08 July 2024

MATT “MACCA” MACCARTHY, HOST: Noticed a few people climbing the walls of Parliament like it was a medieval castle the other day. What was that all about? 


SENATOR AYRES, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TRADE AND MANUFACTURING: Firstly, of course, in Australia, there is a right to protest. I think all of your listeners would agree, it's foundational for our democracy that, unlike in some other countries around the world, Australians have got a right to protest about whatever they like. That’s absolutely important. It is true that the scenes of devastation in Gaza are absolutely confronting and there is absolute horror right across Australian society about it, divided views, but I think a shared sense of horror about what's happened there. The events of October 7, the greatest loss of Jewish life since the Holocaust, absolutely confronting violence, and then, of course, the civilian impact of Israel's response in Gaza. 40,000 civilian deaths, absolutely confronting. However, having said all of that, it is important that protests are not violent. It's important that protests are lawful in the sense that there was a real risk somebody could have been hurt there. It was a breach of Parliament security. We don't want to encourage people to be doing that kind of thing, because there's four thousand people working in Parliament House when the Parliament's on, we've got to keep everybody safe. Finally, I'd make the point that there's a conflict overseas. It's very important that we learn, as Australians, to conduct this discussion in a way that is civil and in a way that doesn't import the conflict into Australia in a way that damages social cohesion. That is where the Prime Minister's been on this. Penny Wong and the Prime Minister were criticised at the beginning of the conflict for urging Israel to show restraint and to work within the rules of the international law. We've been criticised by the Greens political party. You saw the Greens’ Senator yesterday who refused to condemn Hamas. We are focused on the national interest here and in Australia making the right calls here. Sorry, it's a very long answer, but a complex set of issues. Bottom line is, people have got a right to protest, but they should follow the law and keep people safe. 


MACCA: Do it in the right way. New South Wales Irrigators Council, CEO Claire Miller has said, "this is Economics 101." I'm interested in getting your thoughts on this one. This is the Federal Government water buybacks. Tim, they are saying that the Federal Government has embarked on its mission to hollow out regional communities and drive up the cost of food by announcing water buybacks - will get underway on the 15th of July. What are the Federal Government's comments on this? 


AYRES: I'll just deal with this issue about the cost of food. I mean, the biggest buybacks were in the 2011-2012 financial year. The price of food went down by 3.2% and I don't say that that caused it, but I just say that claims about the price of food are hysterical, and they are designed to drive a political wedge on this issue. There is no relationship between sensible water buybacks and the price of food. The price of food, there are all sorts of impacts on that, from seasonal fluctuations to what's happening in international markets in terms of the demand and supply. The truth is when the government came to office, the previous government [had] been sitting on its hands for a decade. There are real structural problems in terms of water use, environmental requirements. We've seen the impact of that, particularly in far North-Western New South Wales. The Minister for Water is getting on top of that. There is a requirement for voluntary buybacks, that's going on now. It'll have no impact on the price of food. But also do things like our Future Made in Australia policy which is about rebuilding manufacturing in country towns. We need more value add in country towns. That's where the government's going. That's what's going to have a big impact on economic life of country towns. 


MACCA: A little bit more locally Tim, the National Farmers Federation [is] throwing its support behind a petition to improve train lighting to save lives on regional roads. This has been mentioned for a little while. 


AYRES: It's horrifying when you see some of these accidents on level crossings and around rail lines. It is good to see the National Farmers Federation stepping up on this issue, as it's something that affects their members and the communities that their members work in. I'll be paying close attention to this campaign. We've seen, in a metropolitan context, in Victoria and in some of the regional cities, the impact of the Victorian Government doing all that level crossings work. It's good for commuters, good for train drivers, but actually really good for public safety. If there's improvements that can be made, Macca…will be watching that very closely, and the Transport Minister will be very keen to engage with this discussion. 


MACCA: Let's go back to how much we've got in our pocket. I noticed the news.com.au article last week saying that there is more money as of last week, in the pockets of Australians. Mention a couple of those for us. 


AYRES: Last week, every Australian taxpayer got a tax cut. Bigger tax cuts for 90% of Australian tax earners. But every single taxpayer got a tax cut. Energy bill relief started on the 1st of July, last Monday. All of the other cost of living measures, including caps on the PBS, making sure that we're doing the work that's required on Medicare, all of that cost-of-living relief is there in the budget and started rolling out from the 1st of July. That is what the government is about here.There's always a lot of distractions in the media. But this government is focused on the costof-living, relief that we can deliver that doesn't put upward pressure on inflation, and, in fact, puts downward pressure on inflation. But secondly, this is a government that's delivered the first back-to-back surpluses in nearly twenty years. The previous government couldn't deliver a surplus. Left us with a trillion dollars in debt and not much to show for it. We have immediately delivered, in our first two years in office, two back-to-back surpluses, and we're going to keep that focus on what's required to put downward pressure on costs at the supermarket and energy bills, or the bills that your listeners face. And secondly, of course, on interest rates, working hard to put downward pressure on interest rates as well. 


MACCA: Quick listener question for you Tim, obviously swearing in our 28th Governor General. If you can have a listen to this one for me 


LISTENER: G'day Mecca, Paul here, from South Tamworth. Just a one-off thing. Mate, we're becoming a joke. How can Australia warrant the cost of $700,000 for a Governor General that really does bugger all, and the way our economy is it's a joke. We are becoming an absolute joke Australia. It is pathetic. Thanks, mate.  


MACCA: Firstly, Tim, the roles and duties of the Governor General to ensure that the $700,000 is money well spent. I'm assuming that must be around the wage. I haven't double checked that myself. It sounds a bit high, but what is the Governor General actually responsible for? And what do you see in the new Governor General, meeting her, obviously, and spending some time with the last week? 


AYRES: The Governor General is the constitutional representative of the King in Australia, who is our head of state. There are a set of important constitutional functions that the Governor General plays. But secondly, as Samantha Mostyn said at her investiture during last week, she intends to make sure that the Governor General's role is out there in the community, in suburbs and country towns, pulling Australians together and building support for our democratic institutions. A very important constitutional role here. On the salary itself, Macca, I understand people are confronted by the salary. It is pegged to the Chief Justice's salary. There's a relationship between those two salaries. Previous Governor Generals were paid less but the way that this has worked out is; if you're in receipt of a pension, either from your military service or service as a politician or service as a Governor in one of the states, that is deducted from the salary. That is pegged to the Chief Justice's salary. So it seems to me appropriate, while these are big numbers, that if the Chief Justice is paid a certain rate that is reflected in arrangements that are made for the Governor General, given that her rate will not change over the course of the next five years, once the Act of Parliament is passed, that is the rate, and it stays the same. I think it's taken a bit of time, given some of the reporting, to explain, is the reason some of the previous salaries were lower is because they were in receipt of already Commonwealth pensions, and nobody would think that people should be double paid. Samantha Mostyn isn't in receipt of any of those pensions so she's basically on a rate that is determined using the Chief Justice's rate.  


MACCA: Using your words again, Tim, just before we go…pulling the country together, NAIDOC Week this week, very important week for Australia. 


AYRES: Oh, it is. It's a great opportunity for Australia. We had, I think, in the minds of many people in our Indigenous community, is that last year was a hard year, the constitutional referendum. We respect the result. Everybody in the community, I think, respects the result. This is an opportunity to show that our communities, particularly our country communities, are sticking together, supporting our Indigenous communities in country towns. I know there'll be events in Tamworth. They'll be terrific. It's a good opportunity to show that we respect and value First Nations communities right across Australia. 


MACCA: Senator Tim Ayres, thanks for the chat today, we'll talk to you next week. 


SENATOR AYRES: Good on you, mate. See you next week.