Interview with Oliver Peterson, 6PR Radio

Oliver Peterson
Changes to superannuation; manufacturing in Western Australia; May Budget; National Reconstruction Fund

OLIVER PETERSON: Joining me in the studio now is the Federal Minister for Industry and Science, Ed Husic. Lovely to see you, Minister.

ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: G'day, how are you? Don't call me Minister! We’ve known each other long enough. You don't need to call me Minister.

OLIVER PETERSON: But you are a Minister! 

ED HUSIC: Yeah, sure, but it just feels weird when you say it, you know.

OLIVER PETERSON: Hello, Minister.

ED HUSIC: How you going, Olly? Mr Peterson. You want to do this? Let's play. Let's play. 

OLIVER PETERSON: Well, we can play that if you like. I just want to start with some of the comments, though, from your Treasurer today. He was on the Sunrise program with David Koch being asked about whether or not there'll be capital gains tax coming into the family home. Couldn't really answer it earlier on. He's come out and cleared it up later. Does he want to do this though? Is this in his mind, is this one of his plans?

ED HUSIC: No. Well look, he can obviously talk through from his perspective, where his head was on that, and he's cleared it all up. But from our point of view, we think in terms of the broader superannuation change that we flagged, it's not in until after the next election. It's targeting people with balances of $3 million. 99.5 per cent of people are unaffected. The average super balance is about $150,000. So we've been upfront about what's being done and it's being driven in large part because we've inherited a big budget deficit, a large debt. We’ve got to rein this in. We’ve got to rein in inflation, put downward pressure on interest rates, and so there are things that governments need to do - responsible decisions like this. That's why we're going through that process.

OLIVER PETERSON: Are they broken promises, though?

ED HUSIC: No, because the PM was quite clear before the election saying no major changes. We flagged that we'll do it after the next election. We'll obviously set the framework up, but it'll be stuff that it goes to the next election. People get to vote on it then. And I think the PM has kept faith with the public in terms of what he said and flagged that this is something we need to do for longer term budget repair.

OLIVER PETERSON: What about public servants and politicians’ entitlements? Is that going to be reviewed too?

ED HUSIC: I think you've seen the comments made around defined benefits. I'm not in that scheme. I was elected afterwards. So we'll have the similar superannuation-

OLIVER PETERSON: But some of the vintage politicians?

ED HUSIC: We've said that that will be taken into account through the consultation around how that's done, because it's a different system - you need to work that through.

OLIVER PETERSON: Is this the way though that your Government's going to try and just fly things up the flag with the public, see which way the wind blows and then make a decision? Because it's been a bit uncertain over the last ten days or so, Minister.

ED HUSIC: Two points, I'd make. One, we have said we will do what we said we would do. That is we've got a stack of things we're working on like for example, the National Reconstruction Fund that I'm responsible for. What we said we do, we're doing, and we're committed to that. But there are some things Olly, that occur through the life of government or they become bigger issues - and in particular, the concern around the size of the deficit, the impact on inflation, trying to bring down interest rates. There's stuff that you do have to do and you have to act on. And that's what we're trying to do. Get that balance right on the things that we've got to do and the things we got to deal with.

OLIVER PETERSON: Will there be a lot of changes do you think in the May Budget?

ED HUSIC: Well, I think the May Budget itself is really our focus. All the Ministers have been told we've got to find savings. I've certainly stumped up savings in the last budget and looking at them now and being responsible around the way we use taxpayer dollars. A lot of the stuff in my area is about building capability and capacity. It's an investment in the economy now and into the future. So that is where our focus is. We've inherited a terrible mess, $1 trillion of debt, not much to show for it, and people expect that that will be reined in and dealt with.

OLIVER PETERSON: Speaking of the National Reconstruction Fund, which is what you are here talking about as well today, it's a boost for local manufacturing. That's not a laissez faire though, is it? You need some crossbench support if this bill is to go through the Parliament. Just explain to us what you're trying to do.

ED HUSIC: Well, the National Reconstruction Fund, is the biggest investment in manufacturing capability in living memory across a range of different areas. It's about, as I said earlier, not just looking at the economy now but into the future. What will create jobs, what will create growth for us longer term, and manufacturing - being a country that makes things, this matters. It creates full time, secure work. And so in a number of areas, we want to see some of that happen. And I love coming over to WA. As you know I try to get here as much as I can and see really smart work being done from traditional sectors right through to leading edge players. So today I visited Midland Bricks and seeing the stuff that they're doing about changing brick design, cutting emissions, but still increasing jobs and work through to OncoRes out at Nedlands with Kate Chaney, working through with the crossbench about the value of this fund. And I've been sitting down with crossbenchers like Kate and others and the Greens and just working through those issues. The Coalition refused to back what we're doing to support manufacturing. So we need to deal with the Crossbench as a result. And just having those good conversations and working through issues and being grateful talking with people like Kate Chaney, who's very common sense, very practical, and also wants to see growth of, say, medical manufacturing in her neck of the woods.

OLIVER PETERSON: So do you think she will support the bill?

ED HUSIC: I'm going to leave her to speak on her behalf.

OLIVER PETERSON: When you read into the fact that you're walking through Nedlands with her today, I mean, that's a good indication.

ED HUSIC: Can I just say, I just want to make this commitment to you and your listeners. I don't care what people's politics are. If they want to work with us on building manufacturing and all that it means for local communities and our economy. I don't care if you're Liberal, I don't care if you're National, I don't care if you're Green, I don't care if you're Independent. I'm definitely committed, and I think people want to see politicians working together. They're sick of all the bun fights, just get on with the job and do what's right for the country.

OLIVER PETERSON: This bill also, as well, formulated out of the few years of COVID we saw Australia being isolated from the rest of the world. Western Australia more so than the rest of the country. Did that really highlight to you, when you were in Opposition and now, obviously, as Minister for Industry and Science, a need to be self sufficient?

ED HUSIC: Well, we lived through this, right? The things we thought we could get, we couldn't get them at the time we needed them most. We realised that we're dependent on really concentrated supply chains. Only one or two countries supplying some of that stuff. We've got as a country, some of the worst -  this is not something to be proud about, One of the worst levels of manufacturing self-sufficiency in the OECD. So that means we import a lot of someone else's product, a lot of someone else's ideas that are transformed in that product. And we've got in some key areas, we've got to do much better value add and resources. We mine so much of the material used in batteries. We don't manufacture the stuff here. And it's so important for us value add in agriculture, in medical manufacturing and some of the critical technologies that are emerging and will be really important to us long term. I know it doesn't necessarily get everyone's motor running, but people often say they want governments to think long term and act for that long term future. And that's what this stuff is all about.

OLIVER PETERSON: You just mentioned that there. So battery storage capability here in Western Australia because a lot of its mined, the minerals and the ingredients if you like, for batteries here in Western Australia. You want to take that next step and see the batteries manufactured here in WA.

ED HUSIC: Yeah, and we owe a great debt of gratitude to WA because you do so much on mining and refining. We've got to now work at all parts of the battery value chain. I'm visiting the Future Battery Industries CRC here in Perth tomorrow. They're doing a lot of that long-term thinking about the value chain, so we go beyond mining and refining. We look at processing, cell manufacture and the software. Because a lot of these batteries are very smart machines and through to recycle and reuse because we want to have these batteries last as long as they can and be reused and not end up in landfill.

OLIVER PETERSON: How much is this a pipe dream versus a possible reality?

ED HUSIC: I can tell you that there are a lot of our friends that are thinking deeply about how we get this right because it plays a big role in cutting emissions. We’re one of the countries that leads the way in rooftop solar but we don't store as much as we can. So countries like the US, I visited there in late January meeting with my counterpart, the Secretary of Commerce over there. And they're saying, look, let's work together. They've set up a big lot of money themselves through the Inflation Reduction Act. We are setting up the National Reconstruction Fund. How do we work together to get all those different parts of the value chain worked out so that we can make a difference? And again, that we're not just dependent on one or two countries, but we're doing some of this work that's really important to a country ourselves. 

OLIVER PETERSON: Sure, and it can be financially viable?

ED HUSIC: I mean the demand is there, right? So it's huge. The urgency is there to help reduce emissions, to use what we're doing with solar and wind and see if we can store in batteries. We've got the smarts here in different parts of the country. I visited ChemX today out in O'Connor with Josh Wilson, my colleague, and they're processing the materials in new ways that go into that whole process as well. So you got a lot of smart firms here in WA very keen to work in with those firms. And you simply can't have a National Reconstruction Fund that doesn't think of the role of WA from the get-go. And that's why I visit here so much, to see these firms, to know what they're doing and to factor them into the national work that we're committed to.

OLIVER PETERSON: Here's a bit of feedback from Alan. He says, Olly, I just heard Minister Ed Husic say they inherited a mess. Yet the Prime Minister criticised the Morrison government when he announced the ending of JobKeeper as it did what it was supposed to do and keep businesses and people afloat. It is very hypocritical. What would you say to Alan?

ED HUSIC: Well okay so our concern Alan, at that point in time is that we were very worried about people's livelihoods because the economy really wasn't on its best footing. And there are some things that we did agree should be invested in to keep that support there, keep those jobs going. And it's important in terms of the economy that people feel they've got that degree of confidence to be able to go on and spend and see that work its way through the broader community and economy. But there were some things, frankly, that they wasted a lot of money on and we didn't see. All that rorting of huge amounts of dollars and what did we get at the end of it? So we are committed to fixing and cleaning that up. I get that there will be people with different political views that take a different angle to it. But we are trying to do the way in which we use taxpayer dollars, that we do that in a much more sensible, practical and also something with a lot more longer-term benefit as well to the community.

OLIVER PETERSON: When you say rorting, do you think some of those recipients of JobKeeper now, if they're profitable, should be paying it back?

ED HUSIC: I think it's two points-

OLIVER PETERSON: Qantas for example, okay, record profit last year.

ED HUSIC: I could give you the long answer here's the short one. No. Why? I mean, I would love them to donate it back. And by the way, I can give you the details -

OLIVER PETERSON: You take it out of our taxes anyway, Minister!

ED HUSIC: Those companies if they'd like to, can certainly make a repayment back, details provided shortly! But the thing is, the amount of time you would spend to try and claw that back and get that back versus just recognising that the world's moved on, it is just too difficult at this point to be able to claw that back. But JobKeeper, it was important at that point in time. We urged for wage subsidies at that point to be put in when the world was starting to seize up, particularly their economies. And obviously we can have our differences of opinion politically with the Coalition, but it was an important measure to keep people's livelihoods.

OLIVER PETERSON: Minister, I appreciate you coming into the studios today and we look forward to seeing you back in the west shortly.

ED HUSIC: Likewise, good catching up.

OLIVER PETERSON: That is Ed Husic, the Minister for Industry and Science.