ABC Western Plains with James Findlay

21 June 2024


JAMES FINDLAY, HOST: Labor Senator Tim Ayres is the Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing. Good morning to you, Senator. Look, the transition to renewables is taking longer than expected. People are struggling to pay their power bills. Do you recognise that some Australians are feeling a bit frustrated and might be seeking an alternative option?


SENATOR TIM AYRES: Oh, well, James, the first thing I should say is, welcome to ABC Central West. I understand this is your first day.


JAMES FINDLAY: It is, thank you.


SENATOR AYRES: First day job nerves. It's a fantastic part of the world where you're broadcasting to. I grew up a bit North of there, in Glen Innes in the Northwest. Always feel better when I'm going over the top of the Great Dividing Range. So, welcome to the region.


Jim Chalmers described this the other day as the dumbest policy idea by an Australian Opposition ever. I think it was Jim being, characteristically, far too polite. If you got a group of scientists and policy experts together in some Russian lab to design a policy that would harm Australia's exports, that would reduce our international competitiveness, that would push up costs for households and business, that would push manufacturing offshore and would be risky, including risky to our national security, you couldn't design it better than Peter Dutton and Barnaby Joyce and David Littleproud have designed it. This is bad policy. It's bad on costs. You said in your introduction that the Coalition would promise to deliver this by 2035. There is no chance that this risky, costly strategy, all of the costs borne by taxpayers, would ever be [on] time for Australia to meet its Net Zero targets that are important for our economy.


JAMES FINDLAY: Whether that's the case or not, there is a softening of support for nuclear. This is what Tony Barry at Redbridge told Patricia Karvelas on RN Breakfast yesterday.


TONY BARRY: People are still very committed to it on environmental grounds, climate change and sustainability. But there are increasing concerns about whether it's going to be cheap. In fact, in a recent poll we did about do we think that the current transition process is pushing up prices, 55% agreed. So, very strong support for that proposition. So, the Government is vulnerable on that. And I think they're guilty, and I think the renewable energy sector is guilty of not prosecuting the case.


JAMES FINDLAY: So, doesn't this suggest that you, the Government, hasn't done a good enough job at getting people on board with renewables if they're starting to look elsewhere?


SENATOR AYRES: Well, if I can say, just gently and respectfully, that this Government isn't going to make decisions about Australia's energy policy mix on the basis of a few opinion polls. This is far too serious. We are going to focus on the facts. And you're right, we have to keep communicating, keep talking to regional communities in particular about these issues. This is a task that we have embarked upon, a transformation of the Australian economy that is going to take time. 97% of our trading partners have their own Net Zero targets themselves. So, we have to focus on the costs and the facts. The facts with nuclear are that even in economies overseas that have established nuclear industries, new nuclear is not only costly, but the costs blow out enormously. In the United States, where the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor is, the first nuclear facility that's been built in the United States for decades is at the site where that meltdown happened at Three Mile Island in the late 1970s. A nuclear meltdown. It started at $35 billion. It is seven years delayed. It's now $53 billion and counting. That's one facility in an economy that has an established nuclear industry. I mean, the costs are absolutely astronomic, and they will be borne by households and taxpayers and business. And yes, we will explain that to people. I'll be very happy to explain that to people all the way up to the next election. This is just on the cost basis alone, a terrible idea, a risky proposition, not just laden with risk, but laden with certain disaster for the Australian economy.


JAMES FINDLAY: It's 7:52 AM on ABC Western Plains. I'm James Findlay and with you is Senator Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing. You keep making the points here. You're saying these are facts. It'll be costly, it won't be done in time. But how do you plan on changing the perception of people before the next election? Because you did say we're not going to change our policy just based on a few opinion polls. But if that's what people are thinking about when they're going to the polls before next, maybe you got to do something differently.


SENATOR AYRES: Right, James, I'm very confident that when the facts for Australians are laid out about a dangerous, economically high cost, where we squander our natural advantages in solar and wind, with cheap renewable power to power Australian industry and households, to squander that advantage, where we trash our economic capability, we force manufacturing offshore, damage our position, particularly with our new neighbours and push costs up for an uncosted plan. Peter Dutton released something the other day that is a page. I mean, the guy who, from the Party that couldn't build dodgy commuter car parks, they expect Australians to believe that they should adopt an uncosted, risky nuclear fantasy plan. I mean, it is too silly for words. I am very confident that we will keep working through explaining this and we are making steady progress in the transformation of the Australian energy system. Of course, there are issues along the way. It is a very significant project, but it is in the interest of Australian households and Australian business that we get on with this job. The biggest sovereign risk facing the Australian economy at the moment is Peter Dutton and David Littleproud. That is the biggest challenge facing the future of Australian industry. And, as the Assistant Minister who is responsible for promoting our manufacturing sector, I know how much of an economic disaster this proposition is. It has just got disinvestment written all over it. It's a job killer for Australian industry, particularly in the regions and country towns.


JAMES FINDLAY: Senator, it's great to talk to you. No doubt we'll be talking to you again in the not-too-distant future, maybe even on this.


SENATOR AYRES: Good on you, James. Speak to you soon.


JAMES FINDLAY: That is Senator Tim Ayres there, the Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing.