Sky News AM Agenda

21 March 2024


Kenny Heatley, Host: Joining me now is Assistant Trade and Manufacturing Minister Tim Ayres. Tim good to see you. We are expecting a press conference with Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, but we'll try and get through as much as we can. We've just had this statement by Mr. Assange's lawyers that says it is inappropriate for Mr. Assange's lawyers to comment while his case is before the UK High Court, other than to say that we have been given no indication that the Department of Justice intends to resolve the case and the United States is continuing with as much determination as ever to seek his extradition on all 18 charges exposing him to 175 years in prison. What do you make of that?



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres: Well, G'day. It's good to be on the show. I, along with the rest of the Australian government, have been pretty clear about its overall approach to this issue. I think the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister have both said that this matter has gone on for a very long time, and Mr. Assange has been incarcerated in one form or another for a very long time. So, it would be good to see a conclusion to this issue. Beyond what's been the subject of speculation in today's media, I don't know any further details, and I think it would be wrong to speculate ahead of any announcements that might be made.



Kenny Heatley: Okay, yeah, fair enough. So, your reaction to the bilateral talks between Penny Wong and China's Foreign Minister, Wang Yi? One of the big points Senator Wong raised was the volatility in nickel prices due to Chinese nickel mines in Indonesia flooding the market, collapsing prices, causing trouble for our miners. BHP announcing new job cuts at its Kalgoorlie nickel smelter just yesterday. Penny Wong said, predictability in business and trade is both in our economic interest.



Assistant Minister: Everybody and all of our global partners, we know that nickel has a big future in the renewable energy batteries and a range of these renewable energy technologies. The challenge right now is volatility in global markets, and everybody's got their part to play. We all benefit from a rules-based approach to these questions. I think it's a very good thing that that was squarely put on the table with China's Foreign Minister yesterday, the Foreign Minister putting Australia's national interest there, and it's been put squarely, I can tell you, in a range of other fora around the world, as we are working hard in the interest of Australian nickel producers. Now, there are some decisions that some of our producers have taken that have had a big impact in regional communities as a response to what's going on in the global market. We are going to continue as a government to work hard to support the sector, but also to fight for adherence to global trade rules and global trade norms that mean there's a predictable market for nickel in the future.



Kenny Heatley: Well, the Minerals Council of Australia says Senator Wong's move to raise the nickel industry's plight fell short of the response required, and we need to recalibrate our own domestic policies. Do you agree with those comments by Tania Constable, the CEO of the council?



Assistant Minister: Well, I think what you've seen is the Australian government move across the board in terms of nickel, in terms how it's been treated, in terms of the critical minerals framework, in terms of the Resources Minister's engagement with the industry and our engagement with a range of partners. There are some very challenging issues for the local industry here. And I think what you're seeing is a government that is alive to the short-term questions, absolutely, but also to the medium- and long-term issues here, as we seek not to be just an exporter of commodities and products like Nickel ore, but also, and that is important for our partners and for the local mining sector, but also a processor of minerals and critical minerals, so that we move up the value chain, create good jobs, lift our position in the value chain, and create good economic opportunities and investment opportunities here in Australia.



Kenny Heatley: Former Prime Minister Paul Keating will meet with Wang Yi today, forcing Penny Wong to publicly state that he doesn't speak for the government. Malcolm Davis from ASPI said on Sky News this morning that the meeting between the pair is inappropriate, considering Paul Keating's stance against AUKUS and Australia's relationship with the US and China is exploiting the former Prime Minister. Do you agree with Malcolm Davis?



Assistant Minister: It's not unusual for diplomats, Foreign Ministers, to meet with former leaders and other people in the community. That is not an unusual thing. I think there was an event yesterday evening with business figures, figures from the Australian business community and the foreign policy think tank community. So, I don't think it's unusual for a meeting of the kind that Mr. Keating's having with Wang Yi today. It is, of course, clear that it's the Australian government who speaks for the Australian government. I don't think that is remarkable either. I understand that, given that there have been some differences in approach, that Mr. Keating's got the right to express his view that there's some media interest in this. But it is unremarkable, really. It's unremarkable that the meeting's happening. There was a good discussion yesterday between the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister with Wang Yi. That is a good step along the way as we seek to stabilise the relationship between Australia and China. There is good progress being made, more progress to come. And I know that in those meetings yesterday that the Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, and the Prime Minister put very squarely to China's Foreign Minister the issues in Australia's national interest, and that is the focus of the government's approach. We're not focused on the politics of this, focused on what is in Australia's national interest here, what is in our interest, not just in economic terms, but in the interests of peace and security in the region and shaping a region where no power dominates and no country is dominated. That is what is in Australia's national interest and that is what Foreign Minister Wong and Prime Minister Albanese will be focused on.



Kenny Heatley: Okay, well, we've got a lot coming up in the next 15 minutes or so. Tim Ayres, thanks for joining us on the programme this morning.



Assistant Minister: Good on you Kenny, thanks.