29. Oct, 2013

Close the Fridge Door for Christmas

The seasonal blackmail offered up by General Motors Holden and the South Australian Government indicates that it must be getting close to Christmas.

 

Premier Weatherill’s wailing imprecations to the Federal Government to pour yet more money into the smoking sump of Australia’s car industry is indicative of thirty years of Australian failure in addressing the question of this country’s manufacturing industry.

 

The closure of the Electrolux plant in Orange, once an exemplar for Australian manufacturing, is further proof of manufacturing jobs and expertise being sent offshore – a nice euphemism for Asia.

 

Despite a number of political and economic inquiries, Australia’s manufacturing base has shrunk to miniscule levels. In real terms this means a net loss of jobs and skills to the country.  Evidence the closure of Electrolux – 500 jobs lost. This represents a significant negative to our technical knowledge and skills base. Consequent to this, and of equal and immediate significance, will be the accelerated decrease in the depth of the Australian manufacturing economy. It is not too far-fetched to imagine the day when this country will be unable to sustain any but the most rudimentary manufacture.

 

Not so long ago pundits were hailing the new sunrise industries that were going to be the saviour of Australia. Daylight has now long exposed much of this fanciful nonsense. Other pundits claimed that the tourist, or servant, industry would rise to economic prominence. In reality this sector is not only unpredictable and seasonal it also requires huge and frequent injections of taxpayer’s money to provide infrastructure and promotion. It might also be added that, if the eastern seaboard can be taken as an example, this hedonistic ‘industry’ has had a dubious effect on the social and natural environment.   

 

Returning to reality, people need to work in a meaningful way to create national wealth – whether it is in agriculture and resources, traditional manufacturing, high-tech, IT or service industries. A sound economy is surely a diverse economy based on industrial sectors that complement each other.

 

To this end, it behoves academia, industry, government, the unions and the public sector to stop talking about the matter and come up with a coordinated plan for our economy which includes inter alia a sustainable manufacturing base.

 

Industry and the various federal governments of the day have promoted a number of ineffectual ‘Buy Australian’ campaigns that have failed to deliver real hip-pocket change. Despite patriotic rhetoric people act in their own financial interests.

 

In this context it is often said that Australian manufacturing lacks a critical mass of potential buyers thus rendering it unprofitable.  If indeed this is the case, a good start would be for all three layers of Australian government to put into practice what they preach and buy Australian. If, for example, the motor vehicle fleets of local government, state government and federal government were chosen exclusively from Australian manufactured vehicles – with obvious exceptions where absolutely necessary – then Australian made cars would have a future.

 

If every government department bought Electrolux fridges and kettles, our white goods industry might be sustainable. And so forth and so on.

 

Doubtless Australia has voluntarily tied its hands through various trade agreements precluding such obvious and practical support for local industry. In the not so fine print of such agreements the foregoing would be construed as unfair practice and an impediment to fair trade. Bollocks. Try telling that to the European neo-Zollverein or the sometime-command economies of Asia.

 

So concerned are we about our vital primary industry exports that we are happy to prostitute ourselves in the market place to our disadvantage. We need to remind ourselves that the world needs food. That, to some measure, we can supply in guaranteed abundance. The world needs mineral resources. That we can supply in guaranteed abundance. Who has the whip hand?

 

Some measure of practical support for our manufacturing sector by our public sector would give teeth to the idea of ‘Buying Australian’. It would showcase our manufacturing industry thereby encouraging the community to follow suit.

 

You can bet your life that the government car park outside Malaysia’s Ministry of Trade will be packed with Protons.

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