Australia to offer 'incentives' in race for industry investment

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Reports suggest the federal government could offer incentives including tax breaks to attract high-value businesses and advanced manufacturing to relocate to Australia.

The Australian reported late last week the government will use incentives to target specific industries, including global companies in the biopharmaceutical sector.

Tax incentives have the advantage of minimal or even no budget impact until they are accessed - they give the appearance of policy action with no real cost.

Any incentives offered by the Australian government will need to be significant to compete with those offered by other countries and regions.

The government might also need to reverse its existing plans to cut the value of the R&D Tax Incentive and changes made in 2017 to work visa programs that made it more difficult for companies to attract global talent.

Singapore maintains multiple incentive programs, including the Pioneer Certificate Incentive and the Development and Expansion Incentive that provide for a total corporate tax exemption or a concessionary tax rate of five to ten per cent for up to five years.

Ireland offers a 12.5 per cent corporate tax rate and Puerto Rico a 100 per cent exemption from tax on income.

The US state of North Carolina maintains a range of programs, including long-term incentive that is equivalent of up to 90 per cent of a company's personal income tax withholding in return for large scale investment.

Singapore, Ireland, Puerto Rico and North Carolina have all attracted significant investment from the biopharmaceutical industry.

The Global Business and Talent Attraction Taskforce will be based in the Department of Home Affairs with support from Treasury, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Defence, Education and Skills, Industry, Science, Energy and Resources and Austrade.

The Department of Health's exclusion suggests the government is not considering changes to its reimbursement and funding programs as a mechanism to attract investment.

The taskforce will be led by Peter Verwer AO who will be known as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Global Business and Talent Attraction.

Mr Verwer is the executive chairman of Fractal IQ, a start-up think tank, and adjunct senior research fellow at the Institute of Real Estate and Urban Studies at the National University of Singapore. He is the former CEO of the Asia Pacific Real Estate Association and the Property Council of Australia.

"The Taskforce will operate as a ‘strike team’ to turbo-charge the creation of jobs by boosting our efforts to attract high value global business and exceptional talent," said population minister Alan Tudge and trade minister Simon Birmingham in a joint statement.

The ministers said the initial focus will be on three key sectors - advanced manufacturing, financial services and health.

The last major attempt to attract biopharmaceutical manufacturing to Australia was the 'Factor F' program that operated between 1988 and 1999.

It was called 'Factor F' because it was one of the nine factors considered by the now abolished Pharmaceutical Benefits Pricing Authority in setting the price of a PBS-listed medicine.

'Factor F' was "the level of activity being undertaken by the company in Australia, including new investment, production, research and development."

Companies were paid higher prices for their PBS-listed medicines in return for their investment in Australia.

The program, which was abolished more than two decades ago, is responsible for a significant proportion of Australia's current pharmaceutical export manufacturing industry with 'Factor F' facilities still maintained by AstraZeneca, GSK and CSL.