Ministers for the Department of Industry and Science
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An action plan for Australia's future

14 October 2014

Joint media release with the Hon. Tony Abbott MP, Prime Minister

The Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda is a central part of the Government’s Economic Action Strategy to build a strong, prosperous economy for a safe, secure Australia.

Strengthening Australia’s competitiveness is the key to future prosperity.

Australia has experienced 23 years of economic growth. However, success should not be an excuse for complacency.

Commodity prices have fallen from their peak in 2011, Government finances have deteriorated significantly since 2008, our population is ageing and multifactor productivity growth has been flat for a decade.

The Government is acting to strengthen the Australian economy. We’ve already scrapped the carbon and mining taxes; cut over 10,000 pieces of unnecessary legislation and regulations; commenced the largest infrastructure construction programme in Australian history and signed free trade agreements with Japan and Korea.

Job creation, growth and competitiveness need constant attention.

This Agenda is an important step along the path of economic reform. Its guiding principle is to focus on Australia’s strengths and not prop up poor performers.

The Agenda sets out four ambitions that Australia must pursue to ensure job creation and higher living standards:

1. A lower cost, business friendly environment with less regulation, lower taxes and more competitive markets;

2. A more skilled labour force;

3. Better economic infrastructure; and

4. Industry policy that fosters innovation and entrepreneurship.

Six initiatives to boost our Australian competitiveness will be implemented over the next 18 months.

Encouraging employee share ownership

The Government will change the taxation treatment of Employee Share Schemes to encourage start-ups to attract and retain employees and commercialise good ideas in Australia. The Government will also reverse for all companies the changes made in 2009 to the taxing point for options.

Reforming the vocational education and training sector

The Government will implement reforms to Australia’s Vocational Education and Training (VET) system to give young Australians the best opportunity to get a job.

From 1 July 2015, the Commonwealth Government will invest $200 million each year to establish the new Australian Apprenticeship Support Network to lift apprenticeship completion rates and provide employers with the skilled and productive employees they need to grow their business.

The Government will also trial two innovative training programmes to provide employment pathways for young people.

  •  The Government will invest $38 million to provide 7,500 scholarships in specific regional areas where youth unemployment is high, through the Training for Employment Scholarships; and
  •  The new Youth Employment Pathway will support community programmes for 3000 disengaged 15-18 year olds in regional areas.

The Australian Government and other COAG members have also highlighted a number of priority actions to achieve a modern and responsive national regulatory system for the VET sector.

Promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills in schools

The Government will implement new measures to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills in Australian schools, including through developing a ‘Mathematics by inquiry’ programme for primary and secondary schools and providing seed funding for an innovation- focused ‘P-TECH’ pilot programme.

Accepting international standards and risk assessments for certain product approvals

Building on our deregulation agenda, the Government will adopt a new principle that Australian regulators should not impose additional requirements beyond those already applied under trusted international regulation, unless it can be demonstrated there is good reason to do so. The Government will review existing regulation against this principle.

Enhancing the 457 and investor visa programmes

The Government will reform the 457 visa programme for skilled migrants, while improving programme integrity to ensure that sponsored workers on 457 visas are a supplement to, and not a substitute for, the local workforce.

Consistent with the recommendations of an Independent Integrity Review, the Government will reform sponsorship requirements; streamline arrangements for existing approved sponsors; reform English language requirements and move to a risk-based approach for compliance and monitoring.

Safeguards will remain in place to ensure that the 457 visa programme is not rorted. It will continue to be a requirement that a foreign worker receives the same market rates and conditions that are paid to an Australian doing the same job in the same workplace.

The Government will also improve the Significant Investor Visa programme by involving Austrade in the process of determining eligible complying investments, aligning qualifying investments with Australia’s five investment priorities and introducing a premium stream for people investing more than $15 million.

Establishing Industry Growth Centres

The Government will provide $188.5 million to fund Industry Growth Centres in five key sectors:

  •  food and agribusiness;
  •  mining equipment, technology and services;
  •  oil, gas and energy resources;
  •  medical technologies and pharmaceuticals; and
  •  advanced manufacturing sectors.

These industry-led Centres will foster better use by industry of Australia’s world class researchers so that the community sees stronger commercial returns from the $9.2 billion annual Commonwealth investment in research.

The competitiveness challenge is an ongoing one, and further reforms to promote the Agenda’s ambitions will be developed over the longer term. The Government will host a series of roundtables around Australia over coming months to consult the business community, industry associations and peak bodies, as well as academia, on the policy directions outlined in the Competitiveness Agenda.

These sessions will be chaired by ministers and co-chaired by business leaders, including the heads of the Business Council of Australia, ACCI and Infrastructure Partnerships Australia.

The Competitiveness Agenda Report and Fact Sheets are available at www.industry.gov.au/growthcentres.

Media contact: Mr Macfarlane's office 02 6277 7070