Australian Manufacturing - Essential for our nation's future

9 March, 2023

I appreciate that you have noticed me in the room. I like to look back on the Abbott, then Turnbull and then Morrison governments in one very fine light, where a light shone brightly and that light that shone brightly was investment in manufacturing, not just across our cities but across our regions. We actually went into the regions, and my region of Gippsland—I cover mostly West Gippsland and Darren has East Gippsland—was able to focus very specifically on what we were good at. This is really important. We are good at timber manufacturing. We are good at technology. We are good at issues around hydrogen, which I will come to in a minute. Especially under the Turnbull government and our manufacturing program, we were able to help people invest in companies. But there were criteria all around those grants that they received. That is why I think the grants program is better than what has been put to me on the government's program this time. The grants program was: 'Yes, you applied for it. Here are the criteria. If you can perform all these things, including the number of increased jobs you will bring to the region, which we're desperate for'—Deputy Speaker, you would know very well, all the way back to the changes in the Kirner and Kennett governments, our region has changed in the coal industry and it has really affected the job opportunities for our young people, our engineers.

There was the change to the SCC all those years ago, where we created engineers in La Trobe Valley that were so good that they're now working all around the world. All around the world you will find people who were trained as apprentices in Latrobe Valley, in the mining industry and all of the other associated industries that went with it. It must be a real badge of honour for a lot of people to know they trained those people so well that the world wants their expertise.

That's where I think the government's bill misses the mark. I would rather have had the government wait awhile—not too long—and do more investigation into where the nation is going to be in 30 years and what manufacturing the nation of Australia, this great southern land, should be investing so we're investing in niche markets that are going to provide jobs for our children, their children and their children? Where can we do that expertly so we have strategic industries? At the moment, sadly, because my state government, the Andrews government, is determined to wipe out native forest harvesting that's been supplying our paper industry and our furniture industry and creating about 800,000 jobs relying on that—and now our paper manufacturers in Australia are shedding jobs at Traralgon on a daily basis because they haven't got the timber supply. What you have to know is that we only harvest 0.5 per cent of the available timber. It's a renewable industry, and governments, over a long period of time, have invested in paper manufacturing in Morwell and Traralgon.

Why Morwell and Traralgon? It is because we want to proudly say that we manufacture our own paper. This paper here comes from Traralgon. It is good hands, good people, good men and women who have made that paper, and we can be proud as a nation to say, 'We make our own paper.' We don't import it from a country overseas that has none of the environmental controls that we have. None of them do. But we put so many restrictions on our manufacturers, and then we come along with a new government and say: 'We're a new government. This is a Labor government, and we're going to have new plans. We're going to do it our way and we're going to have a new independent board. They're going to direct how this whole thing's going to go, but half of that board have to be union representatives.'

I don't mind if they're trained in the field. I don't mind if they've got a history of manufacturing. I don't mind if a new government wants to direct who's on what board and how and when. My experience of manufacturing in Gippsland has been positively enhanced by the previous government's programs. Now, I'm not a great fan of everything governments do. Don't get me wrong; I'm really not. I don't think governments are as efficient as they should be. But, if they place funds targeted into specific businesses that can grow in your region and export, manufacture, produce or create in the full knowledge that they have to do what they say they were going to do—I think a lot of the innovation and everything that's happened across my region of Gippsland and that of Darren Chester, the member Gippsland as I am the member for Monash, have worked really well. I have great hopes that in manufacturing the government won't be able to muck this up, that they will actually work out where our future lies. You need to know where your future lies and not be harking back to the past to say, 'This was Australia. It lived on the sheep's back.' We don't live on the sheep's back anymore, but we have some of the finest wool products in the world that we get manufactured overseas and then brought back to us and we buy them. We're buying our own wool back. This suit that I am wearing is Australian wool but it wasn't woven here. It was probably woven in some factory with terrible conditions in the Middle East or in Vietnam. Then it goes to the UK—someone correct me if I'm wrong here—and they put a print on it which says made in the UK. Where was it actually manufactured? I would suggest somewhere else. There are a whole lot of issues that fall around manufacturing as a whole.

I suppose the rest of Australia would call me a Melburnian, because Melbourne has grown so big. I am just on the outskirts of Melbourne so I am a Melburnian. Melbourne was one of the greatest manufacturing hubs in the world. Melbourne is no longer one of the greatest manufacturing hubs in the world, because of the restrictions we've put on ourselves not to free up business, not to give them the opportunity, not to tell them what they should be doing. If the government makes the mistake of telling them what they should be doing, rather than investing where business tells us they need to invest for future prosperity, well, that will be a fail. I don't want government to fail in manufacturing and in grants to manufacturing or in this particular case it's your new National Reconstruction Fund Corporation.

I have a bit of a problem with the word reconstruction. Whilst this nation has faced some pretty tough times over the last 12 months, don't tell me it's a National Reconstruction Fund. We haven't just been through a war. We haven't had our cities decimated—only through flooding where we've had massive damage to infrastructure, but outside of that our cities are going pretty well. I am not saying that will be the same case, but don't call it a National Reconstruction Fund. Why would you call it a reconstruction fund? What are you reconstructing? Are you reconstructing the program or are you reconstructing manufacturing in Australia? It's very unclear.

I have the highest regard for the minister in this portfolio, Minister Husic. Since he arrived in this place I have always had the highest regard for him. I know he's dedicated and I know he's determined. I know he wants this to work, but I wonder what outside pressure is being put on him, because this gives the actual minister of the day an enormous amount of power as to where that money is spent. Is that going to be politicised like I've seen so many other government programs be politicised? That would wreck manufacturing in this country. If you want to win seats in Adelaide you put all this money into Adelaide. If you want to win a few seats in Brisbane you put it into those seats in Brisbane that you need to win. Is that what this is all about? We can direct all the money to our seats. It is likely that we give state governments money for housing then they go and spend it in marginal seats for the long-term disruption of the Liberal and National parties—if they're a Labor government. It's sort of underlying corruption. I am not accusing Ed Husic of this, because he has an enormous amount of power under this legislation to direct what happens.

If you have got a senator John Button of the past—and that senator John Button put together a car plant that kept manufacturing going in Australia for all those years. The world has regard for what John Button put together and directed, what happened in the vehicle manufacturing industry in this country. He probably saved it from immediate decline in the late sixties and early seventies. There's a minister who only acted in the interests of the Australian people. How wonderful it would be if I could believe that every action taken by a political party was only in the interests of the Australian people; that it was fair, just, reasonable and equitable; that it lifted the community up in every action it took; and that it gave opportunities to our newcomers, to people who have come to this country as refugees—who should be given the greatest opportunity, because you often find they are the hardest workers and they want to go out there and they want to do things.

The Japanese came to us a few years and said, 'We'd like to put a hydrogen production plant in Gippsland,' and they have done it. Today, there was a huge spread in the paper detailing how the Japanese government are now putting $2.35 billion into the hydrogen plant in the Latrobe Valley. It will create jobs, opportunities and everything else for people in the Latrobe Valley. It's the best news ever! The Japanese are doing that. The state government put in $50 million to get the pilot plant going and there was $500 million from the Turnbull government. I was there for the announcement. So they approved the plant and approved the operation and they have proved that it works. It is hydrogen from brown coal. We have enough brown coal to make enough hydrogen to keep the world going in a clean way for the next 10,000 years. I've never believed we shouldn't be using it to create electricity and building more efficient power plants. Why wouldn't we? Why do we have to kick ourselves in the foot in this nation every time we go to do something? Every time we make a decision now it seems that we're kicking ourselves in the foot and the rest of the world is laughing at us.

That is why our manufacturing sector is so important. That is why it is so important to have the best innovation, the best technology, the best people and the best opportunities, and to encourage these start-up companies and not put barriers in their way all the way through. You've got to make it easy for government to be able to deliver on behalf of those people that are going to do the best for our country.

This should be seen as an opportunity. I understand governments want to come in and put a new label on a new minister and say, 'We're going to do it a different way.' I hope and pray it works. If it doesn't, we kick ourselves in the foot again. I want this to work. I want it to happen. I want this nation to succeed. Every time we succeed as a nation, we enhance the opportunities for our children and their families. That has to be important to everybody in this House. If we're not putting the Australian people first, whether it comes to manufacturing or any other job, we're doing the wrong thing. So let's have regard to equality, fairness and opportunity.

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Russell Broadbent MP
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