Outback Radio 2WEB

04 October 2023


Rod Corfe, Host: Senator Tim Ayres, how are you doing today?

Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing:  Mate, I’m very good, Rod. Good to be on your show. And as I always say, it’s always good to have a bit of Outback Radio country music on before an interview. That’s very good. It’s better than what I get here in the city sometimes.

Rod Corfe: And, of course, you’re Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing. Senator Ayres, how is that portfolio going?

Assistant Minister: Well, we’re making – we’re making real progress here. We’ve got, first of all, on the manufacturing side $15 billion in the National Reconstruction Fund committed that is going to be there for rebuilding Australian manufacturing. Making sure that good Australian ideas, good Australian inventions, like Wi-Fi and solar PV, aren’t commercialised offshore, that we’re in the business of making sure that we’re going up the value chain here in Australia and creating good jobs in our outer suburbs and in regional towns.

On the trade front, Rod, we are making steady progress. We’re locked into negotiations with the European Union over the final stages of that round of negotiations. It’s a very important agreement for Australia – 450 million consumers in the European Union. It’s an important market and it should be an important market for our agriculture and critical minerals and our services and manufactured goods. We are still engaged in discussions with India over the next phase of the India Free Trade Agreement, the comprehensive agreement that has been the objective of governments over several decades. And we are working very hard in discussions with the Indians, you know, with the Indian government, about that.

We are continuing to advance our trade agenda, stabilising relations with China. More broadly on the trade front where there are still, despite recent improvements, removing impediments around barley, in particular, which is a good development for Australian agriculture, there is still some progress to make there. We are just working away hard on all these issues in the interests of Australian businesses and Australian workers.

Rod Corfe: And how difficult is that negotiation with, in particular, China, getting that relationship on a more steady basis?

Assistant Minister: Well, what you have to do is to be purposeful and strategic and focused on the national interest at all times. That’s the key here, making sure that we’re, in a calm and deliberate way, working through those issues in the national interest. Now, the truth is that there are some structural challenges there in the relationship with China and in the region. And we seek, more broadly, to work with like-minded countries in the region, with our neighbours, to build a region that is not capable of being dominated by one power and where no one power dominates, where the countries in the region cooperate. And that includes over economic and trade matters.

So we are very focused, yes, on working through those questions with China. I mean, none of those trade impediments should have been imposed on Australian businesses. The best time to remove the remaining trade impediments was yesterday, of course. We are going to continue to work through that, but also working through our trade diversification agenda.

Across the Southeast Asian region, you’ve seen the government launch the Southeast Asia Economic Strategy with important markets like India and the European Union. Making sure beyond diversifying our markets we're diversifying Australia’s product and goods and service exports to the world. Moving up the value chain.

That is the objective here – diversifying markets and diversifying products so we secure Australia’s economic position. And that’s what’s in the interests of businesses, particularly export businesses. And it’s what’s in the interests of farmers and agricultural exporters. And it's what’s in the interests of workers and the national interest more broadly.

So we’re very focused on this, doing it in a calm, workman-like way. We’re not a government that’s going to be flashy and do things that are about headlines within Australia, playing for domestic political advantage. We are going to work through these things in the national interest in a very calm and hard-working kind of way.

Rod Corfe: I think one of the most important things is that we get a feeling that they like us and we actually like them.

Assistant Minister: Well, the relations within the region are really important. You’ve seen what, for example, the work that has been led by Penny Wong and Pat Conroy, our Minister for the Pacific, in the Pacific islands. Amongst that group of states stretched across the big blue Pacific. The work that has been done – I’ve give you two examples – the work that has been achieved in agricultural cooperation, in the interests of those Pacific states and around fisheries, means that we boost their incomes and boost their economic capacity. And that is important for lifting their resilience, lifting their confidence and national self-determination.

The second example I’ll give you is one a bit more close to home – the work that Pat Conroy is leading, working with the National Rugby League on building support for a Papua New Guinea team in the National Rugby League. That is really important work. It’s terrific for rugby league. Australians will welcome a new team from Papua New Guinea in the rugby league. It will be a terrific addition to the competition. But it’s also an investment in diplomacy. It’s an investment in people-to-people relations, and there is no part of Papua New Guinea from Port Moresby, to Lae, through to remote highland towns and villages where rugby league is not played. It will be a very important development.

We’re working away at all of these things, both at the top table level with Anthony Albanese representing Australia at meetings like the G20 with world leaders and at the direct people-to-people relations and the economic relationships to make sure that we build a stronger and more peaceful region, because that’s in the interests of Australia in the long term.

Rod Corfe: We’re hearing from Senator Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing. Lets go to the current climate and the threat of natural disaster. We’re already seeing the fire season get well underway in southern parts of New South Wales.

Assistant Minister: Well, it certainly is. And I feel really for those people in the South Coast of New South Wales and in Gippsland, Victoria. Those communities experienced the worst of the 2020 bushfires, and it will be – it will be making them feel very apprehensive and fearful now seeing large fires like the one that has just burnt out many thousands of hectares of country down there.

I was on the Mid North Coast launching a disaster recovery agency local office in Port Macquarie the other day, and it struck me that in August and September of 2019, we were having the same early fires. The climate is changing. We are having hotter and drier summers, but also increasingly dry winter spells coming into a dry spring, and it is creating dangerous early conditions for bushfires.

So, as a community the message is all the preparation work that you and your community can do, that’s important. The work of the state governments here is really important. And what you’ll find in the Federal Government is we are putting a hand up. The Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt, is also the Minister for Agriculture, is very actively engaged with the states and territories to have a cooperative approach. We won’t go missing here. We are determined to not point the finger when things go wrong, but work together to achieve the best possible outcome.

There are more than 500 aircraft dedicated to the bush firefighting efforts. Money is already allocated to be ready there for disaster relief. We are as a government, the Albanese Government in this area, Murray Watt doing all of the legwork, making sure we do everything that we can conceivably do to prepare for this fire season.

Rod Corfe: That’s good news for everybody. Now let’s move to the other hot topic at the moment, and that is the Voice. The Opposition keep saying people need to know what they’re voting for. Isn’t that the point? What the people are voting for, what we’re going to be asked to vote yes or no on is to give the Parliament, the Opposition and the government, the right to work out how a voice will be designed. That’s what the polling on the 14th of October is about. We are going yes or no whether to give you all the right to organise a voice.

Assistant Minister: Well, that’s exactly right. And to do that for future governments. It’s a very simple amendment to the constitution. And, of course, it is disingenuous of Peter Dutton and the Liberals and Nationals to pretend that sufficient information hasn’t been provided. There are provisions in the constitution that go to the rights of states, to the Commonwealth having a defence power, for example. There is no detail in the constitution about how much proportion of Commonwealth expenditures or GDP should be there for defence. It doesn’t specify whether it should be weighted towards naval expenditure or infantry expenditure because a constitution is a document that is designed for the centuries, not for the political cycle.

What is being proposed here is a very simple proposition – that there be a voice, essentially a committee elected by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from all over Australia that represents them to the Federal Government and the Parliament. It is a very simple, very modest proposition. And we know that we get better outcomes when you listen to people. And the issues here in outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are so tough and so sustained. There is really a choice that people are going to have on October 14 whether we make a change and give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people a voice to lead to better outcomes or we just vote for more of the same.

Rod Corfe: And voting for more of the same, the cost, what does that mean. If we stay doing what we’re doing, is the cost going to get less or is it going to get more?

Assistant Minister: Well, I was listening to the Prime Minister the other day about this, and I think that he’s right – what is being proposed here is a voice. And with a voice comes responsibility. With a voice comes better decision-making. Now, that should lead to more efficient outcomes. This is why there are many Liberals out there like Julian Leeser, like a series of the state leaders, who are making the argument for a Yes vote. Because what they see here is the recognition issues as being primary but also they see the role for the Voice in terms of not just making the argument but also taking responsibility and also the economic efficiency arguments that are attached to that.

Now, Peter Dutton and the majority of the Liberals and Nationals in the Federal Parliament have gone to the other side of the argument, are making the case for no. And the problem –I respect the fact that this is a referendum where people don’t vote with their party hat on. You might be a conservative voter and you can vote yes or no. You might be a Labor voter and you can vote yes or no. That's what a constitutional referendum debate is. People don’t have to bring their party identification to it, and I respect the fact that there are – and I’ve listened carefully to my colleagues in the Liberals and Nationals in the Senate who have made arguments for the No case. But the problem is that the No case has been overtaken by extremism that looks a lot like the kind of extremism that you see overseas, particularly in the hard right extremists in the United States where they will say anything or do anything. They will say things that they know are not true in order to try and create fear and division in the community. And Peter Dutton has, instead of condemning this imported extremism, has embraced it.

And I think it’s important that Australians get the right information, they get the facts and they make a vote – they vote according to their judgement about this proposition. It is a pity that Peter Dutton has embraced the most extreme arguments where you’ve got people like Clive Palmer and Pauline Hanson and Gary Johns, and all these characters who are prepared to say anything and do anything in order to try and create division. And when the division is created, they complain that the referendum is divisive. They’re sort of gaslighting Australians about the issues in the referendum. And I hope that the next – what have we got in front of us, Rod, a week and a half before Saturday the 14th, I think that Australians will focus more and more closely on what the actual question is and what the actual issues are rather than some of the fear and division that’s been stoked by the extreme parts of the No campaign.

Rod Corfe: Yeah, divide and destroy. Now, let’s link a couple of these topics together – rugby league and the Voice. Jonathan Thurston, who has been now put into the Hall of Fame, has come out supporting the Voice.

Assistant Minister: Yeah, he – look, Jonathan’s been a fantastic – he’s a fantastic rugby league player, but he is been an advocate for the Voice for some time. And he’s also been an advocate for community development in Queensland for working with young boys and girls in rugby league, and he knows the power of community organisation and community sport. So he’s a credible voice out there from the rugby league community. You would have seen, of course, Nathan Cleary after the grand final, which was a terrific – just put aside the Voice for a second – it was some of the best football I’ve ever seen. Nathan Cleary come out in a statement supporting the Voice as well. And I think what we are seeing is community leaders and people at the grassroots and people in community sport who recognise how important the Voice could be for achieving practical outcomes for their communities.

Rod Corfe: Right. It was a great game of rugby league. Did you get to see much of the AFL as well?

Assistant Minister: I saw the last half of the AFL. I got, and it was terrific as well. We’re so lucky in Australia, aren’t we, to have all these codes of football. I didn’t grow up with Aussie Rules, but since I’ve come to Sydney I’ve seen a bit of it. I’ve got, the rugby league on Sunday was absolutely fantastic. The AFL, the game see-sawed backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, before Collingwood finally prevailed. We are so lucky. When you think about what the last couple of months have been like, the Matildas and the women’s football, the Aussie rules and the rugby league, and spare a thought for our blokes out there in the Wallabies who are, having a pretty tough World Cup. But by and large this has been a terrific couple of months of Australian sport. We’re very, very lucky. And we’ve got men’s and women’s teams in all of these codes now that all of us can support.

Rod Corfe: And I’d better let you go. Thank you for your time this morning.

Assistant Minister: Good on you, Rod. Good to talk to you. Good to talk to your listeners. See you later.