Outback Radio 2WEB with Rod Corfe

11 June 2024


SENATOR TIM AYRES: I have a full day of meetings and work here in Canberra today. It's good to be back in the Capital, but it was good to have a few days at home. 

 ROD CORFE, HOST: What's the weather like down there?  


SENATOR AYRES: It's as cold as charity rod. It's kind of the only certain thing you'd say about Canberra, is going to get colder again. 


CORFE: Yes, I spent a little bit of time there, working there at 2CC for a while. And, yeah, it's an enjoyable place to live. But it gets the extremes, doesn't it?  


SENATOR AYRES: It sure does. A lot of those towns, like where I grew up in Glen Ennis, on top of the range there, they get pretty hot in summer and very cold in winter. 


CORFE: With all that snow stuff. Let's talk about the removal of Chinese trade impediments on Australian beef exports. 


SENATOR AYRES: Well, we're making good progress, and it's a result of the government's approach here, which is, yes, to stabilize the relationship with China, to focus on removing these impediments to Australian trade, but always to act in the Australian national interest. We have got areas where we can cooperate with China, areas where there is going to be disagreement, and what the government is doing here is focusing on the national interest. There's about $20 billion worth of impediments. And we've worked through the issues in relation to Australian coal, in relation to timber, barley, oat and hay, and now finally, to this set of issues, around five of our beef establishments. Now, there is still more work to do. There are still trade barriers in front of Australian lobster imports, which have a big impact in regional areas, particularly on the East Coast and the West Coast, and there are still two beef establishments. So, there is still work to do, and the Australian government's approach is to work through these trade impediments in a careful way, but also want to send a message to Australian industry. Our message now about trade is about diversification, about diversifying the markets that Australia sells into in the world, but also diversifying the products and range of products, particularly manufacturing that we that we trade with the world. 


CORFE: All right, and getting the beef into China, very important. What about the trade of sheep and live sheep trade? 


SENATOR AYRES: Well, the live sheep trade has diminished significantly over the course of the last ten years, from north of $500 million a year to just over $70 million every year, and the only state that engages in the live sheep trade is Western Australia. So, it's got smaller and smaller under the Liberals and Nationals. It's equivalent to much less than 2% of Western Australia's agricultural trade. So, it's a vanishingly small industry that has lost its social license. We went to the election... we we're very clear with voters that under a Labor government, we would move from the live sheep trade to meat processed in Australia for export, only in terms of sheep meat, and that is what Murray Watt, the Agriculture Minister is setting about doing. He's consulted closely with the industry. Obviously, there are people who are active in that industry who are very disappointed that the government has stuck to its promise here. But that is the work that we're going to do. We've got a very significant $100 million package there for the industry to support its transition to box meat and processed meat that will lead ultimately to more jobs in regional areas, higher value exports. But understand it's having a big impact in that small sector of agricultural Western Australia. 


CORFE: We're hearing from Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing, Senator Tim Ayres. The leader of the Nationals, David Littleproud, has announced that they will restart the live sheep trade if they win the next election. 


SENATOR AYRES: Well, it's an interesting position from the Nationals - the live sheep trade collapsed under their watch to just over 15% of what it had previously been. It is an industry that has lost its social license, not just across Australia, but even in Western Australia. Seventy percent of respondents to a recent survey said that they supported closing the live sheep trade. It is absolutely in the national interest for us to shift to from exporting live products, just a commodity, to exporting processed meat. That's where the good jobs are. That's where the value adds, and the diversification is. And that's the approach that the Australian Government will be pursuing. And you know, we, as a government, have worked very closely with the agriculture sector over the last two years. Made very significant progress in trade and export terms, in agricultural development and biosecurity terms, working carefully with the industry, and we'll keep working with Australian agriculture in the interest of the industry, but also in the interest of country towns and country communities. 


CORFE: I know that there's been a lot of talk about getting back or getting into nuclear energy for Australia. A Herald Sun poll, recently, apparently said six in ten Australians support nuclear energy. 


SENATOR AYRES: Well, the problem is, it's a hoax, Rod. It's not a serious policy. This is(from the guys who, when they're in government, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government) had twenty three different goes at having an energy policy and couldn't land a single one of them. As a result of that, we had ten years of absolute policy failure and disinvestment in the Australian energy system. So, four gigawatts of energy went out of the system, only one gigawatt went in. All the coal fired power stations that have announced their  closure under the Morrison-Turnbull-Abbott governments. And now this is an outfit that expects Australians to believe that this experimental technology is somehow the answer to Australia's energy challenges. It is far more expensive than any other option, so it means bills for households and industry goes up and industry becomes less competitive. It is an industry that doesn't exist in Australia at the moment, it would take conservatively at least fifteen years to build one of these power stations. But the experience overseas is that the timetables blow out, and it takes decade after decade after decade to build these developments on stream, and they cost not tens of millions of dollars or hundreds of millions of dollars, but tens of billions of dollars. That means embedded cost in the energy system. And finally, Peter Dutton and David Littleproud are yet to say, although they promised to say many months ago where these nuclear power stations will be, what communities will be asked to have an experimental nuclear power station in them. And we know that nuclear power stations require a lot of water, and you can start to identify where they are likely to be, but Peter Dutton and David Littleproud aren't serious. This is just, this is just a hoax and a delaying strategy and about partisan politics, not about building energy generation for a country that needs low cost, reliable energy for our industry and for our households.  


CORFE: All right let's just move a little closer to home. The Barwon-Darling River system. Is the Federal Water Minister planning to walk away from partially funding the Wilcannia Weir due to New South Wales government wanting to build a cheaper weir than the one agreed to by all tiers of government and the local community? 


SENATOR AYRES: I've had some representations made to me about this, Rod, and while I'm not directly engaged in this, I'm watching closely. But I don't want to profess to be in a position where I know exactly what the policy architecture is here. I'm very happy to come back to you in a future show and talk to you about the detail of this. As a government, of course, the Federal Government has some responsibility over the system, but we work closely with the New South Wales Government over those questions, and I know that New South Wales Water Minister Rose Jackson has been engaged in this issue. But as I say, I don't want to pretend that I know things that I don't. Very happy to come back to you in a future show and talk to you in much more detail about this. 


CORFE: Would like to hear the Federal Government’s point of view,  because there's communities concerned in Wilcannia, Louth, and Bourke, as well as Walgett and Brewarrina, who would like to see their weirs raised rather than lowered. 


SENATOR AYRES: Well, water security issues for all these towns are absolutely vital. I know that in the last drought, you know, in the area that I grew up in, there were towns that were having water trucked to them, running perilously close to not having water availability. It's absolutely essential, and the job that the government's got to do here is to balance the requirements of towns and industry, but also with the with the requirement to fix this river system. You know, it just wasn't so long ago that in the Menindee Lakes we had all those dreadful fish kills. That just underscores how perilously close to collapse, after decades of mismanagement, that the Murray Darling Basin is. It's not in the interests of farmers or river communities to have environmental damage to the river either. So, we have to balance all of these considerations, and the New South Wales Government as the primary deliverer of infrastructure for the river will be paying close attention to that. We're not a government that points our finger at different levels of government and casts blame. We're a government that wants to work in with local government, with the state government, to deliver a better outcome. We'll shoulder our part of the responsibility. I know that Minister Tanya Plibersek is very closely engaged on these issues, and as I say, very happy to come back to you and talk to you in more detail about this, as the detail becomes clearer, 


CORFE: All right, I thank you for your time today. 


SENATOR AYRES: Good on you, Rod, see you next time. 



Thank you Senator Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade, and Manufacturing on Outback radio 2WEB.