It is a signature industry policy of the Coalition, but the Industry Growth Centre program looks like having a more certain future if Labor forms government after the Saturday election than the conservatives.
Shadow industry and innovation minister Ed Husic says he will retain the Industry Growth Centre program in its current form, and through the election campaign has proposed the addition of a seventh centre.
Mr Husic said Labor would launch a Powering Australia Industry Growth Centre as a part of a $100 million National Battery Strategy to focus on the elements of the battery production supply chain.
The Industry Growth Centre program was established early in the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government’s tenure to provide targeted industry support across six priority areas: Advanced manufacturing; Cybersecurity; Food and Agribusiness; Medical Tech and Pharmaceuticals; Mining Equipment, Technology and Services (METS); and Oil, Gas and Energy Resources.
If Labor is able to form government after the Saturday federal election, Mr Husic said he would seek a briefing on an independent report conducted by consultants ACIL Allen in 2020 into the performance of the Growth Centres.
The report, which has never been released by government, is understood to have been largely positive about the program, according to leaked parts of the document.
The original intention of the scheme was that the Centres would receive four years of funding, and were expected to become sustaining after that. The government gave the scheme an additional two-years of funding, which comes to an end at the end of June this year.
Some Growth Centres are more prepared than others to sustain themselves outside of the program. Mr Husic says it does not make sense to draw a line through six years of work in establishing the industry-based support networks if there is a change of government.
In an interview with InnovationAus.com, Mr Husic outlined Labor plans to retain the Growth Centres and to work through a process to find the most productive means of working through the industry networks that the program has developed.
“What I want to do is the traditional approach to innovation: If something is working, then let it keep working, and if it can be improved then do that,” Mr Husic said.
Mindful of the need for stability in the Industry portfolio, he said the intention was to work through the existing growth centre network, with the addition of the new centre focused on building a battery sector.
“We will have a look at how they are performing and if there are areas that can be improved. And there is a whole question about future funding that needs to be resolved as well and we will have to go through that,” he told InnovationAus.
“But there are no radical plans to change them from the stuff that they have been doing well.”
Mr Husic says he would not make changes in the portfolio for change’s sake, pointing to the “slash and burn” actions of the Coalition when it won government in 2013, which he described as a “scorched earth approach” based on an ideological Commission of Audit process.
“That is not something I would be interested in replicating if we are fortunate to win government,” he said.
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