ABC Afternoon Briefing with Greg Jennett

03 July 2024


GREG JENNETT, HOST: All right, so the Albanese Government's manufacturing policy, known as Future Made in Australia, is taking shape with various bills put into the House today. Assistant Manufacturing Minister Tim Ayres is with us now. Tim, welcome back to the program. I really didn't want to be kicking off with Fatima Payman questions because there's been a lot of them today. But just to quickly dispense with that point the Prime Minister made there, he expects further statements to be made in the coming days about what has been a strategy for over a month. What does that mean?


SENATOR TIM AYRES, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TRADE AND MANUFACTURING: It sounds to me like what it means is what's been publicly reported. We'll see what happens over the coming days. The really critical point here is Senator Payman's made a decision that puts her outside of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. We've made it very clear to Senator Payman, and publicly, that she is welcome back in the Labor Caucus. Of course, that requires accepting the collective discipline and that Party discipline is really important to Labor achieving our objectives on behalf of the country.


JENNETT: Yeah, if she's been employing a strategy, though, and again, that's the Prime Minister's word for about a month now, that rather suggests that this has all been premeditated and there will be no turning back. It's a matter of record, she's had consultations, at least with Glenn Druery, the political consultant. We know what he specialises in, would you agree there is –


AYRES: That's what it sounds like. But as I say, the ball's in Fatima Payman's court, in Senator Payman's court. She says that she has all of the same values as the Labor Caucus. The amendment, in fact, that we moved in the Senate to that Greens resolution went to all of the questions that Senator Payman's claims were the backdrop to her taking a different voting position to the caucus. The truth is, she hasn't been in the Senate voting with the Labor, with the Labor vote, in what is a tightly contested Senate. She's elected, as am I, as are all of my colleagues in the Labor party, on the basis that we are Labor representatives in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, we don't get elected otherwise. I'm sure I've –


JENNETT: You're humble enough to recognise you wouldn’t have got there -  


AYRES: I've got a big winning country smile, but I think I get there on the basis that I'm on the Labor Party ticket, as did Senator Payman, and that's what the voters of Western Australia would expect.


JENNETT: Which leaves us with one final question about Labor's broader support with Islamic communities and your NSW Labor colleague, Upper House member, Anthony D'Adam, was on this program yesterday. There is undoubtedly deeply held views in western and south-west Sydney on this issue. He said Labor needs to take a stronger position and if we don't, voters are going to look elsewhere. Is that an accurate read of electoral sentiments?


AYRES: I don't accept that's the case, I don't. I know that there is a lot of anxiety in the community about what is a terrible situation in the Middle East. It is a situation that causes great pain to sections of our community. The government's approach here has been the correct approach. We have from the outset condemned the October 7 atrocity. We have called for restraint and for adherence to the rules of war. That means the protection of civilians. We have Penny Wong and the Prime Minister being very clear about opposition to the invasion of Rafah. We have been calling for a ceasefire. We've been consistently on about a two-state solution. Australia is not in the Middle East. We are a respected voice in international affairs. We have the Prime Minister with the Prime Minister of Canada and the Prime Minister in New Zealand has been part of a consistent approach that has called for de-escalation and aid and ceasefire and a two-state solution. More broadly, in the election, we are going to be about cost-of-living relief, tax cuts for every Australian, jobs in manufacturing, energy bill relief, like all the things that matter for the here and now and the big future for particularly outer suburban Sydney, where these manufacturing jobs are going to be.


JENNETT: Not that you've had the clear air you might have wanted this week to discuss those matters, but let's move on to policy now. Always keen to do that on the program. The Future Made in Australia Act sets out a national interest framework to guide what would be $22 billion worth of investments over a decade. One part of the test for taxpayer investment is where the private sector will not deliver the necessary investment in the sector in the absence of government support. What's an example of that? What is an example where the private sector would not otherwise go, were it not for this money?


AYRES: Well, let me give you an example. I think that speaks to the objectives of the act as well as that question. Critical minerals processing, green iron and hydrogen, they do require - if we are to have those industries in Australia where there's tens of billions of dollars of private sector investment, it is going to require a clear signal to the investment community and the big manufacturers that Australia is going to be competitive. That's what the production tax credits that are attached to this package are all about. If we can secure a Future Made in Australia, those industries in particular, that will make an enormous difference to Australia's capacity to compete in the globe, it will make an enormous capacity to our national economic security and our national resilience, and it will deliver thousands and thousands of good quality manufacturing jobs into the regions. We can be competitive in these areas, but if we're going to be competitive, we need a government that's prepared to stand up for the interests of Australia and the interests of Australian manufacturers.


JENNETT: Wouldn't it, by definition, be something of a high-risk investment if the private sector was not prepared to go there without any form of government support?


AYRES: Well, this is the thing. Production tax credits; let's focus on that measure. It is a no-regrets measure. The tax credit only applies for a product that is manufactured in Australia. So, all of the work that has to be done to get to that point, is risk for the private sector. That tax credit only available - tonnes of green iron or tonnes of processed minerals or kilograms of hydrogen produced. That is a win-win for Australia. It means the investment community does well out of a good investment. The government secures investment in Australia and Australians, particularly in our outer suburbs and regions, secure good jobs. Right now, with the Inflation Reduction Act, with countries around the world developing aggressive approaches in this area, we have to compete. This is a train that leaves the station only once, and this government is determined to make sure that Australia has got the competitive framework to deliver good jobs in manufacturing and all of the benefits for our economy that accrue from that.


JENNETT: Now, I appreciate that example that does actually speak to the private sector having to lead the way and the government supporting afterwards. Would Chinese state-owned corporations be eligible to apply for any of these funds?


AYRES: Well, there is no prohibition. There's no prohibition on foreign investment in Australia. The Foreign Investment Review Board has got now clear directions about considering sector by sector and investment by investment, what is in the national interest. And that does go –


JENNETT: Where are they, though? I mean, well, I read them. I don't fully understand what they mean about Chinese state-owned interest.


AYRES: Well, that does go to market concentration, supply chain diversity, supply chain security and a range of these questions. I think the government's been very clear, we've been very clear with our trading partners and our investment partners about what that means. The big development here is about sending a clear market signal to the investment community around the world and the big manufacturers in North Asia, the United States, the European Union, just with big investors from the wind sector in Australia from overseas. Australia is a good place to invest. We've got a competitive framework. A Future Made in Australia means more investment dollars here. That means more jobs, apprenticeships and engineering cadetships for school leavers, a more capable economy. And it means we start to, you know, have the scope to lift national productivity and make sure that we can ensure a prosperous future.


JENNETT: Of course. Well, you do have considerable responsibilities already, Tim Ayres, and we cover a lot of ground when you do. I do note, with the winter break beckoning, that your name keeps coming up in dispatches should there be a mid-winter reshuffle. Are you standing ready for the call?


AYRES: I was told there was a story today that correctly predicts my – correctly assesses my age. I was very, very upset. It was quite confronting to see my own age in the newspaper. Look, you know, this is a government that has for two years - for two years, had a steady focus on what is in the interests of the Australian community. We're not seeking to make, you know, Canberra corridor gossip the centrepiece of what is happening. We are focused on - this week's been a study in contrast, hasn't it, the beginning of the week about the here-and-now, cost of living relief, a tax cut for every single Australian taxpayer, energy bill relief, all of the other cost-of-living measures that are making a difference. At the end of this week, we're about the long-term future and security of the Australian economy, rebuilding our manufacturing sector. That's what the government's focused on. I know that's what the Prime Minister and my colleagues are focused on and I'll be very keen to come back and talk to you about that again over the break.


JENNETT: We always appreciate when you do, Tim Ayres. I ask cheeky questions like that, never fully anticipating an answer because they are difficult to answer. Thanks so much.


AYRES: Thanks, Greg.


JENNETT: Good to have you on.