Sky News Australia with Tom Connell

10 November 2023



Tom Connell: Joining me now is Assistant Trade Minister Tim Ayres. Thanks for your time.



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres: G'day, Tom.



Tom Connell: The inflation story is changing. Does Labour need to change its approach? It felt like we were sort of in cruise control and waiting for all the interest rates to wash through the system and do their job. That might not be enough now.



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres: Well, the Reserve Bank’s published their assessment this morning. The government's approach is just the same as it has been, that is, tight fiscal settings to make sure that we are putting downward pressure on inflation in the economy from a fiscal perspective and secondly, dealing with the cost of living. $23 billion package that is designed to assist particularly low and middle income families with the cost of living, but not put upward pressure on inflation, but also, in a long term sense, attending to these questions like the big productivity challenge that we've been left with after a decade of the lowest on record productivity growth.



Tom Connell: And that goes to medium and longer term, but this shorter term. So, the budget you handed down, the Treasury said it was not inflationary, but it was neutral. So, it didn't fight inflation, it stopped it getting worse. Is that, in hindsight, a mistake? Because you could have helped fight inflation and then the Reserve Bank would need to do less.



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres: It's really interesting watching our opponents looking for the political angles on this question. They simultaneously, for the Liberals and Nationals, want us to spend less and spend more. They want a tight fiscal policy, but they want money spent in other areas. They can't identify where it is that they want to cut. Now, the areas of expenditure that the government delivered on in our budget went to areas like Medicare, reducing the costs of Medicare, childcare, reducing the costs of childcare. Now, those areas of expenditure are not only in the productivity interest of the country, and designed to rebuild these systems that go to the welfare of Australians, but actually put downward pressure on inflation and on the cost of living.



Tom Connell: Take the budget as a whole. It didn't put downward pressure on, it was neutral. So, that's the question. Given where the inflation story has gone since, and it's now going beyond expectations. Was it a mistake not to have the budget put downward pressure on inflation? Which it did not.



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres: Budgets are about quantity and quality and priorities. And the quality of this budget is about downward pressure on inflation. It is about dealing with the productivity challenge.



Tom Connell: It didn't do that.



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres: And the measures in the budget themselves put downward pressure on inflation.



Tom Connell: The extra spending went the other way. That's why it changed. 34 billion of more spending and then some measures that take out inflationary figures. So, the overall effect is neutral. So, the question again –



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres: A good budget that is going to stand the test of time. It is the first budget in surplus for 15 years. Most of the surplus is being retired into paying down debt. The other team, when they were in government, the closest that they came to a surplus was printing off mugs that said, ‘back in black’. Probably the closest they came was saying, ‘we're going to do this’. We have delivered the first surplus in 15 years. It's responsible economic management and we are attending to these structural challenges in the Australian economy that matter. And there's been too much short term politics in Australian economic management. We've finally got a government that is attending to these medium and long term structural changes.



Tom Connell: We'll turn our mind to the next budget when it's closer and see if maybe that one would be one that needs to be deflationary. On the Senate, I don't have to call it the other place, do I? Don't know why I thought I was.



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres: No, it's this place. This is the Senate.



Tom Connell: We’re here, well, that's where the Press Gallery is, if you don't know that, you're not familiar with it. Bit of shenanigans over multiple bills, but you're claiming the Liberals are holding up money laundering. I mean, they claim that you –



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres: It goes much deeper than shenanigans. There are three important pieces of legislation that the Senate should be working through this week. One of them goes to energy security and is all about managing CCS, Carbon Capture and Storage, in the context of these big offshore gas projects. It's all about our energy security, which the Coalition say they support and in fact, they've gone much further with pretty hysterical language about the issues that go here. This is an important piece of legislation. There's another bill that is a counterterrorism bill that they say they support, and there's a lot of street theatre from some of these characters about national security. This is a piece of legislation that they say they support. And there is other legislation that the shadow Attorney-General said is essential to the administration of justice in Australia. Instead, what have we got this week? They say they support these three bills, but they're not prepared to vote for them and they are just filibustering their way through the week. It is not possible to take these people seriously.



Tom Connell: Well, what about the IR changes? Because they're not going the way you wanted to, but the elements everyone agree on have been split out and voted on and supported. So, should they just pass the House now? Because otherwise Labor would be the ones delaying things such as assistance for emergency workers suffering from PTSD.



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres: We're going through a bigger consultation process here than the previous government went through with the Work Choices legislation.



Tom Connell: But they can be passed. That's the question. They can be passed.



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres: The priority here this week, national security, energy security, the administration of justice.



Tom Connell: That's what you want the priority to be. The Senate works out [inaudible].



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres: Some of this is time critical in the national interest. These guys are, they've been infected with the sort of hyperpartisan far right extremism that you see sometimes in the Congress in the United States, where it's all about the partisan politics, not about the national interest. It is not possible to take them seriously on these questions, they say they're for it but they’re also against it, they’re not prepared to vote.



Tom Connell: We’re nearly out of time. You've had to say on that but what about the IR stuff? That could pass. So, if Labor doesn't bring it on, these urgent changes that have been passed in the Senate aren't that urgent, are they?



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres: How could you look people in the face who are Uber drivers, whose safety and security and income security depends upon this bill, a bill that indeed we're –



Tom Connell: [inaudible]



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres: That has been worked through. These are very basic uncontroversial changes that will put a proper floor for labour hire workers, for gig workers –



Tom Connell: They are controversial, though?



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres: Well, they're controversial in some sort of ideological sectors. We've done some very constructive work. You look at what Tony Burke's achieved with the AHA, with Uber, with a range of these other providers, gig economy, worked them through and actually got a practical result. And we know what's gone on for gig workers and we know how in some sectors they have been exploited. We know what's happened for some labour hire workers who have been stuck on labour hire arrangements for decade after decade, haven't got a fair shake, haven't been paid equally.



Tom Connell: All right.



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres: This piece of legislation is going to do the trick. We're committed to continuing that approach.



Tom Connell: But not committed to pass –



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres: But right now national security, energy security, the national interest –



Tom Connell: [inaudible] to pass the ones that will go back to the House.



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres: We'll work that through next week. We're committed to the whole bill.



Tom Connell: Tim Ayres. Appreciate your time. Thank you.



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres: Good on you, Tom