Recently, the Sydney Morning Herald led with the provocative headline – ‘Manufacturing proves the political issue that unites Australians!’ and posed the question, ‘what do Donald Trump, Nick Xenophon, Pauline Hanson and 83 per cent of Australians have in common?’ It provided the answer – ‘they want to make more stuff locally’.
Surely what humbug, as exhibited by Australian punters when it comes to domestic auto manufacturing. If Australians were so committed to buying ‘Australian made’, they should have been purchasing in recent years the high-quality offerings of the then four domestic car manufacturers instead of engaging in their obsession with imports from Europe, the USA and Japan. Whenever anyone talks about their passion for Australian manufacturing, ask them whether they own an Australian made car. The clear majority don’t, of course. It’s interesting to note however, that in other countries e.g. South Korea, Japan, Germany, France, and the USA, loyalty to the home brands remain strong! 2017 will surely be remembered as the year in which the vast bulk of Australian auto manufacturing was laid to rest! Yes, Ford Australia has announced it will retain its design functions and GMH will move into the business of low-volume, high-performance cars – the latter principally for the export market. But Toyota Australia will close its advanced manufacturing plant in October this year.
We have also seen the rapid demise of Australia’s once substantive white goods, electrical manufacturing industry. Domestic manufacturing under the household names such as Electrolux (owners of heritage brands such as Westinghouse and Simpson) and Fisher and Paykel has now disappeared, replaced by instead by Asian imports and upmarket brands largely dominated by expensive European suppliers. It seems that Australians prefer to see their kitchens (and garages) occupied by expensive imports rather than reliable and good quality Australian manufactures.
The political decision to deliberately hasten the demise of the Australian advanced manufacturing automotive industry may well be a move that will not serve to ‘Make Australia Great’ at all! It seems that the new US administration is strongly committed to the political rhetoric of ‘Made in the USA’. Of particular interest, Andrew Liveris, chairman and chief executive of Dow Chemical, has been selected to head the American Manufacturing Council. Ironically, Mr Liveris (an Australian) is remembered as the industry leader in Australia who in recent years was most vocal in championing manufacturing ‘down under’.
However, I’m not quite convinced that Australians really do share the same desire for home grown manufacturing. Whilst nice to believe, in reality so far at least, there is no substantive political support from the electorate to compel governments to reverse the downward trend of GDP share derived from manufacturing related activity (currently around 5%).
What Australia needs as a matter of urgency is a champion at the highest level of the Australian Government working closely with industry to lead the charge on a clear future for advanced (i.e. ‘high value add’) manufacturing in Australia.
Angus M Robinson is Managing Director of Leisure Solutions®, Co-Moderator of Manufacturing on the Move, and Secretary of Reinvent Australia. firstname.lastname@example.org