Virtual Address, Business Council of Australia Annual General Meeting

24 Nov 2021
Prime Minister

Prime Minister: Well, thanks very much, Tim, and I appreciate that very kind introduction. I must admit, I do enjoy your introductions, they give me a good summary of all the things we’re doing together, and I’m so grateful for your appreciation of those initiatives.

So, thank you for inviting me to speak with you this afternoon. I’m sorry we can’t be doing this in person. But we’ve all got pretty good at this by now.

Let me begin also by acknowledging the Traditional Owners, particularly here in Canberra - the Ngunnawal people, and their Elders past, present and emerging.

And, as you know, I always send out a salute to any current and former members of the Australian Defence Force who may be joining us, and thank them for their service.

And, can I thank through you Tim all of the businesses of Australia who’ve done such a great job in taking on veterans into their employment, and taking on Indigenous Australians into their employment. I was out at Western Sydney International Airport, Nancy-Bird Walton Airport, the other day, and knowing that they are above target when it comes to their Indigenous employment on that site is a great thrill, and I’ve seen that on so many big sites and projects around the country. So, a big thank you.

Can I also acknowledge you Jennifer and recognise your contribution, and the many business leaders that are, that are on this call, and thank you for the cooperative and goodhearted and good faith way we’ve been able to work together over a long period of time, but particularly over these most challenging few years.

Our banks. Our airlines. Our resource companies. Our retailers. Our tech firms and more. You’re all there, and you’ve all played an incredibly important part in getting us to where we are today.

I’ve often refer to this, of course the Government, we’ve played our role, and we believe our role has been incredibly important. But when I think of Australia’s achievements, I see them as Australia’s achievements, and that we’ve all been a part of that.

And we are at a moment of considerable promise.

Our society is reopening, it’s exciting. Our economy is on the recovery path, and we’re all looking forward. We’re not looking in that rear view mirror.

They are looking forward and they’re looking forward to seeing their family and friends coming together.

They’re looking forward to travelling again and many already are now, Alan.

And they’re looking forward to Christmas. I certainly know I am.

And they are looking forward to planning the next phase of their lives with renewed confidence.

Our job as a Government is to enable the choices that they want to make. To back them in. To continue to chart the way forward and strengthen the foundations for Australia’s future.

There’s a natural impulse, I think, for stability and certainty now, in the wake of this terrible COVID storm - especially for families and businesses that have had to endure the stop-go life and economic activity that they have had over much of the last 18 months.

So restoring ‘normality’ to peoples’ lives is an incredibly worthy and important objective.

But, of course, we just can’t turn the clock back to 2019. We also have to look forward and we have to embrace the future, with trademark Australian resilience, ingenuity, optimism and confidence.

Now, earlier this week I announced further steps from the 1st of December, with the return of fully vaccinated eligible visa holders - including skilled workers and international students. And I know that was something that you’ve been eagerly anticipating.

And we approach this next phase of reopening and recovery with a, I think, a strong breeze at our back now.

Australia is now one of the highest vaccinated countries in the world, and I appreciate your comments, Tim. We’re ahead of the UK, France, Sweden, the United States. It’s quite a long list now. And there were their doubters, I know that. But we did everything we could to ensure we got to this result, and we pretty much got there as exactly at the time we said we would.

Our economic management of the pandemic has also ensured that we’re retaining our AAA credit rating from all three credit agencies. We’re only one of nine countries to do that.

And we’ve averted the nightmare scenario of a scarred labour market, which I know was concerning you. Our actions to support our economy, according to Phil Lowe at the RBA, saved at least 700,000 jobs.

With the RBA forecasting that the Australian economy will now grow by 5.5 per cent next year, unemployment forecast to fall to four per cent by the June quarter of ‘23. And household and business balance sheets, they’re looking healthy.

Compared with the end of 2019, household cash savings have increased by $185 billion and business cash holdings have increased by $145 billion by the end of August 2021.

Now, there are green shoots, you’re seeing them, of confidence. Confidence is king, and and Australians can look over the coming months with confidence.

They can also bank on consistency in our approach to economic management - including our core principle that we support a business-led recovery for Australia, not a government-centred recovery.

There is a time, of course, for government to step forward. And and we have done that over the last 18 months. That has been such a time.

All arms of government policy geared to saving lives and saving livelihoods, amidst the greatest health and economic shock in our lifetime. Of course.

But there is also a time for government to step back, so Australians can move forward.

To unwind restrictions. To unleash the entrepreneurship of private enterprise. To enable you to invest and grow and shape your business for the future.

And that time is now upon us. It’s time to move ahead. It’s time, step-by-step, conditioned necessarily by the need to open safely and stay safely open. But that time is now open us.

I want to talk about four, they’re the established pillars of what we’ve been working through. That’s what I want to talk about, just now, and then speak about some new beachheads.

Our focus as a Government has been getting the big calls right. But it’s also been about getting the balance right.

The Government’s economic plan reflects this approach.

There are two interwoven threads to our economic plan.

The first is a strong focus on the established pillars of economic growth and job creation.

Our Economic Recovery Plan has that focus, by providing greater incentive to businesses and individuals through the tax system - encouraging investment and reforming our income taxes, including with the abolition of an entire tax bracket.

Now, investing in infrastructure and skills - our nation’s hardware and our software.

Our roads, rail and ports and airports - through our $110 billion infrastructure investment pipeline that is hitting the deck.

But also, importantly, we’re investing in our people, something I know Jennifer has campaigned for and been a strong believer in over a long time.

Ensuring our education and training institutions are geared to the skills needs of the future, not the past.

The JobTrainer Fund will support 460,000 Australians to upskill and reskill. We’ve currently got 217,000 trade apprentices currently in training. Now, that comes off the back of $3.9 billion in investment to boost apprenticeship commencements. Now, that is the highest number in trade training right now since records began in 1963.

We are building a new workforce - trained, skilled, for the future - in the midst of this pandemic. It’s quite extraordinary.

But we’re also getting there by reducing regulation so business can get on with business, and Tim you’ve mentioned some of those things.

It is about securing affordable, reliable energy, to get those energy costs down and keeping them down, as we go on our path to net zero by 2050.

And by reengaging with the world through our network of trade agreements, and the UK being the most recent.

At the same time, our Plan sets about harnessing new sources of growth, learning the lessons and leveraging the trends that have accelerated through the pandemic.

And this is the second thread of our Economic Plan.

We need to claim new economic beachheads as we recover and reopen to the world. These are the opportunities.

And I want to touch on four of them - areas where we need to step forward confidently to claim our place in a rapidly changing, highly competitive global economy, which you would know only too well.

Now, the first of those is we need to secure our place in the data and digital economy.

Now, I love talking to you guys about this because I know you’re keenly interested in it, and so am I. I’ve spoken about it most times I’ve come to speak to you, whether it has been as Prime Minister or Treasurer, so I appreciate your keen interest.

COVID-19 has accelerated, as we know, the pace of business digitalisation.

We’ve also seen almost nine in ten Australian firms adopt new technologies.

A third of Australian businesses expanded their online presence in the first three weeks of the pandemic. And we’ve seen the tech sector now grow at four times the rate of the rest of the economy.

And I’ve said many times, every business in Australia is now a digital business and there’s no going back, and nor do we want to, given changing expectations about how we live and how we work, how we communicate and how we shop.

The Government’s Digital Economic Strategy is laying the foundations for Australia to be that leading digital economy by 2030. And we’re doing well.

It’s putting businesses, investors and entrepreneurs in the driver’s seat to realise the opportunities that are ahead.

And last week I joined Google CEO Sundar and his Australian team for the launch of Google’s Digital Future Initiative. Now, I’ve had the great thrill and privilege to be at many events where we’ve seen policy turn into action and real results. It’s one of my great thrills of public life, and in the many roles that I’ve had. This was one such a day. An enormous vote of confidence in our strategy to be this leading digital economy by 2030.

$1 billion investment over five years in infrastructure, research and partnerships which will see the development of world-leading capability in the new Google Research Hub - there’s only a handful of these, and Sydney’s one of them, and Australia’s one of them - as well as the partnerships that are occurring through that process with the CSIRO and Australian universities.

Now, the Government will shortly release a whole-of-economy Data Strategy to complement the Digital Economy Strategy, because we know data, as you know, is the lifeblood of our digital future.

And the Australian Data Strategy will seek to maximise data’s value, protect it to build trust, and enable it to use- its use to bring tangible benefits to the Australian people.

And, again, government can act as a powerful enabler. But what that really, what really matters is when great companies share our vision for Australia to be that leading economy, and under Andy Penn’s leadership, Telstra’s new joint venture with Quantium, to unlock the full potential of data and AI to provide more personalised products to its customers, is just one example of the practical realisation of this vision, and the business community working hand in glove with the Strategy that we’ve set out.

Now, a second beachhead to secure is our place in the new energy economy.

The drive for net zero emissions will reshape the global economy. Daniel Yergin, who is someone I have a great deal of admiration for and I met recently with him when I was in Washington, makes this point in his compelling book, The New Map.

I told my Cabinet to read two books on this topic. One was Daniel’s, and the other was Bill Gates’. Now, The New Map, he says this, whereas geophysical maps change very slowly, political, technical and economic maps can change very quickly … And that’s the terrain we’re on today.

The Government’s long-term emissions reduction plan provides, I believe, a credible pathway to net zero by 2050. Not one that necessarily other countries are following. This is a uniquely Australian way to achieving this, one that seeks to maintain existing industry strengths, establish Australia as a leader in emerging low emissions technologies, and ensure a prosperous future for Australia.

And we’re taking coordinated actions across four areas: We’re driving down technology costs - technology not taxes, you’ve heard me say it before.

We’re enabling the deployment of emerging and priority technologies at scale, and this is key. We cannot get global emissions down if we are not going to get those technologies at cost and scalability in the developing economies that we trade with. They are simply not going to move to them. They won’t go there because we charge ourselves more through carbon taxes or other initiatives or mandates. They will adopt them when the technology is at the right price and the right scalability.

There’s the seizing opportunities in new and traditional markets, as well as deepening global collaboration through low emissions technology partnerships, with Angus Taylor, has been doing a cracking job on, as has Dr Finkel.

We are also setting ourselves big goals. For example, positioning Australia to become a world-leading producer and exporter of hydrogen. Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe as well as the lightest, has the highest energy density of any common fuel.

And our $464 million investment in Clean Hydrogen Industrial Hubs will bring together producers and users to drive down costs of production and stimulate innovation.

And we are making the needed investments to drive that technology, not through taxes. And over the next decade, Commonwealth investment of more than $21 billion is expected to unlock more than $80 billion of private and public sector investment, including in clean hydrogen, ultra low-cost solar, carbon capture and storage, and energy storage.

And in the words of the International Energy Agency, the drive towards net zero will ‘supercharge demand for critical minerals’ as the world moves to a mineral intensive energy system. The Government’s Critical Minerals Strategy is supporting new investment and delivering infrastructure needed to bring new critical minerals projects into production.

Of course, we’re not walking away from our established strengths, and I understand Meg O’Neill, CEO of Woodside, has joined us, and can I congratulate you, Meg, and can I assure you that all our Government warmly welcomes Monday's announcement of the final investment decision to approve the $16.5 billion Scarborough development. I did a bit of a jig out of the Chamber the other day when Minister Pitt came up and confirmed to me that that had taken place and Richard had been in contact. I just could not be more thrilled about that. That is such a shot in the arm for our economy and it is going to power us into the future. So an enormous vote of confidence in what's happening here in Australia.

Now another one, our third beachhead we must secure out of COVID is the transformation of Australia’s manufacturing sector. We make things and we do it really well. Manufacturing jobs are shifting into high value roles and pre and post-production activities, and into higher value manufacturing subsectors. This transition is playing to Australia's strengths in highly skilled R&D intensive activities.

COVID has demonstrated the resilience of Australian manufacturers, with many firms able to pivot and adapt to new opportunities, and we're also seeing a rebalancing of global value chains towards more diverse and strategic sources of supply. This is opening up further opportunities for Australian manufacturing.

The Government's Modern Manufacturing Strategy has set out clear priorities and leverages our strengths and resources to build new sources of growth, and it's working. We've identified six areas where we believe we have that comparative advantage, strategic interest or capacity to harness the opportunities that are there. Medical products, food and beverage, recycling and clean energy, resources, technology and critical minerals processing, defence and space. Instead of spreading taxpayer dollars thinly across the economy where everybody gets a prize, we are focusing investment in sectors where we can build scale and have a real impact and draw in that private investment that can have certainty about where we're focusing our efforts.

Now, through the Government's $1.3 billion Modern Manufacturing Initiative, we are partnering with Australian manufacturers so they can scale up, translate ideas into commercial success and integrate into local and international supply chains. It's thanks to investments like these that for the first time since 2009, manufacturing employment is back over a million jobs.

Now those that money's already out there. I've been visiting those plants already in those those businesses, and it is changing the game for them now.

The fourth and final one I wanted to talk about as a beachhead sits at the intersection of commerce and our research ingenuity and how we turn great Australian ideas into commercial success. Now, you know, this has been one of the most difficult tasks that we have had, and Catherine knows all about that and I want to thank her for her input to much and so much of the work we've been doing here.

When I spoke to you in November last year, I said that securing our economic recovery will rely heavily on our science and research community and the role it can play in the collaboration with business. That's why we've injected over a billion dollars into university research to ensure the ongoing capability and excellence of our research workforce, they're a key asset. And it's why we provided over $450 million for the CSIRO to support the important research and development work they're doing. And I understand, Larry, you're with us today and it was great to see you last week as well.

There is more to do to drive returns on those investments and unlock all of the potential of our brightest minds. Australia has world class universities and Australian researchers produce pioneering foundational research and many of the technologies and products millions of people around the world rely on were made possible by Australian research discoveries.

Dr Graeme Clark enabled millions around the world as we know to hear with the cochlear implant. The woman who came to do my COVID test this morning, I seem to have them all the time, she was wearing them. The CSIRO untangled our homes and offices by developing WiFi. We have had outstanding researchers such as Michelle Simmons, who is just a superstar leading the world in quantum computing, and our Government wants to make sure that our researchers and universities that house them are rewarded for their discoveries.

Too often this research is just left on the shelf and not taken further down the pipeline towards production here in Australia. Too often, Australian businesses are missing out on those opportunities to commercialise Australian research and Australian universities and researchers are missing out on opportunities to be rewarded for their work.

Now, under the leadership of Minister Tudge, Alan Tudge as Education Minister, Jeff Connolly from Siemens and his expert panel, including senior representatives from BHP, Cochlear, Macquarie and our universities, they've been working hard to create new pathways for our talented researchers to partner with business. So we create a new generation of research entrepreneurs now again.

I know this is something that Catherine Livingstone and many others on this call today are very passionate about, you can probably tell so am I. We want to accelerate commercialisation of priority research, and the advice of our business and university leaders has been critical in scaling up our ambition and getting it right. And what Jeff and the panel have found is that there are a range of barriers to greater commercialisation.

Researchers are currently incentivised to publish and have their work cited as often as possible. And this publish or perish mindset is useful for getting tenure, but does little to spur innovation or create start-ups. Universities need to shift incentives towards high value commercial opportunities, to industry needs and national priorities. We want to see universities create incentives for researchers to collaborate with industry to drive investment, co-investment, and product development.

Now, business has a role to play, and I know you know that. Australian businesses need to recognise the value of Australian research and invest in the ideas that will create products and grow our economy. And so today I'm announcing to you the first phase of our research commercialisation agenda.

Our Government, the Australian Government will invest $243.5 million to identify and support Australian universities that are ready to seize the commercial opportunities from our economic recovery. This is a key part of our economic recovery plan. This new approach aims to incentivise what I call Trailblazer Universities that are early adopters of intellectual property, industrial relations and skills practises to lift collaboration and commercialisation outcomes.

We're going to work with those who are going to make this happen and want to make it happen. The focus is on universities working with the industry partners to revive commercialisation across our six national manufacturing priorities. We are bringing together, integrating, synchronising these priorities that we've set out from our important manufacturing sector and the research and development work being done in our universities. And you are the glue that is going to bring that together.

This investment will allow four select universities, four of them, including at least one in regional Australia, to position themselves as a research and development leader and demonstrate to the entire sector the benefits of a strong focus on commercialisation and industry engagement. We're going to work with those who want to do this work. Funding of up to $50 million over four years to June 2026 will be available to support R&D projects, staff, equipment and opportunities to increase collaboration with industry, enhance the commercialisation capability of research staff and drive the job ready skills of the future through alignment of courses with industry need.

Now, we need our universities to play a bigger role in our economy, working hand in glove with Australian businesses to develop the next generation of great Australian products and companies. They are a giant economic asset for this country, which generations of Australians have invested billions in, and I want to see that put to work to realise this next stage of our economic recovery. And can I urge all of you to look at how your business can take advantage of this research commercialisation agenda.

Now, I know I've been speaking for a while and you've all been terribly patient, but I do want to say to you that Australia, as you know, through all of our efforts, has fared better than virtually any other advanced economy in the world in dealing with COVID-19. And there are many reasons why that's the case. But none is more important than the grit and determination of the Australian people, especially those running our businesses. And you would know, especially those small and medium businesses that you work with, those suppliers, those partners all the way down your value chain. You know what they've been through and you know how you've had to support them in so many cases. In fact, just as we have through the many programmes we’ve run. Now, we're emerging from the pandemic and we're in an enviable position.

We've all worked hard to get the sacrifices, the hard work. Now, as we reopen and recover, we now have a real opportunity to leverage that for the future, and that is what our economic recovery plan is all about.

If we ever need any convincing to back Australia, I believe the last couple of years will leave you in no doubt, and I remain, as always, an incurable optimist, passionate about our country and what we can achieve in the years ahead. I know you are too, and so I'm looking forward to that future as much as we're all looking forward to all coming together, particularly as we go through this summer break.