Outback Radio 2WEB with Rod Corfe

13 November 2023


Rod Corfe (Host): Senator Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing. How are you today?


Senator Ayres: I'm good mate. Really good to be on the show. I understand it was pretty hot yesterday.


Rod Corfe: Yes. 41° at the airport at North Burke, but at home, my next-door neighbor has a thermometer in the tree and under a tree even, and it was 46 degrees in Burke by that reading, so yeah, warming up.


Senator Ayres: That's pretty hot.


Rod Corfe: And did it get hot in Canberra?


Senator Ayres: It was pretty warm here yesterday, but nothing like that, I mean it just shows, you know, it is going to be hot and dry summer, challenging conditions for our farming community and regional communities. As we discussed last time, we are as a Federal Government ready to assist in terms of that what's going to be a pretty challenging fire season. I know, farming communities or regional communities have been working as hard as they can to get prepared, but everybody should follow the directions and keep listening to local radio and make sure they're keeping themselves safe this summer.


Rod Corfe: Absolutely. And a couple of things we need to focus on this morning, the Coalition, you say refuse to work in our national interests?


Senator Ayres: Well, it has been a pretty disappointing week in the Senate last week, there's a series of pieces of legislation here that really matter for the future of the country; key national energy security questions around the management of particularly gas and offshore gas developments, which are crucial for our economic development, but also for our relationship with our particularly North Asian trading partners like Korea and Japan. The Opposition, you know, often are out there sloganeering about and claiming they're strongly in support of it, but they didn't vote for it last week, when given the opportunity. Key issues in terms of our national security around counterterrorism legislation is still sitting there, delayed and laying in the Parliament as another piece of legislation. We've just ended up in a world where we've got an opposition that's determined only play the negative politics, you know, not to act in the national interest. This is one of the key tests, you know, when you're opposition, whether you vote Labor or for the National Party, or the Liberal Party, people will have seen when we were in opposition last term, whether it was around the COVID issues, or national security issues, Anthony Albanese, lead an opposition that was determined to act like we were a government. Even if we weren't fully in support of a proposition, or it wasn't something that we would have developed ourselves, where it was in the national interest to come together in the Parliament, and support it, we did. We had a strong track record of doing it. And I think that's what people want to see in the parliament. They want to see parliamentarians working together in the national interest, and we're going to keep the focus on that and keep having a handout for every opportunity to work across the Parliament to get legislation through and to act in the interest of Australians.


Rod Corfe: There are some that would say that the Coalition are just a one trick pony. Just say no. And that may have worked for Tony Abbott. But will it work in the future?


Senator Ayres: Well, it was the Abbott strategy, and you can see a bit of that in what's going on in the logjam that there is in American politics as well. This strain of conservative thinking that is, you know, very extreme, not focused on solutions, but focused on sort of Culture Wars stuff where you roam around looking for an argument, rather than a solution and you focus on the things that divide people rather than the things that get people working together. I think, though, that Australians are pretty sick of that. You know, they've seen it, they saw it with Tony Abbott, they saw it with Scott Morrison, they saw the dysfunction of the sort of Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison period where just nothing got done. There's a lot of arguments but nothing got done. They want to see the parliament act in a different kind of way and that means there's a responsibility on government which we're keen to take on, always act in the national interest and we're not immune from criticism. You know, we will absolutely be upfront with the Australian people, but they expect it from the other participants in the political process as well and I think that's what Australians want. There's a real challenge for us and continuing to deliver that, but the other side of politics now they're just all about the no, they haven't said yes to any piece of reform that's come to the Parliament, all of the cost of living measures, you know, that we've implemented, whether it's in electricity or gas prices, fixing up Medicare, pushing childcare prices down, all of these measures that the Treasury has said it kept half a percentage point off inflation, it kept the cost of living lower, yet the Coalition voted against. They can't claim to be serious about the interests of ordinary Australians and the cost of living if they're voting against all the measures that have put downward pressure on the cost of living. Now I know, cost of living has been going up to be it's a big pressure. But we are working as hard as we can, as the Government put downward pressure on prices, and wherever we've acted, we've had Peter Dutton and the Liberals and Nationals in the way trying to try and stop that happening.


Rod Corfe: We're hearing from the Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing. Senator Tim Ayres, talking about the cost of living. The National Party started yesterday or on Saturday, in regard to the cost of beef, is there anything the Federal Government can do in relation to getting the cost of beef down?


Senator Ayres: Well, I noticed particularly, I've heard from constituents about the big gap between the price of lamb that people are getting in saleyards and the price of lamb in our supermarkets, the same dynamics in terms of what's happening with the national beef herd and there are big challenges here. We are moving into what looks like an El Nino event, where there's going to be a lot of pressure on the beef and sheep herds. With the size of the national herd that is going to have an impact on prices for farmers bringing stock to market, whether it's for abattoirs, or for the sale yards, and it's going to mean pressure on consumers. We are going to make sure that all the tools that are there at the Government's disposal, whether through the ACCC or other mechanisms are out there to make sure that consumers and producers are getting a fair shake. But there is no doubt we are entering another challenging period for Australian agriculture. For my part, me and the senior Minister in this area, Don Farrell, in the trade area, our job is to fight hard for access to markets overseas for Australian agriculture, we have to keep doing that. We've just had a major event in trade policy where because the European Union wasn't able to offer a fair dinkum deal for Australian agriculture, talks around that agreement have stopped. We've demonstrated, I think, to Australian agriculture, that we're fighting hard in the interest of agriculture, farmers, and country communities more broadly on the international stage, and we're going to keep that up.


Rod Corfe: All right, quickly, a review of the Prime Minister's trip to China?


Senator Ayres: Well, it's obviously an important step along the way to stabilising the relationship with China. This is an important bilateral relationship. It is it is our largest trading partner. It is also a relationship where there will be areas of agreement and cooperation, but there will be areas of disagreement. What the new Government has done is make it really clear we are going to approach this relationship in the national interest in a serious and careful way by calmly and consistently advocating for the national interest. The old mantra, cooperate where we can and disagree where we must, has characterised the Government's approach, but it's also about dialogue. We have put a primacy on dialogue. This is the Prime Minister's second meeting with the leadership in China, with President Xi and others. Traveling to China was an important opportunity for more dialogue, an important area to advocate on the trade relationship, but also to talk about the difficult and challenging things in the relationship and advocate clearly, calmly, consistently, and strongly in the Australian national interest.  I think that's what their trips achieved.  It was also an opportunity in Shanghai, the Prime Minister and the Trade Minister were there with 250 Australian businesses that export to China, they would employ 1000s and 1000s of Australians and most of them in regional communities. It just shows how important this work on trade and international relations is, it's all about our future security, a future peace and security of our region, but it's also about good jobs in regional communities that flow from trade opportunities. The Government has been very serious about approaching these issues in the Australian national interest and in the interest in particular regional communities.


Rod Corfe: There's been a campaign launched in Western New South Wales, our towns say no to water buybacks at a number of councils, half dozen councils in the outback. What's the Federal Government's view on this?


Senator Ayres: Well, the challenge, of course, for the government is we have come to government after a decade where nothing happened in the implementation of the Murray Darling Plan. The Plan that everybody agrees is the framework for managing very challenging issues about water, competition for water resources in regional Australia. Nothing happened over the course of the last decade The Plan was supposed to deliver 450 gigalitres of additional water in the system. It has delivered 2. The last Government just took their hands off the wheel, now that means that it's up to this Government to act and the legislation that is going through the parliament is establishing a platform for further action. But it does delay some of the delivery timetables, it does give the community time and a framework to work through those issues. Water buybacks, of course, are always voluntary under this approach and I know the Water Minister, Tanya Plibersek, is listening very carefully to the discussion. I'll just say to members of the community who are concerned about these issues, we as a government understand the economic and social, as well as the environmental and other questions here. We as a government are listening very closely, it is not an option to continue with another decade, just like the last decade where nothing happens where the health of the river system continues to decay That's not in the interests of the environment but it's also not in the interest of agriculture to have the health of the river system collapse. The Government is going to act here in a careful and responsible way, we'll work with the Local Councils, Traditional Owner groups, environment groups, unions and companies and workers, who are dependent upon this giant river system for their livelihoods and for their communities. We'll continue to work in a careful way on all of those questions, but no action is not an option. We have seen the consequences of a decade of taking our hands off the wheel. As a government, we are going to work carefully on these issues and deliver better outcomes for farmers, for regional communities and for the environment. This is one of our most precious national assets, the Murray Darling system. It's always a source of argument and contest between the different groups, different communities, so the northern and southern parts of the river system from different kinds of agricultural communities who have different approaches to using the water. All of this is all in flux. It's always in contest, but this government is going to act carefully in the national interest, not in a partisan political interest. But in the national interest to protect this important river system.


Rod Corfe: All the council's involved in this campaign say that further water reductions will curse the region and trenching already high levels of social disadvantage. What can the federal government do to make sure that doesn't happen?


Senator Ayres: Well, first of all the legislation that we're working through, establishes the framework for delivering the plan carefully. It also means that we're going to make sure that we support communities that are in transition. I'll just say, going back to my previous point, no action is not an option here. Any action that we take has got to substantially deal with the challenges that communities face. Now I see in the material that's been put out by the local councils, that they point to a series of other options in addition to buybacks, technology-based options, improving the approach that's taken, whether it's dealing with European carp or all these sorts of questions. I think those issues are additional but of themselves, they do not meet the challenge that we are required to meet to make sure that the river system is protected for agriculture, for communities and for the environment. Everybody's got a common interest here. But of course, those issues will continue to be addressed and there's overlapping areas of responsibility here. Some of these issues are, of course, a matter within the control of the State Governments. And that underlines the key point, the only way that we achieved progress on these questions is by everybody working together, State, Commonwealth and Local Government. Everyone's got to take responsibility, as well as arguing their corner. Everybody in the system- agriculture, communities, workers and companies, State and Commonwealth and Local Governments- everybody needs to put their hand up and take responsibility, as well as arguing their corner. And I know that the Water Minister and the Agriculture Minister and others who are engaged in this work, are very keen to continue that work of engaging with local communities about these questions and this is the framework for future action. But we have got decades in front of us to protect this river system, so that it's there for farming communities, and for regional towns, and for the environment for decades and decades to come. Another decade of inaction will have disastrous consequences for regional towns. We have got to get onto it and that is what the Environment and Water Minister Tanya Plibersek is doing here.


Rod Corfe: I know I've got to let you go, just quickly though, on the European carp, that are choking the waterways, wrecking habitat and water quality, there is the carp herpes virus that's been produced. Do you know if that's going to be released, or it's been put on hold?


Senator Ayres: Well, Rod I have not been briefed on that. I mean, obviously, I've followed this with some interests and I'm very happy to come back next time and let you know where we're up to on that issue. If there's something there that can put a serious dent in the population of European carp, then everybody in the country realises, whether they're city people or country people, they realise how much damage carp are doing to the river system. Horrible bloody things, really, and I'll make sure I'm in a position next time we talk Rod to give you a bit of an update about where that's up to.


Rod Corfe: All right, I would appreciate that. Thank you so much for talking with us today.


Senator Ayres: Anytime, Rod good to talk to you and talk to your listeners.


Rod Corfe: There we go. Senator Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing, Senator for New South Wales. Outback 2WEB.