Consideration in Detail – Appropriation Bills (Industry Part 2)
Mr PITT (Hinkler) (10:29): My second question is also on the Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program. I want to ensure that the minister is aware of some of the absolutely valuable additions from the Hinkler electorate to manufacturing. We are the biggest producer of heavy vegetables in Australia. All of our agriculturalists know that farm gate returns are simply not high enough so we need those value-added products to increase not only productivity but the return to our farmers to make them viable. Inside my electorate, Minister, we have opportunities for macadamias and sweet potatoes. We already have organisations like Austchilli with David and Trent De Paoli. They are a major exporter of chilli, basil and avocado products all over the world. These secondary level manufacturers help our local producers.
The other thing the minister may not be aware of is that the Bundaberg port is completely underutilised. The opportunities in Bundaberg and in the Hinkler electorate are quite simple. Land is cheap. We have lots of it. There is a lay-down area in Bundaberg as big as the Brisbane port. We could build container ports, build industry or do anything but we need that seed funding to help those things along. Certainly it is low risk. We are below the Barrier Reef and are in a low cyclone risk area. There are opportunities there.
The Bundaberg Foundry, for example, located in Bundaberg just celebrated 125 years of manufacturing. It is still there but it is under pressure from the carbon tax and from red and green tape. They are struggling. Electricity costs are up $1 million. Minister, if you can name a foundry in Australia that is making $1 million a year, I would be very interested.
The Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program is incredibly important. Minister, further to my last question on the government’s commitment to industry policy and, more specifically, the delivery of the new Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program through the single business service initiative, will you advise what the government is doing to ensure that there is smooth transition from the closure of existing programs to the launch of the new Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program? Is there a date by which the program will be functioning? Is the government on track to meet that date? How will businesses, particularly SMEs, interact and gain access to the new Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program—businesses like Hervey Bay seafood and the Hervey Bay scallop, who could certainly do with an automated shucking machine even though something that would work functionally has not been built yet? How does this new initiative simplify the process for business to seek support? What has the reaction been from major stakeholders to this budget measure?
Mr IAN MACFARLANE (Groom—Minister for Industry) (10:32): I again thank the Member for Hinkler and say how impressed I am by the support he gives businesses in his electorate and his knowledge of the issues that they face. I have had the opportunity to visit the city of Bundaberg on numerous occasions. In fact, I remember going there when I was quite young and I remember my attraction to it when I was an older person—fortunately, I managed to break that habit and I do not drink Bundaberg Rum anymore. It is a great product and I certainly do not bemoan it. It has made Bundaberg very famous. The Member for Hinkler asked me about the Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program.
Opposition members interjecting—
Mr IAN MACFARLANE: I hear interjections from the other side about handouts. I think we need to be very clear about these programs and how they work. They work to give businesses a hand up and not a handout. I know the Labor Party are infamous for spraying money around with gay abandon and very little purpose. One of the great problems we have had since we took government is dealing with the bandaids they had applied to various industries. I can ask them what commitments and long-term benefits they achieved for the millions of dollars they gave to Alcoa or for the millions of dollars that they gave to GMH to stay in Australia.
Our programs are specifically targeted at producing results. The government’s decision to implement the new Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program took into consideration the existing status of all current programs that are planned to be phased out of operation. It was almost a grab bag of programs, some of which you, Mr Deputy Speaker, would be shocked to know actually never came into operation. Money was allocated, announcements were made, launches were relaunched but nothing ever happened. I know, you, particularly, Deputy Speaker Scott, would be shocked by that, knowing the value of money! The reality is, though, that we are going to ensure that there are well-targeted programs. To ensure that no business misses out this government has made provision for Commercialisation Australia to operate through until 31 December 2014 and deal with all applications formally lodged before the close of business in 2014.
Additionally, Enterprise Connect will run on a business-as-usual basis until the end of this current financial year and any small- to medium-business owners that were dealing with either Commercialisation Australia or Enterprise Connect will be able to be transferred across to the new Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program from early in the new financial year to ensure there is a seamless transition.
The Member for Hinkler asked me about the start-up dates in relation to the Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program. In line with 2014-15 budget commitments, the Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program will operate from 1 July 2014. Its interaction with SMEs and access by SMEs is very simple: business will be able to gain access and interact with the Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program in person, on the phone or via the internet or email. Throughout this month of June all details of the program will be placed on the Department of Industry’s website.
I was asked how this program works in comparison to previous programs. The reality is, as I have just mentioned, there was when we inherited government an overlapping plethora of small grants and entitlements that were not targeted towards any specific outcome. We are sitting about getting the economic settings right, getting rid of red tape and equipping business by giving them the market, information and skills they need. We must remember that Labor’s legacy is one of indecision and change. In the last three years, in fact, there were 14 ministers through the former Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education—and you wonder why small business was glad to see them go.