Interview with Danica Di Giorgio, Sky News AM Agenda

Danica Di Giorgio
Energy and gas prices; Australia-China relationship; Industrial relations reforms.

Danica Di Giorgio: Welcome back to the program. For more on the day’s top stories, joining me live is Assistant Trade and Manufacturing Minister Tim Ayres. Thank you so much for your time this morning.

Assistant Minister Ayres: G’day, Danica.

Di Giorgio: Let’s get straight into the gas and energy crisis. Unions say unless the Government has a solution to bring down prices by early December then companies will have to make some really difficult decisions. Manufacturers could have to sign on to expensive energy contracts. They can’t hold off on that forever. Is your Government’s Christmas deadline for an energy solution too late?

Assistant Minister: Well, the unions and industry are right to point out the scale of the problem. The Government has around five weeks ago negotiated an effective arrangement with the producers to ensure that there’s sufficient supply for east coast manufacturers and, indeed, for households. What we’re seeing, though, is a very sharp uptick in prices over the year that is unsustainable. It is driven by global events, by the war in Ukraine, and gas producers doing very well in profit terms. But it is, as you’ve said, as the industry have said and as the unions are pointing out - puts some big manufacturers in harm’s way. And the Government is carefully and methodically working through those issues to deliver a solution.

Di Giorgio: The Government is holding out hope that the gas industry would do the right thing. Are we way beyond hoping and wishing? At what point is the Government willing to get it done and intervene?

Assistant Minister: Well, we’ve made it very clear that the best solution here is working with the gas producers, and the gas producers themselves delivering sustainable prices for the Australian market. You know, that would be the best approach. But, you know, the gas producers should be paying attention to their responsibility to the national interest, their responsibility to their social licence with Australian resources that they are making very significant profits out of on the back of, you know, very significant long-term investments. But we haven’t seen that downturn in prices. We haven’t seen a return to a sustainable level of prices. And, you know, we’ve been very clear with the gas industry in a careful and methodical way that in the absence of a return to sustainable prices then the Government is considering a range of options in front of us.

Now, we’re not like the last Government where, you know, a crisis like this would be met with a sound bite or a slogan or a marketing campaign. That’s why they had 22 different energy policies over the life of their Government and couldn’t land one of them. We are – you know, the Prime Minister has been very clear. We’re going to run a fair dinkum Cabinet-style Government where the Government is going to take its policy responsibilities seriously and act in the national interest. And I think what you’re seeing now is the Government carefully working through those issues.

Di Giorgio: All right. Let’s move on now. The Prime Minister wants to meet with China’s President during his upcoming Asia trip. What do you think is the likelihood of actually this happening, and what could it mean for trade between the two countries?

Assistant Minister: Well, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister and, indeed, the Trade Minister have all made it clear that we’re – that, you know, dialogue is important, that we’re open to meetings where there’s – where it’s available. And I think the Prime Minister in his comments made it clear that his schedule is not yet resolved. We are as a Government, you know, consistent with the last Government’s approach going to act carefully and sensibly and in the national interest here.

There’s no sugar coating it – the relationship with the PRC has become more challenging and more difficult over recent years. You know, more dialogue is a good thing. But we’re just going to act carefully and in the national interest over these issues.

Di Giorgio: Just finally on IR reforms, business is very unhappy. They say that the Government’s rushing it. Is a Christmas deadline realistic now?

Assistant Minister: Well, I just think we’ve got to go back to the substance here. What the Government’s proposing is a suite of reforms, many – directed towards three things really: firstly, delivering more pay equity and equality for women in the workplace, secondly, getting wages moving again and, thirdly, spreading the benefits of collective bargaining to more workers and to more firms.

Now, the enterprise bargaining system has ossified and got smaller over the course of the last decade. These reforms are sensible, moderate reforms that mean more firms will be included. And the overseas evidence is very compelling. You know, Australia is an outlier. More multi-employer bargaining leads to better employment outcomes, so more employment, less unemployment, it leads to higher productivity and higher wages, and it leads to more cooperative workplaces. That’s the definitive, overwhelming overseas evidence.

These reforms are directed towards achieving those outcomes. We ought to get moving with them. If it’s about more jobs, less unemployment, higher productivity, more cooperation, and upward pressure on wages, which bit of that don’t we want? You know, these are good, moderate reforms in the national interest, and we ought to get on with them.

Di Giorgio: Tim Ayres, we do have to leave it there. Thank you very much for joining us.

Assistant Minister: Thanks, Danica.