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Manufacturing woes - The Good Oil by Rod Brown

Job losses in manufacturing roll on, with no end in sight. Some pundits reckon that our manufacturers can weather the effects of the high AUD. Piffle, because without strong global supply chains and strategic government intervention, our manufacturing industry is at acute risk.

So I rang the industry department (renamed something I can never remember – perhaps the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, so they don’t offend anyone) for an update on the Prime Minister’s Taskforce on Manufacturing.

The latest news is that the Taskforce’s report will be released any day. The Government will then respond with an Industry and Innovation Policy Statement, which will set out the Australian Government’s vision for Australian industry to 2020. It will “examine the challenges and opportunities facing Australian businesses as a result of the rapidly changing global economic environment, and propose future pathways for Australian industry and industry policy.”

Well, all I can say is that it had better be good. The officer to whom I spoke said the expected date of release of the Statement is November, to which I replied that it might be too late for PM Gillard (see below). On the bright side, the departmental head is Dr Don Russell, former chief of staff to Paul Keating. Don has a bit of pizzazz and we hope it prevails in the laissez faire climate that is gripping Canberra. Measures to build global supply chains, create high-performing industry clusters and overhaul our competition policy are sorely needed to reduce the impact of cheap imports.

We suggest that local councils and their MPs can provide an early warning system for the feds or firms under pressure, and assist with job retraining packages, rates relief, etc.

Gillard on the ropes?

In mid-June one of Canberra’s long-time political lobbyists reported that the parliamentary Labor Party thinks the Prime Minister is in a terminal slide. The lobbyist said that the details of her demise had not been worked out, but that when parliament resumes on 14 August (about the time you are reading this) we will have a new PM, probably Kevin Rudd with Bill Shorten as his deputy. The report further suggests that if the 14 August scenario does not happen, Rudd will move in the final weeks of the November/December Sittings – in fact, 7th December has been nominated as D-DAY.

We initially had a chuckle about these prognostications, but then Therese Rein came out and said she hadn’t ruled out Rudd’s return to the Labor leadership. More mind games. And last weekend (late July), the goss was that the reasoning is that unless Rudd leads Labor into the next federal election, virtually every seat in Queensland (except his) could fall.

This really is a circus. Standing back, Rudd’s earlier easy acceptance of the Garnaut Report’s Climate Change findings was the beginning of the end for Labor. His rhetorical flourish — that it’s the greatest challenge of our time — soon translated into commitments well outside global policy settings. People had forgotten that Garnaut had been advocating Australia should lead the world in dismantling support for the steel industry in the 1980s.

Now Gillard is saddled with a climate change policy that few support, and a fair number of backbenchers in marginal seats are voting through their wallets.

About lobbying the feds

Last month I suggested that, when lobbying, it’s important to decide your pitch, identify your targets and tap into the self-interest of federal ministers and agencies. The last point also includes your local federal MP because they too have a strong self-interest in progressing things within their electorate.
In my experience at least, local MPs are a much under-appreciated resource in getting initiatives over the line with Ministers and funding agencies. They generally:

  • do not wear their politics on their sleeves or aggravate the other side of politics — especially important if your local MP is in Opposition
  • put some intellectual and personal effort into the equation; i.e. their letters of support have some substance, and the local MP follows up with a Minister or relevant departmental officers
  • network very well – good local MPs connect the dots and help to ensure that commitments are met
  • have many face-to-face meetings, thereby building an easy rapport with their constituents.

Examples of local MPs with these characteristics are Russell Broadbent (McMillan), John Cobb (Parkes), Gary Nairn (ex Eden Monaro), Rob Oakeshott (Lyne) and Michael McCormack (Riverina).

I should caution that local MPs have to pick and choose the initiatives that they’re really going to support. Accordingly local councils should be made aware of these, so that they can tailor their lobbying efforts. Nothing worse than running hard if your local MP is running dead.

On a related matter, local MPs can be key players if you want to run my patented Red Wine Strategy. I should explain that this is a crude over-simplification. It involves local stakeholders organising an event – a dinner or a luncheon – at which a senior politician is required to stay for more than the obligatory few minutes.

As previously flagged, Colin Steele (Section51) and I have joined forces to run one-day workshops around Australia. They are designed to assist local councillors, senior managers and middle managers to maximise their access to federal decision makers and grant programs. Please contact us for details.

Federal grants

While on the subject of grants, the Cockatoo Network Board recently agreed to produce a special weekly bulletin for financial members. It provides the inside running to improve your chances of securing federal grants. There are some 55 federal grant programs on offer – so after 12 months, we will have covered them all in time for the next update. Recent briefings have covered:

  1. Caring for Our Country ($2.2 billion)
  2. ANZAC Centenary($83.5 million)
  3. TQUAL (tourism quality) ($88.5 million)
  4. Regional Infrastructure Grants ($6 billion)
  5. Visions of Australia - touring exhibitions ($4 million/year)
  6. Clean Technology Innovation ($200 million)

North Strathfield indeed!

My wife packed me off to buy our usual King Island steaks today but the butcher at Woden Plaza said they no longer stock it. Why so, I asked. He couldn’t really say but referred me to an alternative Black Angus fillet at $40/kilo.

“Where’s it come from?” I innocently asked. “From a black cow,” the butcher replied. The customer next to me was in stitches.

Through gritted teeth I had another go. “I meant from which region!” The butcher smugly replied, “It comes from north Strathfield.” My adjacent, new best friend was now howling as I walked away in disgust. Moral of the story – we have a long way to go in regional branding.

By the way, Gippsland yoghurt is sensational!



Rod Brown is a Canberra-based consultant specialising in industry/regional development, investment attraction, clusters and accessing Federal grants. He also runs the Cockatoo Network. He can be contacted at apdcockatoo@iprimus.com.au or phone (02) 6231 7261. 

Go to the blog at www.investmentinnovation.wordpress.com for 550+ articles on issues relevant to Local Government.