Sky News AM Agenda

04 April 2024



Laura Jayes, Host: And joining me now is the Assistant Trade and Manufacturing Minister, Tim Ayres. Tim, good to see you. So, energy, is that going to be central to the budget and giving people a little bit of relief there?



Senator Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Well, it's certainly the case that the government's energy bill relief package had an enormous impact on lower prices for households and business. And as the Prime Minister just said, that had an economy wide impact in terms of keeping inflation down. We are absolutely focused on these cost-of-living issues as we head towards the budget. I think the Prime Minister has given an indication of his approach on these questions. Of course, Laura, you'd expect me to leave the announcement of the details of the government's approach to the Treasurer on that second Tuesday in May. But that's our approach. It held back the growth in energy prices. You can see from Amos recent release of wholesale prices that there's been a material effect on downward pressure on energy prices for Australians. We respect and understand that Australian households and businesses are still experiencing cost of living pressures and that is why we are focused on delivering relief. That keeps downward pressure on inflation, but also on fiscal policy, on making sure that the budget is working together with monetary policy to have some discipline. We delivered the first surplus in really a generation in political terms, at the last budget. We are, as a government, completely focused on fiscal discipline and making sure that we are delivering relief to households and business where it is an inflationary.



Laura: Let me ask you about this. I want to talk about solar panels, not relation into the private jets. Don't worry. But I think perhaps something a little bit more head scratching. And that is why these multi-million-dollar companies, solar companies, need a subsidy from the government. I mean, if it's going to work in the market, if the market's there, why should taxpayers be taking on some of that risk?



Senator Ayres: Well, we're in a global race for the jobs of the future. The truth is in terms of solar panels. The first wave of solar panel inventions and innovation occurred in Australia. In fact, in Sydney at the University of NSW, that solar PV technology was invented here in Australia. It has largely been commercialised offshore. 85% of the world's solar panels are built in one jurisdiction. That is not a good thing for the commercialisation of Australian IP or for diversification of Australia and the world's solar supply chain.



Laura: I mean, but diversity is one thing. I mean, but China has a massive run on this market already. I mean, it's pretty silly to think that we're ever going to be able to compete with the Chinese solar panels on cost alone and proliferation.



Senator Ayres: I absolutely disagree, Laura. I don't like disagreeing with you, but I absolutely disagree. We have, for example, last week when the Prime Minister made the announcement of the Solar Sunshot Program, a billion dollars to supporting Australian solar businesses and companies in the solar supply chain. The company that made its announcement in parallel that it would establish a manufacturing facility at Liddell, there are two remarkable things about that announcement. The first is that that facility will employ more people than the Liddell power station currently employs. More people. The second is that it is using technology which is cheaper and more efficient and is a new generation of solar innovation. That is, it's using copper rather than silver and that has enormous advantages in terms, you know, there are a thousand times more copper available in the world than there is silver. It's cheaper, it's more efficient. We must capture that wave of technological opportunity and jobs and investment opportunity here in Australia. That's why the Net Zero Economy Agency legislation was tabled in the parliament last week, because this is Australia's opportunity to shift, yes, our own emissions, but also to recognise that 97% of our trading partners have got net zero objectives themselves and if we want to effectively trade into those markets and become the renewable energy superpower that our vast resources say that we can be, that requires a government that is prepared to step up to the plate and the Net Zero Economy Agency will be there to coordinate the government's activity. That's what this is all about. It's about households, but it's also about manufacturing jobs.



Laura: Ok, and that's great. But my question to you is, and this has happened under previous governments, and I questioned Angus Taylor at the time, the government there put $20 million towards a hydrogen project near Wollongong owned by a multi-billionaire. Now we have some of these solar companies, they are owned by multi-millionaires and they're getting taxpayer subsidies. If these companies then thrive, there's no return for the taxpayer. Shouldn't there be some return for the taxpayer?



Senator Ayres: Well, there will be investment that otherwise would not have occurred. We get to make a choice in Australia about the extent to which we are prepared to fight for the jobs of the future. You can see what's happening in the United States, where President Biden and the Inflation Reduction Act-



Laura: Yeah, but I’m talking about a monetary benefit. You know, taxpayer funds, tens of millions of dollars are going, and then these companies go on to make billions, why isn't there a return on investment for taxpayers?



Senator Ayres: Well, there will be a return on investment for taxpayers in terms of new jobs, high quality blue collar engineering jobs in the regions and outer suburbs that otherwise would not have occurred.



Laura: Do you think that's enough?



Senator Ayres: There is a benefit for communities and taxpayers there in terms of additional revenue. There is a benefit to the economy in productivity terms. As we intensify the amount of industrial investment, shift towards a more reindustrialised Australian economy, that means productivity will increase. It means that those communities, particularly in the outer suburbs and regions, that have not benefited as much as our inner cities have benefited over the last few decades of economic change, it means that good jobs will be located in those areas and that has a very important social and economic, strategic and democratic benefit. This is all upside in terms of the Australian economy and the future direction that we want to go. You know, this is the biggest transformation of the global economy since the industrial revolution. And we have an opportunity to make sure that Australia is front and centre, exporting high quality, low emissions energy and products to the world, where we get to choose whether we step up the value chain. It just means that we need a government that is prepared to fight for it and the Albanese government is determined to fight for the future. The Net Zero Economy Agency is the vehicle that we are establishing to make sure that that is coordinated in an efficient and effective way, working with regional communities and businesses and the investment community and the trade union movement to make sure that we're delivering good jobs in central Queensland, good jobs in the Hunter Valley, in our energy intensive regions, where there is so much opportunity, so much capability, workers with exactly the right skills, you know, all of that industrial capability ready to go. That is why the government is determined to lead here and why the Albanese government, $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund, $20 billion in rewiring the nation, a billion dollars for Solar Sunshot Program, $2 billion for the hydrogen fund. You know, the list goes on. This is the biggest industry policy package in Australian peacetime history. It is designed to make sure that we have a future that's made in Australia. We capture these opportunities for Australians, and particularly Australians in regional communities.



Laura: All right, well, it's lovely to chat to you this morning.



Senator Ayres: It’s always great.



Laura: Less interruptions, so you're welcome to that. We'll leave it there for now, Tim Ayres, and we'll see you soon.