88.9FM with Macca

25 March 2024

Subjects: Nuclear power, council rates


MATT MACCARTHY, HOST: Senator for New South Wales Tim Ayres joins us this morning. Tim, how are you?




MACCARTHY: You too. Are you a soccer man, Tim?


AYRES: I love any kind of football that I can I can watch. I'm more of a rugby league kind of character than a soccer kind of character but there's a slight chance depending on what's happening in here in the parliament that I might get to stick my head into the into the game against Lebanon here in Canberra on Tuesday night. footy team.


MACCARTHY: Who is your footy team?


AYRES: Souths.


MACCARTHY: Sorry mate, this interview has just been cut short.


AYRES: There's a lot of Souths fans out there in Tamworth. I knew growing up in Glen Innes. Always a random Souths fan that will pop up in every country town.


MACCARTHY: Absolute diehard. I noticed Souths and Manly are the two really really diehards, are the ones that have got the personalised number plates, although I can't talk, I've got the Sharks plates every single day. They wear a different jersey from from the retro years, all of that sort of stuff. So anyway, it doesn't matter who you go for, footy back in play. Tell you what is back in play, it's Parliament at the moment, you guys have been talking about all sorts of things. The first one I want to get out of the way is athe nuclear debate. Now, what we've been speaking about this, at the it moment doesn't feel like much of a debate. It sounds like the Government have sort of made the decision in this respect against nuclear power and for renewables. We believe we need to get the balance right. We actually spoke to Senator Perrin Davey the other day about her visit to Baraka power plant in the United Arab Emirates, which was built with three reactors operational in less than 15 years. Now, it was their first nuclear reactor, and a Korean nuclear power company actually built it, they have 29% of power from nuclear today, and going up to 60% by 2035. Our survey the other day on Facebook showing 91% of our Facebook poll in favour of using nuclear power.


AYRES:The first thing on nuclear is that what people should appreciate is that our objection to nuclear rests on a couple of things. Firstly, it is much more expensive than any other source of power in the Australian context. So if we made a decision to shift to nuclear, we would be voting for higher power bills. And not just higher power bills by a small increment, higher power bills with daylight in between where nuclear is in renewables plus storage. So I'm just not sure that Australians are ready to have power bills go even higher than they already are, in a structural way, really voting for higher power bills for 50 years. That means it's bad for households, but it's really bad for the manufacturing sector, particularly the manufacturing sector that uses a lot of energy. That will drive those jobs offshore. Secondly, it will never be delivered. None of the states and territories are up for this. In fact, Peter Dutton has been talking about nuclear now for six months. None of the state and territory Liberal or National leaders support nuclear. None of the state governments support nuclear. It requires the agreement of the states and territories in order for this to proceed, and nobody wants a nuclear power station, particularly the experimental nuclear power stations that Peter Dutton supports, in their backyard, understandably. Thirdly, we've got an enormous effort in front of us in terms of the country's national security, to focus on the construction of the AUKUS submarines, and that is going to require a very significant uplift in the number of nuclear physicists that are trained, the number of engineers, the number of trades people. That is an enormous capacity requirement for Australia, which we will meet, but what we don't need is being pushed into a cul-de-sac around nuclear energy that will absorb capacity and drive up costs in the overall economy. Now, there are countries overseas that have nuclear as part of their mix and they've had it since the 1950s. Take the French or the Germans, the United States. They've sunk the billions and billions of dollars in capital costs into big nuclear power stations. The United Arab Emirates is a very different economy to Australia. It is a different economy in terms of the composition of its labour force, 90% temporary workers. It has different standards in terms of construction, in terms of operations, and I'm not sure that Senator Davey, a good colleague, I'm not critical of her, but it's very basic questions around safety standards that are pretty important when you're talking about nuclear power stations. I think Australians would expect the highest standards. I know from my work with ANSTO, the nuclear power reactor in Sydney, that provides a lot of our nuclear medicine, our approach to nuclear is absolutely number one in the world. That's the case. From time to time you see nuclear accidents.


MACCARTHY: How's South Korea doing it?


AYRES:Well, they've had a long term capability there and they don't have the options that Australia has. We have got the sunniest continent on Earth, the best wind resources on Earth. It's cheaper than every other source of power that is available to us. So we have good options. We want to make, the Albanese Government wants to make, our low cost energy the basis for our future economy. So we have a competitive advantage with the rest of the world, so that we're building manufacturing in green steel and green iron, in advanced manufacturing, in all of these areas where low cost, green energy is going to give us a competitive advantage. That the idea that we would shift to nuclear, to the most expensive source of power on earth, and drive all of those potential jobs offshore and have Australia in a sort of high cost, low output, low, low investment cul-de-sac, that is just condemning future generations of Australians to low incomes, less jobs and to having a smaller manufacturing sector. It's just not a serious argument, nuclear. I understand in an environment where people are apprehensive about about development, there's an argument that if there's another answer that's put there, I understand why people want to want to know more about that. But I can assure you and your listeners, nuclear will never occur, because it takes decades to build, it will drive up electricity costs. There is no investor who is prepared to invest private money, their own money, in nuclear power stations in Australia. We have a much lower cost, easy to deploy option that will create generations of jobs and manufacturing industry for Australia. It is it is a no brainer, this issue, and we've got to get on with it. Nobody serious in the energy sector advocates nuclear as an answer for Australia. Advisors like Alan Finkel, who advised the previous Morrison government, who is a supporter of the nuclear industry, is a very well respected Australian scientist and former public servant, says that nuclear is just not part of the potential future mix for Australia. There is nobody serious, even those who are engaged in the nuclear industry, who believe that it is a sensible answer for Australia. And the reason that Peter Dutton and David Littleproud are discussing this is because they're refusing to engage with the real issues for Australia's manufacturing future and our energy future.


MACCARTHY: We'll leave that one there, Tim, I didn't expect the eight minute answer on that one, but you certainly give us some detail. 


AYRES: Well, it's a big complicated issue and it requires a bit of, not just the three three word slogans, it requires a bit of a decent and respectful answer. So I've done my best to sort of sketch out some of the issues for you and I'm always happy to talk about it.


MACCARTHY: Just coming back to local turf at the moment we're seeing Catherine King's released the inquiry into sustainability of local government. Been looking at cost shifting. Obviously, we're expecting anywhere up to a 36.3% rate rise here in our area. Those of us with 2,500 bucks that we're paying per year on a house, that's gonna go to about four grand. We're already feeling it in the pocket at the supermarkets, we're already feeling it at the petrol bowser and we're also feeling it every time we turn on a TV or a light switch. What's the what's the story here?


AYRES: Well, there's a couple of things going on here. Firstly, a 36% rate rise in Tamworth, must send shivers down people's spines. And for business and for households, that is a very high burden. I'm sure that the local council is doing their best with what they've got. And I understand that IPART, the regulator in New South Wales, will make a decision on that in the coming months. It is tough. We've got three tiers of government in Australia, the Commonwealth, the state and local government. Each of them is is as important as the other. Local government is our partner at the Commonwealth level and for the states in delivering a whole lot of the infrastructure that people need, particularly in the bush.


MACCARTHY: Looking like that phone line is playing up there, Tim, but thank you. We might try and catch up with Senator Tim Ayres later.