Roy Green

A new deal for manufacturing – Five building blocks for a new plan

Roy Green

Professor Roy Green

Every crisis provides an opportunity and Covid-19 is no exception. Not only has it exposed the gaps in Australia’s manufacturing supply chains, but it has also more broadly demonstrated the vulnerability of a commodity-based economy to external shocks and the need to reverse the now all too apparent hollowing out of manufacturing capability.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said as much in referring to the battle against Covid-19 as a battle for the nation’s “economic sovereignty”. To this end, he has established a new taskforce, led by former Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris with both union and industry leaders, to explore ways to rebuild manufacturing in Australia – not necessarily like it was but as it could and should be.

In capitalising on this opportunity, no one could claim that past experience has been an unalloyed success. While we have enjoyed almost 30 years of continuous economic growth, this record has been marred in more recent times by a productivity slowdown, wage stagnation and the “financialisation” of large corporates as they preference share buybacks and executive bonuses over investment in research and innovation.

Moreover, we have had to endure a paralysing decade-long debate over climate change where evidence mattered less than ideology. As a result, we have become disempowered bystanders to the existential impact of global warming and environmental degradation, including the recent catastrophic bushfires, species extinction and coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.