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Secretary's review

I am pleased to release the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources 2019–2020 Annual Report.

The department was created on 1 February 2020, creating new opportunities for coordinated policy responses through bringing together energy, emissions reduction and small and family business functions into the industry, science and resources portfolio. As Secretary to the new department, I am proud to lead this organisation to drive economic growth and job creation for all Australians. This includes helping business and industry navigate the new global and domestic economic challenges that have come from the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the past year has proven, we are adaptable, dependable and responsive. We have strengthened our culture, built open and productive partnerships with stakeholders, invested in our people and delivered authoritative economic analysis. As we direct effort to emerging priorities, and address the challenges of the past year, we act with the future in mind. We will continue to work with our stakeholders to provide advice to Government and to effectively deliver the policies and programs that the government has set as its objectives and priorities.

We are at the forefront of the COVID-19 response

The pandemic’s impact on business and the community thrust our department to the centre of the Government’s response. We acted swiftly on issues as diverse as supporting access to lifesaving Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and medical equipment; helping to ensure ongoing access to secure energy supplies; and addressing impediments in critical supply chains. Our efforts remain focussed on protecting Australians’ health, jobs and livelihoods by helping business and industry adjust and adapt to new circumstances. In close collaboration with industry and the Department of Health, we helped secure the ongoing supply of PPE to the National Medical Stockpile (NMS), helping to ensure frontline workers had the equipment they needed. The Government supported local manufacturers by providing grants (such as $4 million to Shepparton-based company Med-Con to increase its production of face masks), reducing regulatory barriers, facilitating supply chain connections, and purchasing equipment for the NMS (such as the contract with a consortium of over 30 companies led by Grey Innovation to supply ventilators).

The business.gov.au Contact Centre was rapidly expanded to provide a hotline for businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This service provided crucial information on Government support for Australian businesses, as well as information about how to access mental health support and to keep employees safe.

We helped grant recipients during trying times, providing priority payments for Cooperative Research Centres experiencing financial and operational disruption and providing greater flexibility in reporting timeframes. Through the Entrepreneurs’ Programme, we quickly responded to emerging business needs, transitioning to digital and remote service delivery. Refocused advice services provided concrete assistance to businesses to bridge the crisis, and better position themselves to continue growing, innovating and commercialising when the economy begins to recover.

Through our whole of government emergency management response taskforces, we worked closely with states and territories, energy market bodies and the energy industry to ensure a stable energy supply for Australian customers. Similarly, we worked with industry and governments on border restrictions to ensure Fly In/Fly Out workers were able to travel to remote mine sites and offshore oil and gas facilities, as well as ensuring supply chains for critical equipment remained operational. These efforts were focused on the continued safe operation of Australia’s resources sector.

As the crisis unfolded we worked with business, peak bodies and governments to share real-time information on the impact of COVID-19. This included its effect on transport and logistics, food security, and supply challenges in remote and regional Australia. In collaboration with the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC) we supported Australian manufacturers and suppliers of critical medical and protective products to identify collaboration and market opportunities through AMGC’s COVID-19 Manufacturer Response Register.

We also responded to the surge requests from across the Australian Public Service. Questacon’s casual workforce were swiftly redeployed to assist Services Australia in staffing the public hotlines and centres managing the Jobseeker Program. Our staff also contributed on the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission and its various taskforces, bringing industry, manufacturing and energy policy expertise to the discussions on supporting Australian businesses and consumers.

Building on our industrial and resources strengths

Australian manufacturers play an enabling role across the economy by adding value to primary producers and lifting economy wide productivity. Domestic manufacturing is crucial to building resilience to economic and social shocks and supporting supply chains. The department delivered the $50 million Manufacturing Modernisation Fund to support Australian manufacturers to modernise, adopt new technologies, become more productive and create more jobs by co-funding capital investments and associated reskilling. Our resources and energy focus has delivered ongoing support for businesses and consumers in Australia. Working with key industry stakeholders and state and territory governments we have supported ongoing resource exploration in northern Australia, including through $8.4 million for the development of the Beetaloo sub-basin in the Northern Territory. We have also worked to ensure Australian customers are able to access affordable domestic gas supplies through improving gas market transparency and the regulatory framework for gas pipelines, to help our manufacturing industry to remain in Australia.

The Exploring for the Future program (EFTF), delivered through Geoscience Australia, uses a series of cutting-edge geoscientific techniques to map Australia’s geological structures at unprecedented scale and detail. In June 2020, a further $125 million was announced to extend the EFTF for a further four years and expand its reach to cover the whole of Australia. The freely available information generated by EFTF creates a better understanding of our mineral, energy and groundwater systems and allows us to realise Australia’s economic potential.

We continued our work to develop Australia’s space industry and increase the benefits that space technologies bring to Australians. A key part of this has been delivered through the Australian Space Agency, which entered into a number of statements of strategic intent with organisations focussed on lifting investment in Australia’s space industry. The Agency also established the Bushfire Earth Observation Taskforce in partnership with the CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and the Bureau of Meteorology to support planning, response and recovery efforts related to bushfires using space-based Earth observation capabilities.

Securing our affordable and reliable energy future

We’ve made significant progress on initiatives to underpin the supply of reliable, secure and affordable energy to Australia’s energy market. We launched the first rounds of the Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund, backing feasibility studies in 17 microgrid projects to support energy affordability and reliability in regional and remote Australia. The Fund will deliver $40 million in grants to help community groups and businesses lower their energy bills and reduce emissions at the same time.

Fuel security has been another priority issue during 2019–20, including extensive consultation through a Liquid Fuel Security Review. In April 2020, the Hon Angus Taylor MP, Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, announced an historic agreement to secure the nation’s fuel supplies, establishing Australia’s first Government-owned oil reserves for domestic fuel security. The department led the development of a lease with the US to store Australian-owned oil in the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Through working closely with Australian states and territories, we have progressed collaboration on a range of bilateral energy agreements. These agreements centre on delivering new transmission projects to enhance energy system security and ensure the diversification of energy generation and storage sources for our future energy security. We have also continued to advance bilateral and multilateral partnerships to shape global energy markets, including through Statements of Cooperation with Japan and Singapore.

In November 2019, we released the National Hydrogen Strategy, the culmination of work in collaboration with our state and territory counterparts, to remove barriers to industry development. We have supported Australian Government activities to advance Australia’s hydrogen industry and become a world leader in hydrogen production. The world-first Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain Pilot Project started construction at the Port of Hastings liquefaction facility in Victoria in 2019. A joint investment of the Australian and Victorian Governments, this project will test the feasibility of turning brown coal from the Latrobe Valley into hydrogen, which would then be liquefied and exported to Japan. It is the first step in creating a commercial-scale hydrogen supply chain, and a potential $2 billion export industry for Australia.

Strengthening and supporting our businesses and regions

Small businesses and family businesses play a significant role in the Australian economy, accounting for almost half of employment and over a third of production. Helping small businesses grow and generate local jobs is an important part of the department’s work, particularly in the context of COVID-19 and the impacts of the devastating summer bushfires.

Another important piece of work has been to ensure Australian small and family businesses get paid on time. The recent passage of the Payment Times Reporting Bill will see our department administering the Payment Times Reporting Scheme to improve payment outcomes for Australian small businesses. A key element of this work is to help small and family businesses to identify large businesses that pay on time.

In January 2020, the Critical Minerals Facilitation Office was established within the department as the Government’s central coordination point to support investment, promote continued international collaboration and unlock the potential of Australia’s critical minerals sector. The Critical Minerals Facilitation Office supported the development of the new memorandum of understanding on critical minerals between Australia and India, announced in June 2020.

We continued the implementation of the Government’s northern Australia agenda, to support economic recovery and development, in partnership with Australia’s northern jurisdictions. In collaboration with stakeholders, we collaborated on the delivery of the Northern Australia Indigenous Accord, an intergovernmental agreement that will be critical to realising the full potential of the north. The department continued to provide practical support to northern Australia in a number of ways.

In 2019–20, the $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF), which supports economic and population growth in northern Australia, approved over 11 projects and $1.4 billion in loans across northern Australia. These projects are supporting 3,530 local jobs with an estimated $4 billion in public benefit.

Through the Major Projects Facilitation Agency, we provided a single point of access to help projects of national significance contribute to the wellbeing of northern Australia. Northern Australia has substantial reserves and is home to the world’s largest lithium supplier. Our work on critical minerals and rare earth elements is of great importance to northern Australia, and the Australian economy as a whole.

Science and technology driving growth

The Research and Development Tax Incentive (RDTI) is a centrepiece of the Australian Government’s efforts to encourage businesses across the economy to invest in innovative activities that offer long-term economic benefits. To support this, we have worked to improve the user experience for companies accessing the RDTI, through the Integrity Framework released in November 2019. The department has further supported business growth and investment by improving access to finance and supporting greater commercialisation, through programs such as the Early Stage Venture Capital Limited Partnerships and Venture Capital Limited Partnerships programs.

2019–20 saw a continued focus on increased representation of women and girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The department worked across Government to deliver concrete actions from the Advancing Women in STEM strategy, including the Advancing Women in STEM 2020 Action Plan and the STEM Equity Monitor, which the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology launched on International Women’s Day. These initiatives will help track female STEM participation from primary school through to the workforce. Building on this momentum, Women in STEM Ambassador Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith engaged with stakeholders across Australia to promote cultural and social change for gender equity in STEM.

In 2019–20, 26 Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) and 113 Cooperative Research Centres Projects (CRC-Ps) operated across Australia in a wide variety of sectors including manufacturing, mining, health care, energy, agriculture and the environment. In administering these CRC-Ps, we worked to increased industry-researcher collaboration, including through the CRC-P Round 8 with $20 million for projects that reduce plastic waste and boost plastics recycling. This directly supports Australian businesses and researchers to develop new markets and design products for recycled plastics.

Meeting our emissions reduction goals through innovation

The department continues to support the Government’s commitment to meet and beat our emissions reduction targets and other commitments under the Paris Agreement as its contribution to the global action needed on climate change. Australia is estimated to have beaten its 2020 emissions reduction target by up to 430 million tonnes and remains on track to meet the 2030 Paris Agreement target to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

We have delivered the expert panel report on examining additional sources of low cost abatement (King Review), which outlines directions for how the $2 billion Climate Solutions Fund can be deployed to leverage greater co-investment from the private sector and position our economy for ongoing emissions reductions.

The Technology Investment Roadmap discussion paper was delivered in May 2019 and provides a framework for setting economic stretch goals for priority technologies to accelerate their commercial competitiveness. The outcomes of the roadmap are informing the development of Australia’s first Low Emissions Technology Statement, which will guide the Government’s technology investment portfolio to reduce emissions.

The department has also continued to administer the Government’s climate change policies, including the Climate Active program (formerly the Carbon Neutral program), and the Renewable Energy Target and provide policy advice on the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF).

The department is also responsible for the continued delivery of Australia’s annual emissions projections and the internationally recognised National Inventory accounts. A trade system built on trust

Opening up global markets opportunities for our small and medium businesses enhances economic prosperity throughout the country. Standards and the work of conformance bodies are a crucial element in this, as they underpin the trust, assurance and integrity of goods manufactured in Australia.

The National Measurement Institute (NMI) worked on Australia’s first accredited hand sanitiser testing service and improved reliability and accuracy of coronavirus testing, in addition to delivering measurement products and client services to a wide cross-section of stakeholders across Australia.

Through continued support of the Anti-Dumping Commission, the department contributed to a strong and robust trade remedy system. The Commission initiated 134 cases in 2019–20 as part of efforts to ensure that all businesses have equal access to the Australian market. The Commission also enhanced its Trade Remedy Index enabling users to access information on the trade flows of certain products subject to anti-dumping or countervailing measures.

We have continued to support export hubs in industries where Australia has large growth potential—from food and agribusiness to energy, advanced manufacturing and mining services— to tap into new markets around the world. We successfully delivered Round 2 of the SME Export Hubs Initiative, awarding a further $4.6 million in grants to nine projects across regional Australia. These hubs have helped local businesses to export and tap into global supply chains.

Fostering staff to succeed

We have continued to focus on ensuring the highest degree of professionalism and a culture of continuous improvement. The merged functions of the department have united under our values of being collaborative, innovative, respectful and striving for excellence. We are collectively working to support economic growth and job creation for all Australians.

We work collaboratively with our stakeholders to provide well balanced and influential policy advice and high quality program management and regulatory approaches.

The new department demonstrated its commitment to Reconciliation, with one of the first acts of the new portfolio being the signing of our Statement of Reconciliation. This was signed not only on behalf of the department, but also by the heads of our portfolio agencies including CSIRO, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Australian Institute of Maritime Science and Geoscience Australia.

The new department also launched its first Accessibility Action Plan and continues to enhance and celebrate diversity through our strengthened employee networks. We recognise the importance of creating a work environment that is inclusive and safe for everybody.

As Secretary of the department, I am committed to ensuring the department is the best possible place to work.