Companies skeptical about local manufacturing policy reform

By James Wells

CANBERRA: Local manufacturers including Electrolux and Fisher & Paykel have asked for more detail from the new leader of the Australian Labor Party, Kevin Rudd, who has singled out local manufacturing reform as a  platform in his bid to become the next PM.

In his first press conference after being elected leader of the party yesterday, Rudd said that he does not wish to restore tariffs on imported products and will investigate other methods of retaining a strong local manufacturing industry.

"The word I used yesterday was not protecting Australian manufacturing," Rudd told ABC Radio this morning.

"What I talked about was the need for Australia to have a manufacturing future. That means a new direction for industry policy,” he said.

"An industry policy is not about whacking up a tariff wall. That debate’s been had and it’s gone," Rudd said.

"What I’m concerned about is what you can do elsewhere by innovation policy, research and development and other things, practical things, in industry policy which make it easier for this country to have knowledge-based industry future, and I believe we can do it."

In his press conference, Rudd did not make it clear how he would assist Australia’s manufacturers compete with the low cost labour in overseas markets including China and India.

Rudd said he has shown interest in the issue which has been raised by two key industry groups – the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the Australian Industry Group (AIG).

Last month Electrolux Home Products managing director, Trevor Carroll, was appointed as president of the AIG.

Carroll told that he required more detail from Rudd regarding his intended reform of the Australian manufacturing industry.

"Electrolux makes decisions based on economic facts – not government policy,” Carroll said.

”Having said that, the company expects protection according to law and will continue to vigorously scrutinise competitors who they believe are ‘dumping’ cheap imports on the local market or who make false and misleading claims about performance and capacity in their packaging/labelling.

"Electrolux maintains its own testing laboratories in Australia to ensure products it imports comply in their energy and performance claims,” Carroll said.

Electrolux manufacturers refrigerators at its Orange factory in western New South Wales as well as dishwashers, washing machines and cooktops in Adelaide.

Fisher & Paykel chief operating officer, Mike Church, said he would also like some clarification into the exact details of the policy.

“It’s still rhetoric at this stage,” Church told this afternoon.

“He is selling his position at the end of the day and is a little short of fact. If there is any assistance, of course naturally we will be interested,” he said.

Fisher & Paykel remains the only major trans-Tasman manufacturer with refrigerator and laundry manufacturing located at Cleveland in Queensland, south-east of Brisbane.

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