PM may launch inquiry into manufacturing industry


Prime Minister Julia Gillard is considering an inquiry into the state of Australian manufacturing after meeting with unions and a major employers' group.

The talks came after last week's announcement that BlueScope Steel was shedding 1000 workers as a result of a high Australian dollar hurting its export sector, while at the other extreme BHP Billiton secured a record profit.

A spokesman for Ms Gillard said the meeting was 'positive and constructive'.

“Participants agreed to work together to improve the capability of Australian firms to benefit from the mining boom and to further improve their international competitiveness,” he said.

Ms Gillard and Industry Minister Kim Carr met with the Australia Industry Group (Ai Group) and the national secretaries of the Australian Workers Union and Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, Paul Howes and Dave Oliver, respectively, in Canberra on Monday.

Mr Oliver said the prime minister was considering an inquiry into manufacturing and that he was hoping for one similar to the car industry review of two years ago.

“That short, sharp inquiry came out with some significant recommendations which I know have secured the future of the automotive industry in the country,” Mr Oliver told reporters after the meeting.

He said they went to the prime minister with three key objectives.

They sought to find ways to maximise benefits from the mining boom to increase the content of Australian manufactured goods in mining projects, to expand financing for local manufacturers for investment in clean technology, and to boost productivity.

Mr Howes said it was 'time for action' so that Australia would still have a diversified economy when the mining boom ended and the nation hit the 'bottom of the quarry'.

Ai Group Chief Executive Heather Ridout said there was an understanding that decisions needed to be made sooner rather than later and a commitment made to ongoing engagement.

“We need a longer-term strategy for manufacturing that focuses on its positive future,” Ms Ridout said in a statement.

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