Manufacturing boost: $15b NRF bill passes the House

Brandon How

The National Reconstruction Fund bill has passed the House of Representatives with the government supporting an amendment from the Greens that bans the $15 billion fund from investing in any project that supports coal and gas extraction.

The government also supported an amendment from Teal independent Zoe Daniel that the NRF board must consider how to improve economic participation by historically underrepresented groups such as women and First Nations Australians.

“We are now one step closer to delivering one of the largest peacetime investments in manufacturing this country has ever seen,” Mr Husic said. “The National Reconstruction Fund is a nation-building, transformational investment to help deliver a better future.”

“I look forward to working constructively across the Senate to deliver the National Reconstruction Fund for Australians,” he said.

Australian Greens leader Adam Bandt said that the party was supportive of a fund that helps develop manufacturing in Australia, but said it must be protected from turning into a “slush fund for new coal and gas”.

Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic

Specifically, the fund would be precluded from directly financing the extraction of coal and gas, or the construction of pipeline infrastructure that supports natural gas extraction. Similar bans would apply to the logging of native forests.

“We have seen previous governments try to use that money to go and support making the climate crisis worse. The Liberals never tried to use the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Renewable Energy Authority to finance coal and gas,” Mr Bandt said.

“This country has massive potential for a revitalised manufacturing industry that thrives in a zero-pollution economy.”

During the 2022 election campaign, the Greens previously proposed the establishment of a $500 million “CEFC-like Green Metals bank to finance a new green metals industry”.

Support for the NRF bill from the Greens was conditional on the passing of this amendment. The government must now find support from two independent senators to pass the bill, given the Coalition is currently unwilling to back it.

The Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic said that the government had been open to accepting the Greens’ amendment because it is in line with the intended purpose of the fund.

“This is a fund designed to support the evolution, the reinforcement, and the diversification of Australian manufacturing. It is a fund that’s designed to help Australia be a country that makes things.”

Deputy Opposition leader Sussan Ley said the Coalition would not support the Greens amendment, describing it as taking “the transition to renewable energy backwards”, saying that even the Prime Minister described natural gas as having a “key role in the transition to renewable energy” on Tuesday.

Mr Husic decried the Coalition’s opposition to the NRF and lamented its unwillingness to enter discussions on the NRF.  He said, however, that “if there is a point at which the coalition wants to reengage, you have my personal commitment in front of this chamber” that his door is open.

“On the record: I’m not going to be crowing about it and saying … and laughing about the fact that we found a way to talk again. It is important that we work on this [together] … and that we build something that ultimately will be enduring and will be something that we can collectively be proud of,” Mr Husic said.

Speaking to the amendment on encouraging economic participation of historically underrepresented groups, Ms Daniel noted that “Australia’s record on getting women into STEM is poor, as is our lingering gender pay gap as high as 30 per cent”.

She cautioned the House, stating “let’s not fall into the same old habits and allow women to be left behind”. The amendment specifically highlights considerations for women, First Nations Australians, people with disabilities, and people of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

With regard to Ms Daniel’s amendment, Mr Husic stressed the importance of supporting a diverse innovation ecosystem, noting that currently only “three per cent of venture funding goes to female founded companies”.

The government is currently undertaking a Pathway to Diversity in STEM Review and is reviewing the effectiveness of its Women in STEM programs.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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