Peter Mitchell, AAP US Correspondent
(Australian Associated Press)

Australian business titans Anthony Pratt and Andrew Liveris have named food manufacturing as a key to the nation’s future in a post COVID-19 world.

Mr Pratt and Mr Liveris joined Tesla chair Robyn Denholm, former NASA astronaut Pamela Melroy and Australian Ambassador to the US, Arthur Sinodinos, for a global ‘digital town hall’ on Tuesday.

Creating infrastructure to bring water from Australia’s north to northern Victoria for agriculture and drought relief, a “Five Eyes” defence free trade area and investing in space and rare earths were also floated by members of the group.

“We should focus our exports on what we do well, like food, and import things that we will never be competitive on,” Mr Pratt, executive chairman of Visy Industries, told the town hall event, organised by and the Australian Embassy in Washington DC.

Mr. Pratt said a food and other manufacturing led recovery would be “turbocharged” if Australia: improved water infrastructure; accelerated depreciation for manufacturing investment; brought down power prices through an “all of the above” energy policy involving renewables, gas, coal, and nuclear; increased superannuation fund lending to corporate Australia for investment and jobs; and embraced free trade agreements.

Mr. Pratt used wheat as an example.

He said wheat sells for $100 a tonne.

If it is turned into flour its sells for $500 a tonne and if it is made into bread it is worth $5,000 a tonne.

“All of which means jobs, jobs, jobs,” he said.

Mr. Liveris, the former head of Dow Chemical and a member of federal and Northern Territory government post COVID-19 recovery commissions, agreed saying Australia should focus on “five or six or seven sectors that we are already good at”.

“What does the world need that is not happening right now, that we can be a part of and space is a great example of that and rare earths is another,” Mr. Liveris said.

Mr. Sinodinos flagged a potential free trade defence pact between Five Eyes members Australia, the US, New Zealand, Canada and the UK.

“The aspiration would be to create, if possible among the Five Eyes, a defence free trade area,” Mr. Sinodinos said.

The ambassador noted the US was reaching out to trusted partners like Australia, creating new opportunities for Australian companies in science, innovation and the defence industry.

“We want to become more embedded in the national technology base,” Mr. Sinodinos said.