A Senate showdown looms for Industry Minister Ed Husic’s $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund. He’ll meet with Senate crossbenchers next week after the key bill passed the lower house on Thursday with a Greens amendment that has infuriated other senators.
“We’ll negotiate with a whole range of people in the Senate, and we are starting those discussions,” Mr Husic said Friday.
Support in the Senate would lead to the creation of the National Reconstruction Fund (NRF) Corporation to administer $15 billion in loans, equity investment and guarantees by 2029. It is the Albanese government’s signature manufacturing policy and represents one of the largest peacetime industry investments in Australian history.
Greens leader Adam Bandt has raised concerns the $15 billion NRF could become a “slush fund” for fossil fuels.
He successfully negotiated government support for an amendment to explicitly prevent the fund from “directly” financing the extraction of coal and natural gas or pipeline infrastructure for natural gas.
The amendments similarly prevent the direct financing of native forest logging.
While Mr Husic has consistently said the fund’s energy and resource investments will only go to renewables and low emissions technologies or “value add” in resources, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, the Greens wanted legislated protections.
Similar protections to Labor legislation prevented Coalition governments from using the Clean Energy Financing Corporation – on which the NRF is modelled – to invest in fossil fuel and nuclear projects.
With the Greens’ support, Mr Husic now needs the support of two crossbenchers in the Senate. He’s repeatedly declined to provide detail or preempt the negotiations publicly but is understood to have already met with independent Senator David Pocock.
The pair will meet again on Tuesday to negotiate on the NRF with Senator Pocock’s exact demands still not entirely clear.
If Senator Pocock offers support, Mr Husic will likely turn to newly independent Senator Lidia Thorpe.
She has only agreed to vote with her former Greens party on climate issues. Her position on the NRF is also not clear. Mr Husic said he is keen to negotiate with her.
“I’m absolutely happy to discuss with her and any other Senators that have got an interest in this bill and, in particular, an interest in working with us on building up our manufacturing capability,” he told the ABC on Friday.
The Jacqui Lambie Network’s two senators are also an option, but its Senator Tammy Tyrrell reacted furiously to the government’s support for the Greens’ amendment. She said it was a “smack in the face” to Tasmanians and the state’s logging industry.
A spokesperson for Senator Jacqui Lambie said she agrees with the statement issued by Senator Tyrrell but that she is still working out the details of her final position on the bill. Senator Lambie has had meetings with Mr Husic and will continue to have discussions with the government, the spokesperson said.
Mr Husic said the government would not change its support for the Greens’ amendment, and that the amendment would not prevent logging in Tasmania.
“It will continue. And some of the reactions I’ve seen, you know, you’ve just got to raise your eyebrows and move on to the next thing,” Mr Husic said.
The Senate will next sit on March 20.
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