By Peter Roberts
Industry and Science minister Ed Husic has lashed the federal opposition’s plans to oppose the government’s signature $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund – despite Labor taking the fund to the election and securing a mandate for the policy.
Speaking in federal Parliament Husic called the coalition the ‘null-alition’ when it came to supporting manufacturing, always prepared to say ‘no’.
He said the fund was a response to the Covid pandemic which he described as a seismic event where Australians discovered that the things we needed most weren’t there at a time we needed them.
“We realised we were dependent on a couple of countries for all these goods that got imported and we recognised our supply chains were completely dependent on them.
“And we thought at that point in time we as a country had learned that lesson that we would commit to do better.
“Because Australians recognise we have to be a country than makes things, and modern economies need strong manufacturing capability if they are going to keep going on into the long term.
“And manufacturing matters because it generates full-time, secure, well paying jobs.”
To gales of laughter from crowded government benches, the industry minister said that was why the government had committed to one of the largest investments in Australian manufacturing capabilities in peacetime, the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund.
The fund is modelled on the successful Clean Energy Finance, also opposed by the federal coalition which attempted to abolish it when in office, but which has returned a positive return to taxpayers and speeded up the transition to renewable power.
Husic said: “‘This is the fund’…that will look at priority areas, value add and resources, value add and agriculture, looking at low emissions technology manufacture, transport, in medical sciences and importantly, critical technologies that will be important to give the economy the edge longer term.
“(It will be)…independently run with an investment mandate looking at delivering a return to the taxpayer, building capability, and not a colour coded spreadsheet in sight, with politicians not making the call, the investment decisions made in the national interest, not in political interest.
“And given that, what happens, the null-alition roars back to life.
“The unreconstructed Tony Abbott with the no doubt their national unreconstruction fund in the wings there.
“There they are, wanting to say no to growing the economy, wanting to say no to growing jobs, wanting to say no to manufacturing, wanting to stop that longer term benefit that is required.”
Husic responded to opposition interjections, calling the coalition ‘a bunch of people who brought you sports rorts, and they brought you regional rorts’.
Husic said the previous government had announced manufacturing grants only in the weeks before the recent federal election, and was ‘only being interested in manufacturing when it manufactures a vote’.
Husic said the election was the only time the coalition had been interested in manufacturing, and that the government had operated with ‘a secret industry minister in their ranks’, a reference to former prime minister Scott Morrison swearing himself in as minister for industry.
This meant the coalition has seven industry ministers in their nine years in office – or eight if you counted Morrison.
“And they are telling us we should be transparent.
“I mean, please, it is a joke.
“We will do what’s right for this country. We will make sure manufacturing grows, we will do the right thing.”
In an earlier answer to a question Husic said the NRF was also important from a geopolitical point of view, given that so much of Australia’s production was dependent on just one country, a reference to China.
“The impact on supply chains has been huge.
“So we need, particularly in the key priority areas of the National Reconstruction Fund, to revitalise manufacturing, and this has been a big part of what we are trying to do across a range of areas to make sure that we change what we were left with by those opposite.
“We are the lowest producers of manufactured goods consumed in the OECD. So it’s a big priority.”
Husic said the NRF bill had been in the chamber since December.
“We have offered in-depth briefings to coalition on that, yet the opposition can’t help other than to oppose. It’s always about opposition.
“And every time, on the big issues that involve Australian industry in this country, they are never there.”
Picture: Ed Husic