The ALP will consider reviving Australia’s ailing manufacturing sector through a specialist financing corporation and giving tax breaks to local production of patents for Australian inventions.
The policy moves are aimed at advanced manufacturing where Australia has often made research breakthroughs such as Wi-Fi and the aviation black box, only to see the technology taken offshore for production elsewhere.
It aims to fill a gap through creating a publicly-funded Manufacturing Finance Corporation – which would operate in a similar way to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation – and to fill a financing gap caused by Australian banks being reluctant to back new manufacturing.
Labor is also looking to capitalise on public disquiet over the loss of about 40,000 jobs when local car production ceases by the end of 2017.
The measures are being debated within the ALP as it prepares its draft platform ahead of its national conference in Melbourne in July. The draft platform was released without fanfare on Tuesday.
Part of the platform deals with “Labor values” and its record in office, but it also deals with a wide range of policy positions that will spark intense debate with the ALP and the broader community.
The platform supports marriage equality but ALP rules still allow for a conscience vote in the parliament.
The platform says Labor will “prohibit the establishment of nuclear power plants” and remains strongly opposed to the storage of nuclear waste from overseas.
However, it appears to leave room for some nuclear-based activities, saying that Labor will “prohibit all other stages of the nuclear fuel cycle in Australia without local and inclusive community consultation”.
The document pledges more humane treatment of asylum seekers while ensuring that those who arrive by “irregular means” are not be punished for their “mode of arrival”.
But it also vows to support “Australia’s strong borders security scheme” by maintaining an “architecture of excised offshore places” and retaining Christmas Island for processing.
It says three groups will be subject to mandatory detention, which would aim to be no longer than 90 days. This would apply to:
• All unauthorised arrivals, for management of health, identity and security risks to the community. Labor will strive to ensure this is for 90 days only;
• Unlawful non-citizens who present proven unacceptable risks to the community; and
• Unlawful non-citizens who have been proven to persistently refuse to comply with their visa conditions.
Elsewhere, the platform says Labor will establish an independent office of animal welfare, phase out cosmetic testing on animals and oppose “Ag-gag” legislation which penalises campaigners who expose cruelty.
It supports modernising the Australian Constitution for a transition to a republic with an Australian head of state.
It supports investigating a National Gender Centre to provide support and advocacy for transgender and intersex Australians, which could also have an education role.
But the platform also say that Labor recognises the importance of the innovations of agricultural biotechnologies, such as GM crops, in making Australian farming more productive, competitive, environmentally sustainable and improving financial returns at the farm gate.
“To ensure the safety and the access by farmers of such innovations it’s essential that Australia maintains an independent, scientific and evidence-based regulatory system for GM crops.”
The platform supports an emissions trading scheme rather than a rival proposal scheme being supported by some ALP branches to set emission targets that involve cuts of 50 per cent by the year 2030.
The section of the platform dealing with industry policy doesn’t specifically endorse the creation of a Manufacturing Finance Corporation.
But it says Labor will “develop policies to address the historic underinvestment in too many manufacturing sectors and will look to models like the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, to improve access to finance”.
Labor’s industry spokesman Kim Carr told The New Daily that manufacturing remained a “critical issue” for the ALP, which was reflected in the draft national platform.
“You can expect to see more on manufacturing in the final draft,” Senator Carr said.
The proposed tax breaks and Intellectual property measures to encourage local manufacturing are based on the UK’s so-called Patent Box Scheme.
The schemes essentially offer a lower rate of tax for income which companies can show is generated by the commercialising eligible patents, after meeting requirements on research and development for the patent.
But there is some caution within the ALP and unions over following the UK model too closely, which involves the loss of about £1 billion a year in tax revenue and questions faces questioning the investment and employment it generates.
Senator Carr said Labor was aware of a “number of policy proposals” based on the United Kingdom’s Patent Box initiative, to encourage local manufacturing activity.
“Changes to complex areas of law need to be carefully thought out to ensure that they are in the best interests of Australians,” he said.
“That is why Labor established the Senate inquiry into Australia’s Innovation system. The inquiry will help define a much-needed long-term strategy for science and innovation, backed by a sustainable funding model and the infrastructure to support it.”
ACTU secretary Dave Oliver endorsed both measures during a behind-closed-door speech to the Australian Industry Group on Monday.
The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union strongly support the creation of a Manufacturing Finance Corporation, but is more cautious towards the Patent Box Scheme.
The ALP’s full draft platform is available here.