Opinion: Investment in local manufacturing is an imperative

Published in the Daily Telegraph, 12 April 2024

There is something going wrong with manufacturing in this country when you can’t even buy Aussie Made flag products for Australia Day because they are made in China. That another country is producing our flag and selling it back to us, is completely at odds with the sovereign manufacturing capability we were focused on during COVID. This was when the entire country realised we were too reliant on foreign imports and international supply chains.

Today, the Albanese Labor Government should be backing in Australian manufacturers when international trade deals are made, and also when it comes to government procurement – at all levels. Not even having a choice to purchase an Aussie Made flag product in a shop shows this is far from happening.  

What is going on with manufacturing in Australia right now? In just the past six months, 1650 manufacturing and construction businesses across the nation filed for insolvency. When I step onto a factory floor with a manufacturer, the first thing they tell me is that high energy prices are destroying their business and their entire industry. We have seen some of the highest electricity prices in the world with business energy bills increased by up to 20% in July 2023.

It didn’t have to be this way. The Australian Industry Group's Performance of Manufacturing Index data shows business conditions for economic performance had consistent strong growth (+40 to +50 index range) for 15 consecutive months the July 2019 to November 2022 period, including during the economic disruption of COVID-19. Growth has since plummeted on the back of the Albanese Labor Government’s October 2022 Budget, with a stark contraction (between -12.8 to -25.6 index range) from November 2022 to December 2023.

Why isn’t more being done to support Australian advanced manufacturing in ensuring it remains sustainable? We have this very opportunity in Western Sydney with the International Airport’s Aerotropolis.

The Aerotropolis industrial hub is a unique opportunity to create tens of thousands of Western Sydney jobs in Aussie-made businesses, and expand into prospective international freight markets. There’s also meant to be an advanced manufacturing research facility for innovation and biomedical technologies planned to call the Aerotropolis home. We stand on the frontier of an international economic success story in Western Sydney, bringing our high-quality Aussie-made products to the world.

That was the plan, but today the 11,200 hectare industrial zone surrounding Western Sydney International Airport remains largely undeveloped, and the potential unrealised. Every day reports are emerging on the stagnating progress of the project, and the area’s master plan could still be months away from public consultation. A December community update from the department overseeing the Aerotropolis precinct development, the Western Parkland City Authority, stated that only initial construction has started on the First Building – which will host a visitor centre, industry hub and manufacturing research facility.

It is reported that only five state-significant major developments, mostly business parks, have been approved for the Aerotropolis, and concerns have been raised about a failure to co-ordinate the delivery of roads and water infrastructure.

Not only is Labor failing our region with a go-slow on the Aerotropolis, but the Albanese Government also ripped out hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for vital road infrastructure projects to support Western Sydney International Airport and the Aerotropolis industrial precinct. These include axing funding for the Western City Road Transport Network Development and the M7-M12 Interchange widening projects. It’s a nonsensical decision showing the Albanese Government doesn’t have a plan for sustainable growth in Western Sydney, or they just don’t care.

Anthony Albanese took Labor’s $15bn National Reconstruction Fund to the election with a raft of local manufacturing pledges in key regional seats to reclaim blue collar voters. Now it is these very people who will be doing it tough under the looming threat of job losses. Businesses are buckling under increased production costs in Australia, some opting to move their operations offshore and others sadly forced into administration. December 2023 labour force figures paint a grim picture of 65,000 Australian jobs lost. With not one dollar allocated from Albanese’s National Reconstruction Fund, manufacturers continue to encounter significant hurdles in producing Australian-made goods and keeping their business going.

The current state of manufacturing in this country should concern everyone - it’s about Australian jobs, our economic stability and sovereign security which is paramount in such uncertain times globally. Haven’t we learnt from the dark days of Covid when shelves ran bare and essential products were tied up in international supply chains?

At the very least, buying an Aussie Made flag product in a shop should be something Australians take for granted, not something we have to fight for. It is our nation’s flag, there is nothing more sovereign than that.

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