Interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News AM Agenda

Laura Jayes
Electricity prices; Default Market Offer; Government’s energy price relief package.

Laura Jayes, Host: Well, the Opposition Leader, Peter Dutton, says he is willing to come to the table and support the government's tax increase on the gas sector. The comments followed the release of new data suggesting electricity prices will rise by 25 per cent, giving Australians fresh cost-of-living shocks. Joining me live is the Assistant Trade and Manufacturing Minister, Tim Ayres. You and Peter Dutton on a bit of a unity ticket this morning. Who knew?

Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Assistant Minister for Manufacturing: Well, we'll see. Mr Dutton, for the whole period of his leadership of the Coalition, has been off the field. He has said no to every government proposition that there has been, even ones that we've got a mandate for. There is deep, deep anger in the business community, in particular, about Mr Dutton's refusal to engage on these issues. Every time you engage with business on these questions, there is a deep frustration that the Coalition has allowed ideology and slogans to trump its obligation really to try and act in the national interest. 

Laura Jayes: Now, that's the Opposition's job, isn't it? If I give you the other side of the coin here, I could say that Labor is inflexible to some minor amendments. That's fair too, isn't it?

Assistant Minister: Yeah, well, we're the government, Laura, and you could see from the way that we approached these questions in the last term of opposition -

Laura Jayes: So, is that your way or the highway? Is that what that means?

Assistant Minister: Well, you can see the way that we approached these questions when we were in opposition last term. We were constructive, we voted for some proposals, even though we would not have designed them ourselves. We were very open about that. We acted in the national interest and sometimes that was uncomfortable, but it was the right thing to do for Australia. And I think Australians saw that. They saw that the character of Labor in opposition was constructive and in the national interest and acting like adults. And they in part rewarded that at the election. And now we've got a government that's determined to act in the national interest, to put pragmatism before the partisan politics and an opposition that's gone back to sort of the Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison reflexively, negative partisan carping slogans, no substance. Mr Dutton said the other day that the devil was in the detail but has provided no detail for any of his proposals himself.

Laura Jayes: Hang on, he's just agreed to support it with some amendments around red tape.

Assistant Minister: Well, I'm just very sceptical, given the record so far that that's actually what is going to happen here. I understand that's what he said in a piece in The Australian today. Well, we'll see what happens, but I've just learnt to be sceptical of whether this Coalition can bring themselves to act in a cooperative way to engage on the actual substance of the issues, rather than just the partisan carry-on.

Laura Jayes: Do you think the Australian public has grown to be sceptical of Labor's claims that their power bills are going to be cheaper under your government?

Assistant Minister: Well, look at the evidence. 

Laura Jayes: We are, they're higher than at the election.

Assistant Minister: Look at the evidence in the wake of the biggest global crisis in energy prices, that the regulator says 90 per cent related to Russia's war in Ukraine. It can't be washed away. This is a very significant price impact that the government's changes here have held electricity prices down by 40 per cent. And now the market offer -

Laura Jayes: 40 per cent after an increase, but you're still quarantining gas for the East Coast market. Why are you afraid to do that?

Assistant Minister: Let's be real, here. The alternative is that you have skyrocketing energy prices for households and business and for some manufacturing businesses because of the war in Ukraine - because of the war in Ukraine we're facing up to bills that would make them uncompetitive. 

Laura Jayes: Sure. 

Assistant Minister: Now, the government's acted, right? The government's acted - 

Laura Jayes: But don't you think manufacturing sector and the general public look at our vast natural resources, like gas, which is vastly cleaner than coal, as a transition fuel. I think we can all agree on that before we get to renewables, that we're sending most of it overseas. So, don't you think the general public goes, well, hang on, shouldn't we reserve some for the domestic market. So, we actually have a buffer between what's going on globally?

Assistant Minister: Well, decisions were taken in the early 2000s by previous governments that have constrained the choices of the Australian government now. But we have taken action - 

Laura Jayes: So, your hands are tied, are they?

Assistant Minister: We have taken action on those questions. We have secured supply for the East Coast, for manufacturers, and we have put a cap on gas prices, and that has driven downward pressure on prices in gas, but also prices in electricity that has saved manufacturing businesses from being uncompetitive. Now, the Coalition's answer to this was just, 'no, don't do that.' And if the Peter Dutton, Angus Taylor view had prevailed, electricity and gas prices would be sky-high today. Sky-high. And a number of these businesses would not be in a competitive position. 

Now, Australians see that, as you say. What is - what are Australians seeing? Well, Australians are pretty sophisticated and understand these questions, and they are responding, of course, at a household level, to upward pressure on electricity prices. They are seeing rising prices in the economy more broadly. But what they've seen is a government that's done some practical things to act to protect households and businesses from the worst impacts of those prices. And the Default Market Offer released earlier this week, continues to do that work.

Laura Jayes: Happy Friday, Tim. Good to see you.

Assistant Minister: Hey, see you later. Good to see you. Well, I can't really see you here in Canberra, not in the studio with you, as usual, but it's good to be on the show, Laura.

Laura Jayes: Oh, good. I'm so glad. It’s too cold for me there. So, enjoy. See you soon.

Assistant Minister: It's as cold as charity. Yep.