The government’s flagship $15 billion manufacturing fund has been established in law, marking the “greatest investment in manufacturing capabilities in living memory”.
The National Reconstruction Fund (NRF) Corporation bill was passed by the Senate on Tuesday night with support from the Greens and a number of crossbenchers, after a series of amendments were approved. It was then returned to the lower house as a formality before being passed into law.
“This is a big day and it’s a big deal,” Industry Minister Ed Husic told the media on Wednesday morning.
“The National Reconstruction Fund will be the greatest investment in manufacturing capabilities in living memory. It’s a big deal.”
The $15 billion fund will now be established to offer loans, credit, bonds, or equity investments in Australian companies across seven priority areas: renewables and low-emissions technologies, medical science, transport, value-add in agriculture, forestry and fisheries, value-add in resources, defence capability, and critical technologies.
The fund will have a particular focus on a number of tech areas, including low-emissions technologies, fintech, artificial intelligence, robotics and quantum technology. It will see the Corporation partnering with institutional investors, private equity, and venture capital to offer loans, guarantees, and equity.
The fund will be administered by an independent board which will make independent investment decisions, modelled on the existing Clean Energy Finance Corporation. The government will now release $5 billion to the fund initially, with a further $10 billion made available in mid-2029.
Twenty amendments were debated in the Senate on Tuesday, with a handful passed with support from the government. These focused on the make-up of the fund’s board, added focus areas and a requirement to consider the impact of investments on First Nations Australians.
“I am pleased the crossbench engaged constructively on this important bill that will rebuild Australia’s sovereign capability,” Husic said.
“The NRF shows the government is serious about investing our human capital to keep Australian smarts on shore. We want Australia to be a country that makes things, a nation that has faith in its know-how and ability to get the job done.”
The Australian Computer Society (ACS) has welcomed the passage of the NRF legislation.
“ACS congratulates Minister Ed Husic on successfully championing the National Reconstruction Fund, which has just been approved by Parliament,” ACS President Dr Nick Tate said.
“Getting more Australians into well-paid and highly skilled jobs is an aim shared by ACS and the government and we support the fund’s focus on diversifying the economy and moving our local industries further up the value chain.
“It’s now important that there are the local skills and talent available to support the demand for IT professionals.
“We would flag that advanced manufacturing and modern supply chains are heavily technology dependent and will need skilled staff to build and maintain them.”
The legislation was rejected by the Opposition but supported by the Greens, the Jacqui Lambie Network, Lidia Thorpe, and David Pocock after a number of amendments were backed.
These amendments altered the fund’s board to have a minimum of six members and a maximum of eight, with an “appropriate balance of expertise”, credibility and standing in fields. The term for board members was also reduced from five years to four.
Another amendment also requires the Corporation to consider environmental, labour, social and governance matters in relation to investment functions and investment powers, and the impact of this on First Nations Australians.
The government has backed an amendment requiring the board to consider a range of factors in its decision-making, including improving value-adding opportunities, economic diversity and Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.
The bill had already been amended in the lower house to rule out investments in fossil fuel extraction projects in order to gain the support of the Greens.
The National Reconstruction Fund was rejected from the outset by the Opposition.
“This is a highly cynical bill that I think reeks of left-wing policies and politics, instead of being a genuine nation-building policy and program,” Liberal Senator Linda Reynolds said.