It is wonderful to consider the impact the Prime Ministers “A Plan for Australian Jobs” announcement over the weekend has had, already, on Australian jobs.
- Multitudes of grateful bureaucrats have laboured mightily for months and months, crafting and re-crafting the words of the announcement to ensure it does not say anything that may attract any critical comment, and includes every existing program and hopeful announcement at least twice,
- Favoured consultants are rejoicing at the fees to date, and to come,
- Advertising and PR agencies wriggle to the bar to celebrate the coup of gaining “the account”,
- Engaged lawyers, consultants, bureaucrats, researchers, and grant trough dwellers, rejoice at the billion dollar bait now on the table.
But what about the rest of us, those who struggle to compete in the real world?
Lots of well meaning, multi-syllable words that ensure there is no accountability for anything, just continuous blather, platitudes and clichés. Oh, and the plan tells us they will spend a $billion of our money. It is after all, “our responsibility to assist in the structural adjustment process in the economy”. We, as obedient and loyal servants, should be grateful the Government has finally realised the parlous state of manufacturing in this country, and are doing something about it.
I read the plan, twice in fact because I thought I must have missed the important and insightful bit the first time through. You can save yourself a bit of time and read the summary, that is useful, but please consider the following whilst you do:
- Minister Combet says in his introduction that the plan is “Supporting Australian industry to increase exports and win more business abroad”. Call me pedantic, but I thought increasing exports and winning more business abroad were the same thing, and besides, what has Austrade been doing for the last 40 years?. Having run a real business on contract for a Federal department, set up with the express aim of increasing agricultural exports with a budget of 6 million over 3 years, which attracted the ire of the “You cannot subsidise exports” Nazi’s in Canberra, I can only wonder what a billion is doing for their collective blood pressure.
- There is a fair bit of verbiage about “fostering clusters” in the report. There is no doubt that clusters can become innovation hotbeds. Everyone with a pig in the race points to the tech miracle of Silicon Valley, and the medical cluster centered on Boston, amongst a few others, but forgets that they took decades to evolve, (a bit longer than the average election cycle in the first world) and the evolution of successful clusters has had nothing to do with public investment beyond the provision of high quality public infrastructure, schools, universities, transport, and power. Every investment (to my knowledge)by a Government in an overt effort to build a “cluster” around the world has failed, or is failing in the absence of a long term investment in infrastructure.
- Oh the joy of a good acronym! The plan is full of them, some new, some recycled, but the gold standard is a beauty: G.O.L.D. standing for “Growth Opportunities and Leadership Development”. Wonderful isn’t it, must have come from an orgasmic Eureka moment for someone. Clearly, I am just being petty.
- A headline objective of this plan is “Creating a stronger, fairer, and simpler tax and transfer system and reducing red tape” Great sentiment, but all through the plan is articulated the need for more legislation, regulation, and creation of various advisory and oversight bodies. When I was at school, these sorts of additions would consume added resources, add complication, and create demarcation squabbles amongst agencies. Not a lot of “simpler, fairer” in this lot that I can see.
- This is the last whinge, perhaps the best, so congratulations if you have got this far. There is a graph 5.1 on page 23 of the report that shows collaboration across a number of economies, which is presumably there to demonstrate the value of collaboration, which the government wants to (correctly in my view) foster. The figures show Australia at about 18% (of what is not really clear to me) next door to Germany, held up as a poster child of manufacturing excellence, at 19%, and China, at 19.5%. The field is lead by a Black Caviar like stretch by Britain at 69%, but the last time I looked, the British economy was a basket case. Perhaps the graph is a mistake, showing the opposite of the Governments argument, or perhaps the situation has changed because the data is so bloody old, or perhaps my simple old brain has been scrambled by the clichés and acronyms.
Australian manufacturing is in a hole, and rule 1 of my rules of holes says that “once you realise you are in a hole, stop digging”. There is little in this plan that actually throws away the shovel, it just burnishes it for more use. The real challenge is the endless duplication, commercial naivety, turf wars, lack of gumption, and the assumption that all problems can be legislated away that infests our elected bodies and their bureaucrats that is the greatest hurdle Australian manufacturing has to jump.