High-Tech, High-Skill Road to an Industrial Future

Tim Ayres is NSW Secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union

Australia, and the Australian Labor Party, face a profound question: what sort of economy do we want? It’s a question that is central to our current political battles over industrial relations and tax reform, innovation and technology, skills and higher education. 

We need to create a 21st century economy that benefits all, not just a wealthy few, and we need a sophisticated debate about creating sustainable industries that foster social outcomes. The right policy settings can deliver growth and innovation, with equality and fairness.

Manufacturing must be at the centre of this debate. I believe that Australian manufacturing has a place in our 21st century economy. I believe that it will continue to be an engine of social mobility, creating good jobs and driving investment in our communities. Manufacturing, engineering and construction must provide careers for young men and women in our suburbs and regions.

But to build a long-term future for Australian manufacturing we need long-term thinking and effective political leadership. That’s why industrial policy must remain a key plank of Labor’s economic agenda.

Australian universities and the CSIRO undertake some of the world’s most advanced research, in areas like biomedical devices, food manufacturing and 3D printing. We need to design and implement policies that take that research from the university hall to the factory floor.

One option is the creation of a high-tech manufacturing investment corporation: a government finance corporation to drive early investment in promising new industries. Similar corporations – the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation – have proved both profitable and effective at driving private investment.

Renewable energy is the world’s next energy boom. Australia is perfectly positioned to take advantage of this global shift. Along with our world-class research and our industrial capability, we have a natural abundance of solar and wind energy. We are also a major source of key minerals such as lithium and high-grade carbon.

Renewable energy offers the high-tech, high-skill manufacturing jobs that NSW and Australia need. But we need investment, we need retraining and we need leadership from all levels of government. We are proud to support the substantial efforts of the Labor Environmental Action Network to make Labor the real party of environmentalism.

We should make smarter decisions about our governments’ infrastructure spend. The NSW Government spends at least $15 billion on procuring goods and services every year. This represents almost 3 percent of the total economic activity in NSW – a powerful lever for economic reform.

Entire industries rely on state government spending: rail manufacturing in the Hunter and bus manufacturing in Western Sydney are two most immediately at stake. We build some of the highest quality infrastructure in the world, but too often we forsake long-term benefits of local industries for a short-term focus on cost minimisation.

We must reform our procurement system to reflect a broader understanding of public value. We should be reporting on the economic and social outcomes of our infrastructure. We should ensure that government analyses include a real understanding of both cost and benefits of local industry support. And we should combine and strengthen our current services to local industry.

Lastly, we are calling on the NSW Government to establish a parliamentary inquiry into the future of industry and create a long-term plan for manufacturing. By identifying and planning for long-term changes, we can adapt our industrial capacity for future growth and create generations of jobs.

We have everything we need to create an industrial future: access to world-class research and technology, a developed and stable economy and a highly-skilled workforce. Now we need to fight for that future.

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