What the Federal budget means for the process control and automation industries

Critics have dubbed the 2011-12 Federal budget "tough as tofu" but at first reading, it does have a few elements that should bring a little cheer to Australia’s process control and automation industries. Some initiatives are long term; others are long overdue and a few are tentative steps in the right direction.

However, by curtailing spending on a host of clean energy initiatives, the message is clear: Why bother investing in these technologies when the returns are five or ten years away? [The not-for-profit group Beyond Zero Emissions disagrees and believes Australia can reach 100 per cent renewable energy within a decade, using technology that is commercially available right now.]

Some sectors welcomed the budget. "The Federal Budget support for major infrastructure projects and its focus on skills and training is a positive response to the challenges facing the Australian infrastructure sector," said Jim Barrett, Executive Director of the Australian Constructors Association (ACA).

Budget highlights:

  • $101 million national mentoring program to help aprentices finish training.
  • $360 million National Workforce Development fund to deliver 130,000 training places
  • $40.2 million over four years to support Australia’s bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA)
  • $34.4 million "Buy Australian at Home and Abroad" initiative to assist Australian suppliers benefiting from major resources projects
  • $21 million "Inspiring Australia" program will help bring science to every Australian

Buy Australian at Home and Abroad

Australian suppliers will have some chance of benefiting from the nation’s major resources projects, through the $34.4 million ‘Buy Australian at Home and Abroad’ initiative. Major resources projects provide opportunities for Australian suppliers.

Unfortunately, some suppliers are missing out because of established global vendor lists and the trend towards pre assembled modules. This funding seeks to maximise the returns from the mining boom by more effectively linking Australian suppliers to Australian projects.

This new initiative will help Australian suppliers identify the opportunities. New Enterprise Connect Business Advisers will work directly with small companies to help them grow as suppliers to the resources sector. They will partner with new industry Supplier Advocates to embed Australian business in the resources sector supply chains.

The Government will also help buyers understand the strength of the local manufacturing and service sectors. Through the Industry Capability Network (ICN), specialist advisers will work with the procurement teams of major projects like the Woodside Browse LNG development in Western Australia, the INPEX Ichthys project in Northern Territory, and LNG projects in Queensland.

Increased funding of $1 million per annum will expand ICN’s reach. To coordinate these activities, the Federal Government will establish a Resources Sector Supplier Advisory Forum and appoint a Resources Sector Supplier Envoy in consultation with the Minister for Resources and Energy.

The Forum will include representatives from major resources companies, unions, manufacturers and resources technology services firms. The Envoy’s role will be to champion Australian industry participation in the resources sector.

SKA gets a boost

The Federal Government will provide $40.2 million over four years to support Australia’s bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), in partnership with New Zealand.

The SKA will be the largest and most advanced radio telescope ever constructed with thousands of antennas, spread out across a continent and connected by a fibre-optic network, with the data it generates processed by a supercomputer.

A decision on the final site expected early in 2012. This funding will assist Australia’s bid and support pre-construction design and development work if the bid is successful.

Education and training gets a small boost

Australians will be encouraged to study and excel in science and research through a new "Inspiring Australia" program in the 2011-12 Budget.

The $21 million Inspiring Australia program will help bring science to every Australian, regardless of geography, ethnicity, age or social condition.

It will put more young people on the path to science careers; celebrate Australia’s great strengths in science; and help people understand what science can do to improve their lives.

A new national hub for science and technology communications will help the friends of Australian research channel their resources to best effect.

It will coordinate the efforts of Australia’s research agencies, media outlets, universities, academies, professional bodies, the business sector, state-based science centres and museums and community-based organisations ($2.4 million over three years).

This new program is part of the estimated $9.4 billion dollars the Government is investing in Australian science, research and innovation in the 2011-12 financial year alone.

Funds for skills development

To help skill our workforce, the budget includes:
• $558 million in a new National Workforce Development Fund – partnering with industry to deliver more training outcomes designed to meet the needs of a growing economy
• An estimated 130,000 industry-focused training places
• $100 million to support new approaches to training to ensure skilled apprentices can gain their qualifications sooner
• $101 million for mentoring to support apprentices and trainees through to completion of their training, including funding to provide advice to prospective apprentices on the right trade for them Vocational education and training (VET) to meet the longer-term needs of the economy
• Additional investment of $1.75 billion over five years from 2012-13 under a new National Partnership with the states and territories, conditional on more ambitious reforms to make the VET system more transparent and productive

[Images courtesy Federal Budget documents: www.budget.gov.au]