Interview with Patricia Karvelas, ABC RN Breakfast
PATRICIA KARVELAS: One of the government’s big nation-building election promises, the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund, is heading to the Senate. It passed through the lower house yesterday after the Government agreed to the Greens demand to ban the fund from investment in coal, gas and native logging projects.
Last month, the Industry Minister linked this fund to national security, specifically the investment in quantum and critical technologies that are part of the AUKUS security pact. This morning, there are multiple leaks suggesting Australia will buy two types of submarines.
Ed Husic is the Minister for Industry and Science and is our guest this morning. Minister, welcome back to Breakfast.
ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: Good morning, Patricia.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Jacqui Lambie Network Senator Tammy Tyrrell says giving into the Greens on native logging is a smack in the face to Tasmanians and that it’s a broken promise. Does this mean it’s actually much more difficult to get this through the Senate? You may have the Greens on board, but the Jacqui Lambie Network clearly isn’t happy.
ED HUSIC: I’ve never taken for granted trying to negotiate this through our Parliament, not because I think it’s impossible, but because we’ve approached this from the point of view of respecting different views and that we need to work through them all. And we certainly met with the Jacqui Lambie Network, and I’ve been grateful for both Jacquie and Tammy’s input. We’ve had good discussions so far, but very early. And that’s been the case with other cross benchers and the Greens as well, where we’ve taken things on board.
And I’ve always said, and I think we’ve previously discussed, Patricia, that you’ll try to agree as much as you can. There’ll be some things that we can’t, but I do take the opportunity to get that feedback and start thinking through, well, if we can’t do certain things in terms of a legislative amendment, what are other things that we can do to try and address some of the issues raised, and that type of cooperation, I think, is really important and expected.
And in relation to Tammy’s comments, I just make the point that we had said all along this is a manufacturing fund. When the Greens raised their concerns initially around coal and gas, we had expressed, emphasised, said a number of times this fund is about manufacturing. It’s not about extraction. It’s not about logging either. And if the Greens needed that assurance in writing via an amendment, so be it, and that’s what’s happened. But at its heart the fund remains unchanged from what we had said before, which is we want to revitalise manufacturing capability. We need to invest in it and that’s what this fund will do.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, but logging has now been banned in that amendment, according to the deal. Logging –
ED HUSIC: No, it hasn’t.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: What do you mean then? You know, just out of the amendment - logging is all of a sudden in it. Logging is a billion dollars industry in Tasmania. Are you prepared to offer the Jacqui Lambie Network or Tasmania something in exchange?
ED HUSIC: Logging will continue where State Governments and Territories allow for that type of activity to occur. What we’re talking about is value add. Where do we go for value and resources and agriculture along with all the other priority areas in there and turn that into manufacturing? So the Act itself – will allow this to continue. As I said, wherever it occurs, it’ll keep going.
And I just reacted in terms of when you were framing up the question, Patricia, just around the whole notion that this will stop logging. It won’t. It will continue. And some of the reactions I’ve seen, you know, you’ve just got to raise your eyebrows and move on to the next thing.
But this is really a fund that is focused on making sure we can do more onshore and instead of just doing what we’ve done in times past, taking a moment to think: okay, what can we do differently with this?
Add value, instead of sending it off, importing it back at a higher price and not having manufacturing self sufficiency available to us in this country when we’ve got some of the lowest manufacturing self sufficiency in the OECD.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, so logging, and coal and gas, they were never going to be in it anyway, you’re essentially saying.
ED HUSIC: That’s right.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But you still agree to put the amendment. The amendment, obviously, is concerning Tammy Tyrrell; are you prepared to take that part out?
ED HUSIC: I think – well look, it’s past the House and I’m not – if we’ve made an agreement with a party, we want assurance – we want people to know that if we have struck an agreement, we’re not going to be backtracking in the middle of negotiations.
I don’t think that’s a good way to behave, and I don’t think anyone would want that happening to them outside of politics as well. So we honour the deal that has been reached, but it was one where it was about extending assurance to the Greens about the nature of this fund. We’ve done that and we are having those discussions with Tammy and Jacquie and working through those issues, and I’ve really welcomed the way in which they’ve approached it. They obviously have got a job to do to stand up and express the things that they feel strongly about, and I get that, and we’ll obviously take stuff on board and work things through with them.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay. I’ve got a question from a listener which I think is pertinent. Rod says: the fund can invest in renewable energy.
ED HUSIC: Yep.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: So when you say it wasn’t going to be about coal and gas anyway, well it can – renewable energy isn’t manufacturing, right?
ED HUSIC: Well, to Rod’s point – and it is a pertinent question, and it gives me a great chance to reinforce the point. If we’ve got new ways of generating energy and we need to manufacture the technology for that to occur, then the fund is there to be able to back that and provide the capital for that type of activity. You know, the Prime Minister often cites rightly, we had a lot of the intellectual property on solar panels generated in this country. You know, in some cases just out of the Uni of New South Wales and other parts of the nation, but then we shipped off the idea to someone else to finish it off as a manufactured product and then we import it back in.
And we are talking about how can we get more of that activity onshore with the challenges we’ve got with climate change and reducing emissions? And if we can find a way to manufacture a lot of the components required for renewable energy onshore, then we want to be able to support that through the fund. But I totally get where Rod’s coming from.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay. The government has reserved $2 billion under the NRF for critical technologies and value add minerals. Investment in quantum technology, artificial intelligence and robotics are key planks of the AUKUS agreement. What timeline are you working towards delivering those projects?
ED HUSIC: Oh, I wish I could deliver everything, frankly, because given my impatience, but you’ve got to work through – obviously, in the first stage, we’ve had a really great win yesterday in the House, and very grateful for everyone who backed in that in the House, absent the Coalition’s interest. We’ve got to get it through the Senate, and we’ve got a whole process of standing up the NRF corporation. We’re very keen to get this moving as soon as we can, but I’m just – as much as I know you’d have a desire for me to name a precise date, I’m going to be a bit more reticent about delivering that because I’m focused on making sure we get this done right. It’s a big investment in our nation’s manufacturing capabilities and it’s better to get it done right rather than rush it.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Just on this issue of getting the bill through – okay, so you don’t want to change the deal with the Greens because you say it’s good faith. You need others, though. Do you have Lidia Thorpe’s support?
ED HUSIC: We’re working through – I’m not going to be making announcements on behalf of other people until they’re prepared to do it and just out of respect to the way they want to want to do things.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But are you negotiating with her?
ED HUSIC: We’ll negotiate with a whole range of people in the Senate, and we are starting those discussions.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Yes, but have you?
ED HUSIC: Yes, I’m absolutely happy to discuss with her and any other Senators that have got an interest in this bill and, in particular, an interest in working with us on building up our manufacturing capability. They have my whole-hearted commitment to work with them. And I might, on that point too, I was really disappointed the Coalition took the step that they did in not backing the bill, but I say to you as I’ve said on the floor of the House, Patricia: if the Coalition decide to change their mind and want to work with us productively, that offer always remains.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: They’re not going to change their mind, so let’s not go down that road.
ED HUSIC: Well, you never know. Look, I’m not going to crow if they do change their mind. I’m genuine about this being a National Reconstruction Fund and just because they come on board, if they were – and I take your point, it’s probably unlikely – it’s not to the exclusion of others, because at its heart and what we want is, we want the Parliament to be able to recognise this is a moment in time when we’re going to have a nation-building piece of investment and we can work together.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Let me get to something more realistic. Returning to AUKUS, there are multiple leaks, suggesting Australia will buy two types of nuclear submarines as part of the AUKUS deal. South Australia is seeking guarantees the decision to buy up to five nuclear powered subs from the US will not erode the cast iron commitment to create a sovereign nuclear submarine building capacity in Australia. Now, that very much overlaps into your area – industry and the job creation. Can you give them that guarantee?
ED HUSIC: Well, I think the first thing is that, obviously, we recognise as a government, as all governments should, national security’s really important, that we’ve got the defence capability required for the country to suit the times that we’re in. It’s vital. And we recognise that the deal itself, initially brokered by another government, needs to be honoured by ours and delivered in a proper timely way.
There’ll be broader announcements that will be made by the PM about the finer details around this. Clearly, we know that there is a lot of interest in different parts of the country, not the least of which is South Australia.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: So what guarantees can you provide? I know you can’t make the announcement, but clearly your government has been thinking through the job implications, the domestic implications. Can you give South Australia that guarantee?
ED HUSIC: I mean, in the same breath as you just recognised, Patricia, I can’t give the full detail and in that I’m not in a position to be offering guarantees or definite commitments when the Prime Minister’s going to be making these announcements and providing the detail that you’re after in due course.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: I just want to move to the implications for other legislation. The Greens are hopeful this deal with you will lead to an agreement on the safeguards mechanism – and that is another major sticking point. Does the negotiation show that, you know, on coal and gas, you’re open to those ideas of banning it?
ED HUSIC: I can understand why people might read into an agreement on some piece of legislation and stretch it out to others, but it’s a bit more difficult because the pieces of legislation – well, in terms of the NRF’s element around, say, for example, our commitment to fund the development of energy manufacture, if I can put it that way, in broad terms within the fund, and we’ve calculated that as part of our emissions’ targets reduction, these are very complex and different matters with respect to the National Reconstruction Fund and the safeguards mechanism. But we do think that the safeguards mechanism is an important – really important part, to us reducing emissions longer term and getting industry buy in with respect to that.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But it’s different.
ED HUSIC: So I’d be careful about –
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Banning coal and gas –
ED HUSIC: Yeah, it is difficult.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: – is easier for you to do in your bill, you’re saying – I’m just translating – compared to the other bill.
ED HUSIC: No. If you don’t mind, and I don’t mean to be finicky here, but we are not banning coal and gas in the NRF. We are saying that the NRF is about a specific activity where there’s a value add component. We recognise that energy generation through coal or through gas, or gas as a feedstock is really important. You and I have previously discussed around gas prices in times past, the value of that to heavy industry and that’ll continue.
But we need to find new ways to get things done, and industry is committed to that, and in particular their investors, are very focused on that, too. And the safeguards mechanism gives people a sense about what they need to do over a period of time to reduce emissions from their emissions output, and we need to be able to work that stuff through in a practical way. There’ll be some people, I understand their ambition is very high, but we need to be able to achieve what’s practical based on what we’ve got available vis à vis technology at this point in time.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Just before I let you go, there’s a story this morning, a Senate inquiry as recommended the Federal Government trial a four-day work week at full pay across a range of industries and locations. Is this a good idea?
ED HUSIC: Look, I haven’t read the report, but it does echo a sentiment that is existing or starting to emerge, and I think in time people will think, given what we’ve experienced through the pandemic, ways of working are getting a real shake up. And it’ll be something that gets worked out in individual workplaces based on the way that they operate. But I think with the way in which people rightly have expectations – and I represent a lot of people who lose a lot of their day traveling from one part of the city to the other – being able to have flexible work arrangements, and that might extend to how many days a week they work, is something that people will be attracted to.
I’ll obviously – and the government will obviously look at the way in which the report is structured, but I think there’s a lot of this thinking that’s happening well beyond Parliament in workplaces, not just here but abroad, too, where they think the use of technology, for example, changes the way that things happen. And if people can get the salary for the days that they want to work as opposed to what they’re currently working, again that’s stuff they’ll work through with their employer. But I think the world will continue on a path of rethinking the way in which things get done in businesses and industry, and I suspect we’ll see more of this in the future.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Thanks so much for your time.
ED HUSIC: Thank you. Have a good weekend.