Sky News Regional Breakfast

04 April 2024



Jaynie Seal, Host: Well, the Albanese government introduced two bills to parliament in the final sitting week before the Easter break, which focused on accelerating our transition towards net zero. Well joining me live is Assistant Trade Minister Tim Ayres. Thank you so much for joining us. First of all, tell us a bit about the bills.



Senator Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Really good to be with you. This is my Sky Regional debut, so I'm very excited to be here and you'll have to be gentle with me today.



Jaynie: I will be very gentle, but yes, we are very happy to have you on board. So, tell us about the bills.



Senator Ayres: Well, the Net Zero Economy Authority is a formal authority. The government has lodged the legislation in the parliament. It is designed to do the work of making sure that this most substantial economic and industrial change, it is the biggest industrial change in the global economy since the industrial revolution. 97% of Australia's trading partners signed up to net zero commitments, which will mean they will be demanding different goods, low emission goods built with low emissions energy, a situation where 24 of our power stations over the last decade have announced their closure and there is a requirement for an unprecedented level of investment in renewable energy generation, storage and distribution capability. The government is determined to make sure that Australia navigates this new economic terrain well, that we secure the investment that we already have, but also that we make sure that we grab the new economy jobs of the future, in particular in manufacturing in my junior portfolio area, that we make sure that the Net Zero Economy Authority is there to make sure that we capture the benefits in local manufacturing as we reindustrialize the Australian economy. That is the Albanese government's ambition here. New manufacturing jobs in regional Australia, good blue collar trades and engineering jobs in country towns and regional centres to make sure that we've got the manufacturing jobs of the future.



Jaynie: Well, that sounds very promising indeed. And certainly, lots of jobs, as you mentioned, in the near future. Tell us a little bit about the jobs. You mentioned blue collar and also, you know, construction, trade. I mean, obviously we've got, you know, solar panels coming on board and renewables. What types of jobs are we looking at?



Senator Ayres: Well, we've seen the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund that is there to secure commercialising and producing goods in Australia rather than offshore. The Prime Minister last week announced $1 billion in Federal Government support for the solar sector and on the back of that at the Liddell power station, Sundrive solar made a commitment to build a manufacturing facility there for new Australian solar that is based on copper, not on the old silver product that will be more efficient. It's been invented in Australia and now for the first time will be manufactured in Australia. That facility alone will employ more people than the Liddell power station itself has employed. So, that is right there in the heart of the Hunter Valley, the energy capital of Australia. New manufacturing jobs. And the government is determined to make sure that we capture those opportunities here in Australia. There's two choices here really. One is we stick our heads in the sand, afraid of the future and let the world march by and lose the opportunity to build manufacturing here and to trade in goods like green hydrogen, green iron, capitalising on moving up the value chain in the mining, the critical minerals that are required for the energy transition around the world. We can capitalise on those benefits here in Australia if we're smart and determined and work to our comparative advantages. That is what the Net Zero Economy Authority is there to do. It is there to make sure that we're working with regional communities, with businesses, with the investment community, with trade unions, community by community, particularly those communities that are now really focused on coal mining and engineering, to make sure that they deploy their capabilities to build new jobs, new manufacturing facilities and that we work with communities to do that.



Jaynie: And that all sounds great, great to see again more jobs for the regions. And speaking to quite a few people across regional Australia, as you would well know, there's certainly a divide. Many people welcoming this change. Most people, I would say, are welcoming renewables and certainly moving towards the net zero target. What do you make of Opposition Leader Peter Dutton's comments and announcements that he's set to give major incentives for coal communities to move to nuclear energy?



Senator Ayres: Well, can I say two things about this. Firstly, of course it's absolutely natural that when you're going through a change like this that some people in the community are apprehensive and we are determined to work with communities to make sure that the benefits are shared and that the result of this, now what is the low-cost renewable energy and storage there to achieve? Of course it's there to achieve lower prices for households, but it's also about driving down the costs of manufacturing, making Australian manufacturing more competitive and delivering investment in manufacturing. That's what it's for. And so we're determined to do that. The alternative government, Mr Dutton and the nuclear stuff, I mean, everybody knows, every credible expert in the sector knows that nuclear is not a credible option for Australia. It is far more expensive, not by a small amount, but by a country mile more expensive than renewables and storage, which Australia has in abundance. It is decades and decades away. These experimental nuclear power stations that operate nowhere else on earth but in Peter Dutton's mind, and they will never be built. There is no investment money there lined up to delivering nuclear in the way that there is billions and billions of dollars worth of investment ready to go working in partnership with the Albanese government for renewable energy and storage. It is a fantasy. There is no state Liberal or National party that wants nuclear energy in their state. It's very hard to find a Liberal or National party member of the House of Representatives who's got their hand up saying, I want to have a nuclear power station in my electorate.



Jaynie: I would have to disagree with that because I spoke to someone. Sorry to interrupt, we've almost run out of time, but yeah, I spoke to somebody yesterday who was quite willing to have their Northern Queensland, to have a nuclear power plant there. I'm going to have to stop because we've got to go.



Senator Ayres: Well, you've found somebody. You found one. That's good. That's a start. But really the point is this is a plan that lacks only a few things from Mr Dutton. It lacks costing. It lacks a timetable. It lacks a plan around safety. It is just a strategy to go backwards, not to face the future. To go backwards in a nuclear fantasy that will deliver no new energy and isn't going anywhere for Australian industry. It's not credible and we ought to just get on with the job that's in front of us.



Jaynie: Yeah, well, you know, I hear your points and, you know, I've got to be balanced here, but when we're looking at 43% by 2030 and net zero by 2050, a lot of people are saying, why can't we have that combination of nuclear energy? And I agree it would take a while to get that sorted. I'm no expert, but speaking to a lot of experts, some would say it's not going to take decades and decades, but, I mean, again, we've run out of time, but it's a massive debate, of course, and yep, you do make some very interesting points. We're going to be having a chat to Nationals leader David Littleproud very shortly, so we'll get his take on that and hopefully you'll join us again Assistant Trade Minister Tim Ayers.



Senator Ayres: Anytime. Really good to be on the show. Thanks for that.



Jaynie: Thank you so much.