Let me start by laying my cards on the table:
- Do I support manufacturing? You bet I do.
- Do I think it's vital to the Australian economy and Australia society? Absolutely.
- Do I think governments should create an environment in which manufacturing can flourish? No question.
When Kevin Rudd said he wanted Australia to remain “a country that actually makes things”, I cheered.
This is a sector that employs over a million Australians, generates over $40 billion worth of exports a year, and accounts for two-fifths of all business expenditure on R&D. It is also a sector that underpins everything else we do, whether it's in resources, agriculture or services. You can't have a balanced economy without manufacturing. You can't have a just and inclusive society without manufacturing either. Anyone who doubts that should go and talk to those million workers, their families, and the communities that depend on them.
For all these reasons, we remain firmly and unapologetically committed to securing the future of manufacturing in this country.
That's the good news.
The somewhat tougher news is that the government can't support manufacturing at any cost or on any terms. No government in the world can do that. The quid pro quo for our support is that manufacturers must be ready to innovate and export. They must be efficient and outward-looking. They must be prepared to invest in local know-how to create their own competitive advantage. It's easy for politicians to make these exhortations, but the Rudd Government is backing its words with actions.
Among the first things I did as minister was to launch four major reviews.
Why conduct reviews? There are two good reasons.
The first is to re-engage people in the democratic process by giving them the chance to speak and taking the time to listen. The second is to create a reliable evidence base for future policy development.
The four investigations launched in the last two months are:
- a review of the national innovation system chaired by Dr Terry Cutler;
- a review of the Cooperative Research Centres program chaired by Professor Mary O'Kane, which is part of the innovation review;
- a review of the automotive industry conducted by Steve Bracks; and
- and a review of the textiles, clothing and footwear industries conducted by Professor Roy Green.
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