08 July 2024

ROD CORFE. HOST: Joining us now, Senator Tim Ayres, how are you this morning?


SENATOR AYRES, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TRADE AND MANUFACTURING: I'm good, Rod. Good to talk to you and your listeners.


CORFE: A bit of a, what, five-week break? Something like that?


AYRES: It's five weeks away from Parliament. Parliament is always busy, but this is a different kind of busy in the Electorate Office and the Ministerial Office, doing all of the other work that there is. Particularly for me Rod, the focus is, of course, the Future Made in Australia Act that the Albanese Government introduced in Parliament last week. We've often talked about manufacturing in Australia, and what a difference that makes in regional areas and country towns. This brings together all of the threads of the Albanese government's approach on manufacturing. It is the most pro-manufacturing package of policy in Australian history. It is very large. It is very significant. It will have a big effect on the future shape of the Australian economy and all of the jobs and investment dividends. You don't build factories in the inner cities areas of the big cities, you build them in the outer suburbs, the industrial regions and in country towns. The jobs dividend is all there for regional Australia.


CORFE: I'll play devil's advocate. What's the point? It's too expensive to make anything in Australia. Wages are too high in Australia. Getting goods on the production line is too expensive. What's the point of manufacturing?


AYRES: That is the attitude that shapes the approach of the previous government and governments before that. That approach has meant that good jobs have gone offshore, and that our industrial capability has diminished. Now, we are not in a position where we can be complacent about Australia's future, as we build the energy systems of the future. 97% of our trading partners with net zero objectives themselves, which means they will be demanding from Australia, zero emissions products. This is the opportunity to diversify our economy and reindustrialise our economy. I accept, and the government accepts, that it's got to be done on a competitive basis. That is why there's a $23 billion package there that is all about providing incentives to manufacturing businesses to invest in Australia. These are largely no regrets measures, production tax credits. That means that there is only a reduction in tax or a tax subsidy available when the manufacturer manufactures in Australia. This means in those areas of the economy, green iron, green steel, critical minerals processing, solar, those kinds of areas that are going to be the shape of the new economy, very significant investments in jobs and good quality engineering and blue-collar trades jobs in regional areas.


CORFE: Most people would like to see a good wage paid to people overseas, rather than the couple of bucks a day they receive, and to get more than eight cents an hour in manufacturing of clothing and textiles.


AYRES: I'll give you an example, Rod. In areas like lithium, Australia has all of the advantages under the ground, below the ground. Our minerals resources are the best in the world, above the ground, abundant space, the best solar and wind reserves in the world. These are opportunities for Australia if we harness them. But it requires the government acting. It requires us to be determined to shape a manufacturing future for Australia. Now, previous governments, remember the previous Assistant Defense Minister said when the discussion was on about Australia building submarines, "Well, Australians couldn't build a canoe." The previous government forced the auto industry offshore because they lacked confidence that the auto industry could be competitive in Australia. We are determined to build a manufacturing future for our economy because we're going to require that capability in the region that we live in. As this vast project of the energy transition occurs there are opportunities for Australia and Australians, but there are also risks. If we don't engage in this with a Future Made in Australia package, there are risks for Australia, and this is the kind of package that everybody across the Parliament should be voting in, because it's in the interests of Australia. It's in the interests of Australia in the region in which we live, where nothing can be taken for granted, and also the benefits for this largely accrue to regional Australia, to blue collar jobs in country towns and industrial centres.


CORFE: We are speaking with Senator Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing. There's been a lot of talk in recent weeks about social cohesion. We are a very multicultural country. Are we cohesive?


AYRES: This has been the core focus of the Government. All of your listeners will have seen what's happening in the Middle East. It is absolutely horrifying. On October 7, the largest loss of Jewish life since the Holocaust. Absolutely appalling, barbarous conduct by Hamas, followed by, of course, Israel's response, as they have invaded Gaza - a very, very large loss of civilian life in absolutely appalling circumstances. This is naturally horrifying for Australians, and the Government's approach has been to act in the national interest in a way that is informed by Australia's values and interests. Number one, that has meant making sure that we get Australians who are in harm's way out of harm's way. It's also meant that we've been urging for the respective international law for a two-state solution here that does not involve Hamas being part of any two-state solution. The Australian Government's been consistent about that, but Rod, we've also been consistent in saying, that while there are strongly held views in Australia, naturally there are, and we are a democracy, and everybody is entitled to express their view, that it's very important we don't import the conflict here into Australia. And that we are using language that is respectful of each other and that contributes to social cohesion, rather than sowing division. I've seen too much opportunism over the course of the last nine months of this conflict. Prime Minister Albanese and Foreign Minister Wong were criticised by Peter Dutton and the Liberals at the beginning of the conflict for calling on Israel to follow international law and the rules of war, to act with restraint. On the other side of the argument was the Greens political party, with a seeming incapacity to be able to condemn Hamas and recognise that Hamas has no role in any future peaceful two state solution to this issue. We are focused on social cohesion because it's in the national interest. Others in the Parliament, are focused on utilising this issue to create division and to try and harvest votes. I think Australians will see over the coming months that the Government has been acting in the national interest, and others are acting to prop up their own interests, and we're just going to keep on acting in Australia's interest, as people would expect the Government to do.


CORFE: It is just a shame to see schools and hospitals targeted or accidentally hit, in Palestine.


AYRES: It's absolutely shocking. This is an enormous loss of civilian life. That's why, right at the outset, we have called on Israel to respect international law. That is why we've called for a ceasefire. That's why we voted the way that we have at the United Nations. That's why we have been consistent in saying the only peaceful settlement of these issues will be a proper two state solution, where both Israel and a new state of Palestine have recognised and secure borders. That's what the Australian Government should do. We are not a player in the Middle East. Some of the debate here acts as if Australia has a role in the Middle East. We are a respected voice in multilateral fora like the United Nations. We are prosecuting the case for a peaceful solution here, but we are a respected voice only, not a player in the Middle East. We have an important democracy and social cohesion to protect here as well. That's why the Government is conducting itself in the way that it is.


CORFE: Why Australia acquiring 300 killer drones?


AYRES: This is sadly and necessary always important to make sure that the Defence Force has the capability that it requires to do the job that it needs to be able to do to protect Australia and Australia's interests. It would be great if we lived in a world, Rod, where we didn't have to keep improving military capability. But we do live in the real world. We have to see the world as it is, not the way that we wish that the world was. We are acting in Australia's interest. There are upgrades to military capability that are occurring across the board, including the AUKUS program, which is not just about submarines, but is about sharing technology with the United Kingdom and the United States more broadly. It is a very broad strategic and military cooperation pact in terms of these drones. They are a lethal capability that the Australian Defence Force, and the Army, in particular require. The Government will support making sure that the Defence Force can have the most modern capability that it requires to be able to do its job.


CORFE: Finally, today, the Coalition had numerous positions in regard to power and electricity prices, and now out of office, they're calling for nuclear power. What's the cost going to be?


AYRES: Honestly, it's a farce. These guys. Imagine if in Opposition, if we had announced an energy policy without a costing. There are no costings for this package. Nuclear power is the most expensive form of energy, the most expensive for Australia. Our comparative advantage, our efficiency, lies in the fact that we've got enormous wind and solar reserves that no economy on Earth can compete with. That is that we've got vast space. That is our competitive advantage with the world. Peter Dutton, now, because the Liberals and Nationals can't reconcile themselves, they're still fighting the climate wars of the 2010s, can't bring themselves to accept the climate science. They are now proposing that Australia should have the most expensive form of energy that won't be delivered at best until the 2040s. The international experience here isn't good. You've got some big economies that have already established nuclear industries, where their new nuclear power stations are more than a decade over time and are tripling in terms of their budgets. The Hinkley nuclear power station in Britain, which was supposed to have opened in 2017 is still not built. Still halfway built, and it's blown out from a $35 billion cost to a $90 billion cost. $90 billion. Peter Dutton can't tell you how much it's going to cost. He can't tell you how many nuclear power stations that there are going to be. The only thing that we know, is that if he's elected, he will impose nuclear power stations on states and communities, whether they want them or not, that it's the most expensive form of power that there is, that it won't be built until the 2040. What that means in the meantime is disinvestment as existing investors walk away from Australia because of yet another round of policy uncertainty and you know what that means? Power prices for industry and households go up. This is completely incoherent, and it's just another symbol of why the Opposition hasn't learned the lesson of their period in Government and why Australian voters rejected them at the last election.


CORFE: Thank you for your time today.


AYRES: Good on you, Rod. Catch you next time.