Analysis by Peter Roberts
Industry minister Karen Andrews has reined in hopes for a wide role for the manufacturing sector post Covid-19 in an interview with ABC Melbourne radio.
She was responding to questions from Virginia Trioli, who said Covid and industry 4.0 holds the prospect of the country moving to ‘the next level of high-tech manufacturing, holds out great promise for economic prosperity.’
Andrews said work by the government on Australia’s ‘core and traditional strengths’ and on emerging industries had raised issues.
She said: “One is our ability to meet our needs. And I really want to draw the distinction between manufacturing for our wants, which is not going to be realistic and is not going to happen.
“We won’t be looking to manufacture for our wants because we won’t be able to have the capacity to do it. But what we need to be in a position to do is manufacture for our needs.”
Andrews, an engineer, said the best example was an iPhone, which Australia was not looking to start manufacturing.
“What we will do is start looking at two specific areas.
“One is the needs that we’ve identified through COVID, which is the mask manufacturer, whether that’s surgical masks, P2 masks; what we’ve been doing with kits; what we’re now doing with isolation gowns, which is a unique story all on its own.
“So, they’re the needs.”
Andrews said Australia had ‘struggled a little bit with the mass-produced products like masks’ but had demonstrated an ‘ability to move very quickly for high-tech like ventilators’.
“So I think that’s a very telling point for the future of where we need to target.”
Other than medical basics and some high-tech, Andrews targeted only two sectors of manufacturing specifically for growth – space industries which she said would triple in size and agribusiness and food.
The Andrews interview, which was brief and went to air on Friday, was in many ways a collection of throw-away lines by the minister.
But it demonstrates a worrying lack of ambition for manufacturing.
Andrews seems to be saying that Australia is not going to be able to make things that are widely desired by consumers, wants. But we can hope to make the basics of human life, needs.
This is apparently because we are not very good at mass production.
So add to our food and agribusiness a few needs like surgical masks and ventilators, and throw in a few opportunities in space and high-tech, and that’s all we can hope to do?
Seriously Australia can think bigger than this.
Picture: Karen Andrews