Labor-led manufacturing inquiry delayed to next year

Denham Sadler
Senior Reporter

A Labor-led Senate inquiry into Australia’s advanced manufacturing sector has been delayed until late January, likely giving the Opposition some ammunition in what is shaping up to be a key election issue.

Labor successfully launched an Economics References Committee inquiry into Australia’s domestic advanced manufacturing capability in early August, with a planned reporting date of 24 November.

This reporting date was then pushed back to 17 December, before chair and Labor Senator Anthony Chisholm announced that the final report had again been delayed until 27 January next year.

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“The committee requests an extension of time to report until 27 January to allow the committee to examine and consider the committee’s draft report before tabling,” Senator Chisholm said in a progress report.

The committee held two further hearings last week, with witnesses including several manufacturing unions, Medicines Australia, the Australian Sovereign Capability Alliance and industry department representatives.

The committee will now be reporting on Australia’s existing and emerging manufacturing industry just months before the federal election, with this shaping up to be a key issue for both major parties.

The inquiry is looking at the role of governments in supporting manufacturing, how to make the local sector more competitive globally, successful overseas examples that can be implemented here, the role of research and development and what education and training is required for upskilling and reskilling.

Advanced manufacturing and sovereign capability have emerged as key concerns in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of its economic recovery, the federal government announced the $1.5 billion Modern Manufacturing Strategy, including $1.3 billion for the Modern Manufacturing Initiative grants program.

Last week the federal government announced that the second round of these grants would be fast-tracked, with $280 million in grants to be deployed before the election.

Companies have been given just one month, over the Christmas period, to apply for a grant worth up to $20 million.

Labor has previously raised concerns that these grants would be used as election campaigning by the government after it was revealed that Prime Minister Scott Morrison will have final sign-off on them.

The government’s manufacturing strategy covers six priority areas, with grants available in each. These areas are resources technologies and critical minerals processing, food and beverage, medical products, recycling and clean energy, defence and space.

Labor has announced its own $15 billion Reconstruction Fund, which it will establish if it wins next year’s federal election. The fund will dish out loans, equity injections and co-investments and lending guarantees to Australian manufacturers.

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