Industry Minister, Senator Kim Carr, has only been in the seat couple of months, but already it’s clear Australia’s manufacturing industry will no longer be left to “market forces”.
WHICHEVER side of the political fence you sit, one thing’s for sure; you cannot ignore Senator Kim Carr’s passion for his new portfolio.
As the new industry minister, Carr brings an understanding and enthusiasm to the role that has been somewhat lacking in recent years.
Whether it’s all pollie talk, time will be the judge, but chatting to Carr last month I remain optimistic he has the industry at heart.
When we spoke he was preparing to announce a co-ordinated number of reviews into national innovation policies, the vehicle sector and the TCF industries, as well as a review of the CRC (Co-operative Research Centres).
To be based on Carr’s 10-point innovation framework, announced last April, the national innovation system is designed to replace the nearly 170 industry programs running at present, with a special emphasis on R&D.
In fact he is planning to double Australia’s present effort in terms of R&D across the public and private sectors. Carr is urging all manufacturers to get involved in the process, to make a contribution and to engage with government.
While no details were available as MM went to press, Carr did say the reviews will be conducted by a “high level panel” from universities, public research agencies and manufacturers, plus I imagine unions. Via public submissions, they will gather evidence as to the strength and weaknesses of the National Innovation System and an issues paper will be developed to encourage broad public debate.
Carr did say that this will be a well-resourced review and he will aim to produce a green paper by the middle of the year with a government white paper response by the end of the year, “feeding into the four budget processes”.
However, while Carr is seen by most as a practical man, with practical solutions, not everyone appears happy with him in Canberra.
It is clear, a hostile group of economic rationalists have the Senator in their sights. These Neanderthals fail to acknowledge that manufacturing makes massive contribution to our national economic prosperity and to our society at large.
They fail to acknowledge that one in 10 workers (one million, with 87% full time) is employed in manufacturing, and they contribute to nearly a quarter of our exports.
They argue that public sector involvement should be something for other governments to do. There seems to be a blinding ignorance of the role that other governments play in manufacturing in their countries.
They seems to ignore the fact that, particularly with the automotive industry, governments play a very significant role right around the world and the reason they do that is because the automotive sector is strategically so vital.
However, Carr emphasised that the upcoming review of the automotive industry is more than a discussion on whether tariffs should be 10 or 5%.
“That’s just to trivialise the issue.” Tariffs are just one of a number of issues the panel will examine, including the very successful, but somewhat dated, ACIS (Automotive Competitiveness and Investment Scheme).
Describing the issues as “complex”, Carr said these enquiries will go beyond the tariff issues, and will examine a whole range of challenges facing manufacturing including training, export development, market access, the value of our dollar, access to resources, greenhouse and sustainability issues, and logistics.
When it comes to a “Buy Australian” policy and government procurement, Carr says it’s all still on the agenda.
He believes we should be able to have the policy within the terms of our international obligations, “and act as other countries do”, pointing out that the laws don’t preclude American manufactures getting assistance from their government.
Carr say Australia needs to get smart in our international trade dealings and has flagged the broader question of market access.
He is hopeful that within a few years up to 50% of locally made cars will be exported.
He says Australia’s manufacturing sector has a vibrant future if we play and act smart. Carr admits manufacturers are facing enormous international pressures, “but as a society we cannot afford to see the manufacturing industry on its knees”.
He understands we do have the talent in this country, the intellect and the skills-base to be a highly innovative culture and is optimistic he can deliver on his commitments made before the election.
I guess only time will tell.
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