Adjournment – COVID-19 and Bringing Manufacturing Back13 May 2020
I rise tonight to speak regarding the future of this country, the future of my home state of South Australia and the urgent need to address this country’s economic and strategic future in the post-COVID-19 world. In the last two months, the Australian people have been forced to isolate from their family and friends, stand down from their employment and scramble to save their businesses and investments. Sadly, Australians have also died or become gravely ill. Fortunately, in conjunction with the early action and strong leadership of the Morrison government, the diligence of Australians has saved lives and saved livelihoods.
But the Prime Minister is quite correct to want an independent inquiry in relation to the outbreak. Australia will not be a piece of ‘chewing gum stuck on the sole of China’s shoes’. COVID-19 started in China. It was covered up by the Chinese Communist Party and, alarmingly, the Chinese Communist Party has now dictated terms in relation to the supply of critical goods, such as personal protective and medical equipment. The CCP’s efforts in arranging for companies linked to the regime to ship tonnes of medical and personal protective equipment back to China sounded the alarm bells for many. It has trained a spotlight on the need to return manufacturing to Australia and, in the process, the need to shore up our national security and sovereign interests.
Australia must learn to manufacture again. It must retrain its economy to become self-sufficient. My home state of South Australia was once a thriving hub of industry, yet most of that industry has since disappeared, due to high taxes, an inflexible labour market, green costs, high energy prices, the advent of low-cost manufacturing in Asia and union-led standover tactics. South Australia is still a prime location for manufacturing, due to our abundant natural resources, skilled workforce and low cost of living. The defence sector has filled some of the gaps but it’s also guided the way for the future of South Australian advanced and flexible manufacturing. We have already seen examples of South Australian businesses adapting, with the likes of the Detmold Group transforming its paper goods production into manufacturing face masks and Bickford’s shifting the lines from cordial production into manufacturing hand sanitiser. But, Australia in 2020 is too heavily reliant on Chinese supply chains. This would be concerning enough if those products were manufactured in a country that shared our values; however, the CCP’s authoritarian control over critical goods hangs over our heads like the sword of Damocles. It was Lenin who said that the capitalists would sell the revolutionaries the rope with which they themselves would be hanged. We must be mindful of this.
Our reliance on critical mining and agricultural exports has left Australia’s economic complexity ranking at 93, wedged directly between Senegal and Pakistan. An economy with a complex manufacturing base will generate its own growth, with the natural skills effects of those industries becoming complementary. We must seek answers and we must seek compensation, but, importantly, we must bring as much of our manufacturing work back as we can. It is one way we can obtain compensation from the Chinese Communist Party, but it also addresses our national security holes. Bringing manufacturing back to this nation is not just about jobs; it’s also about protecting our sovereign interests.
In this place, it’s critical that we get the policy settings right. We need to continue to drive the price of energy into the ground, we need to deregulate, we need to review environmental laws and we need economic reform in the area of industrial relations. The green and red tape wrapped around our economy must be loosened to allow it to prosper. The Australian people will no longer tolerate post-COVID-19 issues of this calibre to become a victim of party politics and posturing. We must work together. The spotlight of COVID-19 has provided a timely reminder of the importance of self-reliance and it’s reminded the people of South Australia of the great things they can achieve for this nation.