Doorstop at Parliament House, Canberra
ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: Well, it's great to let you know we've reached yet another milestone moment with the government's $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund, the Investment Mandate for the NRF, signed off, took effect from yesterday afternoon. That means that the National Reconstruction Fund can start making investment decisions to help rebuild Australian manufacturing. Rebuilding manufacturing in this country has been a big focus of this government. We learnt through the pandemic that supply chains that didn't work in a way that helped the public in their time of need meant that the products that were needed most at the time that they were needed most weren't there. We determined that Australia be a country that makes things, because a country that makes things also makes great, secure, well‑paying jobs, in our suburbs, in our regions. So with the Investment Mandate for the National Reconstruction Fund now in place, we can now get to work in rebuilding Australian manufacturing across over half a dozen priority areas. For example, we have half the world's critical minerals, we only produce one per cent of its batteries. We can do more to help us get to net zero making the products right here that can help us with the transition, a big job, we can create a lot of jobs in the process. In terms of medical manufacture, we can make the medical devices and more of our own medicines here and help provide a fund that can invest patient capital in the process of delivering just that. We can also invest in emerging capabilities, technologies that will give an edge to our economy long‑term. The march of modern economies is one towards the complex. If we want to get involved in advanced manufacturing, to be able to build the type of technology that helps our economy compete with others, this will be crucial, and being able to invest in technologies like quantum, AI, and robotics, for example, and automation, this is all important for the longer‑term wellbeing of the economy, of jobs, and also, I might add, social and national wellbeing too. For us it's really important that we see that all our policies are joined up, so the Investment Mandate for the National Reconstruction Fund has also been released in the same week that we officially opened our nearly $400 million Industry Growth Program, designed to help grow small businesses and start‑ups, and ensure that we get scaling up of our businesses in the Australian economy, which has been something that's been highlighted by a recent Industry Innovation and Science Australia report that says we've got a big job to do, if we want to rebuild manufacturing, we're also going to need to scale up Australian businesses, grow them even further, and that's good news if we want to see jobs longer‑term too. So from our point of view, from the Industry Growth Program, through to the National Reconstruction Fund, this government is doing what it said it would, and that is rebuild Australian manufacturing capabilities, make sure we've got a modern economy, and ensure longer‑term that we've got the growth and the breadth in the economy to sustain what a modern country like ours needs to see long‑term. Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] actually got applications already. How quickly are we going to see money actually getting to people?
ED HUSIC: Well, the great thing has been that we've had nearly 200 approaches to investment towards the National Reconstruction Fund. We have now a board that has been working in terms of the policy framework as to how it makes its investment decisions. It's important to emphasise yet again it's an independent board that will be making the investment decisions, the $15 billion, not politicians with colour‑coded spreadsheets, making decisions on political and not national economic interest, and so the board will go through those approaches, but there will be others that people can make, and they can always learn more about the National Reconstruction Fund through the website, nrf.gov.au, and be able to make those approaches. The expectation for investment is we want this to happen as quickly as possible, because the task of rebuilding Australian manufacturing is not going to be a simple one. In terms of the priorities areas of the NRF it is going to take some time to get things moving, but we expect that investment decision will happen as quickly as possible. We are joining up other policy areas, like, for example, the Industry Growth Program, to make that happen, and the other thing we want to make sure is that, from our suburbs to our regions, that there's breadth in the way that we do the work. There's a big part of the Investment Mandate is to transform and diversify the economy and making sure that all corners of the country are involved in this process is crucial, and that's why when we made up the board we ensured that we had people from different parts of the country, like Katharine Giles out of Western Australia, because different parts of the nation are thinking ahead about how their State economies and Territory economies will look, and we want to make sure that there is breadth in the way that that transformation of industry occurs.
JOURNALIST: Minister, in the Corporation Bill ‑ in the legislation, sorry, it says that the investments will go to companies that are solely or mainly Australian‑based. First of all, I was wondering if you could clarify if that would include the Australian subsidiaries of foreign‑owned companies, and also of the 200 applications that are ongoing, how many of those, if any, are foreign‑domiciled or subsidiaries of foreign companies.
ED HUSIC: Our big focus is to grow Australian industry. We want to see local businesses be able to grow their footprint and grow their jobs and be able to make products here and ship them everywhere. But the economy, in a modern industrial landscape is made up of companies both local and overseas, and a lot of overseas firms base their operations here in Australia, because they know that we've got great talent and great ability to be able to transform ideas into reality. And so the NRF will work with a range of different companies, but again they will be solely or mainly based in Australia, to be able to deliver for the Australian economy. But as I said earlier, we're going to make things here, and we're going to ship them everywhere, and the NRF will be part of that.
JOURNALIST: In terms of making, getting the inputs to make products in Australia, now the supply chains for critical minerals, for example, are increasingly contested; we've seen China restrict access to some critical minerals. Is the government talking to trade partners about securing access to imports like critical minerals that we don't produce in Australia? What's the government thinking about in securing those key supply chains?
ED HUSIC: Well, the great thing about our country is we pose a lot of critical minerals that other countries are chasing, so we're not necessarily having to go and chase other critical minerals that will be important to transition to net zero, but there's always scope to work together. So, for example, in the last week, I visited Indonesia to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with them, they want to build more of their own EVs, but we also want to build more batteries that will be important in grid stabilisation when we move towards net zero, and also achieve greater value‑add for the minerals that we do have, and that MOU was about mapping supply chains, being able to work together on R&D, a getting up businesses, both Australian and Indonesian working together. I think those type of mechanisms, Mike, will be important in terms of reducing the pressure of the type of competition and contest that you outlined, and it will be also crucial, I think we've all got a shared interest in making the transition to net zero. The Indonesians are very focused on this, they want to see more EVs on their roads. Why? Not only does it provide jobs for their people, but it will also clean up cities that are dealing with high emissions, and they're very focused on that. We can work together in achieving those goals, and we are very focused within our region in doing just that, around importantly too, I think the reality is we are very dependent on one country doing all that processing, notably China, and we have seen too that some of the decisions that they do make can have an impact on the way those supply chains work and we want to be able to, through the NRF, diversify and transform the economy and reduce our dependency on some of those concentrated, and in some cases broken supply chains.
JOURNALIST: Do you agree with the assessment of your ministerial colleagues that Opposition Leader Peter Dutton is a protector of paedophiles?
ED HUSIC: He's a what, sorry?
JOURNALIST: Protector of paedophiles.
ED HUSIC: Well, the reality is that the problems we are confronting haven't started two weeks ago, it's been two years ago, it's been a whole set of bad laws. I mean Peter Dutton, dudded the nation, he talks tough and delivered little in terms of his time as a Minister in a former Coalition government, and we had an opportunity this week for the Parliament to work together to bring in tougher laws to protect the public. He prioritised politics, voted against those laws instead of protecting the public. And so I think he has got a lot to account for in the decisions he makes as an Opposition leader.
JOURNALIST: The investment criteria for the NRF, I think it's fair to say it's quite broad. What's the guarantee that you're actually funding innovation, particularly in areas where there's a funding gap like DeepTech, and because of the Investment Mandate, how do you avoid the risk that you're not just going with the really safe investments?
ED HUSIC: Yeah, good question. Look, it's deliberately kept broad to give flexibility to the board to make decisions, one, we do recognise too it's a big job in terms of transforming and diversifying the economy and building capability, so that is going to require the board to be able to make decisions that's in the best interest. I think the way that the fund is set up, to your point around DeepTech, is designed to provide patient capital. We'll be taking on probably greater levels of risk, and that is a signal to your question about the transformative element, it is a preparedness for us to have that appetite to back in the investment that will commercialise ideas at scale, 'cause that's really our challenge; it is to do a lot of stuff at scale. And so from my point of view, being able to empower them to do that's important, lining up government policy is important, we'll be releasing co‑investment plans that line up with the priority areas that will speak to some of the things we're talking about, particularly around enabling capabilities and tech. But the biggest thing, Anthony, I want to emphasise, we have been saying to our innovators, to people that are thinking about coming up with the great ideas that can give our economy muscle long‑term, what we want them to know is they should not feel like the only way to get ahead is to leave Australian shores. We want the NRF to provide a really important capital platform that works with superannuation, with VC and private equity and crowds in investment and those signals, no one should be left under any view other than this: governments, when they act in particular ways, send important signals to investment and the business community about priorities that are important to the nation's economic interest long‑term. The NRF is all about sending those signals across the priority areas, about joining up with others, and also adding to the weight of capital that is being put to use in terms of longer‑term investment in the country.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask whether you've [indistinct] regarding Israel given that hostages are being released [indistinct] tone here. I just wonder what you make of it given the government's calls for [indistinct].
ED HUSIC: I think it has been an exceptionally tough time for people living in Gaza, and also the people that were affected by Hamas's attacks on October 7. People have been grieving and hurting quite a lot. And seeing in particular the number of Palestinians that have lost their lives, I think 14,000's the estimate, UN believes that 67 per cent of the people that have lost their lives have been women and children, it's been really tough on the families that have been involved in that part of the world, both Israeli and Palestinian, and it's been tough for their families and connections, relatives, here in Australia seeing that. I think there is always an important moment for politicians, regardless of their political colour to bring the country together. From my personal background, can I just say, my parents came from a part of the world that tore itself apart in terms of ethnic and religious hate, and I have always as a guiding principle for me has been I never want to be the politician that contributes to that type of division. I think the harder work, and sometimes the less noteworthy work is what you do to bring people together, and I've also said over the years, you can't be standing up and speaking up against Islamophobia and ignoring antisemitism or promoting. Both antisemitism and Islamophobia are corrosive, absolutely corrosive to our social fabric. The great thing about our country, is it lets people in many cases have a new life. They come here, have a great new life, and they also, and for their kids in particular, have a quality of life way better than what might have been the case if their parents stayed in that part of the world. They've contributed to the country; they've contributed to their families. This is all tremendously important work, it adds to the vitality of the nation, but what will ensure that longer‑term is ensuring the people that are in the public space whose voices carry do so in a way that brings the nation together instead of dividing it.
JOURNALIST: I was going to say, do you have any update on the regulation [indistinct].
ED HUSIC: So we'll be looking to provide some updates in the coming weeks. We participated ‑ sorry, I was just taking note after being told about divisions ‑ let me start that again. So obviously we engaged in a consultation process over the second half of this year, over 500 submissions, not just from industry but from the general public who want to see us get the balance right. Recognising AI has contributed quite a lot will be really important to us in economic and social terms long‑term, but dealing with some of the concerns, putting in the guardrails is really important. We'll provide an update in the coming weeks on where we're likely to head. We participated in the UK's safety, AI Safety Summit, which was held at the start of this month, and we saw some pretty big movement, notably by the US, that normally has taken a more sort of self‑regulatory approach to these things, but they, through the President's Executive Order put some big moves in place to get better safety testing in the design and employment, and then also evaluation in the implementation of AI. I think longer‑term, getting, building trust in technology is as much as social as it is an economic priority. We don't have enough SMEs in Australia taking up the use of AI, and we'll be making some announcements about that shortly. We need to get our edge. As I said earlier, the march for modern economies is towards the complex. It means being able to develop and use technology, very important, not just development, utilisation, in our businesses is important. We're developing a robotics and automation strategy. The reason I want that is I want sharper advanced manufacturing capability in this country. And so the more people trust their technology, the more they believe that it can be used to grow their businesses, the more we can use it to improve social outcome. These are all national priorities we've got to attend to. Thanks folks.