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Thursday, 16 August 2012
Page: 5567


Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (14:48): My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Evans. Minister, my question relates to the effectiveness of Australia's economic and industry policies to support our manufacturing industries. In light of reports in this week's Financial Review that the Australian manufacturing industry has shed 125,000 jobs over the last four years, the de-industrialisation of Australia we were previously warned about by US economist and strategist Edward Luttwak on ABC's Lateline on 7 September 2010 appears to be coming to pass. Can the minister advise of the specific manufacturing, trade and economic policies the federal government has adopted to protect ourselves from de-industrialisation, in line with Mr Luttwak's advice that we disenthrall ourselves of 19th century free trade theory that does not work?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:49): I thank Senator Madigan for his question and acknowledge he is deeply interested in the manufacturing issues in this country. While he is right to point to the very serious loss of jobs across the manufacturing sector, it is important to remember, though, that the sector still employs one million Australians. It is still a very important part of our economy and is very important to many families in this country. While some jobs are being lost, there are also areas of growth, but it is the case that manufacturing is facing some very difficult times. That is why the Labor government is investing in the industry to support jobs, to retain skills and to maintain a strong economy.

We are conscious that manufacturers are doing it tough, with the high Australian dollar and competition from imports. But, in the end, innovation and productivity are the keys for our manufacturers to remain sustainable and internationally competitive and make the move to a low-carbon economy. We have a range of policies to drive innovation and productivity, many in my own sector of education and skills, to help the manufacturing sector and to support the jobs it creates. I think it is very important—and this is a focus for this government—to ensure that Australian manufacturers have access to major projects and the global supply chain opportunities. I know that a big issue for people has been about how they get access to those global supply chain opportunities.

I would point out that the Clean Energy Future package is one of the most important industry and innovation policies this nation has ever seen. Over $15 billion will be invested in creating the jobs of tomorrow—many, notably, in manufacturing. In addition, there are a range of government programs that look to support innovation and growth in our manufacturing sector. (Time expired)

Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (14:51): Mr President, I have a supplementary question. Can the minister advise of the strategies being employed by the federal government to support Australian manufacturers in light of the industry subsidisation and currency devaluation China uses to support its domestic manufacturers and China's rapid industrialisation?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:51): I think that the answer in terms of the big picture is to say that Australia will only be competitive if we have a higher skilled, higher educated workforce and are innovative and have high productivity. We are in more competitive times. We are disadvantaged in some ways by the strength of the Australian dollar. That is why there is a range of government programs like Commercialisation Australia, the R&D tax incentive, the work of the cooperative research centres, the CSIRO, all of those things to try to build manufacturing.

In my own portfolio we have got the National Workforce Development Fund and I have been to manufacturers who are using that fund. For example, there is L&M Radiator in Perth, selling now to Eastern Europe, and WH Williams in Sydney, a metal manufacturing company who are growing their market as they get more innovative and get more out of their workforce. There are also some really great stories about companies adapting and being smarter. (Time expired)

Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (14:52): I have a further supplementary question, Mr President. Can the minister advise, if Australia's economic and industry policies are working so well, why 125,000 jobs have been shed from Australia's manufacturing sector over the last four years?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:53): I think that it is also the case, Senator, that there were tens of thousands of people employed as typists and blacksmiths in the old days and those positions are no longer in our workforce. The reality is that the economy changes. Jobs grow in some sectors and are made redundant in others by technology or other factors. But it is a serious concern because manufacturing is so central to economic wellbeing. That is why the Prime Minister created the Manufacturing Task Force, to see in a bipartisan way with unions and employers how we could protect and grow the sector. They handed down their report this morning and I refer the senator to that report. It is a report that attempts to look at the future of manufacturing and how we can set out our plans for supporting it, and I think it will be an important basis for future government policy as we respond to this very important report.