Industry heavyweights welcomed the historic passing of laws to establish the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund (NRF) last week by prime minister Anthony Albanese.
The NRF was announced by the government in the Federal Budget for October 2022 and will invest across priority areas of the economy including renewables and low emissions technologies, medical science, transport, value-adding in resources, value-adding in agriculture, forestry and fisheries, defence capability and enabling technologies.
“Australia’s commitment to industrial transformation received a boost this week with the passage through Parliament of the National Reconstruction Fund (NRF) Bill,” Innes Willox, chief executive of the national employer association Ai Group said.
“The NRF is a vehicle that could help position Australia to benefit from the digitalisation, automation, artificial intelligence and the clean energy revolution that is remaking global industry. It could be used to seize emerging opportunities in areas where we have demonstrated or potential competitive advantages.
“Ensuring that the workforce skills requirements will be met for businesses receiving funds will be central to the success of the NRF. This will require close and effective consultation with Jobs and Skills Australia and other relevant agencies.
“The NRF is only one tool the Government can use to encourage investment and diversification within Australian industry. Ensuring there is a viable pipeline of investment-ready Australian companies is fundamental to the success of the NRF as are strong and well-connected research and innovation ecosystems with a focus on keeping pace with global trends.
“The NRF Board composition is a further critical success factor. The NRF was created to address blind spots in the financial sector when it comes to investing in priority areas including in manufacturing for scale and transformation. Addressing these blind spots effectively will require a range of skills around the Board table that goes beyond those of traditional financial experts,” Willox added.
The Australian tech sector has said it sees a crucial role for the government in providing patient capital for long-term, strategic investments.
Kate Pounder, CEO of Tech Council Australia (TCA), said the NRF can complement private sources of funding for building long-term strategic, emerging technologies and industries.
“This is a long-term, landmark investment that will help build Australia’s tech industries in strategically important areas like quantum, AI, robotics and cyber security.
“The $15 billion investment in Australia’s industrial and technological capabilities has only become more important as we face global economic headwinds and continued geopolitical uncertainty.” There’s nothing revolutionary about this sort of role for government. Emerging industries and technologies have always been funded by a mix of private and public capital.”
“By co-investing with the private sector, the NRF will help fill funding gaps in the market and support the growth of tech companies in areas where Australia has a genuine competitive advantage.”
“Importantly, we hope the NRF can deliver economic opportunity in tech for all parts of the country, from our capital cities to our regional and rural communities,” Pounder added.
“We know from some of our country’s most successful tech companies that good ideas are not confined by geography – from Townsville to Tasmania or Western Australia to Western Sydney, tech jobs and tech businesses are growing everywhere.
“We also thank the crossbench for the constructive role and contribution they have made in bringing the NRF to reality. This is a great example of our political leaders coming together to build a better future for Australian industry and jobs.
“The design and implementation of the fund will be key to its success. It’s why we look forward to working with the government and other stakeholders to get this right, now that it has passed into law.”