They have traded political blows over the best course for Australia’s industrial future – a topic that has been endlessly scrutinised in the media sphere while bodies on the factory floors continue to weather winds of change.
Now, three of parliament’s major power players for Australian industry and innovation will come face to face at a conference specially prepared to discuss what’s to become of the country’s manufacturers.
Senators including Minister for Industry Arthur Sinodinos, Shadow Minister for Industry Kim Carr, and Nick Xenophon, leader of the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT), have all agreed to attend the first National Manufacturing Summit in Canberra next month.
At Parliament House on June 21, the Centre for Future Work and the Australia Institute have arranged an event it is hoped will offer a fresh way of thinking following a blight of “negative news” over industry downsizing, redundancies and factory closures.
Jim Stanford, an economist originally from Canada and now director of the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute, is the brainchild for the summit, which he believes will demonstrate a unique take on the current state of Australia’s manufacturing industry.
“I think Australians have heard too much doom and gloom about the supposed ‘death of manufacturing’,” Stanford told Manufacturers’ Monthly. “While I am relatively new to Australia, I am shocked at just how many times they hear that Australia no longer needs manufacturing jobs.
“Manufacturing is still very important despite the downsizing of the industry workforce in Australia. While it has been painful, it still employs close to a million people and is a key source of strength for our export industries.
“As an economist, I would argue that you cannot have a successful innovation strategy without a strong manufacturing sector and, if you look at the aggregate numbers, employment in manufacturing is seeing an upward trend of around 40,000 jobs created year on year.
“This presents both an economic and political opportunity, which is why we wanted to put a panel of people together to talk about how we can make sure huge investment translates into Australian jobs and an Australian supply chain.
“As the shine has worn off the mining boom and people are understanding that you need more than extraction to build the whole economy, there is a gut feeling that manufacturing will continue to have a strategic importance.”
In addition to those from the political arena, the event will also bring together representatives from other sectors including education, finance, trade unions and up to seven manufacturing executives to debate industry policy and opportunities for procurement on Australian shores.
Other speakers include Laura Tingle, political editor for the Australian Financial Review; Roy Green, Dean of Business at the University of Technology Sydney; and Jens Goennemann, managing director for the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre.
“Our position as the Centre for Future Work, in partnership with the Australian Institute, gives us a unique opportunity to get everyone in the same room at the same time,” Stanford continued.
“This hasn’t happened in Australia for at least 30 years and, while they would have had round tables discussing active policy for manufacturing in the past, in recent history everyone has been preoccupied with their own issues and agendas, which is why some of those processes have been lost.
“It is certainly true that the government cannot snap its fingers and expect something to change in manufacturing – but I think it can influence the context in which private firms make their decisions, for better or for worse.
“In Australia’s case, policy has unduly ignored manufacturing for too many years on the assumption that we don’t need it – an assumption which is wrong.
“This is a chance to put manufacturing back on, not only the economic map, but also the political agenda.”
The event will be held at the Main Committee Room, Australian Parliament House, Canberra, on Wednesday June 21, from 10am to 4.30pm ahead of an evening reception from 6pm to 8pm.
Tickets cost $250 for early-bird registration until May 15.
Visit http://manufacturingmatters.org.au/ to register.
Co-sponsors of the event include:
Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, the Australian Steel Institute, Australian Super, the Australian Workers’ Union, Manufacturers’ Monthly, United Voice, the UTS Business School, and the Welding Technology Institute of Australia.