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From Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s impassioned Future Made in Australia speech last month, to Treasurer Jim Chalmers delivering the 2024-25 Budget last night, for the manufacturing sector it is clear some futures shine more brightly than others.

Jim Chalmers:
Budget to align economic incentives: Jim Chalmers

The print industry seems to be firmly in the others camp, with at best paltry support offered, to what is the country’s biggest manufacturing industry.

While the Budget sent the message the government was now in an election mindset with a loud focus on easing cost-of-living pressures, if you’re working in advanced manufacturing but not in clean and renewable energy technologies, the pickings were slim.

The broader focus of the National Reconstruction Fund across seven priority areas has significantly narrowed in this budget to three key manufacturing sectors – Critical Minerals, Clean Energy, and Green Technologies.

These include the much-slated $1bn for local solar panel manufacturing, an attempt to compete with Chinese manufacturers, who are now selling their product so cheaply it is being used for fencing in Holland and Belgium. Chalmers has now added a similar fund to set up local battery manufacturing, for $523m, also in an attempt to compete against the giant factories of China.

Chalmers said the Future Made in Australia agenda would be guided by a new National Interest Framework to “better align economic incentives with our national interests” under a Future Made in Australia Act. The framework will guide the government’s decision making when it comes to significant public investments, particularly those used to incentivise private investment at scale.

Chalmers was chuffed to be able to deliver back-to-back surpluses, the latest of some $9.3bn, a first in almost 20 years, but the sting-in-the-tail is the forecast of the following four – probably 10 – years back in the red.

Criticisms are that the government is now intent on deciding which industries are given priority and investment funding rather than letting the market decide. State support for unviable business does not have a good track record.

Of the support offered to small business, they will receive a $325 energy rebate, which for print businesses is a drop in the ocean of surging energy costs.

Some $20.5m was allocated to the Fair Work Ombudsman to help small business employers comply with complex workplace laws and $10 million to assist smaller employers with administering the revised paid parental leave scheme.

There will be a $7.7m investment over two years to extend the funding for mental health support, through the New Access for Small Business Owners programme, created by Beyond Blue. There will also be $3.1m over two years for the Small Business Debt Hotline delivered by Financial Counselling Australia.

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