Last December Australia and Austria celebrated 70 years of diplomatic relations.
It’s an important milestone.
One worth marking; one worth celebrating.
Our relationship has been gaining in momentum over many years.
In 2019, before the pandemic, Austrian goods exports to Australia peaked at a record 1.6 billion Euros.
In 2021, we signed a Strategic Cooperation Arrangement that mapped out how we turn our shared interests into concrete areas of collaboration.
Last year, our ministers for climate, Chris Bowen and Leonore Gewessler officially launched the Net-Zero Industries Mission – and I’ll say a bit more about that later.
This year, it’s no surprise that we’ve had a number of important and productive exchanges.
Chris Bowen, Minister for Climate and Energy, was in Vienna in January.
And my colleague Assistant Foreign Minister Tim Watts was there shortly after Chris, to discuss how Australia and Austria can deepen our bilateral ties.
Your visit to Australia, Minister Kocher, is yet another sign that our longstanding relations are the strongest they’ve been in years.
So, I want to thank the organisers Advantage Austria for holding this Austria Connect event at such an opportune time.
The theme you’ve picked for today is ‘Surprisingly Ingenious’.
I would say what has really been ‘Surprisingly Ingenious’ is the way our industries and businesses have pursued the commercial opportunities offered by our healthy bilateral relations.
I understand there are over 140 company represented here in the room…
…which just speaks to the level of trade and investment between us, and the potential for future growth.
Our job in government is to ensure that we create the right conditions for our businesses, our societies, and our citizens to thrive.
National Reconstruction Fund
Here in Australia, our government plans to do just that through the National Reconstruction Fund.
The National Reconstruction Fund, or the NRF, is one of our country’s largest peacetime investments in Australian industry.
The Government has committed $15 billion to rebuild Australia’s industrial base and capability, delivering good, secure jobs, including for our regions and outer suburbs.
We’re a country with world-class research, a skilled workforce, and we’ve proven that we’re capable of high-quality production.
And the NRF is geared towards reindustrialising the Australian economy, to move more products up the global value chain.
The NRF will make investments across seven priority areas:
1. Renewables and low emissions technology
2. Medical science
4. Value-add in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries
5. Value-add in resources
6. Defence capability, and
7. Enabling capabilities – areas like AI, quantum and robotics.
For those who want to read the fine print we’ve now passed legislation through Parliament, but broadly speaking…
…the National Reconstruction Fund will work with the private sector, investors and others to scale-up the amount of investment in these seven priority areas.
The NRF will be a commercial entity; it will do its work at arm’s length to Government through an independent board charged with making independent investment decisions.
The Fund will provide loans, equity and guarantees to projects that align with our vision to transform Australia’s industry and diversify our economy.
We want to ‘crowd-in’ private sector investment, including from Austrian companies and investors.
We want to incentivise innovation and translate our world-class research into world-class innovations.
We want to catapult Australia’s manufacturing sector toward the kind of strong, advanced manufacturing capability that will support our future prosperity.
It’s the kind of capability we could have had decades ago.
Because, as the Harvard University Index of Economic Complexity shows, the economic complexity of Australia’s economy has dropped from 60th – around two decades ago – to 91st.
Last year, Trade and Tourism Minister Don Farrell set out the Albanese Government’s approach to trade policy.
He said that not only do we need to pursue market diversity, but product diversity too.
This means using effective industry policy to ensure our goods and services offering to the world is more diverse, more sophisticated and higher up the value chain.
It means pursuing greater economic complexity.
Getting to Net Zero
In this task, we cannot afford complacency. We need – and have – a government with a clear-eyed focus on the big challenges of our time.
And there is perhaps no greater challenge than climate change.
In Austria, alpine glaciers are melting at record levels.
In the Australian Antarctic Territory, our scientists tell us sea ice is reaching its lowest levels ever recorded.
We can’t ignore these signs.
We can’t ignore the alarm bells that scientists have been ringing for years.
Both our nations see the world as it is, sharing a commitment to getting to net zero.
Austria’s commitment to achieving this by 2040 – ten years earlier than the target set by the EU – is commendable.
Australia’s commitment to net zero by 2050 will see us completely transform our economy. And it requires concerted efforts between the private sector, government, industry, unions and community more broadly.
As I mentioned, last year, our climate ministers launched the Net-Zero Industries Mission at the Global Clean Energy Action Forum in Pittsburgh in the United States.
We’re joint leaders in the global Mission Innovation initiative, aimed at accelerating the pace and scale of innovation for the deployment of clean energy technologies.
Through that initiative, we’re working together to help find pathways to decarbonise energy intensive industries by 2030.
This requires a new partnership between governments and the private sector, putting our shoulder behind the wheel to decarbonise our industries.
Last December, Fortescue Future Industries and Austria’s Voestalpine agreed to collaborate on designing and operating an industrial-scale prototype plant for the production of zero-emissions steel.
In many ways, it’s our resources sector that will play one of the most crucial roles to achieving net zero.
This project and many more show a commitment from the private sector to decarbonize steel production…
…and governments have a critical role to play too, in providing a framework and the policy leadership.
That’s what our National Reconstruction Fund will do – up to $3 billion has been earmarked for investment into renewables and low emissions technologies like green steel, hydrogen, solar panels and batteries.
Austria and Australia are likeminded partners with many shared values, including making a meaningful contribution to the existential crisis that is climate change.
Let’s galvanise this momentum, the goodwill, the opportunity to do more together.
Both our economies are going green at accelerating speeds.
Our business sectors are natural partners in perhaps the biggest economic shift of this century.
Our trade and investment ties are growing rapidly.
I’m confident we’re very close to concluding our FTA with the European Union and thank Austria for its support in this endeavour.
That agreement will deliver even more for our businesses and for our economies – it will expand access to clean energy and clean technology.
What we’re doing isn’t easy, but it is important – both our nations and our peoples recognise this fact.
More than that; it is necessary.