09 March 2023

Laura Jayes, Host: Welcome back. Well, the National Reconstruction Commission Legislation Fund has just passed the house. Labor did a deal with the Greens to get there. Joining me live is Assistant Trade and Manufacturing Minister Tim Ayres. Thanks so much for joining us. So, you’ve done a deal with the Greens?

Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Assistant Minister for Manufacturing: Well, it's very good news that this piece of legislation has passed through the House. This is $15 billion, the biggest peacetime investment in Australian history, into industrial capability. This is targeted at reindustrialising our suburbs and our regions with new factories, new manufacturing, blue-collar jobs. I really don't understand how it is that the Coalition has debased itself so much that it can only say no, even to a program of reindustrialising Australia. Now, it's a good thing that –

Jayes: So, what exactly have you given the Greens here?

Assistant Minister: Well, it's a manufacturing fund. There is a commitment that it won't be engaged in coal mining projects or gas extraction projects. It was never going to be. It is a manufacturing fund. It won't be engaged in primary production of any kind. It's not going to be engaged in farming or running corner shops or running bus routes. It is going to be about Australian manufacturing and bringing back blue-collar jobs, apprenticeships, engineering cadetships. You know, we are down to less than 7 per cent of GDP in manufacturing. And does anybody seriously think that we can engage in the challenges and opportunities of our region without rebuilding our industrial capability? Do we really think that we're going to deal with the challenges of climate and energy without lifting our industrial capability or food security? These are –

Jayes: But what about the regions?

Assistant Minister: These are issues the whole Parliament should be should be about.

Jayes: But what about the regions? Is there a problem here with the stipulation that the Greens have been able to assert this legislation, an explicit ban on using this money to fund gas or coal? Does it mean that no gas pipelines will be bought in the regional areas?

Assistant Minister: No, it makes no difference to any of that. This is not an infrastructure fund. There are other infrastructure funding arrangements. This is a manufacturing fund. It will never invest in those kinds of projects –

Jayes: So, what you're saying is one of two things. It's not a capitulation, therefore it's the opposite, which is just a safe facing (sic) exercise – safe facing exercise for the Greens?

Assistant Minister: I'll let them speak to what it is that they believe they've achieved. I'm just here to tell you, as a policy objective here, this is about manufacturing and it's also about the regions. The truth is, big new manufacturing facilities or hydrogen facilities, these aren't built in the inner cities, they're not built in inner suburbs. These are out of suburban and regional projects that are going to make a big difference for Australia's future. If there is an economic interest, a social dividend –

Jayes: So, this won't have any effect, do you think, on higher – because we know that manufacturing can be very energy intensive. I mean, you've just got to look at the aluminium, for example, and how much energy that takes to produce. So, what you're saying is that this will not affect any manufacturing businesses, even those that require high amounts of energy and fossil fuels?

Assistant Minister: No. And even more than that it's going to give us the capacity to deal with the industrial and energy challenges of the future. Actually, we've got to have a high tech, high industrialised, more electrification future to support those heavy industries. Australia has got to be big in heavy industries, we've got to be big in steel, big in aluminium, big in chemical manufacturing, big in fertiliser, big in cement. All those industries that are captured under the safeguards mechanism.

These are cornerstone investments in Australia's future. And the National Reconstruction Fund is dedicated to providing the kind of advanced manufacturing capability and shifting us up the value chain in areas like mining. Some people in the community talk down Australian mining. We have enormous capacity in mining in this country to produce all of the metallurgical products. But not only do that, it's the feed in inputs in terms of mining technology, it's the outputs in terms of lifting our position in the value chain so that we're making the electric batteries, for example, of the future that the world really needs. Like we have an opportunity to position Australia and regional Australia in particular, to be doing these things. And you got David Littleproud of the National Party saying no. It just beggars’ belief that these characters in the National Party would walk away from blue collar constituencies in country towns the way that they have.

Jayes: Well, I'll tell you what, sounds to me on what we've just talked about. Sounds like you've just pants the Greens. They think they're getting something that they're not.

Assistant Minister: Look, we will always talk all the way, or all across the Parliament, to the Greens, to the rest of the crossbench, to the Liberals and Nationals, and look at engaging their priorities in a way that assists the passage of this legislation through the Parliament. This is – this should be beyond politics, this kind of work. This is in the national interest. It should be broadly supported. And I'm astonished that Peter Dutton and David Littleproud have left the national interest behind and left blue collar constituencies in regional areas behind. I'm glad the Greens have found an amendment that's capable of being supported through the Lower House. Terrific. What we've got to be focussed on is what is the national interest objective here? And it's reshaping our industrial architecture, not just for the generation, but for the generations after that. This is a century defining investment in industrial architecture. And I am shocked, beyond shocked, that Peter Dutton, who's a blowhard on national security and manufacturing capability and all these issues –

Jayes: What's this got to do with national security?

Assistant Minister: When it comes to it. You know, industrial capability, sovereign manufacturing capability, contributing into global supply chains, security in its broadest definition, us having the capacity to shape our own future, to work as equals with our partners in the region. This is utterly determined, not just by our investments that are going to be there in defence and all that kind of capability but is determined by our industrial capability and our capacity to stand on our own two feet. That's what this National Reconstruction Fund is engaging. And it's a very blinkered view that is so committed to opposition and saying no. That would put Peter Dutton and David Littleproud in a position where they're voting against what is a very good idea for the country and a modern expression of industrial industry policy. Joe Biden, President Biden, managed to get through what is pretty polarised politics in Washington, managed to get Republicans and Democrats in that environment voting for the Inflation Reduction Act, which is a big investment in rebuilding American technological and industrial capability.

Jayes: Sure.

Assistant Minister: Why is Peter Dutton and David Littleproud not able to see the national interest here?

Jayes: Well, I'll let them answer that, but I don't know. There's some good aspects of American politics, but I don't think we want to quite start comparing ourselves to them, given what's going on here.

Assistant Minister: Sure. That's right. Absolutely.

Jayes: Yeah. They've got a few problems there. Anyway, Tim Ayres, great to talk to you. We just saw how the sausage was made in getting that legislation through, so appreciate it. We'll speak soon.

Assistant Minister: Good on you, Laura. See you soon.