Industry minister Ed Husic says he doesn’t need departmental briefings to know his $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund will make Australia more secure, arguing it is “common sense” to ensure critical capabilities like quantum and defence technologies remain in Australia’s control.
The defence comes as the Coalition opposition – which has ruled out supporting the fund – questions the link the Albanese government has drawn between the National Reconstruction Fund, AUKUS and national security.
The NRF is slated to invest $15 billion by the end of the decade into seven key areas that diversify and transform Australia’s industry and economy. It includes defence as well as “enabling capabilities” like quantum, AI and robotics.
The Labor election commitment — which has its roots in a CSIRO pandemic recovery plan — has until this month been promoted as a re-industrialisation and advanced manufacturing plan that would deliver sovereign capability. But there has been little explicit mention of national security.
After the Coalition withdrew its support for the fund this month, Mr Husic warned abandoning the NRF poses a risk to national security.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese used an address to the National Press Club on Wednesday to double down on the link, saying the NRF is “about national security through economic sovereignty – our capacity to stand on our own two feet”.
The opposition insists the issues are being conflated and passage of NRF legislation is “unrelated” to national security.
“When they tie the AUKUS agreement to the passage of a bill in the Parliament called the National Reconstruction Fund, which is about domestic manufacturing, that’s not taking national security seriously,” deputy opposition leader and shadow industry minister Sussan Ley said on Wednesday.
Mr Husic has not been formally briefed on the link by his department but insists it is “common sense” and there would be an unwanted “consequence” to the government not investing in companies that work in strategically important areas like emerging technology, energy and defence.
Quantum companies, for example, clearly demonstrate the link, Mr Husic told InnovationAus.com.
With long development horizons not suited to an already tightening private capital market, the government needs to provide local firms with “growth capital” to help them flourish within Australia, he said.
“We can’t have a quantum winter when it comes to investment and backing of those firms,” Mr Husic said.
“Because the consequence of that is the capital isn’t here for local quantum firms, and those firms have to go offshore to seek to chase capital and we lose that capability. It’s quite obvious and common sensical. That is a situation we cannot stand by and let it happen. It’s why we set up the NRF.”
Mr Husic, who now needs the support of the Greens and crossbenchers to pass legislation to establish the NRF, said it was “bewildering that the Coalition had pulled its support for the proposal.
“They can squirm, the Coalition, as much as they’d like. But they have to understand there is a consequence for the decision that they’ve made and the signal they’re sending: that they do not back growth capital for local quantum firms and others that can contribute to national security.”
The Albanese government continues to negotiate with the Greens and crossbench senators, and is also seeking input from Lower House crossbenchers in good faith. But it wants the the legislation passed within weeks.
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