ABC Western Plains

04 April 2024



Nick Lowther, Host: Senator Tim Ayres joins us for today, the Assistant Minister for Trade. Senator, good morning.



Senator Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Oh, g'day, Nick, and thank you for letting me sit online and have a listen to the local paper roundup. It's a really good reminder of how important those papers are. The little town I grew up in, the Glen Innes Examiner, was absolutely critical for the community, and it's good to see those papers out there working hard. The people who work for them do a really good job, and I'm really pleased to see your profiling them that way.



Nick: Well, many papers, of course, talking about the renewable energy change, many communities that are feeling like this is going at a very rapid rate. Now, there are two things that people are talking about in our communities Senator. That's, first of all, the use of agricultural land and how much is being covered by solar farms, wind farms, et cetera. And of course, the other big question for a lot of communities is that these construction areas are pushing rental prices up considerably and motel accommodation. From a Federal Government point of view, is the pace going quick enough or will it get quicker?



Senator Ayres: Well, this is the biggest economic and industrial change in the globe since the industrial revolution. It is a change where 97% of Australia's trading partners have net zero targets. Just like Australia, we've seen 24 coal fired power stations announce their closure over the course of the last decade. That is going to require a very significant investment in both renewable energy capability, in storage and in distribution. And it's going to require leadership from the Federal Government in policy terms to make sure that Australia captures the benefits of this. That is, low-cost energy driving all of the onshore manufacturing benefits that we should accrue. Now, all of those benefits, you know, we don't build big new factories and power stations in the inner city, where there's factories and manufacturing will be in the outer suburbs and in the regions all over regional Australia, whether it's hydrogen, green iron, all of these very significant economic opportunities including regional Australia. So, we've established the Net Zero Economy Authority to make sure that we capture these opportunities, that we secure economic development, that we secure the good jobs and investment that comes with that, and that we coordinate that work effectively.



Nick: So, back to the question, will that get quicker? Will we see more? I think that's the alarm that people tend to raise is that people are aware there's going to be renewable energy projects, but they're seeing this now at a rapid rate, almost like it's, you know, bit of sudden, ‘oh, my goodness, we need to do this a lot quicker.’ Will it get quicker, is the question?



Senator Ayres: Well, I think both things need to happen. It's certainly the pace of these developments. If you look at the developments that are slated for your region, there are that, you know, for example, in Dubbo, there's this Dubbo firming power station that is proposed to be operated by Squadron Energy. That will be a very significant development. But also, as you've seen, the government has commissioned a review into the consultation arrangements.



Nick: Okay, so a review into those arrangements, that's really what a lot of people come down to, to say they feel like they're not being- well, if anything, Senator, I'll put to you a lot of what people put to us is they feel like they're being gaslighted, that it's not a form of consultation, it's a form of a decision made, and that decision is presented back to communities in question form of a decision that is already made. And these people are coming to us to say, well, we feel like the decision's already made and we're just being presented the consultation on the decision.



Senator Ayres: Well, I think that's right. This government is working with the consultation arrangements that were set up by the Morrison, Abbott and Turnbull governments. That's why we commissioned a review, and we'll work through making sure that those consultation arrangements do what they need to do. We need to get a balance right here. Regional communities need to be consulted, share in the benefits of these developments, but also, we need to get on with it. There is important work here that needs to be done. And on one hand, it is absolutely legitimate for regional communities, for rural landholders, to say, we want to be consulted properly, but it's also absolutely legitimate for country towns and regional centres to say, we want economic development in the regions. We want the critical minerals mines. We want the renewable energy jobs. We want the manufacturing jobs that come with this big economic transition. Now, we can achieve both of these things by working together, by seizing the opportunity and the advantage. The alternative, of course, is we just let the world go by us. That we miss those opportunities. I think we agree, Nick, that both of these objectives need to be delivered on. One is consultation, the other is economic development.



Nick: I think, Senator, the other part that people are putting to us today is that we will provide the land for this power, lots of land, it will be there for the next 50 years. Many people talk about in the Hunter Valley, you can have a gigantic coal mine and one of the worst roads sitting beside it. The money returned from these renewable plants, they have private ownership, private ownership to come back into the power grid. But the community investment, has the Federal Government got a realistic plan of what these power plants need to do to reinvest in community? Because really the amount of workers will drop off once the construction goes and, you know, that workforce will ease back again. But those roads sitting beside hospitals, et cetera, will we see financial benefit for communities that are handing over a fair chunk of land for solar projects or wind projects?



Senator Ayres: Well, three points here. Firstly, of course, we should, and we will, make sure that the economic benefits are shared. There are good examples and bad examples of that. And where the windfarm projects or solar projects have worked in well with communities, there have been very good outcomes for local communities. Secondly, there are good and bad examples of sharing land use. A lot of the propaganda, if I can put it that way, the negative propaganda that's been circulated overstates the amount of land that is required for these kinds of projects. But there are some good examples of shared use operations that have operated to the benefit of agriculture, but also of the renewable energy sector. The third point, I think the most important point here is what is low-cost renewable energy there to achieve? It's there to achieve not just low-cost, low-emissions energy for households, but low-cost, low-emissions energy for manufacturing. And the Albanese government's ambition here, this is why we've got a $15 billion national reconstruction fund, $20 billion rewiring the nation fund, is to deploy public and private capital to secure new manufacturing for Australia. You know, we've seen over the course of the last four decades, manufacturing jobs offshore to low-cost destinations overseas. This economic transition is our opportunity to rebuild Australian manufacturing. That's why the Net Zero Economy Authority is charged with this role. So, absolutely, the issues that you've been talking to me about, getting the balance right in terms of consultation and development, but the objective here is to build a manufacturing capability for Australia that will be in the region, that will create good jobs for young school leavers in country towns and regional centres, in trades or engineering roles, and rebuild Australia's manufacturing capability. Make sure that we've got a future made in Australia as we chart our way through the next, you know, the next decades ahead of us.



Nick: Well, hopefully we can grab you again. I know you've been always readily available to speak to us about these matters. Running out of time for today, but we'll speak to you more about this. Lots of questions that always pop up from our community. And thank you for answering those today. Senator Tim Ayres, much appreciated.



Senator Ayres: Really happy to talk to you, Nick. See you soon.



Nick: Talk to you later on.