With debate intensifying around the government’s planned $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund, Industry minister Ed Husic on Wednesday referred a committee to inquire into how to develop advanced manufacturing in Australia.
The House Standing Committee on Industry Science and Resources will take submissions over the next month and a half, with public hearing likely to follow, to identify challenges and opportunities, including with investing specifically in the seven priority areas of the National Reconstruction Fund (NRF).
It comes as Mr Husic this week holds talks with the Greens and cross-bench senators whose support he will need to pass legislation to establish the NRF, after the Opposition decided to oppose it.
The Greens want assurances the NRF won’t be used to prop up fossil fuel projects. It is unclear what David Pocock will demand, but the independent Senator secured several agreements with the Albanese government to support its industrial relations laws late last year in a similar scenario.
The Labor-led inquiry announced on Wednesday does not mention the government’s $15 billion fund but has identified its exact seven priority areas in the terms of reference.
The inquiry will examine investment opportunities or “possible reforms to support the growth of advanced manufacturing” in the seven priority areas, including renewables, medical science transport and value add in resources.
The “opportunity of advanced manufacturing”, international trends and Australia’s competitive strengths and barriers have also been included in the terms of reference.
“Supporting the growth of advanced manufacturing is about enhancing the things we do well by taking advantage of new and improved processes,” committee chair Rob Mitchell said.
“We need to ensure that we are well-positioned as a nation to take advantage of new technologies, and that our strategic decisions are informed by the right data. Continuing to grow the relationship between industry and our research sector is also vital.”
National security – which was thrust into the NRF debate this week – is not within the scope of the new inquiry.
Parliament’s last inquiry into manufacturing, one year ago recommended the establishment of a ”Manufacturing Industry Fund to provide a range of co-investment incentives to the manufacturing industry in conjunction with the private sector”. This came after the Labor policy had been established, and was criticised by the Liberal senators on the committee.
A Senate committee is also probing the legislation to set up the NRF Corporation. It is expected to report in mid-March.
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