Coalition fury at Husic’s NRF AUKUS link

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

Industry minister Ed Husic made a “desperate intervention” in the growing debate around the government’s flagship industry policy when he linked the planned $15 billion fund to national security, the Opposition says.

Mr Husic on Monday reportedly said the Coalition is putting the nation’s “national security at risk” by blocking the National Reconstruction Fund (NRF), because it would hold back billions of investment in the critical technologies that form a key part of the AUKUS security pact.

National security: Industry minister Ed Husic reportedly swung the NRF debate into new territory on Monday

The NRF has been touted by the government as a way of building economic resilience more so than national security. The additional justification comes as the Albanese government faces a Senate showdown on the NRF legislation after the Coalition decided not to support Labor’s election commitment.

The fund will provide $15 billion in loans equity investments and guarantees to projects in seven priority areas.

This includes $2 billion to critical technologies and value-add minerals – key focuses of Australia’s AUKUS and Quad nation alliances, respectively

Mr Husic on Monday told The Australian, “critical technologies like quantum… aren’t just vital to economic growth”.

“Increasingly, our strategic partners expect us to come to the table with technological strength. At a time where we, as a government, are working hard to back the development of our quantum capabilities, the failure of the Coalition to back the NRF is extraordinary,” he said.

“Growing our quantum and critical technologies will be crucial to strengthening our economic and national security long term.”

The Opposition, which on Monday spoke against the NRF bill because it wouldn’t reduce energy prices or alleviate supply chain and skills pressures, attacked the minister’s reported linking to AUKUS and national security.

In a statement, shadow Industry minister Sussan Ley said the move was a “desperate intervention” that “politicises the landmark AUKUS partnership, undermining Australia’s cornerstone national security agreement”.

“AUKUS is bipartisan and sits above the day-to-day politics of any specific legislation,” Ms Ley said in a statement.

“…This act of desperation from Ed Husic makes clear the NRF isn’t about national security, it’s all about politics. When Ed Husic introduced the National Reconstruction Fund Bill he didn’t mention the words ‘AUKUS’ or “national security” once. Not once.”

Without the Coalition’s support, the Labor government has had to negotiate with the Greens and independents to get the NRF bill through the Senate.

The Greens have raised concerns with the fund investing in fossil fuel projects but have not ruled out supporting it.

“It could take us backwards on the climate emergency,” Greens MP Elizabeth Watson-Brown said during the NRF debate on Monday night.

“Our final position on this bill in the Senate has not yet been finally determined. There’s a real risk with this legislation that this government or subsequent governments have almost unlimited discretion to declare priority areas for a gas fired recovery or a coal mine renascence there is a serious possibility that the NRF could be turned into a ministerial vessel for fossil fuel finance.”

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