Premier’s lack of confidence in local industry an opportunity missed

Gladys Berejiklian’s claim that we are not “good” at building trains in NSW suggests we are missing a great opportunity to bring manufacturing home post-pandemic, writes Mark Morey.

Last week the Premier asserted that “Australia and New South Wales are not good at building trains, that’s why we have to purchase them.”

This glib dismissal can’t go ­unchecked, especially when one-fifth of young people in Sydney’s southwest are now jobless.

Does the Premier think there’s something in our collective psyche that prevents us building trains? Are we scared of manual labour? Or is it something to do with Australian weather patterns?

I’d love to know, because it’s a line the Government has trotted out several times without feeling a need to ever ­explain itself.

Unfortunately, the Premier’s lack of belief in our manufacturing capacity ­extends beyond trains.

Since 2011, the Liberals and Nationals have offshored the manufacture of all manner of NSW assets.

And, of course, the new ferries making their way up and down the Parramatta River were built in Indonesia. These are the same ferries that can’t quite fit under a bridge without possibly beheading a commuter.

So when the Premier says we are not very good at making things, could it have something to do with the fact that she’s not even trying?

The NSW Government purchasing policy specifically states: “You must not discriminate against suppliers due to their foreign affiliation or ownership, or the origin of their goods or services, for procurements covered by enforceable procurement provisions.”

And while the policy’s chapter on economic development, social outcomes and sustainability promotes procurement from Aboriginal businesses and disability employment organisations, it has no specific weighting to mandate purchasing from Australian businesses, employing Australians.

Compare this with Victoria and Queensland. Under Victoria’s Local Jobs First plan, 65 metro trains are being built as part of a $2.3 billion deal, which will generate 1100 local jobs.

Queensland has a similar policy. For all significant government purchases a weighting of up to 30 per cent can apply.

So while Queensland and Victoria actively encourage local companies to build and supply major assets, NSW does quite the opposite.

This policy rot that must be fixed. Last week, it was revealed that one in five young people in Sydney’s southwest are now unemployed, a dramatic COVID spike. The Parramatta region wasn’t much better, registering a youth unemployment rate of 16 per cent.

The new Sydney Convention Centre was built with Chinese steel.

The trams running to the eastern suburbs were built in Spain and run on French tracks. That project was hardly a ringing success, blowing out by billions and running months late.

The B-Line buses servicing the Northern Beaches were constructed in Malaysia, while Waratah trains were built in South Korea.

The longer these people stay out of the workforce, the harder it is for them to re-engage the habits and skills that create a happy productive worker. It is inconceivable that we would send jobs offshore while young Australians ­languish in the dole queues.

But we should also consider our ­capacity to respond to emergencies. We saw the danger of strangling local manufacturing at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Any self respecting nation should have decent industrial capacity without being overly reliant on international supply chains.

The Premier should take a trip down memory lane before making any further glib assessments of our potential manufacturing muscle. For decades, companies such as Downer and UGL supplied excellent carriages to the NSW rail network. The Tangara trains continue to serve us well today, while the Millennium trains are renowned for their reliability, despite teething problems when they were first introduced.

We can and should support a strong local manufacturing industry. It’s ­simply a matter of political will.

This is an Op-Ed by Unions NSW Secretary, Mark Morey, first published in The Daily Telegraph on September 2 2020.