Federal Opposition leader Anthony Albanese will promise to establish a $15 billion “national reconstruction fund” if Labor wins the next election, ahead of the party’s special policy conference beginning in Sydney.
Mr Albanese argued the COVID-19 pandemic had highlighted significant weaknesses in Australia’s manufacturing industry and said billions needed to be spent to ensure the nation could support itself in the future.
The fund would operate in a similar fashion as the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), with an independent board making decisions about how to invest the initial $15 billion.
The board would pick projects it would receive some return on investment from, and the fund’s coffers could be topped up by future governments if deemed necessary.
Mr Albanese has repeatedly criticised the Coalition for eroding the local manufacturing industry, and suggested in one of his early policy speeches as leader that Australia needed to be “a country that continues to make things”.
Australia has everything we need to make batteries for rooftop solar.
We’ve got some of the world’s biggest lithium deposits.
We have the best engineers and workers.
We just need a government with the vision to make it happen. pic.twitter.com/SmQHAhCXOj
— Anthony Albanese (@AlboMP) March 28, 2021
Labor believed its fund would help projects such as processing of rare earth minerals, currently mined in Australia but shipped overseas for processing to be turned into products such as batteries.
Following the demise of Ford, Toyota and GM Holden’s local factories, the Opposition said the fund would also be given the task of looking at bolstering Australia’s car, train and ship manufacturing.
Investment in commercialising Australia’s medical research and manufacturing space would also fall within the fund’s remit.
Labor cited OECD data, showing Australia ranked last among developed nations in producing the goods it consumed.
Virtual conference kicks off
The announcement was made ahead of the ALP’s two-day special platform conference in Revesby, in south-west Sydney.
Four hundred delegates will meet virtually to refine the party’s suite of policies ahead of the next election.
One of the key recommendations from the review of Labor’s 2019 campaign loss, compiled by former South Australian premier Jay Weatherill and former federal minister Craig Emerson, was that the ALP’s platform “remain bold but be streamlined and simplified”.
Former Labor leader Bill Shorten was criticised for running a “complex” campaign, with too many policies, which had the dual result of confusing voters and making the party too large a target for attacks from the Coalition.
“Labor should not be less ambitious about policy but its policy agenda should be less complex,” Mr Weatherill and Dr Emerson argued.
“The nature, size and breadth of pre-election policies should be carefully considered ahead of the 2022 election.”
Originally the ALP had planned to hold its triennial policy conference in Canberra in December 2020 but decided to scrap it due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The party has not been able to run elections for the 400 delegates, representing a mixture of the ALP’s rank and file members, as well as representatives from the trade unions affiliated with the party.
Delegates from the last policy conference, held in Adelaide in 2018, have been drafted in for the purpose of this year’s special virtual meeting.
The conference, utilising online voting software, may prove to be a less fiery and raucous affair than previous years.
Policy flashpoints at Labor conferences in years gone by have regularly been marked by walkouts of delegates – something hard to do in a digital forum.