The Nationals’ nine-point manufacturing plan, which the party claims will create up to 800,000 jobs within 15 years, has been labelled a “political hoax” by Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon.
Ironically, the 20-page proposal, reinforced by investment in coal and gas-fired power, also puts it at odds with the federal coalition’s stance on climate change.
But, Nationals senator Matt Canavan this week called on the government to support coal in a bid to boost employment.
“Power prices could be drastically reduced with the construction of coal-fired power stations, too,” the former minister said.
“It is the cheapest way to provide the reliable power needed to back manufacturing.”
Mr Fitzgibbon, however, slammed the Nationals’ strategy, entitled Manufacturing 2035.
“I’d welcome the arrival of an investor willing to finance approximately $3 billion in an efficient coal-powered electricity generator in the Hunter,” he said.
“But, it’s not likely to happen.
“And, if it did, it wouldn’t guarantee lower power prices and, alone, it wouldn’t re-start our car manufacturing industry or save our fuel refineries.
“In Collinsville, the Nationals supported the expenditure of $3 million on a feasibility study into a new coal-fired plant.
“What they are studying we’re not sure.
“It seems they don’t need a feasibility study for a Hunter plant.
“The whole exercise is a political hoax.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said cheaper energy prices were important to the competitiveness of the manufacturing sector, but they were one part of a successful formulae.
“Many of our manufacturers, including steel makers, car producers, fuel refineries and the textiles industry, have fallen victim to competitors who are closer to the big markets and have lower production costs and scale,” he explained.
“Energy is but one component of their costs.
“In essential industries – food, fuel and medical equipment – we need to develop more self-sufficiency and strengthen our manufacturing sector.
“We’ve long paid a premium for defence platforms in order to retain the maintenance and sustainment skills here in Australia in case we are cut off from the world and our allies.
“There is no reason why we should not apply the same formulae to other industries, which are essential and where we don’t enjoy independence.
“And, we can be competitive in advanced manufacturing where it is more about innovation than volume.
“This will require greater government investment in research and development.
“We must back Australian ideas and risk takers.”
Mr Fitzgibbon feels now is the time for Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his colleagues to provide some “real answers”.
“The coalition government in Canberra has entered its eighth year in office,” he said.
“Yet its members belatedly say they have solutions to problems, which developed on their watch.
“No one will believe them.”