More than 70 per cent of Australians consider manufacturing as very important to the Australian economy, a survey has revealed.
The latest research, Perceptions of Australian Manufacturing, conducted by the Federal Government’s Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC), surveyed a cross-section of Australians living in metropolitan and regional areas. While most Australians believed that manufacturing was critical to the economy and standards of living, understanding of the industry was limited.
AMGC managing director, Jens Goennemann, said Australia cannot rely on the pandemic when it comes to changing the public appreciation for manufacturing.
“Manufacturing is more than an industry, it is a capability which cuts across every sector where something is made. Manufacturing gives a nation the ability to make things onshore, preferably complex things. This in turn advances Australia’s global ranking on the Economic Complexity Index,” he said. “That is a feat that needs to be undertaken.”
Australia is currently ranked 86 on the Economic Complexity Index (ECI), which assesses a nation’s productive capabilities(the things it makes) and its applications across industries.
Comparing data collected in early 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, to today, AMGC contrasted the awareness and attitudes toward local manufacturing showing that support is higher compared to pre-pandemic times.
Double the number of respondents believed manufacturing would get stronger in the coming years, compared to responses in 2019. Seventy-nine per cent of Australians perceived trade and export of manufactured goods are important to the economy.
Goennemann believed the Federal Government’s National Manufacturing Priorities – resources and technology and critical minerals processing, food and beverage, medical products, recycling and clean energy, defence, and space – were areas where Australia is “already a winner”, and that the focus was well advised for a country of 25 million.
AMGC members were part of a consortium of 53 local manufacturers to build 1,700 invasive ventilators in less than five months, with 99.3 per cent Australian-sourced parts and 100 per cent Australian-made – none of which had manufactured an invasive ventilator before.
“This is testimony to the manufacturing capability we have in Australia,” Goennemann said. “We must not only react in the eye of the crisis. As a country, we need to broadly be able to recognise that capability and leverage it further to the benefit of ourselves and others.”
Overall, about 3 out of 4 Australians believed manufacturing was very important, and 4 out of 5 people believed that trade and export were very important.
“It shows there is an audience that that understands manufacturing matters, and it’s a confirmation of the belief that we need to be globally competitive,” Goennemann said.
“The market for our manufacturers is not 25 million Australian customers, but 7.5 billion worldwide ones.”
In areas with a high prevalence of manufacturing in the regions, the appreciation was higher, according to the survey.
In Western Australia, the regional perception of manufacturing rose to 83 per cent, as opposed to 52 per cent in 2019. In regional Tasmania, views on the importance of manufacturing rose by 25 per cent to 92 per cent in two years.
Goennemann said the survey showed the last two years contributed not only an increase in the perception of manufacturing but also showed how the regions have responded.
“Changing the entire community’s perception is a large task and requires perseverance,” he said. “We’ve persevered for over five years, and we’ve seen good outcomes.”
While $1.5 billion has been invested in Australian manufacturing, Goennemann said more is needed.
“It needs consistency, it needs a policy that is formulated and adhered to, and then the sky’s the limit for Australia. With continued focus and targeted investment into manufacturing, Australia has a real opportunity to transform itself from being a lucky country to a smart one,” he said.
By Caroline Tung, Manufacturers' Monthly