With the National Reconstruction Fund bill now having passed in the House of Representatives, Industry and Science minister Ed Husic is “quietly confident” that the $15 billion industrial plan will be legislated soon, giving local manufacturers a massive shot in the arm.
The scale of the NRF would act as a bulwark to keep Australia’s best companies and ideas in this country, and would compliment the massive industry dollars being lain out in the United States.
Despite fears that the giant US Inflation Reduction Act would lure manufacturers and investment away from Australia, Mr Husic said Australian value-added goods can work their way into US strategic supply chains, a similar position previously outlined by Australia’s outgoing ambassador to the US Arthur Sinodinos.
“I was worried about that initially, because it is a heck of a lot of money that they are putting on the table by the Biden Administration. But I think it’s a matter of perspective. In the talks I’ve had with the Biden Administration, they recognise they can’t do it all,” Mr Husic said.
“In terms of the value-add and supply chains, other countries are going to need to lean in and contribute. They’ve got great interest in what we’re doing around the [national] reconstruction fund, through the development of a national battery strategy to scale-up for instance, the development launch or manufacturing launch for batteries.
“They also see this concept of ‘friend-shoring’, working with trusted partners to meet some of the objectives they’ve got. We have a great entry point with the existing trade agreement that ensures that they will recognise our contributions,” he said.
While demurring on detail about Defence industry opportunities, Mr Husic reiterated that the fund would support the “evolution of important capabilities that will be expected by our strategic partner”, including in the development of quantum technologies.
“We’re seeing growth in a number of quantum technology-related firms in this country. We don’t want them to feel that the only way they’ll get capital is if they go to some other country, or have some other government back them.
“These are going to be important not just to Defence capability, but the spill overs will have great economic and commercial benefit as well.”
Mr Husic also noted the large potential opportunity to work with countries in the Asia Pacific region, highlighting the willingness of the Indonesia government to collaborate with Australian on low or zero-emissions energy generating technologies.
When asked by InnovationAus.com if the Greens amendment to the NRF would preclude investment in blue hydrogen projects, Mr Husic said funding would not be used to support the purchase of “off-the-shelf” equipment for the generation of energy.
InnovationAus.com also asked for a starting date for funding commitments through the NRF, with Mr Husic responding that he doesn’t want “to rush and not get this right” as it’s a significant “nation building moment”.
“I’ve got a few things to get through first and most notably, I need to … support through the Senate. We’re hoping to get that shortly,” he said.
“There’s a Senate inquiry report to be brought down [tomorrow], and it needs to go to a vote. And then we will be working very quickly, to help shape this up and put this into place. Obviously, as I’ve said, I’m very keen for this to happen as soon as humanly possible.”
He also said he didn’t want to pre-empt the legislation’s passage through the Senate because he wants to engage constructively with all parliamentarians.
Mr Husic again said that he was “really stunned that the Coalition refuses to back blue collar workers in manufacturing” but added that he remained open to bringing the Opposition into negotiations which have been undertaken earnestly with the crossbench.
Support for the NRF bill from the Greens was conditional on the passing of its amendment to prevent funding coal and gas extraction. The government must now find support from two independent senators to pass the bill, given the Coalition is currently unwilling to back it.
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