Interview with Greg Jennett, ABC News

Greg Jennett
Deal with Indonesia for delivering batteries for EVs, foreign relations, humanitarian pause in Israel-Hamas War

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Ed Husic, welcome back once again to the program. I feel like we've been here before, talking to you from Jakarta. Now we haven't actually got to commercially manufactured lithium ion batteries on any scale that I'm aware of in this country yet, but it has taken you back to Indonesia for the second time.  What are you doing, and is manufacturing in any sense a step closer because of this follow-up business?

ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: Hi Greg. Well, what we're doing today is putting pen to paper on something that President Widodo and Prime Minister Albanese said we would do back in July, which is work between the two countries developing an MOU that will further us on processing and manufacture, and particularly from the Indonesian perspective, advancing the development of batteries for use in EVs. They've got a very ambitious plan on boosting the number of electric vehicles on Indonesian roads and batteries are a key part of that. So this MOU is about mapping out the supply chains between the two countries, being able to work together on R&D, getting businesses to work together on processing and manufacture. We've got the lithium, they've got the nickel; together we can take a big leap forward towards net zero together, and this is finding a way of deepening the economic relationship by working on a shared priority.

GREG JENNETT: I take it you wouldn't be doing this without some knowledge of commercial interest as you work through the high level government processes, and the signing of an MOU would be an example of that, I suppose, but what is the level of commercial interest in manufacture?

ED HUSIC: So the Indonesians are working quite a lot on that within their country. In Australia we obviously have a number of firms that are engaged in the processing and manufacture of batteries along and using different chemistries, different technologies.  We're developing in Australia a National Battery Strategy that we hope to release in the coming weeks, designed to deepen our engagement in the battery value chain and the supply chain, so we've got some terrific firms doing some great work, Energy Renaissance in the Hunter, you've got Redflow up in Brisbane, for example, Gelion in Western Sydney, they're all using technologies, we really need to ramp up the manufacture of energy storage systems to be able to pair up with some of the greatest rooftop solar penetration on the planet and be able to store energy and stabilise the grid and get us towards net zero. So if we combine our strengths between Indonesia and Australia we've got a lot going for us, and you've mentioned, obviously I'm back here in Jakarta, and this is part of a push by our Government to deepen the relationship, to not just talk the walk, but walk the walk. And since our election as a Government over 30 visits by Ministers to Indonesia working with our counterparts on things of common interest, so that we can, again, have a stronger trade relationship, be able to connect with an economy in Indonesia that is going from strength to strength, and will be a major player long term, and there's benefit for both of us in terms of Indonesia and Australia getting our act together on these things.

GREG JENNETT: Yeah, I will ask a question about broader foreign relations and where our view of the world sort of intersects with Indonesia's in just a moment, but one more around manufacturing.  As you develop this strategy that you're talking about, as money starts to flow out of the Reconstruction Fund, what non negotiable conditions exist that a business that receives money must actually remain in Australia, and obviously I'd be guided in asking this sort of question by the recent experience with the Queensland fast charging firm Tritium.

ED HUSIC: So when we put together the law that would underpin the National Reconstruction Fund, a big part of that was an element that said that what the National Reconstruction Fund would do, this is $15 billion, the biggest investment in Australian manufacturing capability development in living memory, we want to be a country that makes things, and we want to do it here. So an element of the laws that underpin it is that any of the funds that are invested have to be invested in solely or mainly based Australian companies. We want to be able to see the jobs here on shore expand in Australia, we want to also send that strong signal to companies that their future shouldn't be tied to them feeling like they have to leave Australian shores because the support isn't here in Australia. We want to break that track record, and the Reconstruction Fund is about that, and it's about providing support to Australian based firms.

GREG JENNETT: Okay. So that would be a bit of an anchor.  Look, why don't we move on to a broader question around foreign relations. You're there in Indonesia, of course a very, very strong supporter of the Palestinian people, and vocal as well in its Opposition to Israel's conduct in the war. It demands a total ceasefire; its President has made that point at the White House and elsewhere. How would you explain to Indonesian hosts that you'll encounter there Australia's more muted and qualified position on that ceasefire question?

ED HUSIC: I think the dialogue that we've had with our friends in Indonesia, they've understood the fact that we have put forward the argument and made the case that we need to take steps towards a ceasefire, that we believe that a humanitarian pause is an important first step. We've seen that merge with the announcement of the humanitarian pause that has been described for the four days that has been outlined to allow for vital medicine and aid to go in and help people in Gaza, so there is an understanding around that, and also the Indonesians have welcomed that temporary pause as well in the statements that they've issued in the last 24 hours.  Like us, they agree that the longer term prospect for peace is an enduring two-state solution, and they are very focused on that too, and they are also focused on the fact that in terms of any of the action that is undertaken that it should respect International Humanitarian Law, and in particular, as we have called out, that facilities, vital facilities like hospitals not be targeted, and that that be recognised as well.  I mean there are a lot of parallels between our positions, there may be some elements where the Indonesians will take it in a way that they want to, but clearly countries will do that, and what they believe is appropriate for them.

GREG JENNETT: Do they recognise in you that you have individually as a Cabinet Minister taken an outspoken position, you know, bit more in line with them than perhaps others within the Albanese Government?

ED HUSIC: Well, I mean I haven't - if I can answer your question directly, I haven't asked them if they've seen my remarks.

GREG JENNETT: Understood.

ED HUSIC: But I do, I mean I've spoken up because I've felt, importantly, that particularly Australian Palestinians, they had an element to this that needed to be heard, and I've spoken with respect to that in times past, and I think like a lot of Australians, share the concern that Australian Palestinians have that Palestinians in Gaza have paid a very high price, a disproportionately high price, and I've been very concerned about the action that has impacted on the kids. No one for one moment cannot feel the weight of that. I think a number of things clearly need to happen, not the least of which is Hamas can accelerate the move towards a durable ceasefire by releasing hostages immediately, that we can then see a much more long standing pause in the actions that are being taken by the Israeli government, and that we can help Palestinians that are in dire need in Gaza too, and help them rebuild their lives, frankly.

GREG JENNETT: All right.

ED HUSIC: I think that's the other big thing that needs to emerge.

GREG JENNETT: Okay. And just finally, questions are being asked back home in here in Australia, Ed Husic, by the Opposition about the rigour of security checks attached to the 860 temporary visas that have been issued to Palestinians since the start of the war. Can you give an assurance about the rigour of those checks?

ED HUSIC: Well, the Coalition has been in government, they know the processes that are used to - the normal security that takes place when someone applies for a visa. those are unchanged, and from my perspective, it is extraordinarily crass by them, knowing all that, to raise those questions. And it's crass because there are a lot of Australian Palestinians who've lost family in Gaza and want to be able to help remaining family get out of harm's way.  And it's both Israelis and Palestinians who want to help their loved ones, and if they can connect them up with a visa, why would the Coalition have any problem with trying to get people out of harm's way ultimately? And why would they try to score crass political points at the point of hardship and when people are feeling the weight, and anxiety and concern? That they could play politics in that way, as I said, extraordinarily crass, and they should be asked why they have a problem with trying to help - with Australians trying to help family and loved ones get out of harm's way.

GREG JENNETT: Point noted, Ed Husic, and we will ask that question as the opportunity arises on this program and elsewhere. Great to catch up again from Indonesia. Thanks for joining us.

ED HUSIC: Thanks so much, Greg.