SUBJECTS: Industrial action; manufacturing; ANAO; higher education policy.
JANE NORMAN, HOST: All right. Well, now we have our Thursday political panel – as I said, jam-packed show today. So joining me from Sydney is Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman, and Labor MP Anne Aly from Perth. Thanks – welcome to you both, thanks for joining me today.
TRENT ZIMMERMAN: Hi Jane, hi Anne.
NORMAN: Have you got us there Anne?
ANNE ALY: Hello.
NORMAN: Hello. Sorry. I just wanted to ask you both about some news that’s broken in the past hour, and it is, has been the top one of the top stories this week and that is the Maritime Union basically agreeing to pause its industrial action at ports for another month, when the Fair Work Commission will again look at the dispute. Trent Zimmerman, what do you think about this today – is this, as we’ve discussed earlier, a sensible move by the union?
ZIMMERMAN: Well it is, but they shouldn’t have been in this position in the first place. So we do have a Fair Work Commission to resolve these types of disputes, and really and truly, for the MUA to be putting our supply chains at risk during this economic and health crisis is frankly reprehensible, because we know that supply chains have been stretched, have been made more difficult because a lot of restrictions are in place, particularly in relation to aircraft movements. And to really be trying to leverage a crisis for pay claims, I think is simply wrong.
NORMAN: But this has all been effectively resolved now in the Fair Work Commission, why did the Prime Minister need to get involved?
ZIMMERMAN: Well because this was a threat to our supply chains into our ports. And I’m pleased that they’ve backed down on their industrial action today, to let the Fair Work Commission do its job, but it should not have reached this point, we should not have had this action threatening those suppliers.
NORMAN: All right, Anne Aly, I’m just wanting to – can you hear me there OK, or are there some audio issues? No, I think there might be some audio issues, we will come back to you as soon as we get that resolved. So Trent, if you don’t mind it’ll be a one-on-one…
ZIMMERMAN: I can answer for Anne if you like?
NORMAN: [laughs] What about the Labor perspective on that one?
ALY: I can’t hear her.
NORMAN: Oh, can you hear me now Anne?
ALY: I can’t hear anything. I can hear you Trent.
ZIMMERMAN: Anne can hear me…
NORMAN: You can ask the questions!
ZIMMERMAN: … so maybe I can relay what you say, with a Liberal spin on it.
NORMAN: Let’s look at the manufacturing announcement today. I mean this is a pretty massive turnaround from, sort of, 2013, isn’t it, Trent Zimmerman, when Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey, as Prime Minister and Treasurer, effectively said goodbye to the car industry. Now manufacturing’s back in fashion.
ZIMMERMAN: Well I think that today is not new in the sense that the Government has been focused on some of these areas, so it’s a continuum of support for looking at new areas for the Australian economy. So for example we’ve had a defence industry plan previously outlined and this is obviously going to enhance and expand on that. We’ve been doing some fantastic work to develop the space industry, first in Australia, and again this will build on that, and sectors like agriculture and minerals are obviously historically important to the Australian economy and increasingly will be. But I think what we’re doing is building on work that’s already been done by the Government, but also looking at some really new and exciting areas, and I’m particularly pleased, for example, that the, the Modern Manufacturing Plan includes a focus on clean energy and recycling because our potential in areas like that is just so huge.
NORMAN: I think – I mean, there’s obviously some money that has been outlined today, but it’s still a bit unclear, sort of, what the grants are actually going to do. So there’ll be sort of industry roadmaps, we’ll have talk, groups coming together to figure out sort of where the money’s going to be spent. But, I mean, what exactly is this $1.5 billion going to buy us? It’s a lot of money.
ZIMMERMAN: Well there’s three components, the biggest component’s the Modern Manufacturing Initiative, and that’s going to support the roadmaps that are being developed between now and next July. And that, as my understanding, will act as effectively catalyst funding to support projects and in issues by companies that are working in those six critical areas. There’s also funding which continues an existing project to support manufacturing modernisation, which was hugely popular, in fact oversubscribed I think, in its first round. So that’s being renewed for another round. And really importantly, as we’ve learned lessons from this pandemic, a focus, a $100 million focus, on looking at critical supply chains, to see what we can do to make sure that those supply chains are maintained at the best of times and at the worst of times.
NORMAN: All right, well, Anne Aly, I think we’ve actually secured communications with you now. Sorry about that. We’re just talking about the manufacturing announcement today, and as Trent Zimmerman mentioned there, is a $100 million commitment to shore up critical supply chains. What does happen to the factories that have sort of geared up, changed their business models, started producing PPE, in, say, a year or two, you know, when perhaps, the sort of, pandemic’s over, how are they going to remain profitable?
ALY: Well I’ve got factories like that in my electorate in Cowan and they’ve kind of, they’ve been doing something else and then very quickly were able to adapt to producing PPE for the immediate and medium term. So I imagine that they’d be able to adapt back again. But what I want to say about the announcement today, about manufacturing – which of course is a welcoming announcement, every Australian wants us to be able to make more here in Australia – I do hope, though, that it is more than just a road map. We know that this Government is very good at making announcements but very rarely delivers on them. So I really do hope that it’s more than a road map. I also think there may be an opportunity here that could be missed with this, and that is in helping to support those manufacturers that make the things that we need to be able to mine, for example, and I have many of those here in Cowan. They make parts for mining machinery, and parts for… that help, that go into the mining and… and agricultural sectors for example. So I think there’s an opportunity here for Australia to really recapture that part of manufacturing in the supply chain for mining, for agriculture, for some of those other industries that were mentioned today.
NORMAN: Okay, just to ask you about the factories in your electorate that are now supplying things like PPE, Anne Aly, would you support the Government buying into these factories, nationalising these factories, to ensure that, you know, should we ever go through a similar pandemic again, that we actually have these supplies on hand?
ALY: Well I think a couple of things need to happen first of all. And one of those is, first of all, I know that in my electorate there’s a company called Adarsh that is an engineering company. They quickly adapted to producing PPE. They’re now looking to increase their capacity to produce more PPE, but they need the Government’s support to be able to do that – not so much monetary support, although that’s helpful, but to be able to get the Government contracts to be able to do that – not just for Australia, because there is a limited demand here in Australia, but also the potential to export overseas as well. So yes, I do think they need to be supporting these kinds of industries, but they need to start at, first of all, ensuring that those industries get… get our business, and not importing PPE or not getting PPE in Western Australia, for example, not getting PPE from the eastern states.
NORMAN: Yeah well, Trent Zimmerman, I just wanted to ask you about another issue that’s emerged in the past couple of days, and it relates to the Audit Office – very sort of dry area of public policy but a pretty vital one to keeping the Government to account, holding the Government to account. Scott Morrison has been urged by a Coalition-dominated Parliamentary committee to restore funding to the Auditor-General, who has warned that budget restraints will mean that he isn’t, isn’t able to perform the number of audits he would like to each year. Do you support this push from some of your Coalition colleagues?
ZIMMERMAN: Well I haven’t seen what letter has been written by the Public Accounts Committee to the Finance Minister. I did actually serve on this committee until a month or so ago, and I recall this issue being… being raised. I won’t comment on deliberations of the committee while I was, I was a member, but clearly it’s important for the Parliament for the Government to have a well-resourced and functioning Auditor-General, and I hope and would expect the Government would see those requests in that light. Obviously, Auditor-Generals make life uncomfortable for the governments of the day, no matter what their political persuasions, from time to time, and that’s exactly their job so, so I think that making sure that it is well resourced to continue its work is important.
NORMAN: So the ANAO is saying that in the past year it was able to do just 42 performance audits. Its aim is to do 48, so it sort of missed that mark – so you’re saying, Trent Zimmerman, that the Government should fund the Audit Office adequately so that it can perform the number of audits it aspires to?
ZIMMERMAN: I think it’s really important that it’s well-resourced and able to meet the demands of both its regular auditing program and its reviews, but also the referrals it gets from Ministers and other Members of Parliament.
NORMAN: And Anne Aly, of course, the Audit Office has been in the spotlight this year. If we can remember before COVID happened, there was of course the sports rorts drama that made for some very uncomfortable reading for the Coalition. I’m assuming that you too would support this Audit Office being properly resourced.
ALY: Oh 100 percent. I think it’s incredibly important to keep the Government to account, but I would also add there, Jane, that it’s not a substitute for a federal integrity body which I think could do, could do the kind of work that’s needed to, more broadly, hold government and, and Commonwealth public sector to account as well. So, very much welcome this announcement, very much hope that the Government will take on board the recommendations made by the committee, and continue to fund a very well-resourced Auditor General, but that does not negate the need for a Federal ICAC.
NORMAN: We’re still waiting to hear from Christian Porter about his plans for an anti-corruption commission. But we’re running out of time – I just wanted to ask you both your prediction on one other policy, and it’s the government’s higher education changes, massive shakeup to the way university fees are structured. Anne Aly, we’ve heard from Jacqui Lambie, she won’t be supporting it, so now it all comes down to the vote of one crossbench senator, Stirling Griff – are you, is Labor having negotiated, sort of, talks with Stirling Griff to try and get him to oppose this Bill?
ALY: I imagine so. But look, I will say this for Jacqui: I don’t think she always gets it right, but when she gets it right, she gets it right for the right reasons. And I heard her speaking today, and I’ve got to give her some admiration for the fact that she’s thinking of all of those young people who want to go to university and will be completely locked out of getting a higher education and getting a university degree by these changes. I think it’s really important that we think about those people. We all have them in our electorates. I think it’s really important that we think about those young people who want to have a choice in what they want to study, and, and pursue their passion. And that’s why I think that it is absolutely essential that the Senate repeal this Bill, this very damaging Bill.
NORMAN: And Trent Zimmerman, last word to you. I mean, at the heart of this really is fairness, isn’t it? That you’re going to be making students pay more than the cost of their, of the service of their degrees?
ZIMMERMAN: Well no, this is about… firstly, to answer Anne’s point, actually about a package that includes more places and is about catering for increased demand in the years ahead. But secondly, it’s also making sure that there are linkages between university courses and outcomes on the other side of university. So that’s why we are trying to encourage students to include in courses, or exclusively study courses, that’re going to provide them with the opportunity to participate in the needs of a modern economy. And that’s what this is all about.
NORMAN: All right, Trent Zimmerman, Anne Aly, thank you so much for your time today.
ZIMMERMAN: Thanks for having us.
ALY: Thanks, Jane.