Senate debates

Thursday, 14 November 2019



4:40 pm

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Patrick, you urged me not to flick the light off, but I have to tell you that I think your problem is that the light was never on. You have a vision of the Australian economy that dates back to the 1960s. I could make a jibe about the fact that maybe that's because you come from South Australia, but I would never do that because I know Senator Birmingham and Senator Antic very well and I would never do that. You yourself referenced the activities of Mr Gupta and what's happening in South Australia, and I know there are remarkable things happening there in the manufacturing sector. I hear you may have a bit of a naval shipbuilding industry down there in South Australia. I would like you to come over to see the one in Western Australia, because I'm sure it is much, much better. But I will get to the one in South Australia at some point and have a look.

You are describing an Australia that digs up rocks and sends them overseas, which is an Australia that existed in the past but is not reflective of the mining industry today. In fact, the resources industry and the manufacturing and technology development associated with the resources industry are quite remarkable. I'll give you just one example from my home state of WA, in the area you talked about a lot, the lithium sector. I took Minister Canavan to meet the Simulus Group to see what they are doing. They are developing and implementing high-tech manufacturing apparatus for the lithium-mining sector, allowing much more of the processing of that mineral to be done onshore. This is groundbreaking new technology that has never been done before anywhere else and is now being done in Australia, for the benefit of the Australian economy and the mining sector. It is allowing us to capture that value into Australia.

We don't want to talk about mining. I, as a Western Australian, certainly would never talk down traditional mining or traditional manufacturing for that matter. The manufacturing sector has undergone a huge transition since the 1960s in Australia and right around the world. We are not orphans in this. The nature of manufacturing has changed. What we are seeing in Australia is a much more advanced, high-tech manufacturing industry, which, yes, does employ fewer people. But I would note that, according to the Australian Industry Group, manufacturing jobs actually grew by 3.2 per cent in the 12 months to February this year. Approximately 900,000 people are now employed in the manufacturing sector, and this rate of growth is expected to continue. We've seen an increase in the manufacturing sector, which shows that it's been stable or expanding for 32 consecutive months since August 2016.

The point I would make here is that it is about getting the economic fundamentals right. Manufacturing operates when it has stability and good economic fundamentals and when you've got the settings right on things like infrastructure spending, taxation rates and allowing manufacturing businesses to spend on R&D. That is what will fuel the future of advanced manufacturing in this country.

I want to return to the fact that we do have a world-class manufacturing sector. Again, I'll talk about my home state of Western Australia. Recently, Senator O'Sullivan and I visited a manufacturing engineering plant called Matrix, in Henderson in Western Australia. It is a part of the shipbuilding hub, but this company does not build ships or anything to do with ships. It actually builds components for the oil and gas sector—in particular, floats that effectively encase the drill pipes. Floats don't sound very high-tech, do they? But the technology that goes into the floats is quite remarkable. It's about producing hollow beads and then getting them in the right mix to get the exact buoyancy required to allow drilling to take place in thousands of metres of ocean depth. It's about the technology, the mathematics and the understanding that goes into developing and manufacturing these components and then sending them all around the world. These floatation devices are being used in the North Sea and other offshore drilling environments right around the world. I think that is a testament to Australia's ability to compete in the manufacturing sector, where we have good, strong competitive advantages.

We should not, in an economic sense, be picking winners. The government shouldn't be out there saying that we should be manufacturing X or Y or Z. That is only ever going to lead to disappointment and a weakening of the economy. What we should do is build on our strengths, and one of our key strengths is certainly in the mining and associated engineering and manufacturing sectors. We do a remarkable job in many of those areas. I visited drilling component makers in my home state of Western Australia. They are world-class, leading facilities that are building the components and the drill rigs that allow us to find the future natural resources that we will utilise over the next few generations.

Again, we shouldn't ever talk down mining. Mining makes a huge contribution to the wealth of this nation. It shouldn't ever be seen as a yesterday industry. It is an incredibly important part of our economy today and it will be a very, very important part of our economy going forward over the next generations. In fact, I think it is fair to describe it as the backbone of our national economy. To think about it in the way that the mining sector was thought about 20 or 30 years ago does a disservice to all of those great Australian men and women who are working in the mining sector and are utilising incredibly high-tech equipment and developing that equipment.

Woodside's advanced robotics facility in the middle of Perth, in Western Australia, is quite remarkable. It houses one of only eight robonauts—artificial humanoid robots—in the world, developed through the work of NASA. There is one on the International Space Station, seven in the United States of America and one in Perth—because Woodside have done such groundbreaking work in their remote operations. This is, in a very real sense, the science, technology and manufacturing of tomorrow.

We've seen remote equipment operations being pioneered in Western Australia which are now starting to make their way around the rest of the world, in an area which I think everyone in this place knows that I am very passionate about: agriculture. We've seen advances in Australia that are now being exported around the world. This is the manufacturing of tomorrow. It's the development of seeds and intellectual property that we can sell to our overseas markets.

Manufacturing has a proud record in Australia but it has a very, very proud future as well. It has a proud future by getting the economic fundamentals right, which is what this government has spent its time focused on.

4:48 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Australia is part of a global supply chain that sees the raw resources of Australia exported to the world. We are highly efficient and productive in many of our industries, and we don't see this for free. The resources sector is an incredible source of profits for the Australian economy. In the last financial year it generated $273 million—more than half of all exports from Australia by value. The sector employs 244,000 Australians. When the broader mining, equipment, technology and services industries are included, the resources sector employs over 1.1 million people, or around 10 per cent of total employment. Average weekly earnings in the mining industry were $2,721 per week in 2018—64 per cent higher than the average Australian weekly earnings. The mining sector is expected to grow at 2.4 per cent per annum over the five years to 2022.

Australia also has extensive reserves of critical minerals like lithium, scandium, rare earths and tungsten. Greenbushes lithium mine in Western Australia is the world's largest hard rock lithium mine. It is particularly important in Western Australia, where 103,000 people are employed in resources. The resources are not the entire economy or 100 per cent of our exports. We should not forget our agricultural sector, when we talk of commodities; according to Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's figures, Trade and investment at a glance 2019, we are the world's largest exporter of wool—which is no surprise to any of us—and the second-largest exporter of beef, lentils and cotton. We are not, as this motion suggests, averse to manufactured or value-added goods. Instead, Australia is the fifth-largest exporter of wine and the world's third-largest supplier of international education services. It is simple to say we are not a one-trick pony.

However, refined metals manufacture has become less competitive in this country in the face of growing international competition, and the economic output has declined. While Australia has developed a natural competitive advantage in mining, which is benefiting all Australians, downstream processing industries such as metal smelting are less clear in terms of their business case or the competitive advantage they have in Australia. This doesn't mean we don't have a steel industry. The Australian Steel Institute says that over 100,000 Australians are employed in steel, which include those in iron and steel manufacturing, fabrication and casting activities. Across a variety of sizes of enterprises from small to corporate, the industry has an annual turnover of $29 billion and contributes $11 billion per year to Australia's GDP, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The integrated Australian steel chain holds more than two million tonnes of inventory made available through distributors located at over 300 sites across the country.

The sources of competitive advantage in Australia do not automatically transfer to the metal processing industry, which is reliant on a range of different business inputs and technologies. International markets for steel, aluminium and copper are highly competitive. Currently Australia is not able to compete effectively with low-cost producers of these refined metals, due to higher energy costs and inefficient supply chains for other inputs such as chemicals and machine parts.

Australia first must resolve its energy market challenges before it can consider policies for greater domestic processing of minerals. For further processing to maximise national income, it must be encouraged in a way which does not detract from performance of other sectors of the economy. Most jobs in a newly expanded metal processing industry would be highly skilled positions such as engineers, IT professionals and technicians. These skills are already in high demand in Australia, with workers possessing such capabilities already deployed in high-paid jobs across a number of industries. Before any expansion of Australia's metal processing industry through government mandate can be considered, a proper examination of the broader labour-market impact is needed.

That brings me to the fact that I admire Senator Patrick's optimism, because this government hasn't delivered on the skills that are required in this country. They haven't delivered on the existing skills challenges, and they certainly wouldn't deliver under these skills challenges, if this motion was put into effect in government policy.

A recent report revealed that the federal government had underspent its budget for TAFE, training and apprenticeships by almost $1 billion in the past five years. That's on top of previous cuts. At the same time, Australia has experienced a skills shortage, and critics are warning of serious repercussions to the country. I have one quote from Tanya Plibersek which I think is quite apt to be using here. She said:

If the Liberals don't do something serious to fix the skills crisis they have created, we could be looking at the extinction of the Australian tradie.

At the time of the 2018 survey, the Ai Group called for new approaches to education, training and reskilling to maximise the benefits of the digital economy. Chief Executive Innes Willox said:

Our survey has found major skills demand issues facing employers. It provides an important gauge of employer sentiment around skill needs, education and training at a critical time for industry transformation.

The number of Australians doing an apprenticeship or a traineeship is lower today than it was a decade ago. These days, more trainees drop out of their study than finish it. In October, the Morrison government named the TV host and former carpenter Scott Cam as the country's first National Careers Ambassador. I have nothing against Scott—I enjoy watching him on TV—but to announce this as an alternative to improving skills and apprenticeship development is like an episode of Utopia. In fact, I think the Prime Minister watched the same episode I did. What you do is you get somebody who is a noted carpenter and TV personality and name them as a policy, when there's no policy. I want to see more Australian plumbers, electricians, bakers, lawyers and consultants produced. That's what Scott Morrison said, but he's doing it by employing more actors. I'm not against Australian actors being employed—far from it—but that's not a skills policy.

Let's look at young Zac Hicks, a 21-year-old, third-year apprentice electrician from the Sutherland Shire in New South Wales. At some point in the next year he will be able to sit his capstone assessment, and, if successful, will officially qualify as an electrician. That would set him on a path to becoming one of the best-paid tradies in Australia. But first Mr Hicks has to get through his study. That is proving increasingly challenging—as I see here—in a state that has suffered state and federal budget cuts. He says students at his TAFE are offered little or no tutoring, despite the complex and technical nature of their course, and the tools provided are blunt or broken. Worst of all, he’s just learned he has to wait months to start a required subject, setting back his entire apprenticeship. Young Zac says:

I’m pretty frustrated, because I’m on the minimum wage, and when the government is doing all these massive slashes to TAFE, it’s really hard to get to the main goal, which is a huge pay rise at the end.

Mr Hicks earns about $17 an hour. Once qualified, he'll earn $50 an hour. The Electrical Trades Union national apprenticeship officer, Mark Burgess, said Mr Hicks’s experience is not uncommon:

We’re seeing employers already crying out because of the skills shortage. Our industry has a fairly high average age; generally the baby boomers are looking to retire, and we’re concerned if there’s not enough apprentices put on soon, then it will get worse in the future.

Quite clearly, the government has no policy, and I think Senator Patrick is very optimistic.

4:57 pm

Photo of Nita GreenNita Green (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this motion today. It seems to me that Senator Patrick has drafted this motion in a way that makes it quite broad and talks about a range of issues. But at the heart of what he spoke about tonight there seems to be support for our manufacturing industry—which, of course, I support and the Labor Party supports—and support for Australian jobs that rely on exporting and manufacturing. So this motion does give me an opportunity tonight to maybe find out a little bit more about the way Senator Patrick's decided to draft this motion, but also to talk about some very important issues for Far North Queensland and Queensland more generally.

We know that the Queensland economy is a diverse one and that it is reliant on a range of industries, including resources, the exporting of raw materials, and agriculture, and that those are industries that create thousands and thousands of jobs in regional Queensland. This also gives us an opportunity to talk about the manufacturing sector, and I'm going to take that opportunity to talk about some of the manufacturing workshops that I've visited in Far North Queensland. It also gives us a chance to talk about more trade opportunities for regional areas. We talk about trade in very general terms sometimes, but we don't often get the opportunity to talk about what the government is doing or not doing to increase trade in regional areas.

I want to start today by talking about the manufacturing sector. It's an industry that's very dear to my heart, having worked with the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and having been a member of that union for many years. My father was a printer at Fairfax and came from good manufacturing stock. It is an industry that has changed over many years, has transitioned and has seen many advances in technology to change the way that jobs are created. I will say this to Senator Patrick: I'm sure that he is listening to every single word that I'm saying, and I think it is important to point out to him that the manufacturing sector at the moment, particularly in Queensland, wouldn't be the same if it weren't for the advocacy of groups like the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union. We know that when things are made in Queensland, when they're made in Australia, we create good, secure jobs. We want to see more things made in Queensland. If it weren't for the advocacy of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, we wouldn't have seen the return of trains being built in Maryborough. We wouldn't see the defence of manufacturing in the regions in the way that we do.

I want to remind Senator Patrick tonight that, when he is considering the policies that should be taken forward, if he wants to improve the situation when it comes to exporting raw materials, we need a good, strong union movement if we want to advocate for jobs in manufacturing sectors. To be quite frank, it is Liberal governments that send contracts overseas to build trains. It is Liberal governments that send contracts overseas to build buses and ferries. We need to have advocacy delegates always on the frontline, making sure that we keep manufacturing jobs here in Australia.

I thought I might also take this opportunity to talk about not only the relationship that Cairns has with the manufacturing sector but also the deep roots in agriculture that make Cairns an ideal location for an export hub, which was a fantastic announcement by the Palaszczuk government. We know that Liberal senators have a—what's the word Senator Patrick has used in his motion—propensity to come in here and talk about the Queensland state government and what they're not doing, but they don't talk about the very good announcements that are being made and the very good advocacy of the local member, Michael Healy, that is happening in Cairns. The Cairns export hub was announced the other week. It will essentially support the multimillion-dollar investment to boost jobs in Far North Queensland and enhance the region's reputation as an agricultural export hotspot. The decision was going to be between two fine locations in Queensland—Toowoomba and Cairns—but the Premier and Minister for Trade, Annastacia Palaszczuk, decided that both of these regions, on a merit base, needed this investment. I'm very grateful she did consider Cairns, with the unique place that Cairns has in our Pacific region and the opportunities that could be opened up by having a Cairns based export hub.

This is a fantastic announcement. The hub will be built near Cairns Airport. It will generate 70 new jobs and allow North Queensland fruit and seafood industries, along with a range of other industries, improved access to international markets. In turn, it will have a flow-on benefit to regional communities. I am reluctant to adopt the language of Senator Patrick because I do see the value-add happening in regional Queensland and places like Cairns. I see it through investment in projects like the Cairns export hub.

The other thing I wanted to mention is that the sugar industry is a very fine example of the production of raw materials, the exporting of those materials and the products that are made. The manufacturing sector in Far North Queensland has a proud history when it comes to the production of sugar. I was very lucky to be able to visit MSF Sugar only a week ago and hear from them exactly what opportunities they want to see in the future and what things are holding them back. MSF have been in Far North Queensland for 124 years. That is a very proud history. But they cannot, at this moment in time, expand in the way that they want to because of this government's complete lack of energy policy. It's very unfortunate that, after so many years, a proud sector like the sugar industry in Queensland is not able to grow and create more jobs because they can't get the certainty from this government around energy policy. We know that it is possible to build renewable energy sugar plants from these facilities, and they've done that in the Tableland Mill. But MSF Sugar want to do more energy generation, and they're not able to do that because of the back and forth, the ifs and the buts and the what-ifs around energy policy. In terms of this motion, I certainly hope that the government takes this opportunity to consider what energy policies could help the manufacturing sector in Far North Queensland, what policies could help create more jobs. On that note, I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.

5:07 pm

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very pleased that Senator Patrick has moved this motion to bring to the attention of the parliament the manufacturing industry in Australia. I've been speaking about this for years, going back to 23 years ago, when the Lima Declaration was put in place in 1975-76. It was about allowing developed countries like Australia, America and others to sell their product, their raw materials, to developing countries, and then we'd buy it back in finished product. That was an agenda by both our governments, and that's why we are in such dire straits and seeing the demise of our industries and manufacturing.

Can anyone say now that China declares itself to be a developing country? I don't think so. We're now buying so much Chinese product into Australia, and it has destroyed our own industry. What about the times when we made the Hills hoist, the Victa lawnmower and so many other products here? Where is our footwear and clothing industry? Where has it all gone? It has been destroyed because of tariffs. They got rid of the tariffs—this is why it's all gone—to bring the cheap imports into Australia, whereas we're paying only a few dollars a day to overseas countries, and we can't compete with that when we want a decent standard of living and a decent wage for our workers here. That's why it's destroyed our industries and manufacturing. We were supposed to get these countries to rise up to our level, but do you know what's happened in Australia? We've lowered our standard of living here. That's why a lot of Australians aren't working.

Senator Brockman gets up and says, 'You want to take us back to the 1960s.' I will tell Senator Brockman that our unemployment in the 1960s was 2.6 per cent. What is it now? Double that, at least—or that's what the record tells you. But what's the real unemployment rate? If you get one hour's paid work a week, or if you do educational training, you're not on the books as being unemployed, so there are a lot more unemployed Australians in this country. The process in this country has been to go to further education, so you go and get your degree, but at the end of the day there are no jobs in Australia. We have failed in apprenticeship schemes. We have failed because we are now opening up the floodgates with these free trade agreements.

When we did the free trade agreement with America in 2004, implemented in January 2005, supported by the coalition, who brought it in, and supported by the Labor Party, we actually did away with our tariffs from day one—tariffs on wool, horticulture, steel, wine, cotton and beef. From day one all our tariffs were gone. America kept their tariffs for between 11 and 18 years. On top of that they said, 'If that still has an impact on our own industries in our country, we will then put a quota system on.' What did our representatives do? They rolled over and let them have it, and destroyed all these industries.

Like I said, whitegoods are gone. Do we make whitegoods in Australia anymore? No, we don't. They're all Chinese imports that we're bringing into the country. What about the car industry? Another one that's gone. We had a car manufacturing industry. That's all gone. What about our dairy? That's the next one they're working on to destroy, bringing in the cheese products from overseas and from New Zealand—cheap cheese that will destroy our industries here. Who's standing up and fighting for them? We have an agriculture minister who is not doing anything to fight for the Australian dairy industry, because it's all right for her because she's the senator for Victoria.

Senator Green gets up and makes a comment about Labor and that it's the coalition that is sending all our manufacturing and jobs overseas. Let me remind her that it's the Palaszczuk Labor government in Queensland that had the electric trains built overseas in India. Guess what? They weren't built to specifications. They actually didn't comply and they had to be done again.

Lack of energy policy—my God, if you think there's lack of energy policy now, the Labor Party were in there. They want a 45 per cent renewable energy policy. How on earth are you going to do that? That's why we're going to lose a lot more industries and manufacturing in Australia—because we can't afford the electricity costs in this country. I've got one company in Rockhampton that could go under because the electricity cost has gone from $350,000 a year to $550,000 next year, and they've already put $1.2 million of solar panels on the business. That company owner has to decide whether to stay here or go overseas. He exports to 50 countries around the world. This what is they have done.

Senator Green also talks about the sugar mills and that we're not supporting them. It was actually Labor that brought in the reef policy and the Vegetation Management Act that is destroying our sugar cane growers as well. Both sides have allowed foreign investment. They allowed the Wilmar mills to be foreign owned and to screw the sugar cane growers, until I got the code of conduct. It was me, One Nation, that got the sugar cane code for the sugar cane industry, the same as I'm fighting now for a code of conduct for the dairy industry.

So this is what I say to a lot of people: have a look at it. Where are our canneries? Gone. We're now bringing in imports of food from overseas, destroying our own growers here. The pork industry has gone. Look at what happened to the orange growers years ago. Bringing in all this, we have destroyed it. It's because of the free trade agreements that we have signed. I will say this again, and Senator Patrick will agree with me here: they're bringing in 5,000 workers under the free trade agreements. This is why the unions are angry with the Labor Party: they're in collusion with the coalition government in signing these free trade agreements that are negotiated behind closed doors. They're not debated on the floor of parliament. We don't have any say. The agreements are just ticked off, and the Australian people have no idea what you've done. You are actually destroying our industries, our manufacturing and our jobs in this country, and you're allowing foreign workers to come in here to take jobs that belong to the Australian people. No wonder the unions are fed up with the Labor Party; you're destroying our workforce here. Anyone who is allowed to come into the country is working for next to nothing just have to a job here and is taking the money out of the country—and you can't even control that. This is not just bad management; this is being orchestrated. We've signed these agreements. We're supposed to have people with intelligence in this place working hard for the Australian people, but I don't see it.

5:15 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

I will be very brief. I thank senators for their contributions to the debate. I do want to put on the record that I think Senator Brockman may have misconstrued my line of advocacy. I was not in any way suggesting we put the mining industry down. In fact, I want a great mining industry and I want a great value-add industry that sits on top of that. I think that's really quite important. As I said, I thank senators for contributing. I move:

That the question be put.