ABC Newcastle, NSW Mornings with Paul Turton

24 July 2023


Paul Turton, Host: Senator Tim Ayres is the Federal Minister for Manufacturing and joins us on ABC Newcastle this morning. Senator, thanks for doing that and good morning.

Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Total pleasure, Paul. Good to talk to you.

Paul Turton: You've been a strong advocate for manufacturing, not just in this region, of course, but you have taken an interest in Newcastle and its locomotive manufacturing history.

Assistant Minister: Well, that's right. And no community has been hurt more by decisions to offshore rail manufacturing than Newcastle and the Hunter Valley. We in this region make the best trains in the world, Newcastle at Broadmeadow and Cardiff in particular. But all of those smaller manufacturing firms in the supply chain that support those big head contractors been making trains for Australian city and regional networks for decade after decade.

What the Liberal Government of NSW did, of course, was send all that work offshore, billions of dollars worth of opportunity gone, thousands of jobs lost, hundreds of apprenticeship opportunities never realised. And, of course, what did they end up with? They ended up with trains that came late, projects that ran massively over budget, with quality problems that are still being fixed by Australian engineers now. Trains that weren't right for the Australian specifications, we've got to do better than that. We've got to have governments that actually believe in Australian manufacturing, believe in the capacity and capability of Australia and Australians to do this kind of work here.

Paul Turton: Senator, the governments of both persuasions have turned their backs on Australian workers and purchased major contracts from overseas. Is it always just about the money?

Assistant Minister: Well, they're short-sighted decisions to take, the promises that are made during tendering and procurement processes for lower cost offshore. Inevitably, the last State Government got mugged several times in a row. And part of the problem here was they really sort of revelled in the opportunity to try and demonstrate, in a sort of sloganeering kind of way, their commitment to lowering cost by just giving up on Australian manufacturing and sending their work offshore.

We're going to take a different approach. It's one of my jobs here, is to focus on rail manufacturing, to focus on the good work that is happening in each of the states. It's good to see NSW now with a renewed commitment to local manufacturing, but to work together with the states to deliver, yes, local manufacturing and opportunities, but also to make sure that we're putting downward pressure on cost by lifting the scale, getting more people engaged, putting downward pressure on the cost, delivering Australian designed products for Australian conditions. Make sure that we get the scale to produce all of our passenger rail here, but also get into freight rail. A lot of that work has been sent offshore as well.

And make sure that Australian firms are able to engage with the big opportunities internationally to get into international supply chains for components. Let's work together to deliver a better result for everybody here, for workers, for taxpayers and for the travelling public.

Paul Turton: Senator, you made some observations earlier about the quality of the Australian designs and the craftsmanship involved. Do we know that for sure? Can we compete on an ideas basis with other countries?

Assistant Minister: I know it for sure because I've spent my life in these workshops, going into factories where you can see the superior craftsmanship and design. The way that we work together to produce a high-quality result. And we know it, in particular, in the Hunter Valley because so many tradespeople from the Hunter Valley have been engaged, rewelding, doing fixer-upper jobs on carriages and locomotives that have arrived from overseas that haven't met Australian specifications. We can do it right and do it right first time in Australia. There is a very significant cost savings result from that, but better quality.

And of course, we get thousands of job opportunities and heaps of opportunities for young school leavers, these are the people we really should be looking after here. Young people who are leaving school, who should be looking at all of the opportunities that there are in trades jobs and engineering jobs. We've got a big job here to rebuild Australian manufacturing capability for what's going to be a pretty challenging couple of decades ahead.

Paul Turton: Tim Ayres, have we still got the skills? There was talk, of course, when boat manufacturer or shipping manufacturer in this region died. The unions referred to it as a valley of death, where you lose the skills and have difficulty recapturing them. Are we at that stage with locomotive manufacturing as well?

Assistant Minister: Well, there's an enormous opportunity there. And every time big projects have come to the Hunter, the community unions and business have rallied together to deliver. Thousands of people engaged in shipbuilding up until, I suppose, six or seven years ago. Thousands of people engaged in rail manufacturing. Of course, it is the energy centre of Australia, the Hunter Valley, where there are just tens of thousands of jobs in mining and power generation. There is heaps of capacity there.

We just got to work together to make sure we deliver it. I'm very confident that if the Hunter Valley or the rest of regional New South Wales is given the opportunity to do this work, they'll find a way to deliver it. We've got the skilled people, but what we need to do is to train young Australians, give them good job opportunities to work in the kind of jobs that will support families and provide good work for young Australians.

Paul Turton: Minister, what happens today memorandum of understanding comes out of this or what's the strategy?

Assistant Minister: There'll be no sort of communiques or letters that we write to each other. What it is, is an opportunity to reaffirm the Government's commitment to talk directly to industry, to talk directly to the firms that we need to collaborate together. The key message here is, rather than dividing people up and losing confidence in Australian manufacturing, let's get manufacturers, let's get the State Governments who are the people who build and buy trains, let's get the unions and industry all together to make sure that we are regularly collaborating to get a better result. Get the design community, our universities, our engineers together. Let's work together to deliver a better result. Local manufacturing, lower cost, higher quality and safety.

Paul Turton: Senator Ayres. Thanks so much.