The federal government has begun the formation of its $15 billion flagship manufacturing fund, with legislation submitted to parliament and talks with industry set to begin next week.
The National Reconstruction Fund, a key Labor pledge, will provide funding to tech fields including medical science, renewables and low-emission technologies, and critical technologies such as fintech, artificial intelligence, robotics and quantum computing.
The bill laying the groundwork for the creation of the $15 billion fund was introduced to the House of Representatives on Wednesday by Secretary of Industry Ed Husic.
“Around the world, industrial policies are being revised to strengthen local production capacity,” Husic said.
“Now Australia can be a spectator or an agent of change. We want Australia to once again be at the forefront of technology innovation and advanced manufacturing to ensure Australians benefit from our homegrown ingenuity.”
Husic also gave a speech to the National Press Club on Tuesday afternoon, outlining the federal government’s approach to industrial policy.
He said the National Reconstruction Fund will be governed by an independent board and will be based on the model of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.
“The National Reconstruction Fund has been one of the largest peacetime investments in our nation’s productive capacity in living memory,” Husic told the National Press Club.
“It will help drive economic development in our regions and our suburbs, boost our sovereign capacity, diversify the country’s economy and, most importantly, help create secure jobs.”
Through the fund, the federal government will work with institutional investors, private equity and venture capital to provide loans, guarantees and equity to Australian companies.
It will provide a return to cover the Commonwealth’s borrowing costs, and is ultimately expected to have a positive underlying cash impact.
Ahead of the May elections, Labor outlined seven priority areas on which the fund will focus its investments: resources, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, transport, medical science, renewables and low-emission technologies, defense and critical technologies.
The cabinet will soon compile a reference group to guide the establishment of the fund, with leading industry and investment figures. This group will also discuss the fund’s investment mandate.
A public consultation on the fund has also been launched, with a focus on further defining the scope of the fund and how it will make investment decisions.
Companies seeking funding through the new initiative must have a business plan detailing how to build a solid business that generates returns and creates secure, well-paid jobs, the minister said.
“The NRF is the connective tissue between human capital and technology potential that makes up my portfolio,” said Husic. “It is a mechanism by which we will realize our ambition to better connect science and industry, to ensure that Australian-made discoveries can be commercialized and scaled up in our country.”
“The Albanian government has confidence in Australian know-how; believe in our people; confidence in our ability to build things here. The NRF tomorrow is a down payment on that belief, with many more to come in the years to come.”
Husic said governments shouldn’t be afraid to pick winners, and here’s what will happen through the $15 billion fund.
“Governments can and should invest strategically and thoughtfully in the industries of the future,” he said.
“If we hail the growth of industries in other parts of the world as an example of what can be done here, know that governments are acting strategically and methodically to nurture and grow those industries. And that is what we want to achieve with the National Reconstruction Fund.”
The new fund is a major departure from the industrial policy of the previous coalition government, which was led by a large manufacturing fund that offered cash in the form of grants and saw the prime minister give final approval to all grants.
The new fund will be funded in part by savings from writing off further cash set aside for the coalition’s fund.