Senate debates

Thursday, 3 September 2020


Select Committee into Jobs for the Future in Regional Areas

5:00 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to take note of the report of the Select Committee into Jobs for the Future in Regional Areas. Building strong resilient regional communities is a priority for the National Party in government, so I welcome this report to the Senate. I note recommendation 1.61 calls for a requirement of a proportion of critical mineral ores mined in Australia to be processed and value-added domestically to enable the development of domestic battery manufacturing. I'm very excited about identifying possible and emerging manufacturing sectors but we shouldn't just limit that to one single industry.

Government senators noted that the report does not adequately summarise the importance of the resources industry, including coal, oil and gas. Existing manufacturing must be included—and, again, government senators noted the inadequate recognition of the existing industries that already support our regional economy. The food processing sector has the majority of its employment in rural and regional communities. The Goulburn Valley in my home state of Victoria is a fantastic example of food processing and manufacturing being based close to the source product and providing a swathe of great career options for rural and regional Australia.

We have significant opportunities to build our regional manufacturing industry and, in doing so, facilitate a strong, regionally-led recovery from COVID-19. The national COVID task force has identified reinvigorating and bolstering Australia's manufacturing capability as a matter of national interest, placing manufacturing in a prime position to assist our nation's recovery. We must seize the opportunity to rise from the COVID crisis by re-establishing and growing our domestic manufacturing and processing. The time to do that is now. The place to do it is regional Australia.

Currently, regional manufacturing employs more than 274,000 people and makes up over 31 per cent of total manufacturing, compared to 68 per cent in metropolitan areas. Our regions produce more than 60 per cent of our exports and have comparative advantage in manufacturing capabilities through their access to natural resources and the ability to value-add to exports through processing. For regional manufacturing to achieve these advantages, support must be provided through a broad regional development framework that unlocks and maximises regional Australia's economic potential, one that is supported by federal, state and local governments.

Of course, there are challenges to overcome with this. But they are not insurmountable. These challenges include fragmented regional infrastructure constraints, such as freight transport and telecommunications, the need to attract skilled and experienced professionals to regional areas, and a lack of technology. But, as I said before, these challenges can be overcome, and the Nationals have been working tirelessly to do so. Regional Australia is also, in this current environment, comparatively COVID-19 free. This provides a way forward to economic recovery. There are fewer constraints for regional manufacturing. Localising supply chains by bringing regional and rural businesses into the pipeline of manufacturing will create business opportunities, jobs and economic growth and the flow-on benefits won't be restricted to the local area alone.

Investing in value-adding opportunities through the reinvigoration of manufacturing with new technology, new process, and research and development will innovate our manufacturing industry, build their capabilities and create opportunities for development and expansion. We need to make sure that our manufacturers have access to affordable and reliable power. That means a suite of generation opportunities. We need to make sure we are backing those manufacturing industries that have strategic interests for our nation and we need to make sure we can also focus on those where the export opportunities are greatest.

The National Party has always backed agriculture, always backed mining and we've always backed manufacturing. I'm excited about what we'll be able to achieve in regional Australia by working together to build a strong manufacturing base, providing many, many local jobs and ensuring our fabulous product—our primary product out there in the regions—is value-added where it's sourced and exported to the world.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.