Reports today about the Productivity Commission’s inquiry on the transition of Australia’s regions through the decline of the resources investment boom must not overlook the importance of manufacturing for jobs in regional communities.
Scott Morrison issued a press release about the inquiry just before Christmas that did not even mention the word ‘manufacturing’, despite the importantance of manufacturing to regional economies.
Instead, Mr Morrison is quoted in The Australian as saying he was opposed to “renting an industry” and talking down the need for industry assistance.
This is the exactly sort of deplorable language employed by his predecessor, Joe Hockey, when he goaded General Motors to cease manufacturing in Australia – actions that led to the shutdown of the entire motor vehicle assembly industry in this country.
Independent experts have advised that the loss of automotive manufacturing investment may cost up to 200,000 Australian jobs, many of these in regional areas. The loss of this industry will cost Australian taxpayers much more in Centrelink benefits and welfare payments than it would ever have cost to keep it.
Instead of talking down Australian industries, the Turnbull Government should use this inquiry to develop policies to maintain manufacturing investment in our regions and secure new investment, particularly in areas like food production.
According to the Australian Food and Grocery Council, food and grocery processing represents almost one third of Australia’s total manufacturing output and employs more than 322,000 people. Over 40 per cent of these jobs are in rural and regional areas.
It doesn't take the Productivity Commission to work out that growth in this sector has the potential to offset some of the devastating consequences of automotive and other manufacturing closures brought about by the Liberal Government’s long history of anti-industry policies.
If Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison are serious about jobs, particularly in Australia’s regions, they should start using the mechanisms of Government to help, rather than hinder, new manufacturing investment.