A warning has been fired to Australia’s manufacturing industry despite a bump in job numbers over the past financial year.
Around 40,000 new manufacturing jobs – recorded by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) – were presented in a recently published paper at the Manufacturing Matters conference held at Parliament House, in Canberra, on Wednesday.
Co-authored by Jim Stanford and Tom Swann at the Centre for Future Work and the Australia Institute, the paper Manufacturing: a moment of opportunity offers promise of a brighter future for the industry in Australia.
However, despite many reasons for optimism being expressed throughout the event, there were also calls for caution.
Speaking at the conference, South Australia senator Nick Xenophon was very welcoming of a jobs spike but rallied for a sense of perspective.
“There is something seriously wrong where in a country such as Australia – one of the most advanced, developed nations in the world – our manufacturing sector has shrunk from 12 per cent a decade ago to just over six per cent,” Xenophon said.
“The fact that employment, according to the paper, has increased in the past year and that manufacturing exports and profits are on the rise is very welcoming. But I am cautious that we should consider these a trend.
“We need to be wary because ABS are not forecasting figures and are not looking at the pending job losses in the automotive sector and all of the follow-on effects of that, for which we are ill-prepared as a nation.”
The paper reviews the qualitative features as to why manufacturing is a “strategically important sector” and argues that the industry should be an “active target for policy” within Australian leadership.
Between speeches and Q&As, senators Arthur Sinodinos and Kim Carr – Australia’s industry and shadow industry ministers respectively – were invited to join the conversation.
“Let’s look at the record,” Sinodinos said. “The manufacturing industry survived the resources boom. Yes, there was job shedding and there were issues but it has survived and is still here today.
“In the last 12 months, employment has grown and the report you are putting out here is illustrating the way the sector is growing and that there are some really good prospects ahead.
“What that tells me is that the sector is resilient. It tells me that the sector sees a future and that, in the government, our role is to back the sector in doing it.”