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Transcript of interview with Nick Rheinberger: ABC Illawarra: 21 February 2013: $1 billion Plan for Australian Jobs; MRRT

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THE HON GREG COMBET AM MP Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency Minister for Industry and Innovation


GC 42/13 21 February 2013


SUBJECT: $1 billion Plan for Australian Jobs; MRRT.


RHEINBERGER: Greg Combet is the Minister for Industry and Innovation, and joins me now here on the morning show. Mr Combet, good morning.

COMBET: How are you Nick?

RHEINBERGER: I’ve had a look at your ‘Plan for Australian Jobs’, and you do talk about some of the other most successful innovation regions around the world, which presumably you want to emulate. But if you look at Silicon Valley, it happened very naturally. How are you going to create them artificially?

COMBET: Well some of them are starting to occur in Australia reasonably naturally as well, and we are trying to encourage them and foster some more. The whole idea is to try and get a better economic outcome from the research expenditure that Governments make. And particularly to harness the best minds in universities, the CSIRO and other research institutions in partnership with business, so that we can crack open new markets. Develop new technologies, innovate and develop new processes and systems. That is what is going to give us the competitive edge in the years to come. So we are trying to foster a greater cooperation between research and business.

RHEINBERGER: You’ve already chosen a couple, in Victoria in manufacturing and food. Can you give me an idea in putting those ones in those particular regions?

COMBET: Well first thing is the whole concept is one that has been discussed over the last twelve months a lot with business community, unions, with research bodies and universities. And in the manufacturing sector in particular, this kind of cooperation has been developing in South East Melbourne with Monash University and also at Melbourne University in the city in Melbourne.

There is a lot of manufacturing firms down there. And with the high value of the Australian dollar, Nick, I think as everyone knows, manufacturing firms are under a lot of pressure. So, people are starting to join together in this way to look for new manufacturing processes and technologies that can be developed. We have great minds in our research institutions and manufacturing companies want to access those people more, to help them develop and deploy technology that’s going to make them competitive. So we are supporting and facilitating the development of the Manufacturing Industry Precinct in Melbourne. It’ll have also some partner organisations related to the Defence industry in Adelaide in South Australia. And there has also been a lot of discussion amongst industry about the opportunities we have in food manufacturing. It is an industry that has been under a lot of pressure but, where there are great export opportunities in Asia in the years ahead. But we’ve got to try and crack that marketplace by being more innovative. A lot of the players in the food industry are very keen for this kind of approach to develop too, because it help them get into those markets.

RHEINBERGER: Well just on cars, for instance, there is billions of dollars being spent on propping up the car industry in Australia. Lately we have seen allegations that all of this is going towards subsidising American buyers of Australian made cars to the tune of $10,000 or so. Is that effective spending of Australia’s taxpayers’ money?

COMBET: Well there are 250-odd thousand people and their families who depend on the motor vehicle manufacturing industry and the Government is not going to apologise for working with the motor vehicle manufacturers and the component supplies to get the industry in better shape. It is a very important one. I’ll just give you an idea in the area of innovation - the motor vehicle manufacturing sector accounts for about 25 per cent of the Research and Development in manufacturing. It has lots of spin offs into other areas, and for example, I was in a factory in Brisbane just a couple of days ago that a used to be a supplier into the car industry. It’s migrated its business more towards aviation now, applied new technologies. But the employees there, from the skills that they’ve developed working in the car industry, they are now doing quite high-tech products into aviation and export markets. Then I was down at the Boeing facility down in Melbourne on Sunday with the Prime Minister, when we launched the policy. A lot of the workers there who are making parts for the Dreamliner aircraft, as part of a global supply chain for Boeing, a lot of them were from the car industry. And it is very important for the development of skills, and for R&D, and the Government wants to see that industry grow into the future and export. And we do not apologise for it.

RHEINBERGER: Okay, the Opposition says this plan is not new. Our local member Joanna Gash says it is a re-announcement of a 2011 promise. It has been repeatedly delayed. It is simply a rebadging of a promise you made a long time ago?

COMBET: No, that is just a load of nonsense. This is new funding that will support the development of the Precincts. There’s great opportunities here for the Uni of Wollongong and businesses in the Illawarra to come together. What we are essentially saying is that for the other Precincts that we will support, we are going to depend a lot on business leading it and getting together with Unis, coming up with a consortia if you like, that can seek the

funding that we have on the table. It is new funding that would support the administrative operation of an Innovation Precinct, and there is new funding to allow applications to made. They’ll be done on a competitive basis to see if their deployment of new technologies is one sort of opportunity that will be available. There is one existing fund called the Industrial Transformation Research Program, and the research funding from that program will specifically be in areas of research that are related to the Innovation Precincts. So it is a new program.

The other part of it we haven’t discussed where there’s opportunities for the Illawarra too is that we are going require all the major project operators around the country, projects worth more the $500 million, to develop transparent plans on how they are going to engage Australian manufacturers supplying goods into those particular projects. And that’s going to create a lot of jobs as well.

RHEINBERGER: Regardless of how we define it, or it is hypothetical benefits, is it simply doomed considering the Greens won’t support the legislation for the billion dollars which you need unless you fix the mining tax.

COMBET: Oh that’s a bargaining tactic. I mean, you know, in Parliament there is always argy-bargy and pushing and shoving and whatnot as legislation comes…

RHEINBERGER: Well can you come to the party? Are you willing to move on the mining tax?

COMBET: No. The mining tax has been settled. It’s passed through Parliament.

RHEINBERGER: Are you happy with it?

COMBET: We have got no plans to change it. Well it is $126 million so far that we wouldn’t have secured for the benefit of the community.

RHEINBERGER: Are you happy with the loopholes that BHP Billiton have written into it?

COMBET: Well, whilst all this excitement has gone on about it, people have overlooked the fact that commodity prices fell quite significantly twelve months or so ago. They’re recovering a bit now and I would like to see how the mining tax performs over the course of the next six months as well. And we will see, after a full financial year of its operation, how it is going. But we have got no plans to change it. And we are confident, of course, we will get all our legislation through to fund our Industry and Innovation Statement as well.

RHEINBERGER: Alright Greg Combet, I do have to get to my next guest, but thank you very much for joining us this morning.