Interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News AM agenda

Subjects: Skilled migration; Skills shortages; Jobs and Skills Summit; Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan; China in the Pacific.
11 August 2022

Laura Jayes: I want to bring you now the Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing, Tim Ayres. He's with me here in the studio. I know this is not your portfolio area, but you do oversee an area which essentially has skills shortages in it. I don't wish you to make a decision right here on AM Agenda. I mean, if you want to, and if you could I would welcome that. But do you have sympathy for Mark's case?

Senator Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Well, Laura, you're right. I'm not the Minister for Immigration; Andrew Giles is the Minister for Immigration, and, of course, when you see any of these cases where people who want to stay in Australia can't stay in Australia, it obviously puts an enormous impact on them and their families. Each of these cases, though, turn on their facts. I don't know the facts here. You don't know the facts here. The Minister's done the right thing. You know, it's very early in this Government. The previous Government's only just departed. Whether or not the immigration minister then was considering this case, or not, I don't know. Andrew Giles has done the right thing here and created some extra space and time to consider this carefully and like all of these matters it will turn on its own individual facts.

Laura Jayes: We're about to have this job summit coming up on the 1st and 2nd of September, a crucial meeting. Unions and business have already put a few discussion, or talking points, out there, if you like and a lot of it turns on this skills shortage that we have in Australia. I mean, if you run any business, big or small, in this country, you know how dire it is; migration is part of that story, and you really want people like Mark, don't you?

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Yeah, we have been a country that has thrived on its strong immigration program, both – particularly our permanent migration program, people who make a choice to come and stay in the country for economic reasons; and, of course, our family migration program's really important as well. It's going to be one of the things that business and industry and the trade union movement and the Government will be working through at the Jobs and Skills Summit. And it's — it's the way that this Government intends to set about dealing with these challenges, working together with industry, encouraging Australians to sort of lift their game and cooperate together to find the right solutions.

Now, not every proposition that every business organisation or trade union brings forward to the summit is going to be adopted. But it's the right place to start, isn't it? Like, let's encourage people to work together to bring forward the best propositions and within the Government's policy framework, we'll work together with Australians to deliver a better deal.

Laura Jayes: And you rule out some of those more radical proposals though?

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Well, everything's going to be considered on its merits and everything's going to be the subject of discussion. That's the way we intend to deal with these things. And I'm, not in a position to rule things in or out in the lead‑up to the jobs summit; but, secondly —

Laura Jayes: I mean Sally McManus is kind of proposing, super profits taxes on businesses, things like that, are you saying that is considered on merit —

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Well, I think —

Laura Jayes: — or is that a little bit more difficult?

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Well, I think the Treasurer's been pretty clear about the Government's position there and we've set out a position to the Australian people in the lead‑up to the election. We've been very disciplined about the approach that we've taken as a government; that is, we are going to be a government that says what it means and means what it says and delivers on the promises that we've made to the Australian people. The job summit's an opportunity for these ideas to come to the fore, for people to argue their case and to cooperate around these propositions, and not every idea is going to be adopted.

Laura Jayes: Tim, it sounds like a great process, but it also seems a little bit slow. I mean these skills shortages are happening now. Businesses are suffering now. Can some of these things be expedited? I mean, we can't wait for a jobs summit and then a report and then a white paper and then another committee, and that goes well into next year. Are you looking at doing things right now?

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: I think there's a real sense of urgency in the Government about dealing with some of these challenges, but we want to deal with them in an orderly way. The last thing that Australia needs is knee‑jerk reactions, sloganeering, marketing, promising people things that can't be delivered. We're going to be sober and consistent and careful in this area and other areas of governing, and that's what Australians should come to expect from the Government at the jobs summit, but in the way that we approach decision‑making more broadly and policy making more broadly.

Laura Jayes: Well let's talk about one of those more broad‑ranging umbrella policies. It all comes down to China in many ways. Our foreign policy is really dominated by China at the moment, and in all of that US politics as well. I spoke to Dennis Richardson this morning. I just want to make you aware of some of his comments. This is what he had to say about China's long‑term play in the Pacific.

Dennis Richardson: I wouldn't pay much attention to Chinese statements that they have no intention of establishing a military presence in the Pacific. I think that contest in the Pacific is going to play out over a long period of time. We need to win every time; the Chinese only need to win once.

Laura Jayes: Dennis Richardson chooses his words very carefully and that was quite, not shocking, but it was quite impactful what he said there. We need to win every time; China only needs to win once when it comes to the Pacific. There has been a flurry of activity, a lot of Ministers going to the Pacific, but also the rhetoric has been dialled down. Is this the long‑term approach? Is Labor looking at being more assertive when it comes to its dominance in the Pacific?

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: I always pay attention to what Dennis has got to say. He's a sober and practical and experienced judge on national security questions. And you can see that the Government's taking the national interest challenge in the region seriously. That the previous Government had a slogan "A step up", but they had no real practical reality underpinning their work.

Laura Jayes: He's also praised Peter Dutton's bipartisanship in recent times.

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Well, let me come to that in a moment, because I've noticed that Peter Dutton, you know, has — some of the language that he adopted during the election campaign, you know, I hope he doesn't return to that language. China used national security in a sort of partisan political way when every serious expert and player in this area knows that one of Australia's key assets in national security terms and in regional terms is our bipartisan approach, our consensus approach. What is our job here? It's protecting the national interest and taking a sober and serious and long‑term view about the challenges that face Australia in the region. And I hope that Peter Dutton and Karen Andrews and all of the others don't return to that sort of wild politics, very sort of Trumpian politics that was playing out in the lead‑up to the election where they were seeking to use this argument for domestic purposes. We've actually got to take this seriously as a Parliament and as a country, and I think you've seen Penny Wong and Richard Marles and Pat Conroy and the Prime Minister out there in the world making the case for Australia, making the case for the kind of relationships, the kind of rules‑based order, the kind of regional cooperation that's going to stand Australia in good stead into the future.

Laura Jayes: Well, you were then just critical there of during the election campaign the Coalition using the China issues for domestic political purposes. Dennis Richardson also said in that interview that he believes Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan was as much about the mid-terms as it was anything else. Do you reserve that criticism for her as well?

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: I don't have a view really about whether Nancy Pelosi should or shouldn't have gone to Taiwan. There are regular visits from —

Laura Jayes: Even after you saw China's response?

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: — from politicians. The real issue now is that it is — it is absolutely vital that participants in the region, including China don't take unilateral steps, aren't endangering regional security, with their —

Laura Jayes: Well, we've got the benefit of hindsight here, Tim, after we've seen five days of military intimidation; was it the right thing to do?

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Well, the important thing is what happens from now.

Laura Jayes: Okay.

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: With respect, Laura, there are — it is absolutely vital that everybody in the region does everything that is possible to de-escalate this situation. It is a serious situation and it's vital that Australia sends that clear message. Rear‑window stuff, I don't think is helpful here. It's about what happens over the coming days and weeks and months.

Laura Jayes: Fair enough. Tim Ayres, always good to talk to you.

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