With Sinclair Davidson
Introduction: Is industry, in particular manufacturing, characterised by market failure that demands government intervention? The recently appointed Shadow Minister for Industry, Innovation Science and Research, Kim Carr has argued it is:
Industry policy is about addressing market failure … Clearly the reliance on market fundamentalism is not working. In the last five years we’ve seen the loss of nearly 40,000 jobs in manufacturing.
The Leader of the Opposition has similarly argued that Australia risks being relegated to the positions of ‘China’s quarry’ and ‘Japan’s beach’. In other words, the majority of Australia’s prosperity may become dependent on as few as two industries, tourism and mining, with a single buyer for each. Such a situation, it is implied, will provide a poor base for Australia’s future economic prosperity. Australia therefore requires a ‘sustainable economy’ buttressed by a diverse range of industries (a ‘broad economic base.’)
The Shadow Minister has also targeted low-end service industries as an example of what ALP industry policy will avoid, arguing that Australian employment cannot be restricted to ‘burger flippers’ and ‘cappuccino makers’. This constitutes an extraordinary slight on those workers, and indeed on all low-skilled workers. This type of job-snobbery is entirely inappropriate for an elected representative. Such a view also ignores the fact that these jobs are typically entry-level positions, as employees go on to higher level, higher skilled and higher paid positions either internally or externally.
Reflecting on the claim that Australia’s extractive industries provide an unsustainable base for economic prosperity, the Opposition Leader and Shadow Minister for Industry have signalled their intention to rejuvenate Australia’s ability to ‘make things’. This call for ‘reindustrialisation’ is a return to leftist ideas of the 1980s.
The term ‘industry policy’ refers to any active assistance given to economic production by government. These forms of assistance can range from the relatively benign — for instance, the legal protection of intellectual property — to the strongly interventionist — for instance, the imposition of protectionist tariffs, subsidies, or direct government control.
Australia has a long and disgraceful history of protectionism; high tariffs, the ‘White Australia Policy’ and highly regulated labour markets were some of the tools employed as part of previous industry policies. The state socialism, which characterised Australia’s political economy for much of its history, drained the nation of much of its natural wealth.
Instead of these ‘old-fashioned’ measures of an industrial policy, the Federal Labor Party proposes a new brand of industry policy. The Shadow Treasurer Wayne Swan says ‘Industry policy means to me getting the basics right — skills, education, innovation, infrastructure and tax’. Senator Carr has indicated a more expansive program, including measures such as utilising government procurement policy to provide a ‘base level of demand’ for Australian products.