Sky News, AM Agenda

22 June 2023


Danica De Giorgio: Returning now to our top story, the number of Australian households struggling to pay their electricity bills has grown by 50 per cent in just one year, almost 90,000 households are already in crippling debt over their energy bills. Joining me now live is Assistant Trade and Manufacturing Minister, Tim Ayres. Thank you very much for joining us.


Assistant Minister Tim Ayres: G'day Danica.


Danica De Giorgio: So, 70,000 people have now joined Origin Energy's Hardship Support Program because they simply cannot afford to pay their bills. How concerning is that?


Assistant Minister: Well, it just demonstrates that, as the cost‑of‑living has increased, following Russia's illegal war of aggression in Ukraine. That has had an impact on energy prices in particular around the globe, and that has a real effect in households, and of course, the independent Reserve Bank's response, playing its role in terms of interest rates does also put pressure on households. These are very real effects in the economy. The Government is doing its job here. The Reserve Bank is playing the role of an independent central bank, and of course, for households, inflation is a real challenge. That's why we are so determined to deal with it.


Danica De Giorgio: It's certainly not getting any easier for families out there, that's for sure. Let's pivot now to The Voice. The Prime Minister wants to place legal limits on the scope of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament. Does that give you some confidence that The Voice would not seek to change the date of Australia Day?


Assistant Minister: Honestly, Danica, I've watched some of the sort of claims being made by Peter Dutton's Opposition here. You know, it's become really silly. They've become a caricature of themselves really. Until a quarter past four on Saturday morning, when the questions been asked of the responsible Minister in the Senate became so ridiculous that they collapsed in on themselves, asking questions about The Voice's impact on suburban roads in Melbourne.


This discussion being led by Peter Dutton in here is too silly for words. It misses the point. The only place that this carry‑on is happening is in the Federal Liberal and National Parties. Around the rest of the country and the states, conservatives for Yes are the ones who are dominating the discussion in all of the state parliaments.


This is the Federal Liberal [and] National Parties becoming smaller and smaller and smaller, falling all over themselves to appeal to some of the basest arguments, some of the most extreme, and some of the most limited arguments. This has been the shape of this debate, ever since the National Party decided that they were against The Voice before they'd seen it.


Danica De Giorgio: Okay, but does it make sense though? I mean there's obviously a lot of confusion out there, people are wondering what it means, that there needs to be some sort of clarity particularly about the legal scope.


Assistant Minister: Well, there's deliberate confusion in here on the Liberal National Party side.


Danica De Giorgio: But what about on your side? 


Assistant Minister: It's absolutely clear, isn't it? This is a Voice to Parliament that is advisory, that will make representations to the Parliament and the Executive about issues that are of concern to Aboriginal people.


Danica De Giorgio: Okay. But what about to change the date of Australia Day?


Assistant Minister: Well, I mean it's been hit for six, day after day. It just goes on and on and on, repeating ad nauseam from Peter Dutton and the Liberals. Now, Peter Dutton, to his credit, said earlier this year that he got it wrong on the Apology to the Stolen Generations, and the arguments he was making then were wrong, and missed a historical moment.


The problem is he's making the same arguments now about The Voice to Parliament and constitutional recognition. I mean the Liberal and National Party is missing the moment, the opportunity to be part of a discussion that leads to a referendum that will make Australia stronger, that will deal with the questions of constitutional recognition, but also give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people a Voice to the Parliament.


It is a very modest and reasonable request that will do so much, in just three ways: number one, practical outcomes, 'cause you get better practical outcomes if you consult with the people that you're legislating for; number two, 65,000 years of continuous culture in this country should be a source of great patriotic pride, for every Australian, including those in the Opposition; and thirdly, I can just tell you that, in my work representing Australia as the Assistant Minister for Trade ‑ the world is watching.


I mean in New Zealand these issues were substantially dealt with not last century, but the century before.


Danica De Giorgio: All right, we've got ‑‑


Assistant Minister: We have an opportunity to work through this in a careful way in response to a process that has gone on for years and years and years, consulted broadly across Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians ‑‑


Danica De Giorgio: Okay.


Assistant Minister: ‑‑ and should be the source of consensus, agreement, with a real confident looking ahead to our future. That's what this referendum should be about.


Danica De Giorgio: All right.


Assistant Minister: And Peter Dutton and the Liberals have just counted themselves out of the debate.


Danica De Giorgio: All right. We don't have much time left. I want to try and get two more topics in. I want to ask you about the RBA. Jim Chalmers said a short time ago that he will consult with Cabinet colleagues and others, then announce a decision in July as to who will hold the role of Governor into the future. How do you think the Cabinet feels about Philip Lowe?


Assistant Minister: Well, Jim's made this point for many, many months really, since we took Government, that the decision about whether the term of the current Reserve Bank Governor will be rolled over, or a fresh appointment is made, will be made in the middle of 2023. He's reasserted that today. That's situation normal. When every appointment comes around, where there is an opportunity to either roll over the appointment or to consider a fresh appointment, that's a decision that the Cabinet will make. There's nothing extraordinary there. I know there's a lot of focus on this, because the interest rate decisions of the Reserve Bank are having very significant impacts for Australian households and Australian families.


Danica De Giorgio: All right. Just finally, in terms of trade, ongoing negotiations for an Australia-EU trade deal are obviously ongoing, how likely is it that that deal is going to be signed off this year?


Assistant Minister: We are working very carefully and in the national interest with the negotiating team that represents Australia. There are a limited number of issues left in the negotiations to resolve. It is, of course, an agreement that offers substantial benefits for Australia and the European Union. For Australia, an economy of more than 450 million people are in the European Union, a very significant middle income market that offers enormous benefits potentially for our exporters, and also for Australian consumers and firms importing from the European Union.


For the European Union itself, enormous benefits, access to critical mineral supply chains, geostrategic reasons that are very compelling. There's enormous complementarity between our economies, but of course, the deal has to be a deal that is in the national interest. The deal has to be a deal that offers significant, commercially meaningful improvements in terms of, particularly in terms of agricultural products and a range of other products.


We are going to continue to work through those issues in a determined and consistent way representing the Australian national interest, and I'm optimistic about us making progress, but you enter these negotiations representing Australia and Australian exporters and Australian firms and workers, and we are determined to get a very good deal here.


Danica De Giorgio: All right. We will await updates on that. Tim Ayres, we'll leave it there. Thank you very much for joining us this morning.


Assistant Minister: Thanks, Danica, good to talk to you.