ABC News with Matthew Doran

19 April 2024


Matthew Doran (HOST):

Well, the Federal Government continues to spruik its plan to make more things in Australia, talking up the prospects of bolstering Australia's critical industries and advanced manufacturing with the aid of taxpayer incentives and subsidies.


The Assistant Trade and Manufacturing Minister, Tim Ayres, has been doing just that in meetings in Southeast Asia, and he joined us a short time ago from Malaysia.


Tim Ayres, welcome back to Afternoon Briefing. I do want to get to the purpose of your visit to Southeast Asia in just a moment, but it would be remiss of me not to ask you about what we're seeing in the Middle East at the moment, and specifically from your department, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, updating its travel advice for Israel in particular, telling Australians to get out if it is safe to get out of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.


That seems to suggest that the Australian Government has a deep fear that this tinder‑box could be ready to explode at any moment.


Tim Ayers, Assistant Trade Minister:

Well, if I could make two points: firstly, it's very important that Australians overseas and Australians intending to travel overseas pay close attention to the DFAT travel advice. You're right that it has been changed in relation to the areas that you've just nominated, and it's important that Australians who have questions get in touch with the Embassy or the DFAT Helpline.


The second point, obviously, is that I'm in Johor in Malaysia, and it's not a matter for me to comment on the situation as it stands now, but of course the Australian Government has been deeply concerned about the implications of, and the risks that miscalculation, the risks relating to conflict in the Middle East.


The approach that the Government has taken has been an approach that's been in Australia's interests, focusing on protecting Australian citizens abroad, focusing on advocating from Australia's role for de-escalation and minimisation of the risk of conflict and working hard on a real focus in the Australian community on making sure that we maintain social cohesion.


Matthew Doran:

We'll move on to the topics that we got you on the program to discuss, and that is primarily your trip to Southeast Asia. You are not only the Assistant Trade Minister, you're also the Assistant Manufacturing Minister, and a big push from the Albanese Government is this Future Made in Australia plan.


You're talking about your colleagues over about things like decarbonisation, about renewable energy. Is this an area that Australia can actively compete with Southeast Asian nations given the cost of doing business in manufacturing in those sort of areas is much, much lower in those countries than it is here in Australia?


Assistant Minister:

Well, not only can we compete, but we can collaborate and deploy Australia's comparative advantage, in renewable energy, in the engineering capabilities that are required for the region's transition to net zero.


This is the fastest growing region of the world, in population terms and economic growth terms; its demand energy, its increasing demand for energy as it goes through the same transition that Australia is going through offers enormous investment and commercial opportunities for Australian firms and for Australian workers.


So, this first of the Southeast Asia business exchange missions that I'm leading here in Malaysia and Singapore is directed towards finding opportunities that support investment ‑ yes, in Southeast Asia, but leading to investment in our suburbs and our regions that lead to good jobs in the renewable energy sector.


The Future Made in Australia agenda, Matt, is absolutely consistent with making sure that Australia projects outwards, looking for the opportunities for growth in the region.


Matthew Doran:

Noting that though, and looking for those opportunities for growth further afield, at home our manufacturing sector will need to be bolstered if we're going to meet the lofty ideals that the Prime Minister has set out.


There was a case in point this week with one major plastics manufacturer going into voluntary administration, Qenos, I hope I'm pronouncing that correctly, going into administration in Victoria. Doesn't that show just how perilous the manufacturing sector is in Australia and the fact that we're coming from a pretty low base here?


Assistant Minister:

Well, it underscores the urgency of the task that's in front of the Government. That's why the Government's setting out the Future Made in Australia agenda.


We came to Government with the biggest industrial policy agenda of any incoming government in Australian post‑war history. We are absolutely focused on the Future Made in Australia agenda, making sure that Australia is competing in the global race for jobs, in what the Prime Minister describes as the new competition.


It is absolutely vital that we secure investment in new manufacturing, particularly in the renewable sector, particularly in critical minerals, particularly in those priority areas that the Prime Minister's set out that are in the national interest to build industrial capability.


Now it's a task, it's an important national task, it requires smart industry policy, a smart approach to competition, Government working hand‑in‑hand with the private sector, and it's absolutely consistent with us projecting outwards with confidence in the region with our comparative advantage in renewable energy, in mining and resources, in engineering in a way that's future proofing the Australian economy.


Matthew Doran:

Apologies for almost cutting you off there, Senator. There has been a bit of criticism levelled at the proposal so far from a number of economists, including the head of the Productivity Commission, Danielle Wood, saying that without this sort of scheme being properly targeted, appropriate guardrails being put in place, that this could actually have a detrimental effect on the economy; noting some of your colleagues have rejected that sort of criticism, but has the Government sort of left the door open to it being hit with those sort of critiques because we do have such little detail about how this sort of proposal would work. We're continually being told, "Wait for the budget, wait for further announcements down the track".


Assistant Minister:

Well, I don't want to disappoint you, Matt, but I'm not going to reveal further detail ‑‑


Matthew Doran:

You can always reveal further detail on Afternoon Briefing, you know you've got an open invitation to do that.


Assistant Minister:

As tempting as that is, there is more detail to come, there will be further detail in the lead‑up to and including the budget, and that will of course address the appropriate targeting, making sure that it's focused on the national interest questions and the comparative advantage questions that of course the head of the Productivity Commission was referring to in her comments.


I have to say, some of the other criticism is predictable, it's banal, it comes from the same voices who've been talking Australian industry down. You know, when they were in Government, I remember the Minister for Defence Procurement who said that Australia couldn't build a canoe; the Government, the previous Abbott and Turnbull Governments forcing the auto industry offshore.


We've got a government in the Albanese Government that is on the side of manufacturing capability and a modern industry policy that's about building industry capacity for the future, and all of that, all of that effort, all of that investment is directed towards our outer suburbs and our regional economies that have got the capability and the workforce and the comparative advantage to do this work.


This is really important national interest work here, and I'm really looking forward to the coming weeks and months as we announce further policy but set about the process of implementing that in the national interest, and the interests of rebuilding our manufacturing capability.


Matthew Doran:

And no doubt we'll talk about that with you when you are back in the country. Tim Ayres from Malaysia. Thanks for joining us.


Assistant Minister:

Really good to be with you, Matt.