By Peter Roberts
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has signalled an end to the New South Wales government’s fraught policy of buying ‘cheap and low’ priced public transport rolling stock from overseas.
Announcing a new order for locally made electric buses from Custom Denning, Perrottet conceded NSW has long missed onshore manufacturing opportunities in an effort to source cheaper public transport fleets.
This has led to a series of botched orders – trams that have cracked bogies, trains that were too wide for tunnels and platforms, ferries that could not carry passengers on their upper decks when passing under bridges, and Manly ferries that are cracking.
Typical of the issues you face when suppliers are located far away and wish to push their own specifications, the remediation of such faults and delays at entering service beg the question whether imports were actually cheaper overall.
This is especially so when the economic benefits of local manufacture including higher tax receipts is taken into account.
Now, according to media reports, Perrottet is calling for the return of local production to grow the economy.
“You’ve got to focus on value for taxpayers. But I think what’s been lost in that has been the opportunities for us to manufacture onshore and potentially at a high price, yes, but a higher price meaning more jobs and better business opportunities,” Perrottet said.
“I know if the private sector understand that the NSW government is committed to this approach, then they will take the risk and they will invest.”
He said boosting local manufacturing was a key priority for his government.
“…I think we haven’t got the balance right.”
Too right he hasn’t.
NSW used to have the biggest train manufacturing industry in the country but what remains today is a shadow of its former self.
But this rump is now meant to compete with bigger overseas suppliers who have been fed contracts by us and others for years.
It is a hard ask and yes, will require NSW to bear higher upfront costs just as Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia have done.
And it is going to take local firms a lot of persuading to believe that overseas sourcing as an automatic choice really is gone.
Perrottet needs to do more than ‘call’ for local production, he needs to start working with industry, and the other states, to see how capability and competitiveness can be grown.
And he needs to let orders for more than a few buses locally.
After all, industry is not going to forget that as recently as 2020 the premier’s predecessor, Gladys Berejiklian said Australia and NSW were ‘not good at building trains’.
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