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FOR – Bills — National Reconstruction Fund Corporation Bill 2023; in Committee

Andrew McLachlan

We currently have before the chair the motion moved by Senator David Pocock, which is an amendment to the government amendment originally moved on sheet UC140.

Jonathon Duniam

We've established the fact that there was no consultation with the industry because there was no confirmation that specifically occurred. I think we've also established the fact that there was no advice to industry that plantation logging was excluded, even though it's not expressly listed in the legislation, which is disturbing. I want to come to the line of questioning that Senator Cash was going down with regard to the supply chain. The logging of timber, native and plantation, is prohibited, according to the government. Can I ask about the value-add, and we'll start with native forestry? Could you please step me through what applications might be supported or funded under this program for value-add for native forest timber?

Don Farrell

I thank Senator Duniam for his question. The priority areas declaration will be a disallowable legislative instrument made jointly by the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Industry and Science. The government has previously announced the seven areas of the economy that will be the basis of the first declaration to be made soon after the bill receives Royal Assent. The details of each area are still being considered, taking into account the comprehensive consultation conducted by the government in late 2022 and early 2023. Given that the government has not yet made a final decision on the drafting of the declaration, it is not possible to rule in or out particular projects or technologies.

Jonathon Duniam

We don't know what will be supported, other than this general nebulous concept that there will be value-adding job-creating projects supported. Are there any other programs within government that would support the forestry industry in the same way that this program is envisaged to do?

Don Farrell

I thank Senator Duniam for his question. The government is delivering a record $300 million in measures to the forestry sector that will support the expansion of the plantation estate, modernise our timber manufacturing and build forestry workforce skills. These measures include $112.9 million for the Accelerate Adoption of Wood Processing Innovation Program fund—that has had strong interest, I might add, with 84 applications received by the 28-February-2023 deadline; $86.2 million over five years from 2022-23 for the Support Plantation Establishment Program, which is fully subscribed and will support the establishment of at least 36,000 hectares of new plantations; $100 million for the Australia-wide National Institute for Forest Products Innovation; and $10 million for the Forestry Workforce Training Program. We're also taking steps to remove the water rule, which will provide further incentives for plantation and farm forestry participation in the Emissions Reduction Fund.

Jonathon Duniam

I have two questions flowing on from that. Firstly, I presume that anything the forestry industry is eligible to apply for under the programs you've just mentioned, particularly the forest and wood innovation grant programs, would preclude them from applying under this program. Could I have confirmation of that? Additionally, Labor made a commitment prior to the election that it would reserve $500 million for agriculture, forestry and fisheries out of the National Reconstruction Fund. How was that figure arrived at?

Don Farrell

It wouldn't necessarily prohibit an application under this fund. What was your second question there?

Jonathon Duniam

A commitment was made by the then opposition, now government, that $500 million out of the NRF would be reserved for agriculture, fishing forestry. I'm wondering how you arrived at that dollar figure, given the lack of clarity around consultation and the sorts of projects that would be eligible.

Don Farrell

I reject the suggestion that there was a lack of consultation. I think I've made it very clear that Minister Husic has been one of the great communicators of this country and this government, and he extensively consults and discusses with the manufacturing industry in this country. As to your specific question, that was a commitment that we made in the lead-up to the last election. We've honoured all of our election commitments. We are bringing them to the parliament. It's just a pity that the opposition has decided not to engage and progress what the Australian people voted for, namely an Albanese Labor government. It's a pity those opposite have decided not to try and progress what we took to the Australian people and not to have sensible input to improve the legislation where they think it is deficient, as the Greens have done. They've come forward and said, 'Look,' as Senator Pocock has done. He's looked at the legislation and said, 'Look.' Yes, he's giving me a big smile there—happy fellow!

Michaelia Cash

A little wave as well.

Don Farrell

Yes, we'll give him a wave. There we go—a little wave. So the opportunity is still there, if you really seriously want to be a party of government ever again. I know Saturday's result—I was looking at you all today and yesterday, at the sad faces when you'd started to think about wall-to-wall Labor governments, state and federal, and no prospect of resurrection for the party. For the born-to-rule party to be in a situation like that—

But there's still a chance, Senator McKenzie. There's still a chance if there are some people on the other side who can push the issue of engaging with the government about our policies and if you have ideas that you think can improve this fund and do what we want to do, which is to revitalise manufacturing in this country. Recognise that the last nine years were wasted years in this respect. Recognise that you've now got an opportunity to make up for those nine wasted years. Make a contribution by supporting the proposition that we start building things in this country again. Do it constructively. Take the opportunity. If you're that interested in the forestry industry in Tasmania, come and discuss with us how you think any of our policies—and I've listed a whole host of them before, for very significant investment in the forestry industry—can be improved. Come and talk to us about it. Our door is always open. We like Tasmania. We love going down there. Talk about forestry products! I went to the Wooden Boat Festival a few weeks ago, and it was a terrific event. There were record numbers at that event. So come and talk to us. If you've got suggestions, start engaging. This negativity, this idea that you sit back there and say no to everything, is not going to endear you to the Australian people.

Jonathon Duniam

IAM (—) (): That was highly unusual, I have to say—quite the ramble around the backyard there on those issues. There are a couple of things. One is that you can't improve the unimprovable, this bill, which is why we have arrived at the position we've arrived at. The alarming pattern that seems to be emerging here is that the Australian Labor Party go to their natural bedfellows, the Australian Greens, and do deals, as they do.

One thing I want to point out, colleagues, as I ask a question shortly about the prohibited investment list, was something that struck me as passing strange. Here we are on one day dealing with two bits of legislation. One is the one before us now, about revitalising the economy and creating manufacturing jobs—well-paid ones that are highly skilled et cetera, to refer to the minister's comments. Then, on the other hand, we have a bill coming up which is going to tax the life out of manufacturing in this country. So the government says: 'Oh, we're going to help you get jobs. We're going to bring industry here. We're going to restart manufacturing, but we're going to tax the life out of it.' How does it work? What's going on with this inconsistent, incoherent government policy?

Paul Scarr

What could possibly go wrong?

Jonathon Duniam

That is a great question, Senator Scarr, and I'm sure you'll be able to ask the minister in a moment what could possibly go wrong. But I want to ask my final question, because I know other colleagues have questions too. The final question I have is with regard to the prohibited investments list. We stumbled upon one thing which is also prohibited, and that is plantation logging. Are there any other sectors of the economy, any other minerals to be extracted or any other types of investments that are prohibited that are not expressly listed in the legislation? If so, I think it would be a great time to tell the Australian community what they are, because I don't want them finding out after applications open and suddenly they can't apply. I think you need to be upfront with Australia.

Don Farrell

I thank Senator Duniam for his question. I've already answered that question. I think I've answered it two or three times. Please refer to my previous answers.

Bridget McKenzie

Minister, with respect to the deal that Labor has done with the Greens this week, 84 per cent of the 215 facilities that will be penalised under this deal are located in rural and regional Australia. Can you outline for me how this fund will assist them to deal with the sustainability issues as a result of your deal with the Greens on the safeguard mechanism?

(Quorum formed)

Minister, given the deal that you've done with the Greens to severely impact 215 facilities across the nation, 84 per cent of which are located in rural and regional communities—not just providing national product and benefit but underpinning the social and economic wealth of these regions—I want to understand how this fund will now be used, and if it is envisaged to be used, to sustain those companies and facilities that are going to be severely impacted by the safeguard mechanism deal that you've done with the Greens, and how will that interact? Will there be specific weighting to those businesses that have been severely impacted?

How are you going to ensure the sustainability of the existing manufacturing facilities in rural and regional communities, given the deal you've done with the Greens will see higher energy and electricity prices in this country? You've said it all afternoon, but 'downward pressure' with a hand movement doesn't make it happen. The laws of physics still apply. The laws of economics still apply, and what all serious economic commentators are saying about the deal that you've done with the Greens is that it will see an increase in energy prices. Your own head of the AWU, the fantastic young Daniel, absolutely states it is critical to maintain employment in advanced manufacturing in this country whilst we move towards a more low-emissions environment.

I want to understand the interaction and how the NRF is envisaged to change as a result of the deal that you've done, and the consequential impact on rural and regional advanced manufacturers.

Don Farrell

I thank Senator McKenzie for her question. One thing we certainly do agree on tonight is what a terrific fellow Mr Daniel Walton is and what a very fine organisation the Australian Workers Union is.

Bridget McKenzie

They support nuclear too, Don!

Don Farrell

Well, let's deal with one issue at a time. Mr Walton runs a fantastic union and is always focused on one thing in my experience, and that is creating good, well-paid jobs for his members. I'm sure that he will continue to do that as we rebuild manufacturing in this country.

Two things about your contribution, Senator McKenzie—you're conflating two things. We're dealing here with a piece of legislation that is going to see, for the first time in nine years, the rebuilding of manufacturing in this country. Perhaps I shouldn't repeat it again and again and again, but I will. I sat and watched in this parliament what you did to car manufacturing in South Australia at the Holden factory at Elizabeth. It was shameful. You hounded that company out of this country and you did the same in Victoria with Ford and Toyota. Let me tell you, there were plenty of workers who lived at Elizabeth—

Honourable senators interjecting—

Every country in the world subsidises their car industry, I might add. Every country in the world subsidises their car industry. You can't look at one industry.

What I was going to say to you, Senator McKenzie—and it will come as a shock—is that lots of those people who worked at Holden at Elizabeth actually lived in the country. They lived in the places like Kapunda, like Clare, like Freeling, like Balaklava. They might have been working in an outer Adelaide suburb, but they in fact were living in the country. They benefited from manufacturing. This fund will benefit people in regional Australia.

Can I say this: the corporation will strategically invest in higher value adding projects in priority areas. A number of these priorities have a strong regional presence, such as the value-add in resources, the value-add in agriculture, defence and renewables. It's anticipated that this will drive scale and growth, creating higher value jobs in regions. Investments, including the targeting of emerging opportunities, will help regional areas diversify their economies and workforce opportunities.

I saw over the period of the last two or three years what your government did to rural industries. Let's have a look at what you did to the barley industry, as a result of the bans by China. Let's have a look at what you did to the wine industry over that period of time. The Nationals claim—of course, the Nationals are not in government anywhere in the country, as far as can I tell. Is that right?

Raff Ciccone

Not even in Tasmania.

Don Farrell

Not even in Tasmania! At least the Liberals are in government down there. But you're not in government anywhere. Can I put forward this proposition? One of the reasons you're not in government anywhere in the country is because you've abandoned the people that you claim to represent. I've seen you abandon the barley growers. I've seen—

Long debate text truncated.


Date and time: 8:04 PM on 2023-03-28
Senator Pocock's vote: Aye
Total number of "aye" votes: 14
Total number of "no" votes: 37
Total number of abstentions: 25
Related bill: National Reconstruction Fund Corporation Bill 2023

Adapted from information made available by