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Thursday, 21 June 2012
Page: 7530

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (16:35): I rise to speak in support of a local manufacturer in my electorate, United Bonded Fabrics, and its managing director, Mr Jim Liaskos. I would like to congratulate UBF on being inducted in May into the Victorian Manufacturing Hall of Fame, which celebrates elite manufacturing organisations that have demonstrated a long-term commitment to manufacturing excellence and continual innovation. UBF has been making a significant contribution to local employment and our local economy in and around Coburg for many years. Some parts of the business date back to the 1870s. UBF's head office has been located at its factory in Coburg since 1930, where there has been continuous textile manufacturing. UBF's work and products in the manufacturing sector have always been of the highest standard.

One of the issues that Mr Liaskos and I have discussed is the Australian government working to provide greater opportunities for local manufacturers to secure work with our mining, resources, infrastructure and defence sectors. Mr Liaskos would like to see strengthened ties between Australian manufacturers like UBF and projects associated with the mining sector. This will help secure the long-term future of Australian manufacturing and support Melbourne's north.

Manufacturing is a critical industry sector for Melbourne's northern region. Manufacturing's share of gross regional product in Melbourne's north has fallen from 26.5 per cent in 1998 to 16.3 per cent in 2011. However, manufacturing is still the largest regional employer, employing over 53,000 workers across the region. Latest census statistics show over 6,000 people who live in Wills are employed in manufacturing, which accounts for 10 per cent of local total employment.

The Australian government has recognised that manufacturing is undergoing challenging times, which in large part is being fuelled by the mining boom in Western Australia and Queensland and the resultant high dollar. I support the range of measures established by the Australian government to help the manufacturing sector, including the establishment of the Prime Minister's task force on manufacturing. I welcome the Australian government's $2.5 million over four years to apply the Australian Industry Participation National Framework to its own procurement and infrastructure projects. Each of these projects will now require an Australian Industry Participation Plan, setting out how those in charge will give Australian industry full, fair and reasonable opportunity to supply goods and services.

But more work needs to be done. I refer the House to the groundbreaking research report Manufacturing in Melbourne's north: Now and into the future, by NorthLink, which confirms the importance of manufacturing in the region. Some of its key recommendations include: expand Enterprise Connect so that manufacturers with a turnover of less than $2 million can participate in the program; increase regulation of cheap and inferior imports that do not meet the same quality and other regulatory requirements of local products; increase the percentage of locally made products for major infrastructure projects; provide partner funding to establish at least one new small business incubator in northern Melbourne; provide funding to expand the Greenhouse Challenge Program in northern Melbourne; and providing funding for regional co-ordination and support for manufacturing. NorthLink is an established and highly regarded business industry network for the north that can coordinate and deliver new strategies to manufacturers on behalf of government.

The second issue which United Bonded Fabrics raised with me referred to operational health and safety concerns with formaldehyde and fibreglass, and the current lack of labelling on the packaging of manufactured glass fibre thermal, acoustic insulation and filtration products in Australia—both of which are listed as carcinogenic. Mr Liaskos advised me that legislation in the USA and Canada requires that such products carry a warning on the packaging of this hazard yet in Australia there is no such warning. During the Home Insulation Program products imported from the USA had packaging modified to remove this warning. Mr Liaskos advised me that the Material Safety Data Sheet, MSDS, from fibreglass manufacturers seeks to mask the use of formaldehyde by removing the name of this material and only noting the chemical number. The standard declaration in an MSDS applicable in other countries is significantly more stringent compared with that used in Australia.

Mr Liaskos states that some overseas manufacturers have acted to move away from using formaldehyde based resins as a binding agent as a direct result of the concerns about its use. It makes sense to me that UBF's concerns in this regard should be seriously considered by the Australian government and that labelling legislation ought to be considered similar to that which applies in the USA and Canada. I look forward to working with relevant stakeholders to continue securing the future of local manufacturing. (Time expired)