Interview on Mornings with Monte, 2TM Tamworth

Monte Irvine
First sitting of the 47th Parliament; Government’s legislative agenda; Government’s response to foot and mouth disease. 

JOURNALIST: I have been joined on the phone now by New South Wales Labor Senator, Mr. Tim Ayres. Good morning, Senator, how are you this morning?


JOURNALIST: Senator, now, the 47th Parliament, the first sitting of the 47th Parliament commences today.

ASSISTANT MINISTER AYRES: Yeah, well, this is a resumption of the parliament after what's been a very long, a very long break, while the election happened. So it's, you know, I'm in here in the Canberra office now. I can tell you that people are starting to drift in, there's an air of excitement around the place, it's not often that there's a new parliament with, with a new government and, you know, my Labor colleagues and I are obviously, you know, excited about the start of the new parliament. But you know, there is a lot of work to do. And we've got a real quiet commitment amongst all of us to, as Albo said yesterday, we're not going to waste a day of this. We're going to fight hard to be an effective, good government. That work began the day after the election, but the parliament is an important, you know, the first parliament of the term is an important milestone in the process. So we're really looking forward to it.

JOURNALIST: Well, with the first sitting and the first day, and not wanting to waste a day of it, what's going to be on the agenda, what legislation has the Albanese Government got in the pipeline to be debated for the first time in the lower house?

ASSISTANT MINISTER AYRES: Well, day one, today is largely ceremonial and there'll be of course, there's importantly, today, there's a last post ceremony at the end of the day where, you know, at the beginning of every session like this, there's an opportunity to reflect upon the sacrifices of people who've served Australia in conflict overseas, and the impact that's had on our communities and the courage of those people. When we get into the parliament itself on Tuesday, the key piece of legislation this week will be getting the climate and energy policy and legislation through the parliament. You know, there was a strong vote for the climate wars, you know, the ideological wars, all the nonsense on climate, there was a strong vote, strong mandate, for that to end and an endorsement of Labor's policy approach, a very strong mandate that we're bringing into the parliament. And we're going to come in and deliver that mandate. That's going to be the key focus of the week. There are other pieces of important legislation that deliver on Labors’ agenda that are coming through, reforms in a range of areas, but I think all the focus will, of course, be on climate and energy, and the emissions target that we'll be delivering through the parliament this week. And as your listeners, if they've heard me talking about this before, know that this is, you know, Labor's policy is to drive down the cost of electricity, to put more renewables into the system to make sure that we're delivering certainty for investment in new power generation and new storage, drive the cost of energy down for households and business and our modelling shows that'll create 604,000 jobs. Five out of six of those will be in the regions. Two really important pieces of policy work.

JOURNALIST: Just speaking about this policy, the Greens Leader Adam Brant basically came out and has said that, you know, he's not happy with the targets that were set for 2030. And there may be a little bit of reluctance from the Greens to help pass this bill in the Senate. What I mean that, that sounds like it's going to be an interesting discussion to be had between the Labor Party and the Greens and I think also, one of the other independents within the Senate. Have those discussions commenced?

ASSISTANT MINISTER AYRES: Well, there certainly have been discussions across the parliament. You know, one of the things we're going to do is treat the parliament and treat the Australian people with respect. This is a fresh parliament. There's a lot of Liberal and National MPs who lost their seats to community independents. We're going to treat everybody across the parliament with respect and we'll listen to their ideas. But we have a strong mandate on climate and energy. That, you know, the last time that the Liberals and Greens got together to vote against a Labor climate and energy package, it started 10 years of failure. You know, the last package that fell over, fell over because the Greens and Liberals got together to mug good climate policy, to mug good energy policy. And that's cost Australia billions of dollars in lost investment, it's cost us 10s of 1000s of good jobs, most of them in the region. It's undermined our cost competitiveness. It's made it harder for investors from overseas to invest in new industrial capability in Australia. It's pushed up the price of electricity. And it's had zero effect on lowering emissions. You know, for a decade after that, after, you know, Bob Brown and the Greens and Peter Dutton and Tony Abbott all got together and mugged good climate policy, we had a government that then came into the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government that had 23 failed energy policies that they had 23 go’s at implementing energy policy. The country went nowhere. Well, the Greens and the Liberals and independents have got, have got a big decision to make this week in the parliament. And I agree with David Pocock, the new independent in the ACT, who's just said, well, we should just get on with this. It's the right, the right framework, 43 per cent is a floor not a ceiling, and we've got to, we've actually got to get out and give the community certainty around these issues and put this debate behind us.

JOURNALIST: Senator, moving on to our next situation you talked about the regions or something that is concerning, particularly this region is the foot and mouth disease outbreak that's happening in Indonesia and the concerns of it spreading here to Australia. Now we have spoken about this last week. There's been updates obviously that come through, there's now fragments being found in in Australian cities, Adelaide and Melbourne. From what I can recall, there's fragments of it been found. The implication, the implementation of sanitising mats in two airports, in Darwin and in Cairns has been put in place. Speaking to Barnaby Joyce, our local member on Friday, he's made a few other suggestions of you know, sending people over, vet students, vets and people like that over to Indonesia to vaccinate their cattle against foot and mouth to help eradicate it over there to help protect us. He's even suggested that we should buy the current cattle herd that's over there and replace them with healthy Australian cattle. Is the government looking at doing that, to move forward and reach out to Indonesia and offer that help? As well as increasing the biosecurity at our ports and airports?

ASSISTANT MINISTER AYRES: Well, I'll just make a couple of points about this Monte. Firstly, we are in the government absolutely clear on how serious a threat this is. The impact on the Australian economy and on beef & cattle communities of the arrival of foot and mouth disease in Australia would be immense, very significant costs. I've seen some of the modelling exceeds $80 billion over the decade but very, very significant costs. And it would have a very significant impact on Australia's reputation as a clean, green, high-quality exporter of meat products and dairy products around the world. So, we've got to do everything that we can to make sure that we defeat this disease. We are going to throw the kitchen sink at this. Murray Watt, the new Agriculture Minister, has been all over Australia on this issue talking to the experts, talking to beef cattle communities. He went to Jakarta with the head of the National Farmers’ Federation and a team of agriculture experts to make sure that we're closely coordinating with the Indonesian government. I agree with Barnaby's point, insofar as he's saying there needs to be intense cooperation here between Australia and Indonesia. It's in our interests, the right thing to do to support the Indonesians eradicating foot and mouth disease in their jurisdiction, so it's good for their industry but it's obviously good for us too. So, yes, strong cooperation with Indonesia. 

Secondly, a higher level of biosecurity measures at our airports and at our ports, and following the expert’s advice, and we need the cooperation of the traveling public, you know, if you've, if you're travelling back to Australia, make sure that your footwear has been sanitised. If you've gone to an agricultural area, declare it. If you're carrying products that are animal products, don't bring them, but declare it. We need everybody, a whole country effort, to make sure that we stop this disease in its tracks. The government's committed to doing absolutely everything to deliver that outcome. Of course, foot and mouth disease is, you know, right around the world, it's endemic in many parts of the world. And it's been a constant battle right through Australia's 20th century and 21st century history to try and keep foot and mouth disease out of the country.

JOURNALIST: Senator, one of the one of the suggestions that has been made was to close the border to Indonesia until this situation has been resolved or was best resolved as it can be. The Prime Minister has actually come out and said, no, he's reluctant to do that. Barnaby Joyce again on Friday suggested that well, we've done it temporarily, there's precedent set, they closed the border to China with COVID. Why is the Prime Minister so reluctant to close the border to Indonesia, while this is being handled?

ASSISTANT MINISTER AYRES: Well, the Prime Minister's absolutely right. You know, what we're not going to do here is panic. What we're not going to do here is have knee-jerk responses that the experts and the industry, none of them are calling for the closure of the border, in fact, quite the opposite. Because they know that the damage that would ensue now, foot and mouth disease, yes, it's in Indonesia, and in Bali, in particular. But it's also in other parts of the world. And our response hasn't been to close the border, to every part of the world where foot and mouth disease is present, that would just not be practical. What we've got to do is implement stringent requirements at our airports. Focus on what the experts are telling us to do to eliminate this disease and eliminate the prospect of it coming to Australia, and fight like hell to make sure that it doesn't come. Now, we're going to do all those things. We're going to follow the expert’s advice, but we won't be doing the sort of dysfunctional politics of the old government where, you know, you do things for a media grab, and, you know, you play for the headline. We will implement precisely what the experts are telling us to do. We'll do it carefully and cautiously. You know, some flights will have 100 per cent of passengers being checked. Coming to the country, we're going to, we have really stepped up the approach here and we'll continue to watch it very, very closely indeed.

JOURNALIST: The sanitary mats, just returning to that point, you said you want to do everything that happens at the airport and possible, putting them into Darwin in Cairns. Yes, that's great. Why hasn't that been spread out through all airports throughout Australia flights coming into Canberra to Melbourne to Adelaide, to Perth, to Sydney, why not put those mats in place in those airports?

ASSISTANT MINISTER AYRES: Well, we're going to have sanitation mats in international airports. That's the position of the government, we're going to roll that out. We're doing it carefully and sensibly and we want the cooperation of the traveling public here. You know, we're not mucking around with this disease. It is very important that we get this right. And, you know, you can expect that all of the measures that have been taken to date will be closely, be closely watched, closely monitored. And if we need to step up at particular airports, you know, we'll continue to do that and people have got concerns about particular airports, they should raise them, of course. But we are absolutely onto this, as I said, we are going to throw the kitchen sink at this Monte, it's critical for the country.

JOURNALIST: Senator, just to confirm that you've just said that you that the government will be rolling out sanitation mats to all international airports?

ASSISTANT MINISTER AYRES: I'll just be really clear, the material that I have in front of me indicates that it's at international airports, I will check and come back to you about whether that's at every international airport. I don't want to claim that I know something that I'm not, not completely confident about. That's not the kind of approach that the government is going to take where we will make stuff up as we go along. But, but the material I have in front of me says that it's at international airports, we're going to have strong biosecurity measures at every port where people come in, not just from Indonesia, Monte, but from around the world. You know, there'll be a strong focus on this Indonesian outbreak, but the fight against foot and mouth disease, you know, never stops. And, and as I said earlier, you know, I agree with some of what Barnaby Joyce said that, you know, strong cooperation with the Indonesian authorities is, has got to be one of the key things that we that we do here to roll this disease back.

JOURNALIST: Fantastic. Senator, thank you so much for your time. I know that you've got a very busy day in front of you being the first sitting of parliament. And I appreciate you taking the time, having a chat to us. I look forward to talking to you next week. And I'm sure there'll be plenty to talk about from the first week of the 47th Parliament.

ASSISTANT MINISTER AYRES: Yeah, good to talk to you Monte.