Business Sydney Breakfast in conjunction with Australian Made

23 May 2024


I want to acknowledge, as well, the traditional owners and pay respect to elders past and present. It is indeed very good to be back with this group. I want to acknowledge Kate Carnell as well. Kate's made a remarkable contribution to Australian business and Australian politics over her career. Paul Nicolaou hasn't changed. At all. Ben Lazzaro from Australian Made, thanks for the opportunity to speak with this group again. Paul said that Kate was really his first boss in a big job. My first boss at a big job here is Andrew Ferguson over in the corner over here. It's very good to see Andrew again. I'm convinced absolutely that he was a much better boss than I was an employee, I have to say, at that very early stage in my development.  

Australian Made Week. Who would have thought, really, over the course of the last 30 or 40 years of the work that Australian Made has done, that we would be in a period where what we make in Australia – what the approach of government is to what we make in Australia – is so central to our political discussions, to the policymaking of government. So central to the big issues that we confront as a nation. And I want to use this opportunity, perhaps predictably, to make a few points about what it is that is driving the government towards the Future Made in Australia agenda. The ‘Why?’. Why is it that we are doing this?

The Future Made in Australia agenda is very big. It is very ambitious. It will reshape the Australian economy in the coming years in the right direction, for the right reasons. The package and the accompanying legislation will stimulate public and private investment in new industrial capability essential for navigating future challenges and opportunities. What does this mean in practical terms? It means the establishment of new factories and advanced manufacturing facilities, particularly in our key mining regions, and industrial regional centres, and our outer suburbs. It means attracting billions of dollars of investment from here and overseas, creating quality engineering and trades jobs across the country. From Central Queensland to the Hunter Valley. From Western Australia to South Australia and Tasmania. The emergence of those new jobs and factories will open doors for small and medium enterprises, offering them opportunities to integrate international and global supply chains.

Now, our opponents don't seem to feel the same sense of urgency as the Prime Minister and my colleagues share on these issues. The Coalition's campaign against a Future Made in Australia is as complacent as it is negative. No serious person that aspires to national leadership should be against building Australia's industrial capability for the future. Indeed, in this room, given all the work that you have done with your capital, with your ingenuity to build Australian industrial capability, I would think that message would fall pretty flat. The Liberals, on this question, have missed the memo about the rate of change in Australia's place in the world, the challenges and risks that we face, as well as the opportunities in front of us.

I don't think anyone in this room needs convincing that our future peace, health, and standard of living cannot be taken for granted. I just want to set out a couple of the things that, in one sense, are obvious, but perhaps not obvious enough. Firstly, the deterioration of global and regional geopolitical security over the past decade demands serious attention. Whether you come from a Left perspective or a Right perspective or a Centrist perspective, none of us can ignore the implications for our future national and economic security. It matters. It cannot just be wished away. It certainly should not be a prop for political opportunism or partisan politics. It requires political leaders in Canberra, at state level, and right across our community to engage in serious effort to ensure that future generations of Australians grow up in a secure, opportunity-rich landscape.

Security, of course, is a much broader concept than just defence, as crucial as that is. It requires all the tools of statecraft to be engaged. This includes a shift in our trade policy towards diversification in markets and products, enhancing our economic engagement in the region, and intensifying diplomatic efforts in our region and around the world. Trade diversification is crucial for national resilience in the face of a changing world, where threats to impede trade have become grist to the mill of regional and global statecraft. Shaping a region with a dense mesh of interconnected economic trade and investment relations is one of the driving imperatives behind the government's South-East Asia Economic Strategy. This is crucial if we want to shape the region in Australia's interest, and in the interest of the countries of the region. The efforts of Foreign Minister Penny Wong and all of our colleagues are a testament to how much is actually required in terms of national effort to shift the dial in Australia's interest in a more volatile and contested world. Australia must also engage a national economic and industrial response, making sure that we have the resilient industrial capability that is required to solve national challenges, and to contribute meaningfully to the challenges of the region that we share. When discussing the consequences of great power competition for Australia and our region, the Foreign Minister has said that we must see the world as it is, not how we wish it is.

That is certainly the case with the second set of challenges: the climate adaptation and mitigation challenge, and its twin, the requirement for a shift in energy generation, distribution, and consumption. We cannot overlook the pressing need to tackle climate change and a low-cost transition to renewable energy resources. This represents both a significant risk and an opportunity for Australia and its neighbours. Climate-related challenges such as coastal inundation and food insecurity impact Australia and our neighbours sooner and more severely than most. For example, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences claims that on-farm annual income in Australia has declined by 23% because of climate change – a decline on average of $29,200 for every farm. Not even some of the more extreme characters on the Coalition frontbench would characterize ABARES as a radical green group, although sometimes, given what they say about the CSIRO, I'm not certain. However, this challenge presents vast opportunities for innovation and economic growth.

Australia with our abundant natural resources and our skilled workforce is well positioned to lead the transition to net zero for us, and for our trading partners – 97% of whom have net zero ambitions of their own. But this requires a concerted effort from government and industry. We are rich in all of the mineral resources, including our abundant critical mineral resources and our great mining sector. We have immense above-ground resources too – the world's best solar resources, abundant wind, and almost endless land. And, of course, above-ground, too; we are a country of resourceful, skilled, and innovative people. What Australians need is a government that is prepared to put all this to work – to partner with private capital, with the best manufacturers, with our innovators, with our research institutions, with our entrepreneurs, and with our trade unions, to build Australia into the modern, renewable energy superpower that it can be.

Neither of these sets of generational challenges can be resolved in Australia's interests without lifting our industrial capability, our economic diversity, and our economic complexity. Increasing what Paul Kelly – there's a number of Paul Kellys, of course, there's Paul Kelly the football player, very good, Paul Kelly the singer, absolutely terrific, this is the ‘bad’ Paul Kelly (no, he’s not that bad) – what Paul Kelly once called our "economic weight". The $22.7 billion Future Made in Australia package embodies that ambition, offering incentives for critical minerals production, hydrogen production, and will make us a world leader in green metals. The government will invest in mapping our mineral and groundwater deposits, as well as initiative to secure Australia's economic future in new green export markets. These measures, combined with additional funding for apprenticeships and skills, will create jobs and economic opportunities, strengthen regional Australia, and contribute to global sustainability efforts.

The relentless negativity from Peter Dutton and the Liberals and Nationals is directed towards the Future Made in Australia strategy. I'm just not sure why they don't feel the same sense of urgency and national mission around those questions that the government has. I think it comes down to a sense of complacency about our place in the world, a sense that everything will be alright in the end, that the challenges are overstated, or not real, or somebody else's problem down the road. That's certainly been their approach on climate and energy policy and to broader security issues too. And this tendency has blinded them to both the strategic realities and the requirement to engage all the tools of statecraft, including economic statecraft, to build national resilience, security, and prosperity – unprepared to engage in ambition for national industrial development beyond a sterile, self-defeating vision of leaving it to the market.

In this era, the old slogan of getting government out of the way, is really about lowering wages and individual contracts, lowering environmental and safety standards, in the hope that that will attract international investment. But one thing that you can say about a race to the bottom is that it always ends at the bottom, and Australia should not end at the bottom. The Coalition aren't new to these acts of national self-harm, like when they forced the auto industry offshore, or when the previous Minister for Defence diminished our industrial capability by saying that he couldn't trust Australians to build a canoe. So, we shouldn't be in a race to the bottom on wages and investment. We should be in a race to the top. And that sort of febrile market fundamentalism on these questions is no way of making the country a better or more competitive place. How else do you get this silly slogan, in response to the government's budget announcement, that the Future Made in Australia Act, Mr. Dutton said, will give billions of dollars to billionaires? I understand that it might have tested well in early focus groups….and perhaps putting aside the ridiculousness of Mr. Dutton or Mr. Taylor, who haven't met a billionaire whose birthday they wouldn't fly across the country for, it is pretty hard, isn't it, to imagine securing billions of dollars of investment in Australian manufacturing without engaging with a few multinational companies and billionaires along the way. That is the truth of it.

It is hard to take the partisanship of this attack seriously. And perhaps we shouldn't try too hard. The national challenge is serious. The risks and opportunities, for us and for Australians, are immense, if we choose to grasp them. So, the $22.7 billion Future Made in Australia package is commensurately ambitious, fit for purpose, rigorous, and modern. You'll be relieved to hear that I don't intend to go through a shopping list of all the measures. I think pressing on with some of the difficult and partisan issues in Canberra is probably enough of a challenge for you and your breakfasts at this early stage of a Thursday as it is. But the vision for Australia's future here is guided by the policy imperatives that are driving us. There are a series of big national challenges for Australia, and they require a big national response. And that requires imagination and commitment. And it requires having a confidence in the capacity of Australians and Australian industry to rise to the challenge. It requires a sense of national ambition because the alternative is a failure to act. In relation to these, just two, issues that I've discussed – the security questions and the climate and energy questions – a failure to act just betrays future generations.

And, of course, Australia is not the only global economy shifting to economic statecraft and industrial policy to deal with the intensifying and overlapping climate, energy, and security challenges. Far from it. As I indicated before, at last week's APEC trade ministers meeting in Arequipa, Peru, it was clear, in all the contributions, that industrial policies were absolutely central to almost every discussion in the same way that trade liberalisation was at the centre of APEC policymaking thirty years ago. So, this requires a national response. It requires collaboration with our key partners in the region.

But our opponents are lost on these issues central to our future national and economic security. And that is a problem in our national political discussion; spending their time on snide partisanship and imported far-right social media campaigns and extremist rhetoric. It's all negativity and no planning, always there to point out the problems and shove a little bit of blame around the place at the same time. But actually, when serious answers – serious policy answers to these questions – are engaged by government, they are nowhere to be seen. That is a problem. That is a problem for them and for the country.

Now, Anthony Albanese and Labor see the Future Made in Australia Act as a key part of the response to the epoch-defining challenges that face Australia – an opportunity to become a stronger, more resilient Australia for the decades ahead. A building block for a better, stronger, more resilient Australia. Peter Dutton sees only a potential partisan political stumbling block. Just like Scott Morrison, Mr. Dutton only sees the self-interest. We are determined to keep the focus on the national interest here – on building a secure future with the investment in the industry and manufacturing our country needs, and the opportunity and good jobs that result.

And for all of you who have, over the decades, with your ingenuity, with your capital, with the cooperation of your workforce and your supply chains, built a future for your businesses that's made in Australia, I know that the government has your support to engage in these serious national economic and strategic questions in the interests of Australian manufacturing. Thank you very much for the opportunity.