Australia and the traditional manufacturing states of South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales have struggled in recent years to help their traditional economic drivers transition to a new comparative and competitive advantage. In Australia we are still under the “illusion” that we can compete broadly as a manufacturing centre with the rest of the world. This illusion is unachievable due a variety of factors, and there are some key community expectations which mean maintaining our manufacturing heritage as it was in the 1970’s, 80’s or 1990’s is just not possible. The goal of maintaining this bulk manufacturing base is not compatible with our Australian standards of living and expectations. In Australia we have mortgages, rent payments, spending and consuming expectations which mean that any reduction in our labour costs will come at a substantial societal cost to the broader Australian community. Australia can compete on a global scale if we increase productivity. This would require increased output compared to cost of labour. We can achieve this in a couple of ways in Australia. The first is if we lower the minimum wage to levels like the US – $5 per hour for example, this would allow our productivity to increase to a comparable level to our competitor manufacturers in North and South America, although still putting us at a disadvantage compared with our regional neighbors in Asia. The alternative would be to reduce our workforce numbers through increased investment in automative manufacturing. These two options would neccessarily result in reduction in the manufacturing workforce, and more than likely see adverse reactions from Unions, not to mention the political difficulties associated with these moves. There is also a significant cost expenditure associated with the up-tooling of the manufacturing facilities for bulk manufacturing. Australian manufacturers do however need to address the reduction in productivity on the global platform, and corporate boards, management teams, and state and federal governments should be seeking to help their home grown manufacturers rationalize their investments, operations and manufacturing into areas where we in Australia can maintain our competitive advantage.
An alternative option for Australian manufacturers to address the issues of reduced manufacturing productivity and cost effectiveness should be to strategically manufacture in Advanced High technology sectors. Australian state and federal governments should bite the bullet and help our manufacturers rationalize their bulk manufacturing to our Asian neighbors in a manner that allows us to focus on the advanced value adding and R&D components of Manufacturing. Outsourcing and relocating bulk manufacturing will lower our cost burden in Australia, and allow Australian manufacturers to remain competitive on a global scale. It has the added benefit of helping these same manufacturers to rationalize their operations so that they have control over the intellectual property and R&D components of there businesses. This is the realistic path to maintaining a sustainable manufacturing industry in Australia. Our friends in Asia should be seen as our partners not our foes when it comes to our manufacturing future.
The main issue we have across Australia at the moment is that our political leaders at both a state and federal level are risk adverse and in the main lack the leadership and strength of conviction required to help our economies transition to a new advanced manufacturing and sustainable level. The sooner we realise this the sooner our Australian economy, and manufacturing industry will become a strength once more.