Labor to go on ‘front foot’ with industry policy after govt reshuffle

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

Labor is set to go on the “front foot” with industry policy in the lead up to the election following the announcement of another new government minister, with shadow industry minister Ed Husic claiming the government isn’t taking the portfolio seriously.

On Friday last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced he would be splitting up responsibility for the industry, science and technology portfolio after minister Christian Porter stood down from the role following a series of controversies.

Labor shadow industry minister Ed Husic.

Angus Taylor has added industry to his energy and emissions reduction portfolio, while science and technology has gone to Melissa Price, along with her defence industry portfolio.

“These changes provide a timely opportunity to reinforce some of the key issues that the government is progressing, especially following on from the successful series of meetings that we recently held in Washington – both the AUKUS arrangements which are now coming into place, and, of course, the Quad,” Mr Morrison said on Friday.

“It is timely, particularly given the AUKUS arrangements, which will see us working together with the United States and the United Kingdom, linking up our industry, our science and technology supply chains, our scientists, our entrepreneurs and technologists and others – working together to create opportunities in areas like quantum and artificial intelligence.”

Mr Husic has now questioned whether the government is taking the industry portfolio seriously, with the sixth minister responsible for the portfolio now taking over in the last five years.

“Talk about not learning from past experience,” Mr Husic told InnovationAus. “They put Christian Porter in a critical portfolio knowing in the back of their minds he wouldn’t be there long. I always figured he’d leave in line with the usual Coalition industry minister shelf life of 330 days, but I didn’t expect he would leave that quick.

“Having been through that, to put Angus Taylor in shows they’ve learnt nothing. He is now supposed to ride an industry horse and an energy one. The bloke hasn’t been able to put out an energy policy, how is he supposed to help rebuild manufacturing and resuscitate our plummeting innovation performance? The bloke has enough trouble riding one horse, let alone two.”

The shadow industry minister said the splitting up of the portfolio and the placing of science and technology with defence industry may work in theory, but he had little faith that it would under the Coalition.

“It will be interesting to see how it works out for them. In normal circumstances it might work but the issue is the conveyor belt of ministers provides little stability and they’re supposed to calibrate activity between these two ministers. Based on track record, you’d think this is going to end in tears as per usual,” he said.

Mr Morrison announced the ministerial reshuffle on Friday afternoon, less than an hour before NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian held a press conference to announce her resignation. Mr Husic said the Prime Minister was trying to avoid scrutiny of the reshuffle.

“He would’ve known that announcement was coming and he deliberately scheduled the announcement to be snuck in before then, hoping that criticism would be overshadowed by other pretty explosive events,” Mr Husic said.

There will be a clear difference for Australians at the upcoming federal election when it comes to industry and manufacturing policies, Mr Husic said.

“The track record of the Coalition speaks for itself. It doesn’t treat these portfolios seriously, doesn’t back it up with serious investment and the portfolios seem to be more placeholder by nature as opposed to appointing someone with serious commitment to outcomes,” he said.

“These people have been put into these roles with the expectation that we will likely have an election in the next six to nine months. Angus Taylor is no superman…it would be hard not to doubt his ability to give serious attention to supporting industry in the lead up to the election.

“I’m clear that we know what we’ve got to do, we take this seriously because other people depend on secure jobs. We see there are a lot of opportunities for us, not politically but in a policy sense, to go on the front foot and plan ahead.”

The shadow industry minister criticised the level of investment the federal government has provided for the manufacturing sector in the wake of the pandemic.

“Our focus as an alternative government is very clear. We recognise the importance of the portfolios in driving our emergence out of the pandemic, but importantly in reshaping our future growth,” Mr Husic said.

“Contrast the $15 billion we’ve allocated for the National Reconstruction Fund to the $1.5 billion for the Modern Manufacturing Initiative. To give you a sense of how poor that allocation is by the Coalition, bear in mind they wasted $13 billion in federal finances directing JobKeeper funds to firms with rising revenues. Imagine if that had been channelled towards rebuilding and diversifying industry capability in Australia.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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