Interview with Patricia Karvelas, ABC RN Breakfast

Patricia Karvelas
Supply chain issues and NRF Fund; Greens demands regarding gas and coal projects; Reserve Bank Governor facing Senate Estimates.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  If you've been trying to build or renovate a house or source car parts you'll know it's no quick process and there's a good chance you can blame the major delays on supply chains. It's an issue all over the globe and the Government says it's National Reconstruction Fund will help fix some of those supply chain issues by allowing us to manufacture more products here, Australian made. But the Greens are threatening to block the passage of this bill unless the Government meets its very specific demands. 

The Industry Minister Ed Husic joins me now. Minister, welcome back to Breakfast. 


PATRICIA KARVELAS:  Yeah, I'm good. There's $15 billion of funds on the line here. The Greens have introduced an amendment that would prevent any coal and gas projects being invested in, in exchange for its support on this. Will you agree to that?  

ED HUSIC: The important thing about the Reconstruction Fund is it's going to be the biggest investment in manufacturing capabilities in living memory. It will make sure we've demonstrated we've actually learned the lessons of the pandemic when it comes to the supply chain issues you referenced earlier, and it gives us a great opportunity not only just for jobs but for things like, for example, reducing emissions via the manufacture of green tech. We think that a lot of what we've put in the NRF, which we also based on our modelling on for emissions reduction, provides a really good opportunity for us to bring down emission, increase jobs. And with the Greens, we're making those points. 

I mean the NRF is about manufacturing capability. It's not about the type of things that they've been raising, and we'll work through those issues and we want people from across the Parliament, frankly, to be sensing this as a moment of nation building, that we can work together on this and I'll take on board people's views and we'll work through them. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  Well to get this through the Parliament now that the Coalition has said they won't be supporting it, you need the Greens and two others. 


PATRICIA KARVELAS:  They want you to prevent any coal and gas projects being invested in. Will you make that guarantee?  

ED HUSIC: Well they've certainly, as you've documented just then or reminded us just then that they've put that on the table and that's    

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  Have you ruled it out or is it something you're negotiating on?  

ED HUSIC: I respect that Parliamentarians will put their views and the parties will put their views forward and it's up to us to work it through. Not to do it in the way we've seen in times past where we just have a rolling brawl. Sometimes you'll have differences. You'll work through them and that's been the way of this Parliament where people have made all sorts of claims about whether or not things would get through and we find a way to make it happen. And I just think it's underpinned by respect and understanding that differences will occur. 

In respect of the Coalition, what we saw was a knee-jerk reaction that was not flagged. There was no issues that were raised prior to the declaration made of opposition and the resumption of normal programming by the Coalition in opposition, which is to say no to everything. 


ED HUSIC: And I think it misses - and I think for their communities, for communities represented by Liberals and Nationals, particularly where manufacturing's a big deal, it will be interesting for those communities to understand why their members of parliament refuse to back manufacturing. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  Okay, Minister. We'll go to their reasons but I just want to stay on what you're negotiating on. So you haven't ruled out that demand from the Greens?  

ED HUSIC: I think a number of things. One, we've emphasised that that's not what the NRF is about. The NRF is about building manufacturing and manufacturing capability. It's about in large part    

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  So that would be easy, wouldn't it, to just say, "Okay, no coal and gas projects will be invested in"?  If it's not about that isn't that an easy thing to add in?  

ED HUSIC: If I may just finish the point. So it's about manufacturing capability. And there is a $3 billion sub fund about helping support the manufacture of in large part green tech which is going to help reduce emissions and provide low emissions and zero emissions technology. So if you take from that our commitment and the fact that we also took into account this type of investment in the modelling that we produced as part of our broader policy to reduce emissions and get us to net zero, that is a big point. 

As to specific things, coming to your question, Patricia, about responding directly to them. I'm not going to conduct live negotiations via media. We're working these issues through patiently, respectfully and I'll continue down that path. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  Sure, but you're not saying that you're ruling it out though?  

ED HUSIC: You picked up on that. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  Yes. Okay, so it's on the table. 

ED HUSIC: No, no, it's not - I'm not ruling in, I'm not ruling out, I'm just working through issues that are raised with me. I'm making the points about the clear drivers of what the NRF is about. 


ED HUSIC: And I'm not interested in just having arguments or live negotiations. I want to take this stuff on quietly and patiently with them, but I do make that point again, the NRF is about supporting jobs, manufacturing and also helping us in the path of reducing emissions. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  The ACTU is demanding any business that wants to access the Reconstruction Fund must have union agreements. Is that being considered?  

ED HUSIC: Again, there are a lot of people that will make submissions. We've asked people for their views on how they see the fund or the things that they really want the fund to do. We're taking those on board from various quarters. 

In respect of particular positions, again I'm not going to go through all of those things working through the volume of submissions that we've got. We're really grateful for the interest that we've received in the NRF. People get what it's trying to do. 


ED HUSIC: People will have their, like the ACTU, they'll have their things that they're very keen to do. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  It's been reported that the Government is not interested in doing that, that you don't think it's your job. Can you clarify that?  

ED HUSIC: Look the reports are out there. We're taking the consultations on board    

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  I'm just wondering if it's a true reflection of the Government's position that you don't have to have union agreements to be part of it?  

ED HUSIC: We're working through it but again I'm not going to respond to every single submission that comes up. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  The Coalition claims the fund lacks transparency. What are you going to do to ensure the public knows where the money goes and why?  

ED HUSIC: Firstly, the Coalition's dealt themselves out. They can raise all sorts of questions that they haven't been prepared to do privately or work with us through constructively. That's point one. 

In terms of the way the fund will run, just I'm really keen to assure your listeners and the rest of the country that what we want to do is provide a huge boost for the development of manufacturing capability but done in a way that's been quite different to what we've seen. 

We're not going to have flashy announcements made by the Coalition where they use colour coded spreadsheets to determine where the money goes. An independent board that's made up of very credentialed, qualified, capable people from industry investment circles will make the call, just like they do in a similar arrangement with the Clean Energy Financing Corporation, guided by investment mandate and also knowing fully well our priority areas which we've talked about since we've announced this last year. 

We want people to have confidence that we're building capability and that we're not developing colour coded spreadsheets to advance political interest rather than national interest. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  If you're just tuning in this is Radio National Breakfast and my guest is the Industry Minister Ed Husic. 

Well the Greens are kind of in the box seat in many ways because the Coalition have said they're not going to be supporting a range of legislation in fact. The other one is the safeguards mechanism. The Greens have just announced their position on that vital legislation. They say they'll vote for it with an amendment, again that there be no coal and gas projects. Is the Government open to that?  

ED HUSIC: Well in terms of the safeguards, they play a vital role in reducing national emissions. If we are successful in this we'll reduce emissions by about 200 million tonnes, which is like taking two-thirds of the cars that are currently on Australian roads off roads between now and 2030. Huge. 

We think it will play a large part in driving us towards net zero. We've been consulting widely, again similar with the NRF, we've been talking with a lot of people, taking on board what they say. And I just, I guess I make this point, broad strokes for the sake of a deadline or a headline is not what we're after. This is tricky, difficult work that needs to be done. Again, I just make the point, and I know this is going to sound like repetition, Patricia, but we're not going to necessarily respond publicly or reactively to some of the positions that are being put forward. We understand where the Greens are coming from, but we've just got to work through this process like we've had with other legislation. We'll just work it through in the Senate when it gets there. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  Okay, so in terms    

ED HUSIC: We're still going through the consultations I think is important to emphasise too. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  But you're not ruling out their demands either though?  

ED HUSIC: Well again similarly, just to play the broken record, not ruling in or out. It's been registered. Interest has been registered. The amendment has been noted and we'll just work it through. But we hope too that the Greens recognise that this is a moment to make a mighty dent in emissions, that we don't trap ourselves in trying to aim for perfection at all costs and that we miss the opportunity to do what people really want us to do, which is find a way to reduce emissions, particularly by some of the biggest emitters in the country, who want to do this too. A lot of the emissions that are covered by the safeguard mechanism, the bulk of companies that are in there, they already have corporate net zero commitments. They want this. Business gets it. They want to get to the point and they want to work it through. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  Just finally, big day today. The Reserve Bank Governor Phil Lowe will face Senate Estimates. It's after the bank increased rates for the ninth time in a row adding a lot of stress on households. What does he need to answer?  

ED HUSIC: I think, well, I don't think he's going to necessarily need advice from me on what he should do. He obviously is well versed in appearing before parliamentary committees. I think there is obviously a desire for us, as a government, to reduce inflation so we can bring downward pressure on interest rates. 

A lot of what we're doing as a government is about responding to cost of living increases, repairing the supply chains that are driving inflation, returning government savings or revenue uplift to savings. So we've got a clear pathway there. 


ED HUSIC: But it's, you know, I'll    

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  Okay, but yesterday we found out    

ED HUSIC: I'm not coaching Phil Lowe. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  No, no, you're not coaching Phil Lowe, but yesterday we found out that consumer sentiment is at sort of recession levels. Does that worry you?  

ED HUSIC: Obviously we're very conscious of the impact of inflation. It's the biggest fight on our hands economically and it's not a fight that we're having on our own. A lot of countries are grappling with this when you look at the globe right now. Getting this right, making sure that we tackle inflation but do it in a way that doesn't crunch the economy, that is a very live thing. And we're trying to deal with the overhang of what we've inherited from the previous government and do it in a way in responding responsibly, carefully, calibrated, targeted, get it right. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  Thank you so much for your time, Minister. 

ED HUSIC: Thanks Patricia. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  That's the Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic.