Australia lacks the will to have a manufacturing industry

Australia lacks the will to have a manufacturing industry, by Greg Sheridan.

The death of the Holden brand …  was a catastrophic loss of capacity, complexity and competence across our economy, a dumbing down of our society, a needless limitation on our potential and a serious dent in our national security.

We are now the least complex economy at anything like our level of affluence. … Recently the Harvard Kennedy School of Government… found that while Australia was the eighth richest nation, we ranked 93rd for complexity. …

Australia’s top 10 exports are: coal, iron ore, gas, education, tourism, gold, aluminium ores, beef, crude oil, copper. The only hi-tech export there is education but all this means is that we have first-world universities that teach in English, and like everyone else we market these to Asian students. …

How can Australia be failing, when we are so rich? In the 1980s, Nauru was technically the richest country in the world because of phosphate exports. When the phosphate ran out it became poor. There have been moments when Middle East oil sheikhdoms were per capita very rich, but they are one-trick ponies.

When a single export, single market economy, like us with minerals to China, is going through its rich phase it can fund all sorts of goodies — from hospitals to the ABC — which make it seem diverse and sophisticated. But the underlying reality is: lack of complexity, lack of productivity, lack of innovation and lack of future – as well as grave limits on national security and independence. …

The auto industry gave Australia not only technical trades-type skills, but high-end computer design expertise, and experience and competence at large-scale manufacturing. To offer the familiar Australian excuse — that we are too small to have a manufacturing industry — is pathetic, untrue, self-deluding. It is a first cousin of the equally false and crippling mythology that we are too small to defend ourselves. We are a nation of 26 million of the richest people on Earth, with the 12th or 13th largest economy in the world. From a manufacturing point of view, our market is augmented by five million rich New Zealanders, closer to us than to anyone else. Thus with a wealthy domestic market of 31 million, and next door to the fastest growing economies in the world in Asia, if we decide not to have a manufacturing industry that is not because of external circumstances, but a conscious choice born of lack of ambition and lack of will.