House debates

Thursday, 25 February 2021


Manufacturing Industry

4:55 pm

Photo of John AlexanderJohn Alexander (Bennelong, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In this country we're famous for digging stuff up. We used to dig up gold, then we dug up coal, then iron ore, and now we dig up everything from lithium to dinosaur fossils. Digging up things and selling them overseas has made us rich, it made us the only member of the OECD that didn't go into recession in the global financial crisis and, significantly, it is one of the only things maintaining our relationship with China. Mining has made us rich quick. And when the colonies were finding their feet a few centuries ago, we famously rode to economic prosperity through wool exports, whale products and other primary resources. We're really good at digging, harvesting, producing and sending it overseas to make it into something useful. But isn't it time we matured and applied our intelligence to expand our secondary manufacturing capabilities?

Let me be clear: I'm not seeking unfettered building of factories or protectionist policies to make them viable. I recognise our high wages, which make our quality of life so high, also leave us very disadvantaged when attracting manufacturing in Australia. The car industry showed us how not to do it. Manufacturing right-hand drive cars in a country with a small population and surrounded by left-hand drive countries was never going to make it long term. And reliance on government subsidies simply isn't viable. We need to work smarter, pick our battles and work within the industries where we already possess a competitive edge.

It is not an outrageous idea, and we've done it to huge success already. Who would have thought just 15 years ago that we would have a homegrown whisky industry? From a standing start, we took some of the grain that we had been sending overseas for years, sent it to some talented distillers and now we are winning awards internationally and driving huge numbers of tourists to new parts of Tasmania and the regions. Wine is another example—an industry that, a few decades ago, was done as a local hobby in a world dominated by European wines is now a multibillion-dollar industry that employs thousands of Australians and is one of our biggest and best exports. When we want to add value to our raw materials, we do it really well.

To go back to the example of wool, our wool is the best in the world—perhaps second only to our friends across the ditch. We send it to South-East Asia to make into cheap textiles, and that's fair enough. We also send it to Italy to make the world's best suits at a huge mark-up, which we buy back at exorbitant prices. What would it take to get that industry to Australia, where we could benefit from the high-end production? We have proven that we can drive local manufacturing when we need to, and when it's in our security interests. We build submarines in Adelaide because it is in the interest to build them locally. Other Defence contracts are locally led for the same obvious reason. But sovereign security is not only Defence spending. It's also economic, trade, health, food and water security.

This government is expanding this need by focusing on driving medical production in Australia. This makes sense on a few fronts. Firstly, self-evidently, in 2021 there is a competitive edge for any country that can design and manufacture their own vaccines, but, also, it's exactly the sort of high-tech STEM-based manufacturing job that we really can do well. We have great universities, great hospitals and well-regulated public health networks. We have the experience and capacity to run high-end clinical trials; however, we must do more to get Australians at the cutting edge of medical science by getting more clinical trials based here.

The maturing of a country is not dissimilar to the maturing of an individual. There are distinct parallels: as we grow in time we accept responsibility for our own personal security and become responsible for earning money. We all mature, develop, diversify our interests and become self-sufficient. Is it time we accepted our coming of age and entered the next stage of our national development? We must be able to defend ourselves, provide for ourselves and not be dependent on others.

House adjourned at 17 : 00

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Zimmerman) took the chair at 10:00.