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National Reconstruction Fund moves closer to creation


Australian Senate report backs A$15 billion R&D and manufacturing fund

Australia’s A$15 billion National Reconstruction Fund is a step closer to operation after passing the House of Representatives on 9 March.

The bill to establish the NRF is now before the Senate, which will consider the recommendations of a committee report released on 10 March.

The report, from the Senate Economics Legislation Committee, supports calls for the space sector to be added to the fund’s existing seven priority areas, and it highlights industry calls for the bill to support the commercialisation of research.

Peter Grist, principal economist at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told the committee’s inquiry that “Australia is very good at research and development and innovation—but we have a lot of difficulty in then moving that research and development and innovation into production”.

Grist said the NRF’s loan and guarantee structure would support “scaling up” and commercialisation.

Universities and medical research

The need for industry to partner with universities also features in the report, with the vice-chancellors’ group Universities Australia saying that the priority areas align well with existing collaborations and lobbying for university representation on the fund’s board.

The committee was also told that energy research and medical research were particularly sensitive areas. The medical research lobby group Research Australia said the fund could help Australia become a net exporter of medical products.

Research Australia told the inquiry that Australia was losing in “a global race for capital”, and the climate change think tank Beyond Zero Emissions said it was “absolutely critical” to get funds into priority areas as soon as possible.

The fund’s priority areas will not be specified in the bill but will be set by the government of the day.

The report recommends that the bill be passed, but the government will need the support of minor parties and cross-benchers to get it over the line. The Greens have raised concerns about the fund supporting fossil fuel projects and logging of native forests.