Manufacturers’ lobby group SEMMA (South East Melbourne Manufacturers Alliance) has welcomed the Federal Government’s pledge to encourage more local procurement which it believes will provide a boost for Australian small and medium enterprises.
Industry Minister, Senator Kim Carr, said: “We should be using government procurement to support local jobs and businesses wherever we reasonably can.”
While the Minister did not advocate any form of local industry protectionism he did make clear that Australian businesses, especially small and medium enterprises, should expect a fair-go when it came to government contracts.
Speaking on behalf of SEMMA, vice president James Sturgess (also principal of Dandenong based law firm Macpherson + Kelley), said SEMMA had lobbied long and hard for more government opportunities for SME manufacturers, and was encouraged by the Minister’s speech.
He added that although there had been local industry participation policies at various levels of Government, these had been paid little more than lip service in the past.
Sturgess believed that the spectre of job losses in the current economic climate was prompting Government to be more proactive about implementing existing policies designed to encourage more local industry participation.
During his address to the Society for Australian Industry and Employment, Senator Carr said that; “There is certainly nothing to stop us ensuring that everyone has access to government contracts — including Australian firms, and including SMEs.”
SEMMA members generate about 44 per cent of Victoria’s total manufactured output, and Sturgess said SEMMA would be willing to act as a form of contract clearing house, receiving contract information from all levels of Government, and then distributing that information to ensure manufacturers were aware of all opportunities to sell to government.
“Whenever they put out a tender they need to send it to SEMMA, to make sure we know about it. If it’s for something you can pick up or hold, then our members can make it.”
The first step in ensuring that local SMEs got more of a fair go was ensuring they knew about opportunities, according to Sturgess.
Acknowledging the enduring importance of the manufacturing sector to Australia’s economy Senator Carr said the sector employed over a million Australians, generated a tenth of the nation’s GDP and in 2008 manufacturing exports topped a record $94 billion.
In 2007-08, Commonwealth agencies subject to the Financial Management and Accountability Act reported more than 69,000 contracts worth $26.3 billion were awarded, about 40 per cent of which was spent with SMEs in Australia and New Zealand.
“Given the scale and nature of the stimulus we are injecting into the Australian economy, the local share of Commonwealth contract work is likely to be even higher this year,” according to Senator Carr.
“Our increased spending on housing, construction, and infrastructure is certain to boost demand for Australian goods and Australian workers — that’s the whole point.”
Sturgess said SEMMA was hopeful that Senator Carr would drive through real change and ensure that of the “Billions of dollars spent on the stimulus packages, more of it will be spent here.”
“The national procurement policy is a good policy but it just needed someone to give it life,” said Sturgess.
“It will have a real and positive impact on jobs if delivered properly and won’t cost the government!”
He said that if government made local industry aware of the opportunities to sell to the public sector, and also took into account the total life cost of products (accounting for the cost of service, parts etc) local manufacturers would be able to compete very effectively providing better value products than their international rivals.