Sky News with Kieran Gilbert

15 February 2024


Kieran Gilbert: Let's get some reaction. Ross, thank you. From the Assistant Minister for Manufacturing and Trade, Tim Ayres, what's your reaction to that number today, the unemployment, the highest in two years.


Senator Ayres: Well g'day Kieran. It's, it's obviously not a good thing when, when unemployment tracks a little bit higher. It does occur against the backdrop of unemployment being at historically low levels for a very long period of time. I just, I just think having unemployment with a three in front of it for such a long period of time has been an extraordinary and welcome thing over the course of the period of this government, Last time I looked, the number was 650,000 new jobs in the economy over the life of this, over the life of this government so far. That is a record number of jobs. It is, it is one, it is one of the features of-


Kieran: But only 500 in January, 500 new jobs, that's this is an anaemic labour market in the sense of growth right now. Do you expect rates to come down soon?


Senator Ayres: Well, as the treasurer has said, a slowing economy. We saw, we saw the moderation to in the inflation rate. Now, of course, ministers will say, of course, in interviews like this, that these are matters for the Reserve Bank Board, the independent Reserve Bank board, but obviously those two figures add to the story that said against all the data that that board will consider. For the government's part, we are focused on two things. Number one is the role that we can play as a responsible government in fiscal terms putting downward pressure on inflation. And number two, the big task exemplified by the tax package that we brought to the Australian public just a few weeks ago. Tax cuts for every single Australian more tax cuts. Bigger tax cuts for people who wouldn't have got tax cuts under Scott Morrison's old package. That is that is the government's approach. Now, it's interesting this week. But right, right now, we are talking about the big issues facing the Australian economy. We're talking about inflation, about unemployment, about the biggest tax package for low- and middle-income earners in recent history. Crickets from the opposition. They want to talk about everything but, everything but the cost of living. Everything but what the government's doing in this area. It is, it is a pretty shambolic approach from Peter Dutton and the opposition. What they need to do is to focus on the issues that matter for ordinary Australians.


Kieran: Now, you're about to go into Industry Estimates. I've just received some information from the Opposition on what they're going to target you over. And I'm going to put this to you, because you're going to find this out in 10 minutes, 15 minutes from the Opposition. They're suggesting that this scenario took place that you were appointed as an Alternate Director on SeaBus by a gentleman called Glen Thompson. Yes. And then, as Minister, you saw his appointment to the Rail Industry Innovation Council. They're going to put that to you. And they're going to, and I ask you is, is that correct? Then you received, obviously, payments as a Director of SeaBus. But did you declare a conflict of interest in that?


Senator Ayres: This is this is the oldest news. Some of this was traversed in the last Estimates. There are no issues with my conflict of interest. There was no remuneration received by me for this Alternate Director appointment, which must be, I haven't checked, must be 10 or 15 years old. This is-


Kieran: 2008. They're saying 2008.


Senator Ayres: Yeah, so 10 or 15 years old. This is absolutely normal for people who serve as union officials to serve on industry boards, including superannuation ones, so there was no conflict of interest. It was an appointment that wasn't an appointment for Mr. Thompson to make. It was an appointment that the Union made. And there was no remuneration received.


Kieran: So, no remuneration and no conflict of interest?


Senator Ayres: No renumeration and no conflict of interest. And what this is all really about is we, we have as a government in an effort led by me, in in terms of its implementation, embarked on this big program of giving the states and territories to work together on rail procurement. We have seen over the course of the last decade 1000s and 1000s of jobs shipped offshore. State Liberal governments offshoring big rail contracts, and that's meant disinvestment, apprenticeship opportunities lost. We have a plan, that that that involves getting the States and Territories to work together to lift the scale up, reduce the costs, strengthen the competitiveness of the Australian rail sector, to make sure that we're delivering good blue-collar jobs in rail manufacturing, in freight rail manufacturing and feeding into the supply chains of the world. That's the big story here. Now, we've made board appointments, the board, the board that the government appointed, is one of the highest calibre boards. And Mr. Thompson serves on that board. He is a union official. The opposition doesn't like it, but he has made an enormous contribution to the debate about protecting Australian rail jobs. He is up there at a table with people who come from right across industry and the rail manufacturing research community. I am absolutely confident about, about the appointment process. And I'm absolutely confident about the big contribution that we're going to make to the rail sector.


Kieran: Well you're, as I said, you're about to represent the government and Industry Estimates in about 10 minutes and they will be returning to that issue.


Senator Ayres: I can't wait. I can't wait. It is the most low-rent, dull story. And you're entitled to ask about it, no criticism from me.


Kieran: Just in terms of clarifying, you said there's no conflict of interest and I take your word for it.


Senator Ayres: Absolutely.


Kieran: Now, it's a bit of a change of tone but we should finish on congratulations for your, your colleague. The Prime Minister on Valentine's Day.


Senator Ayres: I'm so delighted. I really am so delighted. It's a, it's a Valentine's Day story for the ages. Really. They are a wonderful couple. I can only say I'm so pleased for the both of them. delighted to hear this news. And, and, and I'm sure Australians are too.


Kieran: Minister, thanks for your time. Talk to you soon.


Senator Ayres: Good on you Kieran, thanks.