Prime Minister Julia Gillard has reassured manufacturers the Federal Government will assist them in adapting to changes that are threatening jobs and output.
Speaking at the first meeting of the new Manufacturing Taskforce in Canberra last week, Ms Gillard said manufacturers should be prepared to “roll the sleeves up” and work with government and unions for the future of Australian jobs and manufacturing.
While there were pressures on the industry, particularly from the high Australian dollar, opportunities for the sector would open up through Australia's engagement with Asia, Ms Gillard told the meeting.
"Our nation will get new opportunities as we see the growth in Asia, and in particularly the growth of the middle class in Asia, more than a billion people who will want the kind of things we want," she said.
These opportunities included elaborately transformed manufactured goods and fashion.
Ms Gillard is chairing the taskforce, which includes industry, union and academic representatives, alongside deputy chair, Innovation and Innovation Minister Senator Kim Carr.
Also in the taskforce is Treasurer Wayne Swan, OneSteel chief executive Geoff Plummer, Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Jeff Lawrence and CSIRO chief executive Megan Clark.
The Taskforce agreed its primary purpose is to secure a strong future for Australian manufacturing and its workforce.
Members agreed to develop a shared vision and to prepare advice to Government by June next year.
To do this, members agreed on a work plan that will focus on:
- The short term and long-term competitiveness of the Australian manufacturing sector;
- An analysis of the pressures and possible adjustments facing the sector resulting from the influence of the Australian dollar and the international economy;
- Improved access to capital, markets, research and innovation, and skills to underpin a more competitive and successful manufacturing sector;
- Maximising opportunities for Australian manufacturers resulting from the rise of Asia;
- Addressing regulatory and other barriers to the growth of the manufacturing sector;
- Building stronger partnerships between SMEs, larger companies, research partners and governments to underpin a more research and innovation focussed manufacturing sector; and
- The development of a roadmap outlining a shared vision and direction for Australian manufacturing over the next decade.
The manufacturing sector employs nearly one million Australians and generates over 34 per cent of Australia’s merchandise export income.
The next meeting, early in the New Year, will consider the results of targeted consultations with the manufacturing sector, work on the draft roadmap for manufacturing and a paper on market opportunities in the Asian economy as part of the White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century process.
A website has been established with information about the Taskforce and its work: www.innovation.gov.au/manufacturingtaskforce