Sky News First Edition

29 March 2024



Peter Stefanovic, Host: Let's bring in the Assistant Trade Minister now, Tim Ayres. Tim, good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning. So, finally, wine is back. China's seen the light.



Senator Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Well, it's been the product of two years of really hard and determined work by the Trade Minister, the Foreign Minister, the Prime Minister, the whole government focused on removing these impediments to Australian trade. It is a very welcome development, and it comes on the back of the $20 billion worth of impediments to Australian exporters. $18 billion of that removed. Wine was the biggest final part of that piece and it's a very good development to see that improvement.



Peter: So, Richard, who we just spoke to a short time ago from Bec Hardy wines, he says they've already got a backlog of orders that are ready to go. How long do you expect or predict that we will get things to a level where they were when these tariffs were put on?



Senator Ayres: Well, as you pointed out in the intro to this story, about $1.2 billion at its peak, Australian wine exports. That represents jobs in Western Australia, South Australia, the Hunter Valley. It's a very significant employer and place for business investment. Vineyards that are utterly dedicated to the China wine market. We expect all of these impediments to be removed by the end of the month. That is in a couple of days. But of course, it's going to depend on the commercial arrangements that exporters have. Some already have, as your previous interviewee demonstrated, they are ready to go.



Peter: So, for someone starting from scratch, it'll take longer.



Senator Ayres: Entry into a market like China takes time, and we are working to support this sector as well. Meetings with officials and the sector to make sure that everywhere there's a barrier that we can assist to resolve, we're doing that. It is very welcome news.



Peter. So, to get to that $1.2 billion level again, are we talking years?



Senator Ayres: Well, it's going to take some time. I travelled to China last year to meet with my counterpart, the Chinese Vice Minister. There is an enormous appetite for high quality Australian wine in the chinese market. Chinese businesspeople who I met with absolutely understood the value of Australian wine. So, I'm expecting to see a rapid take up where there are existing markets. So, I'm optimistic about how that's going to proceed, but it's going to depend on all of these commercial realities.



Peter: Ok. What about the other side of the deal? Barnaby Joyce just referred to the swindle towers, wind towers. He elaborated on what did we have to give up for China to come back to us on wine?



Senator Ayres: It's hard to fathom a bloke like Barnaby Joyce. Really, who’s unable to accept that a government would behave with honour in the Australian national interest without being blowhards on the domestic scene, and would just work through this in a programmatic, sensible kind of way to achieve the outcome. There is no connection between these developers.



Peter: So, we didn't have to give up anything or allow more business to come from China?



Senator Ayres: We absolutely did not. We have proceeded on the basis that our job here is to remove the impediments that exist in front of Australian exporters, because that's in the Australian national interest.



Peter: Right, so they’re not sending more wind towers to Australia at a cheaper price?



Senator Ayres: Barnaby Joyce says some wild things. He's hostile to wind energy at all. He's for nuclear energy up there in the New England, where I come from, and he has absolutely no evidence for that kind of proposition. He is just making it up because that's all that the Coalition have got, is negativity, conspiracy theories, fear campaigns. We just should stick to the facts.



Peter: Ok, so just on this announcement yesterday, pivoting to solar, a big one by the Prime Minister. I mean, it's going to take us a long time to play catch up when it comes to solar, right? I mean, this kind of thing probably needed to be done ten years ago.



Senator Ayres: It certainly would have been better if it had been done ten years ago. Remember, Australia invented solar technology. We have the highest take up of rooftop solar in the world. We invented solar at the University of NSW. Now, that has all been commercialised offshore, 90% made in one jurisdiction in China. What this development means is that a brand-new solar technology that uses copper instead of silver, it's the next wave of innovation, will be manufactured in Australia instead of offshore. There's a billion dollars’ worth of support and that means that Lake Liddell, at that power station that I know well, I used to travel there very regularly as a young trade union official. This facility that will be built there will employ more people at Lake Liddell than have been there in living memory. This is a very good development for the hunter. It's good permanent manufacturing jobs and that's what you're going to see from the government this year.



Peter: Just a final one, Tim. My cynical siren is going off over this Mike Pezzullo story reportedly being stripped of his AO. Of course, it comes at a time when you've got this fierce debate over detainees, given his old job. First of all, are you aware of this?



Senator Ayres: No, I'm certainly not aware of it. Certainly not. Never heard this story before. I just say it's Easter Friday. We're both here bright and early, working hard. I wouldn't let your cynical siren go off.



Peter: My cynical siren is happening. It's happening because of what's happening at the moment. So, would you suspect if it's true that the two would be linked? That this would be some kind of revenge?



Senator Ayres: No. We are working through. I'm not sure what kind of revenge that would be. We are working as a government carefully through making sure that we've got a migration system that's cleaned up, that's got integrity. We are carefully. This piece of legislation that we tried to get through the parliament tonight that the coalition voted for in the House of Representatives, because the policy was right, and then voted against it in the Senate because the politics overwhelmed them.



Peter: What about the backbenchers who’ve raised concerns about it, claiming it's rushed deportation laws and overreach banning entire nationalities?



Senator Ayres: Well, this is what happens when Peter Dutton and the Liberals go for the politics rather than the policy. This is a sensible and very straightforward piece of legislation that gave the government the tools it needs to have to administer this small element of the migration system properly. The politics and Peter Dutton's negativity have overwhelmed it. We'll get back on with it in a few weeks.



Peter: So, Mike Pezzullo should keep his AO?



Senator Ayres: Well, I can't see a reason why any steps would be taken. Mr Pezzullo has resigned and is, I assume, getting on with his life in the private sector. It’s the first I’ve heard of it.



Peter: Ok, Tim, appreciate your time. Thanks for coming in. I hope you have a good long weekend.



Senator Ayres: Yeah, you too.