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Jim Chalmers backs case for tax concessions for Made in Australia plan

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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese signalled the plan for more industry aid last week by promising a new law, to be called the Future Made in Australia Act, to be put to parliament around the time of the budget.

The Coalition has warned against putting taxpayer cash into new schemes, however, by claiming that similar tax concessions in the United States have added to inflation.

“We all want to see more manufacturing in Australia,” said Coalition treasury spokesman Angus Taylor on Friday.

“But you get there by focusing on the fundamentals – affordable, reliable energy, getting approvals done in a timely way, making sure that we’ve got a competitive industrial relations system where union officials are unable to, in an untoward way, call the shots.”

Chalmers said the government expected inflation to “moderate a bit more” in Australia despite signs of higher prices in the United States, although financial markets have pushed back assumptions about when the Reserve Bank may start cutting interest rates.

The shift on financial markets means traders are assuming a cut in February next year, superseding earlier calculations about a cut in November this year.

Chalmers made it clear that tax concessions were part of the industry plan.

“We are prepared to consider the tax system as one of a whole range of levers that may be useful as we pursue a Future Made in Australia and make ourselves that indispensable part of the global net‑zero economy,” he said.

“It will be broad, it will be comprehensive. The tax system may play a part, public investment will play a part, but overwhelmingly what we’re trying to do here is incentivise private investment, not replace it.”

Danielle Wood criticised says any plan to underwrite local manufacturing could risk “forever subsidies” for industries reliant on government funding.

Danielle Wood criticised says any plan to underwrite local manufacturing could risk “forever subsidies” for industries reliant on government funding. Credit: Oscar Colman

In a sign of the fierce economic debate about the value and risk of subsidies, Productivity Commission chief Danielle Wood warned about the risk of permanent assistance but former treasurer Wayne Swan said she was “out of touch” with changes in the global economy.

Former Productivity Commission chiefs have backed Wood on the key question, while Chalmers said he respected both.

“Danielle Wood’s contribution was important and obvious, I think Wayne’s was too. We need to understand that the world is changing, that pace is quickening, and we need a slice of the action,” he said.

In one example of industry support, the government has pledged $840 million in recent weeks to Arafura Rare Earths to develop a lithium mine and refinery in the Northern Territory.

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The federal support came after years of Chinese interest in Arafura, although the Chinese investors have sold down their stake and the government last year blocked a Chinese investment in another rare earth company, Northern Minerals.

Chalmers promised faster approvals for some investment, but stronger checks in areas of strategic interest.

“That will be all about recognising that we can streamline investment when it’s in areas which are low risk but high reward,” he said.

“And we need to strengthen the arrangements where the risks outweigh the benefits and so those are my priorities when it comes to foreign investment.”

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