Interview with Steve Price, Australia Today, Triple M
STEVE PRICE: Ed Husic is the Industry Minister. He would have been watching with great interest what unfolded in Bali in the last 12 hours or so with our Prime Minister being able to get 32 minutes with the Chinese President Xi. The Minister is on the line. Good to talk to you again.
ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: G’day, Steve. How are you?
STEVE PRICE: I’m well. How important is that half hour going to turn out to be in the beginning of your new government, do you think?
ED HUSIC: I think it’s important that countries like ours are talking, given that that hasn’t really been happening much over the last few years. And so being able to have a discussion – China’s obviously a major power with global interests, but we’ve obviously got our national interests that we’ve got to be able to discuss with them. And it was a good chance obviously to exchange some views and have a chat about some of those international challenges, not the least of which being Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
They also talked through – you know, there was clearly some trade issues, human rights issues. And, you know, we do need to– as countries – be able to talk about our differences, be able to have our views but do it in a way that’s straight to the point but also done in a calm way, too, because there’s clearly a lot riding on it.
STEVE PRICE: When you look at the books – and they use that figure of $20 billion worth of trade held up and we really have had no movement since Scott Morrison made his comments about Covid and Wuhan – what sort of things are not now flowing out of Australia into China? Is that 20 billion going one way, Minister, or is it two-way trade?
ED HUSIC: Well, we have a lot of exports from wine and barley. We’ve had from time-to-time issues with coal -
STEVE PRICE: But you’ve got things like seafood, haven’t you, crayfish, abalone, lobster, all that sort of stuff?
ED HUSIC: Yeah, that’s right. Lobster was a big thing that was held up a few Christmases ago, you and the listeners might recall.
STEVE PRICE: Yes.
ED HUSIC: And, you know, the trade is good for both. It’s in China’s interests to get high-quality products like ours over there and it’s in obviously our interests from the commercial and jobs point of view that that trade is working much better. And clearly that’s something high on the priority of the discussion points that our PM was raising with them.
But again, you understand that countries will have differences from time to time. It’s the way in which you manage those differences and the way that you’re able to speak, you know, as I said a few moments ago, be able to speak in a plain, direct way but do it in a way that’s calm and get things done.
STEVE PRICE: If I’m a big user of gas and I’m trying to negotiate my contracts for 2023, how the hell am I supposed to be able to pay the sorts of increases like, you know – like, one prediction in The Australian today by Perry Williams is that the rate could be five times the level being offered a year ago. You can’t run your business like that, can you?
ED HUSIC: That’s been my big concern – that the prices that are being offered by the suppliers are just completely out of kilter and don’t reflect, I think, a very common-sense point of view by the Australian people that an Australian resource that we’ve got a lot of, we should not be paying, either business or households export prices. And that’s why I’ve been so direct in my public comments.
When you’ve had some companies like the ones that you saw referencing in your question to me that are paying less than 10 dollars a gigajoules in their contracts are now going out to market and finding in some instances 30 dollars or higher. That is a big, big lift in cost and that has an impact on us, and we just shouldn’t be paying those prices.
I do get that the companies themselves, the suppliers need to cover their cost of production and make a reasonable rate of return on their investment. Totally get that. But right now the gas companies are refusing to play ball. They’re bagging out any option to fix this. And ultimately what they want is unfettered ability to make those same profits that they are in the middle of a conflict like what we’re seeing out of Ukraine. Just not right.
STEVE PRICE: Treasurer Chalmers said, “The chaos in energy markets is the defining challenge for Australia right now,” and he mentioned other countries at the G20. You’d agree with that?
ED HUSIC: I do. I absolutely do. It is a defining challenge because we were elected, Steve, with a very clear mandate that we wanted to revitalise manufacturing and industry. I have said that the lead in our saddlebags is around supply chains and skills and energy. On the first two we’re making some headway, but energy is the big issue. And Jim is absolutely right. It is a defining issue for us because if we’ve got an Australian resource, we’ve got plenty of it, we should be able to access it at rates that meet the needs of households and businesses. And it is just boneheaded to think that a country with so much at its disposal would price itself out of something which most other countries would get the economic imperative to ensure that energy, those input costs are low so that we have competitive industries, we can meet the needs of locals but also export as well. And that’s why I keep saying this is a national interest issue that we’ve got to get dealt with, and I will not take a backward step.
There’ll be some people uncomfortable, Steve, about the words I use on this issue, but I’m absolutely adamant that an Australian resource should be priced properly and should be made available to us when we’re trying to grow the economy, grow jobs and make sure households’ energy bills aren’t soaring.
STEVE PRICE: What I like about you is you’re a straightshooter, so I know you’ll give me a straight answer to this question. I was speaking to the Mayor of Cabonne this morning. Eugowra and places like that are under water.
ED HUSIC: Terrible.
STEVE PRICE: He made the point that there are people out there living in those communities that were quoted 42 thousand dollars to insure their home and contents. Can’t possibly do that. House is probably only worth 150 (thousand). Is the New South Wales state government doing enough to help those communities who are facing the worst floods since the 1950s?
ED HUSIC: I think we do need at these points in time where people are under huge pressure and going through what they’re going through – and I’ve had communities have to deal with four floods in the last year and a half or so, so let’s get to work to helping people out. Federal and state governments and local governments have got a role to do. And then there’s obviously the longer term stuff. I’m not – you know, you said speak directly, and I will. I’m not about bagging other governments out while we’re in the middle of an emergency.
There are some longer terms issues, too, with the way that some of these rains have obviously, in the constant floodings, are making people think, well, how sustainable is it to live in certain places? Do we need to relocate people? How do we make sure people can get insurance? And we’ve been as a government trying to work with the insurance sector to try and help deal with that as well so that people can have much more affordable insurance as well. These are very difficult issues. But if you don’t mind, I might just –
STEVE PRICE: Yes, look, that’s fine. But it’s just heart-breaking to watch.
ED HUSIC: It totally is. It totally is. And seeing the ferocity of those waters move as you see them emptied out of dams and you know this might have an impact downstream, or the natural event itself – terrible.
STEVE PRICE: It is terrible. I appreciate you giving me some time. Always love having a chat to you. Good on you.
ED HUSIC: Likewise. Thanks, Steve. All the best to you.
STEVE PRICE: Ed Husic there, who is the new Industry Minister in the Albanese government, telling it like it is.