Interview with Monte Irvine, 2TM Tamworth, Breakfast Show

Monte Irvine
Commonwealth funding for bridge upgrades in Tamworth; Energy Price Relief Plan; Government’s legislative agenda.

MONTE IRVINE, HOST: I've got Senator Tim Ayres on the line. Good morning, Senator, how are you this morning?

SENATOR TIM AYRES: Pretty good, Monte, pretty good. It's gonna be tough for kids getting to school if it's a big storm out there.

IRVINE: Well, it's about it's about to hit, I reckon, and it's not that far away. I'm, I'm looking at the studio window now. And it's just grey and it's a dark, dark grey. And looking on the on the weather radar, it's, it's got some orange and some yellow in amongst all that green. So we're in for I think it's going to be a decent, decent thunderstorm very soon. Well, I hope people are careful.  Yeah, absolutely. Well, speaking of which, you've got a big announcement for the Tamworth area - and it sort of applies with water - bridge funding?

AYRES: Well, there's, there's an announcement that we made over the course of the weekend, as part of our commitment to, to rebuild bridges, the Bridges Renewal Program. So three bridges are going to get Commonwealth support. One at Westdale, one on the Goonoo Goonoo Creek and one at Moore Creek. Now some of that funding is directed towards culverts, to try and make sure we're flood-proofing some of these bridges. Some of these bridges are, you know, the narrowest bridges in that area. And providing additional funding for culverts will make, you know, will assist making some of these bridges flood proof, it means it's less likely that they get damaged in a major flood event.

IRVINE: So it's, there's quite a substantial amount of money that's been pledged by the Australian Government $2.8 million in total.

AYRES: Well, it's part of our national program. There are, there will be opportunities for councils to apply for funding again, you know, all of these bridges, you know, these projects have, you know, wouldn't proceed without the support of the Commonwealth. So, $2.8 million locally, that'll mean improvements to the bridges. It'll mean more work for locals, delivering those projects. And it's going to help flood proof the region. So, it's a good, good story. There is a lot of work to do in in regional New South Wales on bridges in particular. And, you know, the Government's absolutely committed to continuing to do that work.

IRVINE: Now, something else that we saw yesterday, last week, we saw the Prime Minister managed to hold a National Cabinet meeting with all the Premiers from around Australia and even with him having COVID, in fact, and he managed to organise a cap on coal prices, and that's going to help put a cap on energy prices. There's been a little bit of pushback come from the energy sector, as well as the Opposition. But I also see this morning that the Greens and one independent in the Senate, perhaps looking to derail it by pushing even more action on climate change. Is it time do you think for the Greens and this independent Senator to maybe - I'll put it in layman's terms - pull their heads in and realise this is affecting Australians in the short term, the long-term goals are in place for climate action?

AYRES: Well, we're going to recall the Parliament on Thursday. These are, you know, these are not measures that would be happening in any other situation. We've got an extraordinary situation, an energy price crisis that has been brought about by essentially Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine. It's meant that global energy prices have increased, gas and coal companies are making record profits as a result of this conflict. Now, these are Australian resources, Australian gas and Australian coal and Australian customers are being exposed to very significant increases in prices, no fault of their own. But because of this war in Europe and the Government, you know, you've asked me questions about this over the course of the last few months, the Government's been working through a careful, deliberate process to deliver a temporary and targeted set of measures to cap prices in gas and coal.  

Now that will mean two things happen. Firstly, it will mean for electricity and gas consumers in terms of households, it will mean lower prices over the course of 2023. The Government's modelling suggests about a $230 saving. What it will also mean critically is for those manufacturers who are on the east coast who have gas as a feedstock in their production processes, some of whom are facing a very uncertain future because of these massive price rises, they will now have an affordable gas price, that means that those businesses can continue to be sustained. So, we are acting to protect households, but also acting to defend Australian manufacturing.

IRVINE: So, obviously, it's, as you said, in response to that of the energy prices going up, and obviously, the government has recognised this, the Premiers have recognised this. I mean, Dominic Perrottet is one of the only few Liberal Premiers left in the in the country. He's on board and supported it. We've seen Mr. Dutton the Opposition Leader come out against it and basically, not be on the right side of this. I think in real terms, they're out of touch, perhaps, with the Australian electorate and how much this is hurting and how much this may help.

AYRES: Well, it's just politics as usual from Mr. Dutton. We have a responsibility here to act. And I think that's what the State Premiers have recognised that this can't - these gas, and electricity price spikes are bad for the economy, bad for households, bad for manufacturing, and put upward pressure on inflation. And everybody who is in a position of responsibility in this argument has opted for the Government's plan, which has been very carefully, very carefully developed. It's temporary. And it's absolutely necessary. You know, Mr. Dutton and others want to play politics. I mean, they would say no to any proposition that the Government ventured. Now, we just say that to Mr. Dutton and to the Liberals and to others, that they have an opportunity on Thursday to act in the national interest, to do what's right for households and to do what's right for business. That's where the Parliament will be. I'm very confident that these measures will receive the support of the Parliament on Thursday. They are emergency measures; they are completely necessary. People are free to continue their political arguments before and afterwards. But on Thursday, the Parliament should act in the national interest.

IRVINE: Is there a concern, though, that the Greens and Mr. Pocock, the independent [Senator], is going to derail this and make it harder for it to pass the Parliament?

AYRES: Well, they could. They could do that. But there will be enormous pressure from Australians who need energy price relief, and from businesses who employ thousands and thousands of blue-collar workers up and down the east coast of Australia, in very significant manufacturing enterprises who then need this gas price relief. If we're going to defend our manufacturing sector, if we're going to be on the side of Australian families and Australian households, we are going to have to implement these measures before Christmas. Now it's unusual to pull the Parliament together in this way, in the week before Christmas, but that is what is necessary to deliver the reform in a timely sort of way. And that's important for industry, and that's important for households. So we're going to go ahead and do it.  

We'll of course have discussions across the Parliament including with the crossbench, to make sure that they understand, you know, that they understand the reform and understand the government's commitment to long term action in the energy market. You know, we have very substantial plans, in terms of energy, very significant investments in the transmission grid to make sure that we can put more low-price renewables and storage into the grid. That's what's going to have the long-term structural impact of driving down electricity prices. It's that certainty in energy policy that's been missing for the last decade and frankly, made it harder this year to deal with the energy price challenges. So, nobody should doubt our commitment in the long term, to achieving the structural reform that'll drive down prices and drive down emissions at the same time. But this year, for 2023, we need these temporary measures to put downward pressure on gas prices and electricity prices. And I'm very confident that by the time we get to Thursday, there'll be very broad understanding not just across the Parliament, but across the community about how important these reforms are.

IRVINE: 2022. We're going, it's a bit of a year in review for us now. 2022, at the beginning of the year, when we first started talking at the start of 2022. I was in Inverell on 2NZ, you were in Opposition. And now things have well and truly changed. I mean, Tamworth, you're now an Assistant Minister in the Labor Government, what a year.

AYRES: It really, really has been a very significant year. And, you know, it's an election victory in May that we never took for granted. All of us in the Labor Caucus worked so hard in such a disciplined way to make sure that Anthony Albanese and Labor had the confidence of Australians to deliver, you know, a new kind of government. And, and it's been hard work Monte through this year. I think everybody, everybody across the government, you know, hasn't lost a day. You know, we have absolutely thrown ourselves at this task of making sure that we're governing, governing well, delivering on the commitments that we said that we would do, rebuilding trust between Australian voters and government. 

And there have been some important reports. The National Integrity Commission, the National Anti-Corruption Commission, action on climate and energy, doing what we said we would do in terms of putting downward pressure on childcare costs, you know, implementing exactly the reforms that we said that we would do, reforms to try and fix our industrial relations system, you know, take some action there to put some upward pressure on wages and give people access to the collective bargaining system. I think there's 62 pieces of legislation that have gone through the Parliament over the last few months, really implementing the Government's agenda in a careful way. And, you know, I know that it's been a big year in 2022. But 2023 promises to be a challenging year as well, where the Government's got to work just as hard for all of your listeners to do the job that we've been elected to do.

IRVINE: Absolutely. Look, Senator, thank you so much for this year. Thank you so much for talking to us, just about every Monday at seven o'clock to keep us up to date, what's going on in federal politics, and I really do appreciate your time and you have a fantastic Christmas, great New Year, great Christmas for your family and those around you, and we'll talk to you early 2023.

AYRES: Well, I really appreciate that Monte, Merry Christmas to you and to your family and also to all of your listeners out there, have a have a terrific Christmas, make sure it's a safe one. Be careful on the roads. And I hope you all have a terrific Christmas with the families and communities up there in that part of the world that I absolutely love - New England, I still think of as being my home and it's always a pleasure every Monday to come and have a chat to you and your listeners.

IRVINE: Thank you Senator.