finance minister said that their model was all about keeping downward pressure on real wages. Our model is about making sure that the real wages of Australian families continue to grow. And the truth is that small business and retail also need real wages to be growing so that people in the main street have got money to spend in their shops and to buy their goods and services. So we want to see in the government, Tony Burke and Anthony Albanese here, acting in the interests of ordinary working families remember during the election when there was symbolised that moment when the Prime Minister held up $1 coin, when there was discussion about whether or not the government and us as the then opposition would support a wage rise for aged care workers. And the wage rise was 5% equivalent to $1 an hour, we are on the side of real wage increases for minimum wage workers, we want to see a stronger link between the work that people do and the productivity increases that are there in the economy, and, rises in real wages. That's how we get the economy moving again. We're going to keep the focus on that as well as keeping the focus on downward pressure on the cost of living.


MACCA: I'm not the smartest man in the world Tim. But one thing I can work out just with dumb mathematics is the price of wages go up that's got to be paid by the CEO of the company, effectively, particularly small business, we're talking in this case in in rural Australia, regional Australia, and therefore the price, I guess the bottom line has to go up with the price of whatever we're buying the product or the service, which means we're still paying more anyway. So, I don't see the answer around this. And we talked downward pressure, pressure, I think it's the key word at the moment, there just seems to be too much of it.


AYRES: Well, the reverse is an even worse situation. If there's downward pressure on wages, if real wages don't keep pace with the cost of living, ordinary family’s capacity to keep up, keeps getting harder and harder and harder. And so, then they have less money to spend on groceries, shoes for their kids for school, all of the necessities of life. And if that starts to happen, then you start to see households going backwards. And that's not good for businesses either. So, we want to see a healthy, wages growth. That is in line with productivity that means that families' capacity to pay for the things that they need get stronger and stronger and businesses grow with it. You can't go backwards. That's the most important thing here. If we go backwards into a downward cycle on wages, then we see a downward cycle of employment and investment. And that is very bad for businesses big and small.


MACCA: Hopefully it does happen. I think it's Kevin Rudd, for fair sake, the sauce bottle, a lot of us can't put a source bottle as a luxury in our trolleys at the moment. So, we'll hold you to that one Tim. Just really quickly before I let you go mate, a little bit over time. Budget not too far around the corner, any sneak peeks particularly for our region?


AYRES: What you are starting to see is the shape of the budget. Firstly, we are determined to make sure that it's got measures in there that are for households to support them with the cost of living. You saw the Prime Minister's announcement last week of big new industry policy measure the Solar SunShot Program, that means that there will now be a facility at the Liddell Power Station, making Australian-made solar panels that will employ more people than the Liddell Power Station has employed over the last 20 years. So, we are going to be all about downward pressure on the cost of living, supporting Medicare, a Future made in Australia, rebuilding our manufacturing sector. That's what you'll see in the budget and that'll have that'll have good implications in the outer suburbs and in regional Australia in particular.


MACCA: Good on you. Senator Tim Ayres. Thanks for the yarn today got a song to play on the way out?


AYRES: Yeah! How about a bit of Cold Chisel, 'Flame Trees,' that always makes me feel like I'm on the way home.


MACCA: No worries at all. And I believe you've actually got a week at home, so you enjoy that with the family. We'll talk to you soon.


AYRES: Terrific. Thanks. See ya.