Thursday, 9 March 2023
National Reconstruction Fund Corporation Bill 2022; Consideration in Detail
(1) Clause 63, page 39 (after line 3), at the end of the clause, add:
(3) An investment for the purposes of the Corporation's investment functions must not relate to any of the following:
(a) an activity that involves the extraction of coal or gas;
(b) an activity that involves the construction of coal or gas infrastructure;
(c) a project or product that involves the logging of Australian native forests;
(d) an activity the carrying out of which is inconsistent with Australia's greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.
(4) In this section:
Australia's greenhouse gas emission s reduction targets means:
(i) Australia's current nationally determined contribution was communicated in accordance with Article 4 of the Paris Agreement in June 2022; and
(ii) that nationally determined contribution has not been adjusted in accordance with paragraph 11 of Article 4 of the Paris Agreement;
the greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets set out in paragraphs 10(1)(a) and (b) of the Climate Change Act 2022; or
(b) in any other case—the greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets included in:
(i) Australia's current nationally determined contribution communicated in accordance with Article 4 of the Paris Agreement; or
(ii) if that nationally determined contribution has been adjusted in accordance with paragraph 11 of Article 4 of the Paris Agreement—that nationally determined contribution, as adjusted and in force from time to time.
Paris Agreement means the Paris Agreement, done at Paris on 12 December 2015, as amended and in force for Australia from time to time.
For clarity, the amendment is that after line 3 at the end of clause 63, on page 39, add: 'Prohibited investments. (3) an investment of a corporation body must not: (a) directly finance the extraction of coal or natural gas; or (b) directly finance the construction of pipeline infrastructure primarily for the extraction of natural gas; or (c) directly finance the logging of native forests; and (4) in this section 'native forest' does not include a plantation, and "plantation" means an intensively managed stand of trees that is created by the regular placement of seedlings or seed.'
Public money should not go to making the climate crisis worse, and public money should not be invested in coal, gas or the destruction of our native forests. That is what people across this country expect. What we have seen in the past is that when government bodies are established that allow the government to invest, previous governments have tried to use that money to support making the climate crisis worse. The Liberals even tried to use the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Renewable Energy Authority to finance coal and gas! So we know that governments need to be stopped from financing the climate crisis and making it worse.
We know that amendments which were put in the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and which were agreed to by the Greens and Labor stopped the destructive Liberal government from investing in coal and gas that would make the climate crisis worse. Public money should be going to public schools and hospitals, not to coal and gas corporations. But we know that every time money is put aside to increase investment in manufacturing to make the country more resilient that the big corporations will line up with their hands out. They will try to take public money and use it for more coal and gas. That is why the Greens have insisted that if the government wants to establish a fund to support manufacturing in this country—which we support as well; we want to see manufacturing in this country supported, grown and got off its feet—then that money cannot be used for investment in coal and gas, or to destroy native forests. So I'm pleased to advise the chamber that it's my understanding the government will support this amendment and make sure that this does not turn into a slush fund for new coal and gas. On that basis, the Greens are prepared to support this bill.
Today is an important day, because today the Greens have stopped public money going to coal and gas, and the destruction of our native forests. We know that has happened in the past but, through this amendment, it will not happen again in the future. This country has massive potential for a revitalised manufacturing industry that thrives in a zero-pollution economy. As we have said, and as we said consistently during the election, in many places the best job for a coalminer is another mining job. We have opportunities to grow green steel in this country, to be world leaders in manufacturing steel without the need to make the climate crisis worse. This amendment, secured today by the Greens, will stop public money going to coal and gas and stop the destruction of our native forests.
Of course, part of the reason that Senator Allman-Payne, from Queensland, our spokesperson on this issue, has pushed so hard for this is that, living in Gladstone, she knows that every dollar of public money that is spent on making the climate crisis worse is a dollar that goes away from investment in regional jobs that this country needs to ensure that workers in Gladstone and everywhere around this country can have high-paying, secure jobs as we move to a zero-pollution economy. We can have both. With public investment in public manufacturing we can provide secure futures with high wages for people who are currently working in coal and gas industries. Every dollar from the government that goes to coal and gas takes away from the jobs and wages of workers in regional Queensland and right around the country. That is why this amendment, which I'm pleased to hear the government supports, is so critical to ensuring manufacturing jobs, high wages and tackling the climate crisis.
I agree with my colleague on the necessity to restrain the exponential growth in CO2. I do not agree with my colleague on abolishing coal. If my honourable colleague seriously thinks this country can do without coal, well, let me point out that we have only three exports: iron ore, coal and gas. We gave the gas away, so we get nothing at all out of it. All these things are worth over a hundred billion dollars. The next things down the list are maybe gold, cattle and aluminium, worth about $15 billion—they were the last time I looked, anyway. So we've got the big three and nothing else. This House gave away one of them for nothing. It gave all the gas away for 6c a unit. We're now buying our own gas back for $49 a unit. I speak with authority because I was the Minister for Mines and Energy in what was then the biggest mining state in Australia—Queensland.
Mr Speaker, if you take away coal, you bankrupt this country. Start picking out the hospitals that you're going to close—just pick them out—because there's no money. Already in Queensland, because they've got no money, they've closed, for the first time in 110 years, outpatient services. That's in Queensland, where we were opening up coalmines again and again.
There's a second issue here. Von Clausewitz, in the best book on warfare ever written, said that if goods do not cross borders then guns will. If you think a tiny little country of 24 million people, which happens to be Anglo and European, in the middle of Asia is going to tell China and India that they can't have any coal, well, mate, you're asking for trouble—big trouble. And you mustn't have read many history books—I can tell you that!
In concession to your point of view: surely, if you're going to let the coal go, you say that all of the stations have to be heli-stations, which halves the amount of coal? Surely you get off your backside and make sure your coal-fired power stations in Australia are converted over? You have to do this—and I'm not being patriotic here—in North Queensland because we've got all the water. I bless the new Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek, because she told me the name of the algae that's used. Michael Kelly, who was a prominent minister in this place, was advocating the use of algae some considerable time ago. If you've got a huge area of land and a lot of water, you can take all of the emissions from a coal-fired power station and turn them into a profitable product. So let's not believe that coal is the great evil, when in fact you can convert that coal into food through algae. A great advocate for the environment and dealing with climate change is no less a person than the minister, and the great advocates are now looking at where the answers are. But to cripple Australia and bankrupt Australia is not the answer. And to provoke a fight with China and India is just the act of an imbecile, quite frankly.
The National Reconstruction Fund Corporation Bill 2022 is an important bill. It's a no-brainer. We do have to reconstruct our manufacturing capability. It's a matter of national sovereignty and urgency that we rebuild our manufacturing capabilities across a whole range of things. The government are putting up a bill to tip $5 billion in and add another $10 billion, but they have changed the mix of what is going to be supported in the form of either loans, guarantees, equity—all the things that interventionist governments love doing—and a lot of people in business are seeing cheap money. It won't be cheap money if it's borrowed money, where the government has to pay the value of the bonds or the borrowings every year and then try and get money out of their investments or their equity. I certainly agree with the concept that we need to reconstruct manufacturing in this country, expand it. It is value-adding jobs when we use our resources to process them into aluminium, steel, copper—all those things. We are going to process critical minerals for all sorts of things.
The common thread in this is that all these things that you want to do with reconstructing manufacturing won't happen unless we have cheap, available energy all the time. The member for Kennedy has just pointed out the bleeding obvious: countries around the world have spent trillions of their nation's wealth—trillions of euros, trillions of US dollars, trillions of Australian dollars—on the mirage of being able to totally get rid of fossil fuels. I hate to disappoint the member from the crossbench, but fossil fuels are part of the modern industrial world. Coal will be needed to make steel.
You can replace the use of coal and gas to produce electricity, and something that I want to point out to the ministers on the other side is that the investment mandate is critical. If we are going to spend this money, we need to reconstruct our electricity grid, because it's been moth-eaten away and it's about to collapse. The Callide Power Station in Queensland is still not ready to generate electricity. Liddell is about to be destroyed and, in a couple of years time, Eraring will be, and there will be regular blackouts, because there is no reserve capacity left in our grid to keep our cities working. Keeping everything running—hospitals, refrigeration, food processing, sewerage—relies on constant energy in a grid, and our grid has been moth-eaten away. We will end up like South Africa. Trust me, that is coming soon to a city near you, because Liddell has threatened to close. They have put in for approval to basically disassemble it, blow it up and put a battery there. Instead of 51.5 gigawatts of electricity coming out 95 per cent of the time, there will be a 500-megawatt superbattery. That will be chewed up in a couple of minutes.
The other thing is that we should remove the prohibition on nuclear energy, because we know it has the lowest footprint in terms of CO2—lower than wind and solar. I'm not making this up. The United Nations say this. The European Commission for the economy says this. The Nuclear Energy Agency has shown this. There is much less steel, concrete and critical minerals in a nuclear power plant. The waste is very manageable, but we need to remove the prohibition. If we are going to reconstruct our manufacturing, we can have green steel and we can have green aluminium, with nuclear power. Five grams of CO2 per kilowatt—that is lower than wind and solar. There is no destruction of vast parts of the country—our beautiful native forests and mountaintops and plains covered with short-lived renewable energy and mineral-intensive renewable resources. The sun is renewable and the wind is renewable, but solar panels and wind farms are very short lived. So put the money into reconstructing our grid and manufacturing; we'll get cheap energy and will thrive again.
It is incredibly important that this National Reconstruction Fund Corporation Bill 2022 pass, and I commend the member for Melbourne for this amendment. And I commend the government for its negotiations and engagement with this process. It's incredibly important that the National Reconstruction Fund be used to support emerging technologies and key manufacturing sectors—not to prop up mature technologies, such as fossil fuel extraction or infrastructure related to that, like coal and gas, or logging native forests. These are all mature technologies and if they're not standing up on their own now then they have passed their time.
What's important for Australia's future prosperity is a road map on how we're going to grow our wealth. Where is the world going for export industries? It is not nuclear, and it is not coal and gas. When it comes an export industry that we must engage with, it's going to be green hydrogen. We know that the Inflation Reduction Act in the US is creating a race to investment, so it's going to be key for Australia's future prosperity that we also get into that race. The EU has now responded to the US in that respect, and so it's incredibly important that this fund—through this amendment—makes it clear that we're focusing on the future and on emerging technologies.
It will be incredibly important for the minister, the corporation and the commission to ensure that the funding looks to support projects where proof of concept has been established, they're ready to scale and will deliver. I've had discussions with the minister about the importance of also looking to small and medium businesses to capture innovation. I would like to ask, though, about the inclusion of the word 'directly' in this amendment. I just want to understand it clearly. Obviously, there's a lot of infrastructure that may well be converted to green hydrogen use, and that's where our ultimate export opportunity is. So I would ask for clarification from the minister as to how he sees this amendment and the reconstruction fund bill working towards enabling those new technologies to prosper.
At the beginning, may I extend my deepest gratitude on behalf of the government to those who have wanted to engage constructively on this bill. I have said to all people who have wanted to talk about it that this is a National Reconstruction Fund and that this is a moment in time where we can all play a part in ensuring the support required to drive the economy longer term, particularly with the challenges we're facing, be those in respect of the climate, geopolitical strategies, economic or those coming out of the pandemic. This is a point where we can all work together. There's an expectation that we will and for those people who have come to the table with that view in mind, I have sought to match that approach. I have very much valued it. I know we can't agree on everything, and I don't think we expected to, but there are some things that we can work through and that's what we have sought to do today. I also extend my apologies to the member for Lyne, who wanted to speak last night and I inadvertently cut him off. He doesn't agree with everything we've said, but I understand where he's coming from and so I was quite happy for him to make his contribution today.
In respect of the amendment moved by the Leader of the Greens, the government accepts it. For the reasons why we are, I might pick up on some of the points that the Leader of the Greens raised, and also those raised by the member for Warringah. This is a fund designed to support the evolution, reinforcement and diversification of Australian manufacturing. It's a fund which is designed to help Australia be a country that makes things. We want to back investment in those firms which have a concept that they've got to the point of commercialisation, where they're ready to scale up and to broaden out the manufacturing activity they're intending to do. This fund will be managed—and I emphasise again—by an independent board. I will not be making the calls as the minister for industry, and nor will anyone who follows after me. This will be an independent board, made up of experienced people, guided by an investment mandate and delivering a return to the taxpayer. The reason I mention this is because it's not just about delivering for the taxpayer. If they're delivering a return, they're delivering for the economy and the communities they serve.
In terms of some of the issues the Greens have raised, the intent of the NRF is not to deal with some of the things that have been raised in the amendment. There may be other vehicles that support that type of activity, but this is about manufacturing activity, so we've been quite open to supporting that.
In reference to the member for Warringah's points around directly investing, there may be some firms that particularly have levered off fossil fuels as their source of their energy, and they want to covert over. Unless they're preparing to manufacture the technology that they will then embed in their operations, this will not be a fund that will support them to bring in new technologies that have already been made by someone else that they just put in to satisfy their energy needs. If they're building the technology, yes, but if they're just bringing it on board, no. There will be other vehicles that can support that.
I hope we do address those concerns that have been raised. But there is a lot of work to do. The fund has, at its heart, $3 billion dedicated within the $15 billion of the NRF that has been factored into our plans to reduce emissions to meet the targets the parliament supported for 2030 and net zero. It's been calculated in that modelling. We would not want to do anything inconsistent with that. Hence, for those people who are wanting to know why the government has agreed to the Greens amendment, we are not going to do anything that runs counter to that $15 billion investment. That is why we've been prepared to support this. It's why the amendment is phrased in the way it is.
Again, it's about anything that is supporting the manufacture of some of those new energy technologies that come with low or zero emissions, and we can scale that up onshore. Importantly, as the Prime Minister has often remarked, we've seen the intellectual property that has underpinned the development of solar technology emerge from this country, and then some other country has gone off and manufactured that. We are rightfully proud of the fact that we have more solar panels on our roofs than most other countries, and yet most of those panels were not built by Australians, even though the idea came from us. We want to support ideas on this country's shores; we want to manufacture that way. That's what this fund is about, and that's why we're willing to support the amendment.
Just in brief, I thank the minister and I thank the Greens and all who will continue to speak on this important bill. I simply want to make a note, in noting that the opposition will be opposing this amendment, how disappointing it is that an agenda that is actually going to take the transition to renewable energy backwards has been proposed by the Greens and accepted by the government.
I simply refer to the remarks of the Prime Minister recently, underscoring without doubt that gas must play a key role in the transition to renewable energy. So your signature manufacturing fund has taken one giant step backwards from a key commitment made by this Prime Minister and relied on by every single manufacturing business in this country. The opposition will be opposing the amendment.
I don't intend for this to go back and forth. We all have a lot on, and we want to get to the point of agreeing to the bill. I thank the shadow minister for her contribution. Obviously, we're at different points on this. I will just make this point: it is deeply disappointing we were not able to talk on this, or work on this bill together. I maintain that the invitation is open to the coalition. If they want to work with us on this, and there's still an opportunity to do so, we will do so.
I say this too, if I can extend this point to the crossbench: just because we work with the coalition does not mean we will not work with the crossbench. My point is that this is a national reconstruction fund. We welcome the opportunity to work with you on this. There are a lot of good things that can come out of this.
I make the point—and I acknowledge the presence of the former minister for industry at the table because, as you know, when you put things forward, we had disagreements on speed—that we didn't ever oppose moves to reinvigorate manufacturing in this country. So, if there is a point at which the coalition wants to re-engage, you have my personal commitment in front of this chamber and on the record. I'm not going to be crowing about it and laughing about the fact that we've found a way to talk again. I think it is important that we work on this, that we work with the crossbench and the Greens on this and that we build something that will ultimately be enduring, will work in the longer term and will be something that we can collectively be proud of.
I will not respond to every coalition position. The coalition has amendments to put up now, but I will flag in advance that we will not likely support them because the time to do this type of work was during the consideration of the bill early on and before they flagged an outright opposition to the bill, with no explanation given to us before the announcement on their opposition to it. But, if they change their mind, I commit that our door remains open and that we will work collectively.
I move the amendment circulated in my name:
(1) Clause 17, page 15 (after line 16), at the end of the clause, add:
(4) In performing its functions, the Board must have regard to the desirability of encouraging and improving economic participation by historically underrepresented groups, including:
(a) women; and
(b) First Nations Australians; and
(c) people with a disability; and
(d) people of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
(5) Subsection (4) does not:
(a) limit the matters to which the Board may have regard; or
(b) by implication, limit the matters with respect to which the Board may be directed under subsection 71(1).
I was elected in part on a promise of promoting gender equality. As I said at the Jobs and Skills Summit, we're in danger of limiting ourselves to high-vis solutions to what is clearly also a pink problem. I believe that all legislation should contain a gender impact statement if we're to reboot the productivity we would get if more women, who are currently sidelined, were in the workforce in higher skilled, higher paying and more secure jobs. At a time of skills shortages and a tight labour market it is simply a no brainer. The minds and initiative are there. Women want secure jobs and respect. Women are not waiting to be asked. They don't want permission; they want the opportunity.
But given how far behind women are on wages and participation that will require active facilitation. Indeed, it's a systems change, a true culture shift. As Chief Executive Women said in its prebudget submission, 'Prioritising organisations with gender balanced leadership and forward looking policies in government procurement processes must be embedded in gender responsive budgeting. A whole of government application of a gender lens to consideration of all new policy proposals is required to deliver coherent, effective policy.'
The seven priority areas identified in this legislation are largely those requiring STEM skills, and in that Australia's record in getting women into science, technology, engineering and maths is poor, as is our lingering gender pay gap, as high as 30 per cent in some sectors. Encouraging women into the sectors identified in this legislation ought to be a priority but it's more than that. Government procurement, loans and grants should be geared to businesses and industries that find ways to elevate under-represented cohorts. This is yet another building block in the process to create true equality and that is why I'm moving the amendment circulated today.
As we enter a renewables revolution with all of its associated new trades, let's not fall into the same old habits and allow women to be left behind. Women and girls must be fostered into these new industries. It is about women, but it's not just about women. We also need to foster First Nations Australians, people with a disability and people of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds into the new cleaner, greener technologies, manufacturing and services if we are to have the prosperous Australia we want and that our children deserve, and encourage and foster businesses and industries to do so. That is how we will correct this imbalance. This is something that I know the minister understands, representing a highly diverse electorate. As I said in my speech during the second reading debate, I promised the Goldstein community, especially our women and girls, that if I got into this room where it happens I would speak up for those who are not in the room. Perhaps if we did that, our daughters wouldn't be almost my age by the time they had true equality. I thank the minister for his genuine engagement, and I thank the House.
We will be agreeing to this amendment because, through our work and the matters that have been raised by the member for Goldstein—I thank her for her work in this regard and for championing this amendment—a number of us across the chamber have seen firsthand that this is an issue that we have an opportunity to correct.
Last month, member for Goldstein, I was in the US. I had the very real honour of meeting with Australians and Australian companies doing incredible work there. One of the most eye-opening conversations I had was with Marissa Warren from ALIAVIA Ventures, a California based venture capital firm with Australians in it who are early-stage investors. Importantly, they're early-stage investors in businesses led by female founders. Marissa pointed to the fact that less than three per cent of venture funding goes to female founded companies, which is frankly a shocking number. Interestingly, investments in the ones that do get the investment deliver 35 per cent higher returns on the investment compared to those led by men.
Here in Australia, Women's Agenda issued a report recently which said that just one in three of the top VC firms here invested in a female founder in 2022, and that two-thirds of the country's top venture capital firms didn't invest in a venture led by a female founder in 2022. Again, this is something that has to be addressed. Clearly, we do need to acknowledge that there's a funding gap there. There's an opportunity for the NRF to crowd in funding, and there's also a need for a whole stack of underrepresented groups to have that chance to have the financial backing to grow their firms. We want to make sure the NRF can back these diverse businesses, to give people a sense that this is something that governments champion—the creation of these firms and these new enterprises. It's really important that this happens. We need that stream of investment made available for a wider group of people, and we also need to embark, as I've discussed with the member for Goldstein, on a culture change within the mindset of some VCs. If this can provide an opportunity to make that happen, let's see where we can go to progress that.
Again, I welcome the contribution. It is a great amendment, and we look forward to working further on this to make it a tangible reality.
Question agreed to.
SCAMPS () (): by leave—I move amendments (1) to (3), as circulated in my name, together:
(1) Clause 5, page 7 (after line 20), after the definition of financial accommodation, insert:
former judge means:
(a) a former Justice of the High Court; or
(b) a former judge of the Federal Court of Australia; or
(c) a former judge of the Supreme Court of a State or Territory.
(2) Clause 19, page 16 (after line 9), after subclause (1), insert:
(1A) A person must not be appointed as a Board member unless:
(a) the selection of the person for the appointment is the result of a process that includes:
(i) public advertising of selection criteria for the position; and
(ii) assessment of applications against the selection criteria by an independent panel consisting of at least 3 members and chaired by a former judge; and
(iii) shortlisting of at least 3 persons for the appointment that are certified, in writing, by the panel to meet all of the selection criteria; and
(b) the person is one of the shortlisted candidates.
(3) Clause 19, page 16 (after line 30), at the end of the clause, add:
(4) Within 7 days after a person is appointed as a Board member, the Minister must cause a copy of the written certification for the person (referred to in subparagraph (1A)(a)(iii)) to be:
(a) tabled in each House of the Parliament; or
(b) if a House is not sitting—presented to the Presiding Officer of that House for circulation to the members of that House.
I recently stood up in this place to speak about the National Reconstruction Fund Corporation Bill 2022. While broadly supportive of this bill, I raised my significant concerns about the integrity of the fund's board appointment process. I also asked a question of the minister in question time about this, and I wasn't completely satisfied with the answer. So I bring forward these amendments today to inject into the bill a more robust and independent process for the appointment of members to the board of this corporation. After all, this board will be making investment decisions for a $15 billion fund.
Over the last decade, the integrity of many institutions that underpin our democracy has taken a battering. In recent years, we've witnessed the 'jobs for mates' culture flourish here in Canberra, as rates of political friendly appointments to public boards and entities have soared. Last term, one of those entities, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, was so heavily stacked with political appointees—a rate of 40 per cent of those appointments—that the current Attorney-General has made the decision to abolish it. How can the Australian people trust the decisions that flow from institutions that have had their independence compromised in this way? We also recently heard about a minister who received donations and gifts from an industry she was conducting an inquiry into and was making regulatory decisions about. Last term, we saw millions of dollars in grants handed out for party political reasons without any semblance of proper process. It was no wonder, then, that at the time of the 2022 election Australia had dropped to its lowest ever level on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. This behaviour has to stop.
At the election, the people of Australia voted in droves for greater integrity in our political system. The best solution to this issue of corruption and cronyism would be the enactment of comprehensive legislation that requires a transparent, accountable and independent process for all major Commonwealth public appointments, such as I introduced earlier this week with my private member's bill, ending jobs for mates. This is a gold standard process, which balances an appropriate level of ministerial discretion as the final decision-maker with ensuring a shortlist of candidates is independently selected based on their expertise, experience and integrity.
In the meantime, however, I have no choice but to introduce this amendment to this bill. I will now go to the bill currently before the House and my proposed amendment. At present the ministers responsible for the National Reconstruction Fund Corporation, the Minister for Industry and Science and the Minister for Finance, have complete discretion over who is appointed to the board. The ministers are required to have regard to the experience, professional credibility and standing of the board members they propose to appoint. This is, of course, something that that is expected. However, there is no mechanism or oversight committee to guarantee that the board member selection process is actually competitive, fair and equitable, as would occur under my ending jobs for mates legislation.
My amendment to this bill requires that, in the selection of National Reconstruction Fund board members: the positions and selection criteria be publicly advertised for a minimum of ten consecutive days; the assessment of applications is undertaken by an independent selection panel with at least three members and a former superior court judge as chair; the panel shortlists at least three candidates for each position and certifies they meet the selection criteria; the minister chooses the successful candidate only from the shortlist; and, lastly, the certification of the successful candidate must be tabled in the parliament.
This amendment strikes the right balance between ministerial discretion and public accountability, and it will not result in undue bureaucratic burden or cost. What it will do is ensure the integrity of the National Reconstruction Fund board and, thus, the important decisions they make on the disbursement of the $15 billion in the fund. The people of Australia deserve a political system they can trust. (Time expired)
by leave—I move Katter's Australian Party amendments (1) to (7) revised:
(1) Clause 5, page 4 (line 2), Before "In this", insert "(1)".
(2) Clause 5, page 10 (after line 25), at the end of the clause, add:
(2) A reference in this Act to a regional or rural area of Australia is a reference to a geographic area that is located outside major towns and cities, sometimes classified as the countryside.
(3) A reference in this Act to a remote area of Australia is a reference to an area that typically has a low population density and is considerably secluded, being geographically isolated or 4 hours or more drive from a large town or city and from the goods, services and facilities offered by large towns and cities.
(3) Clause 6, page 10 (line 27), before "The Ministers", insert "(1)".
(4) Clause 6, page 10 (after line 30), at the end of the clause, add:
(2) Investment in regional, rural and remote areas of Australia must be declared to be a priority area of the Australian economy.
(5) Clause 17, page 15 (after line 16), at the end of the clause, add:
(4) The strategies and policies followed by the Corporation, as mentioned in paragraph (1)(a), must require there to be a focus on high priority allocation of funds for projects in regional, rural and remote areas of Australia due to the historical and existing disparity in infrastructure funding between city and country locations.
(6) Clause 19, page 16 (after line 25), after subclause (2), insert:
(2A) Despite subsection (2), the Board members must include a person who is appointed to represent regional, rural and remote areas of Australia.
(7) Clause 70, page 41 (lines 24 and 25), omit "is solely or mainly Australian-based", substitute "only involves companies that are solely, or at least 50%, Australian owned and operated".
This bill is particularly relevant to the Kennedy electorate. The town with the biggest income for Australia of anywhere in Australia is Mount Isa. We, a little tiny town of 20,000 people, produce around $5 million a year in export earnings for our country. That's because we have minerals. We have the new-age minerals, massive lithium deposits, at Georgetown. We have massive vanadium deposits at Julia Creek and Richmond and, arguably, at Winton. If I just refer to my notes here, we have vanadium, lithium, cobalt, copper, lead, silicon, phosphate and uranium. All of those minerals, and many other rare earths which I'm not going to enumerate, proliferate in our area.
Now, you have a choice. We are not a mining country, even though two-thirds to three-quarters of our exports are mining products. We are not a mining country, because a mining country mines it out of the ground and sells metals. We mine it out of the ground and sell the ground; we are a quarrying country. We were once described as an advanced industrial country. Well, I can't see any evidence that we're an industrial country at all, let alone an advanced industrial country. But God bless the people of my homeland who were determined that Australians would sell pure copper, that Australians would sell extremely high-grade lead, that Australians would sell zinc—not ground.
We are on the cusp of opening up all these new minerals, and this parliament has the choice of letting the minerals go, as you have done with bauxite at Weipa. I cannot believe that the Queensland government and the government of Australia have allowed bauxite to go out of Weipa. Comalco approached the Queensland government, in the form of Sir Leo Hielscher—two of the six biggest bridges in Australia are named after Leo Hielscher, and quite rightly so—arguably, with Bjelke-Petersen and Les Thiess and three others, the architect of the Queensland economic miracle. When Comalco came in and said they wanted to export bauxite, Leo nearly killed himself laughing. How funny! 'You think you're going to export bauxite, do you! That doesn't happen in Queensland.' Now it does.
Gladstone is one of the most vibrant cities in this nation because that government spent a squillion dollars building the biggest power station in the world at the time at Gladstone. Economies of scale meant we could compete against anyone. And, unlike the governments of Australia, the much-maligned Bjelke-Petersen government said, 'We will take one per cent of your coal for free', so our electricity was run on free coal, negligible labour costs, even though they were on more money than members of parliament. They probably deserved to be on more money than members of parliament as well. But because there was so much power going and because the units were so big and so efficient the labour costs were minimal, the coal costs were nil—absolute zero. Now, we are sending out bauxite. All I can say is if this initiative makes a difference then that is a very good thing. (Time expired)
I really do appreciate the passion of the member who has moved these amendments. He is a regional MP. He has been in this place a long time and he does acutely understand his electorate, regional Queensland and the importance of manufacturing. He is right to point out that, in our history in Australia, we haven't always got things right. It does sometimes feel like a bit of reverse engineering. We are now talking about value adding when, really, we should have been value adding all along. He did point out the case of bauxite and iron ore. But that is exactly what we're trying to address in this bill, to be able to bring some of that value adding back on shore. There is a dedication within this, and one of the key areas is: How can we value add in our rare minerals and our mining?
To the importance of regional manufacturing, my electorate is a proud manufacturing electorate and, despite at the moment it only employs about 10 per cent of the local population, its output in economic value is and the jobs that are attached to it are so much more. One of the key areas in this bill that my manufacturers are very keen to tap into is that focus on mining. People may not realise, but we are going through another gold rush in Bendigo. We have found gold again. We have one of the richest seams of gold in the world and are producing such high-quality gold that we now have up to a thousand goldminers and workers underground. It is hard to believe that the gold is underground and coming back in towards Bendigo. On top, you would have no idea that we're finding all this gold underground. That mining is expanding manufacturing, which is looking at modern, innovative ways to mine that gold. It is an exciting time but what the manufacturers are keen for and what they have reached out to me about is that capital, that equity partner in government that they are looking for. That is what this bill really tries to do; it encourages innovation in our manufacturing. It encourages and supports that.
Deepcore Drilling is one of our mining companies that is working closely with Fosterville Gold Mine on how they can use their advanced manufacturing methods to develop new mining equipment. We have JL King, which is not in gold manufacturing but in food manufacturing. We have big food manufacturers in my part of the world. Sometimes those jobs get recognised as manufacturing jobs and other times they get recognised as agricultural jobs. We have more people working in food manufacturing in our area than all other manufacturing put together, over a thousand. Our biggest private employer in regional Victoria, KR Castlemaine, is in my electorate. They are really excited by what is being put forward in this bill—that ability to have cleaner, greener manufacturing—and are looking forward to see what opportunities they will have.
JL King have built a facility on the other side of town and are looking to expand. They do a lot of the ready meals that we now buy from IGAs and from other supermarkets and are being asked to get involved in aged care because they deliver good food that's nutritious and that is going to help aged-care facilities meet the needs of their residents. They need to expand but the cost of the equipment needed to expand is so high and the banks aren't interested. They just aren't interested. So they'd really like the opportunity that comes with this bill. Hofmann Engineering, which are known for their manufacturing and engineering operation in Perth, actually exist on the east coast in Bendigo. They refurb the wind turbines. They make them more efficient. They receive, in Bendigo, wind turbines from Europe. They're the best in the world at doing it—the ability to tap into the most modern forms of manufacturing capability, looking for that investment partner that this government's got.
This week, while we've been debating this bill, I've had two different manufacturers reach out and say, 'How do we get access to this fund?' I'm heartbroken to say, 'It's not through the parliament yet.' So I appreciate what the member's saying, but this bill, as it is, is going to deliver the best opportunity for our local manufacturers, particularly in regional Victoria.
I just want to make the point that the minister has agreed to minority representation. You and I both know the biggest minority in Australia is the people that don't live in the big cities. What I want is that minority to be represented. We'll have all these other minorities, which really are not relevant to most of those people. They're not in Bendigo and they're not in Mount Isa. I don't think any of my first Australian people will be selected for the board, and I don't think any women from my electorate will be on that board, and I hate to tell you but I don't think there will be many from Bendigo either in those categories. The one category that's not there is representation from country areas.
The last government set the NAIF up, and they did not have one single person from northern Australia on the NAIF board; it was the Northern Australia Investment Fund and they had no-one from northern Australia on it. It was jobs for the boys, and that's what my colleagues over here are trying to overcome: jobs for the boys. If ever there is a group that should be represented here, it is the member for Bendigo and the member for Kennedy's mob, where the mining and the great opportunities for processing into a refined product take place.
In Queensland when you build a new house it has to have solar panels on it. That's great, but this government and the last government have done absolutely nothing to see any of those solar panels built in Australia. We don't even provide the high-tech silicon from Australia, yet we are the cheapest silicon source in the world. It's crushed up; it's in sand. We can provide the cheapest base product in the world, but we do no upgrading whatsoever. We just let it go, same as we're doing with the bauxite at the moment.
I fear that this money will go where it shouldn't be going. Where it should be going is to the areas that the member for Bendigo and I represent.
There is a lot in what the member for Kennedy has said, and I think there will be a lot of people, regardless of their politics, who will agree. In this country the biggest problem has been a failure of ambition to think ahead and to go, 'Well, we can actually do this stuff.' We've just thought, 'Oh well, there are a lot of things that other countries do better than us.' I've often said, Member for Kennedy, one of the big things we've got to do is back Australian know-how. It's not a cute line; it actually flows through to a lot of other decisions that get made, particularly by investors that need to start thinking that what we do in this country matters, that it delivers longer-term economic value and commercial value—and where it happens too. I am very aware that failure of ambition and that failure to back know-how has affected people in your neck of the woods. It's effected people in the member for Bendigo's area. It's been particularly hard for people in remote and regional Australia to get a look in. We want to make sure that happens.
There are some parts of this bill which are priority areas, in particular, member for Kennedy, the value add in resources and the value add in agriculture. I'll come to resources: you made a hell of a lot of good points—maybe a heck of a lot; I don't know if 'hell of a lot' is parliamentary!—about value adding, and you made reference to bauxite. One of the other big things, as you well know, and as many other people know, is that we have so many of the critical minerals and rare earths that the rest of the world is chasing. But we're just mining it and not doing any value adding. That's part of the reason that we're developing the National Battery Strategy. We do the mining and refining really well, but the bulk of the processing gets done in another country and we don't do anything in terms of cell manufacture or recycle and reuse. So thinking about that longer term is really important, and we're backing in the things that you're saying—a billion dollars of this fund will go to value adding in resources, so we get that.
The other thing is that when we set this thing up, with the will of the parliament—obviously, I won't pre-empt that as this is going to the other place for a final vote—we aren't going to say, 'The NRF is done,' brush our hands and say, 'That's it.' A lot of other work needs to feed into this. For example: development of co-investment plans to line up with the priority areas is really important. The other thing we need to do is work out how we can have a thread running through those co-investment plans—a thread which is basically what you've said here today. Where does remote and regional Australia get a look in? We need to understand the strengths and otherwise of the regions and how can we give them a much better look in in the way the fund will make decisions. This will inform the board and, again, the board is independent and will make its own decisions.
Coming to the crux of your point: you've asked us to set aside a big chunk of money from the NRF dedicated solely to remote and regional Australia.
I'm just making this point: there's this thing, constitutionally, which prevents us from providing mandated amounts in that way. It's not that we don't want to do it; we very much do, and I'm flagging to you my commitment to do so. You made some points, as did the member for Mackellar, about board representation. I'll let you know that I want the board to be diverse. I don't want it to be the same old, same old people who end up on the board, I want one that reflects the community. This is the 'National' Reconstruction Fund, as I said, and I want a wide range of people with a wide range of skills involved on that board. I apologise to the member for Mackellar that I didn't respond in detail to her points, but I get where she's coming from. We're working on the way in which we do the board selection process; the Minister for Finance and Minister for the Public Sector is leading that work. But I can assure you that how we select the board is something which is very high in my thinking—in particular, to make sure that regional Australia gets a look in.
There are 900,000 workers who owe their livelihoods to manufacturing and 90,000 businesses, with one-third of those outside the capital regions. Your state, member for Kennedy, has the best record in the number of regional manufacturers that exist. In actual fact we should get the rest of the country to replicate what you're doing, and I'm very keen to see if we can make that a reality. Unfortunately, we cannot support your amendment, but I completely understand where you're coming from. (Time expired)
by leave—I move amendments (1) to (4), as circulated in my name, together:
(1) Clause 6, page 10 (line 27), before "The Ministers", insert "(1)".
(2) Clause 6, page 10 (after line 30), at the end of the clause, add:
(2) Before making a declaration under subsection (1) in relation to an area (the proposed area) of the Australia economy, the Minister must arrange for the Minister administering the Productivity Commission Act 1988 (the Productivity Minister) to, under paragraph 6(1)(a) of that Act, refer to the Productivity Commission for inquiry and report the matter of the existence of a market failure or other economic rationale for the proposed area being declared to be a priority area of the Australian economy.
(3) In referring the matter to the Productivity Commission for inquiry, the Productivity Minister must, under paragraph 11(1)(d) of the Productivity Commission Act 1998, require the Productivity Commission to make recommendations in relation to the matter, including recommendations for resolving the market failure.
(4) For the purposes of paragraph 6(1)(a) of the Productivity Commission Act 1998, the matter mentioned in subsection (2) is taken to be a matter relating to industry, industry development and productivity.
(3) Clause 71, page 44 (after line 18), at the end of the clause, add:
(4) Despite regulations made for the purposes of paragraph 44(2)(b) of the Legislation Act 2003, section 42 (disallowance) of that Act applies to a direction under subsection (1) of this section.
(4) Clause 91, page 57 (lines 2 and 3), omit "within 5 years after the commencement of this section", substitute "before any amounts are credited to the Account under subsection 52(2) or (3)".
I have three substantive amendments to the bill, amendments which I believe are constructive and will improve the bill. I support the bill, because I believe it is absolutely incumbent upon us to help drive the decarbonisation and digitisation agenda for this country to help our long-term productivity and prosperity. However, I'm putting forward these amendments because I believe we need to ensure integrity of government spending—because the money that goes through this parliament is not our money; it is the money of the people of Australia—and because we're facing interest rate costs on our borrowing that are extraordinary, so we must ensure every dollar is spent effectively.
The first deals with priority areas in which the fund can make investments. Under the bill, the minister can designate whatever industries he or she likes to receive investments from the fund. There is an opportunity to tighten the designation so that investments can flow only into those sectors where there's an economic justification for it. My amendment would require the Productivity Commission to consider potential priority areas before a designation is made. This would prevent public money being invested where capital markets are already working and where there is no justification for government intervention. It would also prevent Australia investing public money in propping up industries where the cost of making more things in Australia means consumers bear an unreasonable cost and the cost of decarbonisation increases. While, legitimately, this country would like to make more things in Australia, we need to be careful about continuing to support industries where we cannot be cost competitive with other countries in the long term.
The second deals with the investment mandate, which sets the rules by which the fund can make its investments. With this bill we're being asked to support the creation of the fund without knowing what the fund's investment mandate would be. I accept that there are circumstances where this is appropriate but I believe it is best if parliament has a power to disallow a mandate which would not be supported by one or other of its chambers. The counterargument to this is that the government's other off-budget investment vehicles do not have disallowable mandates and the National Reconstruction Fund should not be treated any differently. It's a fair point, but I believe there's an opportunity to improve the accountability of these vehicles through the disallowance process. Rather than allowing future investment vehicles to adopt an inferior practice, we should insist on improved practice and work to raise standards across the other, already legislated, funds.
The third deals with a statutory review of the fund. The bill requires independent reviews of the fund every five years, which is a sensible provision, but I would like to go a step further and require that the first review be completed before the government can provide any additional resourcing. Simply ensuring that the fund is working as intended before it is provided with an additional $10 billion of public money is a sensible and reasonable requirement.
As I said in the beginning, my goal is to be constructive. I believe that each of these amendments is constructive, sensible and reasonable. I believe the amendments would enhance the integrity of this off-budget spending and improve the confidence the community can have in this fund, and I believe they're worthy of the chamber's support.
I note the amendments moved by all honourable members. The coalition have indicated from the outset that we will move and consider amendments to this flawed bill in the Senate. This is a bad bill that has been rushed. Parliamentary scrutiny has been side-stepped and industry consultation—
The way consideration in detail works is that we go through amendments, and, under the standing orders, we go through the amendments one at a time and the debate follows the amendment. I thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for her contribution.
I also want to thank the member for Wentworth, who has engaged across a range of areas. This has obviously been one of many areas we have discussed, and I've noted her eagerness to understand in particular the various mechanisms of the bill and how they will work together. In respect of the priority areas, before I get substantively to your points but related to them, Member for Wentworth, I mentioned to you and I would like to reinforce to the House that the priority areas that have been selected in the bill have been informed by work of the CSIRO in their COVID-19: recovery and resilience report. They indicated that these areas were important for longer-term economic growth, and we also believe that a lot of the work that can be done within there will have a potentially huge impact in addressing some of the supply chain issues that we believe have driven inflation and have also set us on a trajectory for these interest rate increases that we've experienced. We've got to be able to tackle inflation and put downward pressure on interest rates.
These priority areas represent in large part the work that was put forward to us by the CSIRO. Some has been put in—for example, on transport—because, frankly, we have seen some state governments decide to offshore work that was being done onshore by existing firms, creating good work for people, who then missed out on those contracts before that work came back and had to be fixed anyway. We think that scaling up that manufacturing effort onshore to meet the need to improve the accessibility of public transport, particularly locally made, is a win all round and is really important, so we included that. I am sure you share that view. Obviously there's a lot of work being done not just on light commercial electric vehicles but on heavier industrial applications as well, so transport is important.
In setting those priority areas, we don't want them to be chopped and changed. There needs to be certainty for industry and there also needs to be certainty for the NRF board in making investment decisions. We do want to ensure that there is that degree of stability and allow for that momentum to continue. That has been something I have been very focused on as Minister for Industry and Science. I didn't agree, for example, with a lot of the things that the coalition did in the way they managed the MMI, but I was not, as a new, incoming minister, about to rip up contracts or announcements that have been made, because my view is to keep momentum going and keep building. I don't want to play politics with it; just make it happen. It's the same sort of thing here: certainty for investment and industry is something that we do need to do, so we're not going to chop and change priority areas.
I note there have been number of references to market failure. We are not talking about market failure here. We're talking about the capability that exists in these areas and the need to scale them up. If there are people working in these priority areas that have now commercialised a concept and are ready to scale up, we want to be able to provide that investment. The independent board, conscious of the priority areas, will make that happen. We do want to make that occur. We do want to ensure that, in making that happen, it's done in a healthy way that is that is across the board. It's not just the cities. It's not just one part of the country; it's many. There are a lot of things that we need to do if we want to support, diversify and transform the industry and the economy and deliver financial returns as well.
With regard to your point about market failure, I emphasise that it's a lot harder, as you can appreciate, Member for Wentworth, if you're trying to invest in areas of market failure without fixing the fundamentals beforehand. Getting a return on investment is incredibly hard. That's why I'm saying a lot of these priority areas reflect capability that currently exists and can be scaled up. In my contribution earlier in the debate, I was also very conscious of the fact that delivering a return is not just important for the taxpayers but will be important because those firms are successful on the ground and the communities in which they operate, providing jobs, economic and commercial viability and health for communities, and that is very important too.
So, while we can't support your amendment, I completely understand what is driving that and I look forward to our continued engagement. There's a lot of work to be done. As I said earlier, this is not the end of this work. There's a lot of work that needs to be done here. I open the invitation to the parliament: if they want to talk, we're happy to listen and work. (Time expired)
I want to make a few quick remarks in reply to the minister. Firstly, which I should have said in my first speech: thank you for your engagement on this. It has been incredibly constructive, and I appreciate your genuine openness to the conversations. The reason I'm focusing on market failure is we have a $3 trillion super industry in this country. We have a huge amount of private money. If private money can get behind these industries, they're going to have a huge opportunity to drive even further. I'm very supportive of private money getting behind there, and I don't want public money to confuse that. I want public money to enable that and then private money to take off. I'm focused on where public money can be spent to reduce market failure and then later enable private money to get in there. Also, from a policy and regulation point of view, I want to understand why, if there are opportunities there and there is no market failure, private isn't money getting in there and what we can do to help them drive that.
In relation to the areas that you identified, I appreciate it came from that CSIRO report—it's a very good report. My concern is it was written in 2020, some distance ago, and we were in a very different time. Secondly, as I understand, the fund has not been completely allocated, so there is still money that may go to different sectors. It's my particular concern that money that goes to different sectors is allocated effectively where there is market failure or on the basis of really rigorous analysis. Finally, on your point on inflation and trying to do inflation reduction, I take your point on that but I think we need to note that part of the driver of inflation in this country and around the world is very high government spending out of the pandemic. This is why I have a concern on this and all government spending now, because there is a public sector driver of inflation. We have, for good reason, spent a lot of money, but that is one of the drivers of inflation along with supply chain issues across the world.
I support local manufacturing. My family business manufactures locally, which makes us pretty unusual. But at the same time, I'm conscious that if making products locally—particularly in this green transition—means that they're much more expensive than they otherwise would be, or they are slower or harder to bring to market, then we will be costing ourselves more in this transition. We have to think very carefully about this balance and how to make sure that whatever we are supporting is, over the long term, either critically required from a supply chain reliability or is otherwise able to, at some point, stand on its own two feet so the government doesn't always have to step in.
I know we're not intending to do a back-and-forth on this, but there were some very good points raised in that contribution and it is important to get it on Hansard. In terms of the priority areas, I take on board your point that there's a bit of time gone since the report that informed our thinking, but if you look at the priority areas—value-adding resources, agriculture, medical sciences, defence industry, energy, low-emissions technology, the transport arena, and enabling capabilities and critical technologies—the need for us to invest in that areas is still present and will be for some time. That will be important.
In response to your point about cost of doing that and whether or not the end cost will be very high if we manufacture locally, I have a number of things. Advanced manufacturing and the use of automation has changed the labour component in a lot of these areas, so the world has moved a bit. I mentioned batteries earlier—it has been suggested by the Future Battery Industry CRC that our capability to manufacture locally with batteries has been improved because of automation. The skills required to be paired—the human capital side—in an international context are, when you look at remuneration, very competitive. I don't think the concerns that you have will necessarily be the same as we experienced in times before, when we saw a lot of manufacturing go offshore—they went to one country because the wage rates were completely different. That was 20 years ago. The world has moved, and I think the world is also determined to reduce our dependence on those concentrated and broken supply chains.
I would also add, as you are well aware—I know this for a fact—the world is thinking differently about shipping and the emissions impact of that. If we don't have capability onshore and we're importing a lot of product, we will be importing that product at higher prices. As I've remarked in times previous, Member for Wentworth, given our manufacturing self-sufficiency in the OECD is amongst some of the lowest, we have a big job to do to repair that so we can sidestep that importation of inflation, if I can put it that way.
In terms of some of the remarks that have been made about the NRF potentially contributing to inflation, there are two points I would submit: (1) we're trying to deal with the very supply-side issues that have driven inflation through some of this work; and (2) this is investment in capability. It is investment. It's not us putting out grants and pumping out money into the economy. The propositions have to stand on their own two feet, they have to deliver a return to the taxpayer, and they're an investment in capability to address some of the inflationary issues. The way we have staged those investments, too, and the way we have put that money in, as we have privately discussed, is happening over a period of time—so there's that. It won't all be at once. We wouldn't have the ability to pump out those investment decisions in one year, anyway, because it's going to take a bit of time. So it gives that insurance on the inflationary side.
The final point I'd make in response to the points the member for Wentworth has made is that the member is absolutely right: we are proud of the fact that we have one of the largest savings pools on the planet because of superannuation. It's not just been important for people's post-retirement incomes; it's provided investment capital to help businesses here and abroad. We need to team up with them. VC, as you know, have been making re-evaluations of their investments and have pulled money out. We've seen that translate into job losses, where firms have had to lay off people because they don't have the investment runway that they once counted on. We need to change that. We need to have money in there that can pair up. We are crowding in; we are not crowding out. We will work with super, VC and PE—that's private equity—and make this happen.
I might remark on the number of times I've had venture capital firms say to me, 'Why don't we do what other countries do and set up a co-investment fund?' We are doing just that. We're making that growth capital available for firms to grow and, importantly—and I'll end on this point—to back Australian know-how. Do not have firms with good ideas leave our shores because they don't feel like they've got the support that they can get. The number of times I hear firms say they couldn't get capital here, but they could get not just other firms but other governments to invest in their propositions—that burns so much. I know it burns in a lot of people around this chamber, regardless of their politics. We should back our own, stand on our own two feet, build a stronger, longer term economy and not be the importers of other people's ideas but the exporters of great ideas that come from Australia.
Question agreed to.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.