ADJOURNMENT;Tasmanian Innovation and Investment Fund – 05 Feb 2013

I rise tonight to speak about the Tasmanian Innovation and Investment Fund. Last year I had the opportunity to visit several businesses in the Kingborough and the Huon Valley area in the south of Tasmania. I visited several businesses that were recipients of the Tasmanian Innovation and Investment Fund, or TIIF. The Australian government has provided $8.3 million in funding to establish the TIIF in recognition that Tasmania’s native forest industry is in transition and has been under increasing pressure due to a broad range of factors. This funding is supporting 28 projects from all regions in Tasmania. The TIIF provides competitive, merit based grants to businesses seeking $50,000 or more to invest in activities that create sustainable employment and diversity in Tasmania’s economy. Projects funded include those that support the introduction of innovation, new technologies and emerging industries particularly in regional Tasmania.

I would like to say at this point that when it comes to discussion about Tasmania’s economy, there seems to be a lot of focus—in the media, in politics and in other public discourse—on the forest industry. I think it is important to understand that despite the challenges in the forest industry and despite forestry being an important and significant industry for Tasmania, the issues in forestry are not representative of the overall Tasmanian economy. There are areas of the Tasmanian economy that are affected by the high Australian dollar, but my home state still has many natural advantages and many economic opportunities which local businesses are taking advantage of. These businesses are showing that with innovation and with high-quality products they can overcome the competitive pressures that a high Australian dollar presents.

Just in recent years, Tasmania’s dairy and aquaculture industries have doubled. Aquaculture has particularly thrived following the Australian government’s decision to approve the expansion of fish farming in Macquarie Harbour, a decision that has been overwhelmingly welcomed by the Tasmanian salmonid industry, and viticulture has quadrupled. There are major projects in Tasmania’s investment pipeline including the $100 million Parliament Square development and the $400 million Musselroe wind farm. Musselroe would not have gone ahead, mind you, without this government’s decisions to boost Australia’s renewable energy target and to introduce a price on carbon.

Despite the challenges in the forest industry, Tasmania is a place which, through its natural advantages, has a variety of economic opportunities. As an island state with an abundance of fresh water and quality soil, we are able to produce premium agricultural products which are regarded as clean and green. With low accommodation costs, short travel distances between destinations and an extraordinary natural beauty that is the envy of Australia, Tasmania lends itself well to interstate and international tourism.

And a new opportunity has emerged in Tasmania with the early rollout of the National Broadband Network paving the way for innovative business applications that rely on super-fast broadband. The early NBN rollout, coupled with the unique lifestyle that Tasmania offers, lends our state well to attracting new information and communications technology businesses. The great thing about the TIIF is that it capitalises on the opportunities that are already available in the Tasmanian economy. The businesses I have spoken to indicated that they were ready to invest money in their projects, but it was the TIIF that got those projects over the line. Through investing $8.3 million, this government has been able to leverage $21 million in private investment, delivering 267 ongoing jobs to regional Tasmania. I am proud of these 267 jobs being among the more than 800,000 that this government has created since coming to office.

This figure means a whole lot more when you recognise that each one of these jobs represents a major life opportunity for someone in regional Tasmania. I have had the privilege to meet these people and to meet the proprietors of the businesses that employed them. These business owners and operators are extraordinarily proud of what they do and the opportunities they are delivering to their workers. Two of these businesses are active in Tasmania’s booming seafood industry. Salmon company, Tassal, received $770,000 which they more than matched with $1.7 million of their own money to expand their processing facilities in Margate. Margate is now a suburb, but when I was young and growing up there it was just a little country town. They export most of their salmon products to the world. The expansion has created 18 local jobs. I toured their new processing facility late last year to see the plant in full operation.

The other seafood company was Huon Valley Seafoods, which received $440,000 matched with private investment of almost $900,000 to expand their seafood processing, blast freezing and packing facility. Huon Valley Seafoods have contracts to process, pack and freeze fish from other companies and, through their expansion, more fish can be processed locally in Tasmania, creating 30 new jobs in the Huonville area. I also visited Huon Valley Seafoods last year to tour the new facilities and I met with the business owners, Stephen Oates and Ambrose Coad, and spoke to them about their plans for the company.

On the same day as my visit to Huon Valley Seafoods I travelled to nearby Glen Huon and had the opportunity to meet Bodie Cavanagh and his associates who run a small company called Dovetail Timbers. In a time when the forest industry is in transition, Dovetail Timbers are doing something truly innovative—they are salvaging timber that is unsuitable for mainstream use and would otherwise be treated as waste. One of their most popular products is a garden bed that can be quickly and easily assembled. They are also producing chicken coops, log cabins, shacks, sheds and sandpits.

The timber industry, more broadly, has recognised that with the market for woodchips in decline, other value-adding proposals are needed to secure the industry’s future. Dovetail’s products are a great example of value-adding already in practice. The TIIF has given Dovetail Timbers $76,000, to which they have added $150,000 of private investment, to expand their processing facilities, adding another three jobs.

I also visited Pennicott Wilderness Journeys. Rob Pennicott and his wife have been operating a highly successful wilderness cruise business since 1999. With $506,000 from the TIIF, Mr Pennicott contributed $1.3 million of private investment to purchase a new craft to expand his Bruny Island tours, creating 14 new jobs. One of the reasons why I was particularly pleased that Mr Pennicott received a grant is that he has a strong commitment to the community. Twenty-five per cent of the profits from his business are donated to local, national and international conservation community and humanitarian projects. Just recently, and supported by the Rotary Club of D’Entrecasteaux Channel—of which I just happen to be a member—Mr Pennicott circumnavigated Australia in a 5.4-metre inflatable dinghy, raising over $250,000 for conservation and to assist Rotary International with the eradication of polio. Whilst Pennicott Wilderness Journeys has grown into a highly successful ecotourism business, creating many Tasmanian jobs, Rob Pennicott is highly regarded in the local community not only for his extraordinary business acumen but also for his genuine commitment to serving his local community.

The TIIF has also supported projects in Scottsdale, Latrobe, Invermay, Triabunna, Wynyard, and Bridgewater, amongst other locations in Tasmania, and, as I mentioned earlier, it has supported the creation of 267 jobs. These jobs have been in fields as diverse as agriculture, baking, brewing and engineering, as well as many others. All the TIIF recipients I met were not only very grateful for the support the Australian government had provided but also genuinely excited about the possibilities that their projects had created for the future of their businesses. They were also passionate about Tasmania and the products and services they were providing. It is important to note that projects funded by the TIIF are expected to create economic diversification and sustainable jobs. This has meant that projects funded by the TIIF have typically been innovative proposals in growth industries. A common feature of these projects is that they involve investment in capital and the expansion of business facilities. The requirement that projects produce sustainable jobs means that the economic benefits that flow from the fund will stretch well into the future. The jobs I mentioned are not just created for a year or two; they are expected to be maintained indefinitely.

While the TIIF was developed in response to a microeconomic challenge, it provides an excellent model for promoting innovation, jobs growth and economic diversification in regions that are affected by a downturn in a major industry. Where opportunity exists and innovative, forward-thinking businesspeople are ready to take advantage of those opportunities, sometimes all they need is a little encouragement from government to help move their ideas forward. I would like to congratulate all the recipients of the TIIF, and I thank them for their commitment to growing jobs in Tasmania.