Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP speaks on the National Reconstruction Fund and Innovation

28 March 2023


I thank the member for Werriwa for bringing forward this motion. Revitalising Australia's economy through the National Reconstruction Fund is essential to safeguarding our economic future. As acknowledged by the government, COVID-19 exposed Australian supply chain vulnerabilities as well as decimating R&D budgets across businesses, universities and industries. In fact, at only 1.8 per cent of our GDP, we have one of the world's lowest rates of R&D investment. That was the case even before COVID hit, and this figure is steadily declining. This should be of concern to many people in this place. Australia is also facing a skills shortage, particularly in technology and innovation.

Australian innovation has revolutionised people's lives. In my electorate of Warringah, there are plenty of examples of innovative enterprises. Loam Bio shows that innovation is leading from Warringah. They're transforming agriculture to enhance crop yields and increase the carbon sequestration of soil. V2food is working to bring down our average meat consumption. Aviation H2 is working on the development of green-hydrogen powered planes. Lakeba's Future Hub 11, shows how we can excel in digital technology. We have all of these levels of innovation in Australia. Unfortunately, whilst we have some great individual stories, as a whole, innovation is declining, and we're risking being outperformed in many sectors by our economic competitors. Our economy should be dynamic and pioneering, based on growth industries and empowered people with the right skill sets and visions for the future. The NRF supports this vision, which is why I supported the principles of the NRF from its introduction, but we must ensure that the NRF is utilised in a way that maximises Australia's opportunities and provides real value-add to priority sectors.

We know COVID-19 was extremely difficult for our economy. Although the Australian people and Australian businesses showed remarkable resilience during that time, we have an opportunity now to build back better. Investing in a new economy must be based on principles of sustainability and a circular model to keep in line with the global transition to net zero. The National Reconstruction Fund's promise of investment in renewable and low-emission technologies must be upheld to ensure our expanding economy stays on target to reduce emissions and is a global player in that net zero world.

For that, we have to address hydrogen. Australia is engaging in the biggest transformation since the industrial revolution—that's the transition to net zero. It's important to look at this transition as a massive opportunity, one which can build new, vital sectors for our economy. Our future prosperity depends on Australia developing an energy industrial complex in which we capitalise on our natural advantages to develop a clean-energy export market. Countries who are able to decarbonise their supply chains will gain comparative advantages in the international economy of the future. Green hydrogen has the potential to be the tipping point for Australian manufacturing, given its ability to decarbonise difficult-to-abate industries. But we are falling behind. There's a race on—let's be very clear about that—and we are falling behind.

Just today in the Australian Financial Review it was reported that Australia is falling behind Africa in the race to develop green hydrogen. The race is about which is going to be the jurisdiction that is most appealing for those huge amounts of investment. When we start talking to the diplomatic community, they are aware of all those competing environments. The USA, Europe and the gulf nations are moving quickly to ensure market dominance. The impact of the US Inflation Reduction Act alone, which was passed after the election, could see our export potential for green hydrogen fall by as much as 65 per cent, for that has now been matched by investment in Europe, leaving Australia even further behind. We simply don't have time to wait and see. The government must be proactive in areas like green hydrogen. We need to see that in the next budget. We must invest to capitalise on our natural advantages when it comes to emerging industries like renewable hydrogen production.

So I urge the government to use the National Reconstruction Fund to invest in sustainable, resilient supply chains, to expand innovation and to create secure jobs for Australians. We need to remember that what is better for the planet is and will increasingly be better for business and better for Australia's future.