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Labor plans to cut $200m from Entrepreneurs’ Programme

Labor will cut just under $200 million from the Entrepreneurs’ Programme – about 75 per cent of the program’s funding – if it wins this weekend’s election, and will also “reprioritise” unallocated funds from the Coalition’s manufacturing grants scheme.

Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmbers and Shadow Finance Minister Katy Gallagher released Labor’s election policy costings on Thursday afternoon, revealing its commitments would cost $18.9 billion over the forward estimates.

The Opposition has identified $11.5 billion in budget savings over this same time period, leaving its policies with a $7.4 billion net hit.

Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers

The costings reveal that Labor is planning to cut $197.7 million from the Entrepreneurs’ Programme over two years from 2024-25.

This will involve $96 million in “uncommitted funding” to the program reduced in 2024-25 and $101.7 million cut in the following financial year.

The Coalition has allocated $263.6 million to the program over this time period, with Labor planning to reduce its funding by 75 per cent.

The Entrepreneurs Programme was launched in the 2014-15 budget by the Abbott government and confirmed by Malcolm Turnbull in the National Innovation and Science Agenda in the following year.

The program has four service delivery elements: business management, innovation connections, incubator support and accelerating commercialisation.

It was significantly revamped in early 2020, with $140 million in contracts handed to seven delivery partners, including consulting giant Deloitte. These contracts run until mid-2023, with an option to extend for another two years.

The procurement of these delivery partners through the Entrepreneurs’ Programme is subject to a national audit office inquiry, which is set to report back in the next two weeks.

Former Minerals Council chief Mitchell Hooke was appointed to the scheme’s advisory committee earlier this month, joining three other new members to the seven-person group.

The committee provides merit assessments and rankings of referred applicants for the Accelerating Commercialisation program, and conducts assessments and gives advice on applications for the Business Research and Innovation Initiative.

It’s not the first time Labor has signalled its plan to cut the Entrepreneurs Programme, with its 2019 election costings revealing a plan to redirect $309 million from it and the Industry Growth Centres.

The 2022 election costings also confirm that Labor will “reprioritise” unallocated funding from the Coalition’s flagship industry recovery policy, the Modern Manufacturing Initiative (MMI).

Through the MMI, the government provides grants to Australian manufacturers across three streams, and has announced a slew of grants throughout the election campaign.

Labor has placed its own $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund in direct contrast to the MMI, and would redirect $75.3 million in the next two years from the MMI, equating to more than $150 million in total.

While the MMI involves grants for companies with the Prime Minister having the final sign off, Labor’s Reconstruction Fund will be modelled on the Clean Energy Finance Corporation with an independent board, and will offer grants, equity and loans.