Bid to reinvigorate Oz Manufacturing through research

The National Reconstruction Fund Corporation is open for business, “unlocking billions of dollars in investment finance to rebuild Australia’s competitiveness across the manufacturing value chain.” $15bn in fact.

Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic says the fund will “operate on a commercial, self-sufficient basis.”

Good-o, although the government specifies the seven key priority areas the fund will invest in; renewables/low emission technologies, medical science, transport, value-add agriculture, forestry and fisheries, value add resources, defence capabilities and enabling technologies. And Ministers must, “give the board directions about the performance of the corporation’s investment functions or the exercise of the corporation’s investment powers.

Despite the best efforts of the research community during its design, the fund does not invest in basic science, but it can pick up work with commercial potential funded by five Commonwealth programmes that have $2.2bn to invest.

Plus Mr Husic has a clear view on the fund’s function, “rebuild Australia’s competitiveness across the manufacturing value chain.”

Which makes the NRF fundamental to the Albanese Government’s vision for a national manufacturing base,  “a country that makes things makes a lot of great jobs in our suburbs and our regions,” he says.

Mr Husic is personally invested in this idea. In a speech last month, he talked of the dignity of skilled manufacturing work in the western Sydney of his childhood, of the prosperity it provided for families like his and how it can do the same now.

“We stand on the brink of seismic change. Of new nation building. Of the global transformation of our energy system. Of new technologies like artificial intelligence and quantum computing which will define this century like cars and personal computers did in the last,” (Future Campus November 15).

So, apart from the NRF making dud investments, in the lamentable tradition of Victorian and SA state banks in the ‘90s making bad commercial investment, what could possibly go wrong?

How about sovereign wealth or superannuation funds investing in sure tech things that aren’t, like Theranos?

Plus there is a policy problem with betting the R&D farm on the judgement of government advisers looking for products ready for market – it binds us to present priorities at the expense of exploring the great unknown.

A House of Reps committee inquiry into advanced manufacturing that reported last month, “did not hear anyone advocate for a return to broad-based subsidies and trade protections in areas that do not make strategic sense (for example, the mass-manufacturing of cheap, high-volume consumer goods).“

But the trade disruptions caused by COVID has created, “broad support for the goal of achieving sovereign capability in areas of production critical to the functioning of Australian society.”

Committee chair Rob Mitchell (Labor Vic) is as one with Mr Husic, in his introduction to the report, mentioning, “high-quality jobs for a new generation of skilled tradespeople and university graduates. It means more world-competitive businesses exporting Australian know-how to the world. It means a more diverse and resilient export basket. And it means strong sovereign capabilities, to keep our society and economy thriving through any future challenges.”

The committee does not pay much attention to research – but the report will help every university with an applied research proposal to make its case.

We may not be all protectionists now, but research is now seen as serving the immediate national interest.



Sign Up for Our Newsletter

Subscribe to us to always stay in touch with us and get latest news, insights, jobs and events!