Interview with Tom Connell, Sky News, Newsday

Tom Connell
The Voice to Parliament referendum; National Reconstruction Fund; rail manufacturing; interest rate rises.

Tom Connell, Host: Welcome back. Development today in the Voice referendum, the Coalition seemed to have succeeded in a push to have a pamphlet mailed out to all Australians that will explain well, similarly the yes and the no cases. Joining me live is Assistant Trade Minister Tim Ayres. So, Labor has relented on this, has it, and why?

Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Assistant Minister for Manufacturing: G'day. Well, it seems to me a sensible provision. I mean, we want all Australians to be engaged and consulted, have an opportunity to have as much information as possible. This is a sensible decision that the government has made that will support Australians having a real opportunity to vote in this referendum. And there is a lot of information out there now in the community as we approach the referendum, and the yes case gets more and more active, there will be more and more information out there for Australians.

Connell: Can the no case send out whatever it wants, does it get fact checked?

Assistant Minister: The no case, as is the yes case, are free to make their arguments.

Connell: No sort of political truth requirement or anything like that?

Assistant Minister: Yeah, I'll be watching carefully to see what claims are made. But Australians are sensible. Right, you've got some of the people on the political extremes saying some pretty extraordinary things, but this referendum is squarely aimed at where the majority of Australians are.

Connell: Alright.

Assistant Minister: It's a proposition that speaks to mainstream Australia, it's a straightforward proposition and I think, my view, is that Australians will embrace it.

Connell: Got a lot to whip through. It's not quite yes, no answers, but we'll see how we go. National Reconstruction Fund, the Coalition says there's a lack of detail. It's a huge pot of money, do we know, for example, what return, rate of return, it will need to get for it to be off the books truly?

Assistant Minister: Well, it is a very significant allocation. This is the biggest peacetime industry policy offering that an Australian Government has put in Australian history, because the requirement is so large. The manufacturing industry has shrunk and shrunk and shrunk over the past few decades. In the last decade itself, the offshoring of the auto sector, 40,000 jobs gone, all that capability gone. Now we're living in a new environment where manufacturing capability, sovereign capability, really matters. This fund meets that challenge. It is a very significant amount of money, but the governance structures are very strong -

Connell: And to be off the books, it's going to need to get inflation plus and inflation is running pretty high. It's got a lot harder since you announced this fund, hasn't it?

Assistant Minister: Well, there's very good work going into making sure that issues like the rate of return and some of the fund design questions, all those details will come, but it will look a lot like the CEFC. The CEFC model is tried and trusted, it has worked over the past 15 years. The difference here is this is not a policy that's about shovelling money out the door, grants with no accountability. This is money, as you say, with a rate of return that can be invested over and over again. Where the government gets a return invested in future capability as far as the eye can see, because that's the scale of the [indistinct] we need.

Connell: I was intrigued to see 65 trains are being made in Queensland, because we don't make a lot of that sort of thing anymore. We're not making cars - are trains this natural advantage I've missed somewhere? Why are we still doing that?

Assistant Minister: We can do so much better in rail manufacturing. The Queensland Government, the Victorian Government, the Western Australian Government have all invested in the future of our train-making capability. There's a strong contrast, of course, the NSW Government offshored all of the trains that have been manufactured there and what have we ended up with? Over budget, over time, 4000 jobs gone offshore and the trains that arrived have had quality and safety problems. A ferry just yesterday -

Connell: I've seen a lot of projects go over time and over budget.

Assistant Minister: Yeah.

Connell: So, we'll see how the Queensland one goes. Not to be sceptical about Australian-made.

Assistant Minister: It's a big commitment, but it's going to make a difference.

Connell: RBA decision, if there is a recession, who will be to blame?

Assistant Minister: Well, this is an environment that the RBA is operating in where there are significant inflationary pressures for the Australian economy. There are some very hard choices that the RBA board has had to make. Now -

Connell: We’re nearly out of time. If you could keep this in 15 seconds or so.

Assistant Minister: Well, this is a very tough environment for Australians facing rising mortgage costs, in an environment where wages have been held back for a decade. It's a very challenging situation.

Connell: I'm sorry to truncate it because it was a broad question, but you forgive me? Tim Ayres, thank you.

Assistant Minister: Thank you.