Interview with Andrew Clennell, Afternoon Agenda, Sky News

Andrew Clennell
Artificial intelligence; National Reconstruction Fund; petrol prices; Qantas's Yes campaign for the Voice; Public Holiday for the Matildas World Cup win; Labor Party National Conference

ANDREW CLENNELL, HOST: Ed Husic, thanks so much for joining us. Let’s start with artificial intelligence, something that’s really taking up a lot of your focus at the moment. You put out a discussion paper that points out that it can support diagnosis and early detection of health conditions in our hospitals. Obviously, we have the SmartGates in airports. So we’re already seeing aspects of it. Where do you think we’ll be with AI in five years? What other tasks will it be performing?

ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: Well, I mean, the thing is that the way the technology goes, what you know of now in terms of the performance of the tech versus where it could be in five years, that is a – if I could do that I’d be making a lot of money outside of politics, my friend. I’ll be careful about making bold predictions. But what you can rest assured is that even if people say right now, “Oh, the technology can’t do XYZ”, people are constantly looking to refine and improve the way it works. What you saw with ChatGPT, ChatGPT, OpenAI, the company behind it, or the organisation behind it, they’ve been working on this for years. It comes out in November with an update and everyone is suddenly talking about generative AI and ChatGPT and what it can or can’t do. And it will continually improve itself.

ANDREW CLENNELL: How fearful should workers be about the growth of AI?

ED HUSIC: Automation has been with us for generations. I mean, if you look at the big leaps that occurred in manufacturing and agriculture in the 50s and 60s, that had a big jobs impact. I think what happens is that companies and many that I do see where their heads are at is that they’ll automate certain lines or processes that they’ve got in their businesses, but they may actually put more people on. They think differently about how they’ll use people, workers, to get the job done. I think the big thing for us in our context when you hear about so many businesses and industries, Andrew, that have skill shortages, they’ll turn to automation because they’ve got to get the job done. They’ve got to get the work performed and they’ll see how they can automate lines. So it’s not actually in some cases the problem of taking workers out of work; it’s finding workers to perform it. If they can’t, they’ll look to robotics and automation.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Last week you announced the board of the National Reconstruction Fund. You’ve got a former Liberal minister there in Kelly O’Dwyer. That seems to be making up for the fact there’s a former union leader there in Dan Walton. You’ve got a former boss of Australia Post, Ahmed Fahour. Do you feel you have the balance right?

ED HUSIC: We’ve tried to bring to the National Reconstruction Fund Board, you know, different views, different experiences, different skills but to make decisions in the national interest. And, you know, while we might have – and there’s been some focus on the fact that we have a former Liberal minister on the board, I’ve said this is a national reconstruction fund. It’s got to be able to take people from different corners of the country and bring them together in the national interest. And if people want to step up and serve and are willing to do so, then that I think is a good thing. We want this to be able to revitalise manufacturing, strengthen the economy, grow jobs for the longer term. And we’ll have a different bunch of people that can be part of that. So I do welcome the fact that we’ve got different people and different viewpoints on the board. It’s a really strong board for the National Reconstruction Fund, and we want it to get cracking as soon as it can bringing those different skills and talents to the table.

ANDREW CLENNELL: How much money per year do you see this fund contributing to the manufacturing sector? Because it’s $15 billion, but you’re only spending the interest, right?

ED HUSIC: No, no, there’s $15 billion that’s going to be available. The first tranche of that as soon as the priority areas and the board is formalised, which has happened and it goes to the Governor-General. Those – that capital will be available and then we start to put it into instalments.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Just to clarify this – because the government’s got a couple of other funds, but this seems to be working differently to, say, the housing fund – you’re dispersing it in terms of loans and guarantees and expecting it to come back to be dispersed to others. Is that what you’re saying?

ED HUSIC: So if they make a rate of return that can then, like, basically deliver what was extended as that growth capital and then some, that will be a good thing for the fund and for the country as well. Because what’s driving it is the creation of solid firms that are generating that rate of return. They’re contributing to the economy. They’re growing secure jobs. Really, really important for the country long term.

ANDREW CLENNELL: All right. So just –

ED HUSIC: So you’re recycling that money is the best way to describe it.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Okay. So how much money in the first year do you expect to be dispersed?

ED HUSIC: I’d be very careful about making that call because the big distinction here, Andrew, is we wanted to do something different than what people had seen under the Coalition government. The Coalition focused a lot on grants. Some grants work really well, but what the big criticism of the Coalition was that it was driven in political rather than national interest. We set up an independent board to make those calls, and I’m not going to be on the phone jabbing them to make individual investment decisions.


ED HUSIC: They will make – we want people to have – taxpayers, importantly… We want taxpayers to have the confidence that the right decisions are being made in the national interest.

ANDREW CLENNELL: I bought petrol this morning in Sydney and it was $2.20 a litre. The last time it was this high the previous government cut the petrol excise. What’s causing the sudden spike, and how much is this hurting the economy?

ED HUSIC: I mean, and then we can go back to a few weeks earlier and the cost was way lower and it’s been jumping up and down. If I had – again, if I had the knowledge as to produce petrol prices would work and any person in politics could; boy, it would make life a lot easier. But we recognise that some of those challenges, you know, as a result of the whole range of different things will be there and will continue to be there for quite some time. We had to make a tough call obviously back late last year around the excise cut that was brought in by the previous government.

ANDREW CLENNELL: The PM launched Qantas’s Yes campaign for the Voice today. We had polling last week showing people wanted corporates to stay out of it. Is this a help or a hindrance, or does it start looking like, you know, it’s the elites versus the punters?

ED HUSIC: It’s a democracy, right? People will have their views. People will express them. Some companies will come in and want to basically take forward a very confident position in relation to the Voice and say from their point of view it’s a good thing. And I think, you know, for a whole bunch of people who often don’t like the fact that government doesn’t listen, they’ll often say we need to make government listen more, I think this is the first step in improving that process, right? It’s responding and saying in the case of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders that government can do a lot better to listening and using that activity to shape policy and the way that governments behave in the way in which they shape up their own programs better. And I think that is a good thing. I’ve often said to people, “Like, I’m not going to tell you how to vote.” I am voting yes. The government, a lot of us out there saying yes because this is a good, positive move, and we want people to be able to make that positive decision. And there will be corporates that make that. There’ll be sporting organisations that make that. There’ll be faith-based groups that will make that call as well. It’s all part of a healthy democracy.

ANDREW CLENNELL: It looks like we’ll have a public holiday if the Matildas win – in New South Wales at least. Why is this a good idea, because it could disrupt business?

ED HUSIC: I get there a whole range of different views on that. But what we can absolutely agree on is that seeing the Matildas perform the way they have has made the heart of the nation expand considerably. Everyone’s enormously proud of what they’ve been able to achieve so far. And if they go on and do just that in terms of taking out the World Cup this will be a huge moment in time. And I think it’s something that’s worth celebrating, though I appreciate that, again – as I just said a moment ago – it’s a democracy and there’ll be different views on things. But I tell you, just for one day for us to mark that moment in history would be something that people remember for years to come.

ANDREW CLENNELL: And just finally, are you expecting any trouble on AUKUS or Palestine or stage 3 tax cuts at the Labor conference this week?

ED HUSIC: What I can guarantee is there’ll be a whole lot of speculation about what may or may not occur at a Labor Party conference, and there will be people that definitely have their different views and they’ll express them on the floor of conference. And I think that’s been the case ever since I’ve been a Labor Party member, Andrew – and I think you’ve been watching them for quite some time yourself here at the state level or at national. Yep, there’ll be a bit of colour and movement, no doubt. But what we are focused on – and I think the great thing about our party is that we’ve got a whole bunch of people that believe that the country can always do better and try and chip in and improve the way things are done. And people with passion and motivation like that will express themselves in very energetic ways and I don’t think it will mean the end of government and civilisation as we know it, although I do know that it understandably provokes a lot of media interest. I think we recognise it’s one of the – it will be open for people to watch. We’re one of the few parties that do open up our conferences in the way that we do. We recognise our role in the broader Australian democracy, and I think having those different viewpoints expressed is a healthy sign. But I wouldn’t necessarily be thinking that it marks all sorts of things. I think people shouldn’t necessarily be getting ahead of themselves just because of what happens at conference.