Govt ‘stonewalls’ release of Growth Centres report

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The federal government has again blocked the release of a report into its Industry Growth Centres after refusing to comply with a Senate order, claiming it is still being considered despite being received more than eight months ago.

Labor had moved a Senate motion last week requiring the tabling of the “initial impact evaluation” of the growth centres – completed last year by consultancy firm ACIL Allen at a cost of nearly $500,000 – by Monday morning of this week.

But the Coalition declined to do so, saying that it was still considering the report and would release it after this process was completed.

“The government is in the final stages of its deliberations. Therefore, the government is not in a position to table the report at this time. I advise that the report will be released in the usual way at the appropriate time,” Industry minister Christian Porter said in response to the Senate order for the production of the report.

Christian Porter
Industry, Science and Technology minister Christian Porter

Labor has now unsuccessfully attempted to access the report through Senate Estimates, Freedom of Information requests and now through a Senate order.

The final report was handed to the government more than six months ago, but has still not been released publicly or responded to.

Speaking in the Senate on Monday evening, Labor Senator Murray Watt said the government is “stonewalling” on the report.

“It’s disgraceful and a slap in the face to Australians who want and deserve more from their Parliament. In response to this request, Minister Porter didn’t even cite a public interest immunity. He just basically said, ‘I don’t feel like complying with my obligations to the Australian Parliament today’,” Senator Watt said.

“It speaks volumes of the Liberals’ born-to-rule mentality, that they can so easily brush away their responsibilities to the Australian people. If this was a good news story for those opposite, they’d be shouting it from the mountain tops. They’re all about the photo opp but never about the follow up, and they’re certainly not about accountability and transparency.”

The Opposition has previously claimed that government was deliberately not releasing the report because it was positive about the growth centres, at a time when the Coalition intends to defund them.

“Once again [the report has] been locked in a drawer by a government who refuses to be accountable to this Parliament, even when the Senate orders it to be tabled in this place. You have to ask yourself the question, why would the Morrison government defy the will of the Senate and hide this from the public?” Senator Watt said.

The Industry Growth Centres were launched by the Coalition in 2013 to drive “cultural change” and boost collaboration, commercialisation, skills and regulatory reform in six key sectors.

There are currently growth centres focusing on advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity, food and agribusiness, MedTech and pharmaceuticals, mining equipment, technology and services, and oil, gas and energy reserves.

The six growth centres were meant to be self-funded within four years, but they have since had several extensions of funding. They are expected to be cut off from funding from the end of the current financial year.

While the report still hasn’t been released publicly, independent publication @AUManufacturing has obtained a copy, and said that it highlights the inadequate funding from the government for the centres.

It reportedly found that the growth centres have been effective in assisting individual companies and that they have “aimed high and the magnitude of their impact is likely to be large.

The report also said that it was “highly unlikely” that the growth centres will be self-sufficient by next year.

A previous review of the program conducted by Nous Group in 2018 found they were “generally on track to meet the objectives”, but found poor data collection practices made the evaluation of effectiveness difficult.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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