Fast Lane: Don’t leave SMEs out of the parliamentary inquiry into manufacturing industry

Fast Lane: Don’t leave SMEs out of the parliamentary inquiry into manufacturing industry

Labor’s industry and innovation spokesperson, Kim Carr, will move in the Senate today for a 15 month investigation into Australia’s manufacturing industry.

The investigation is likely to be backed by the Greens and comes after Holden, Ford and Toyota announced they would stop manufacturing in Australia.

The investigation has the catchy title of the “Science, Research and the Australian Innovation System Reference inquiry”.

Senator Carr claims in the first six months of the Abbott government’s term there have been “massive job losses”, particularly in manufacturing with “over 5500 in automotive alone, with another 50,000 poised to go.”

The investigation clearly aims to embarrass the government after Prime Minister Tony Abbott refused to appoint a dedicated science or innovation minister or bail out the car manufacturers.

Two separate reviews of manufacturing are already underway in South Australia and Victoria but there is no national review.

”This inquiry will seek to fill the Abbott government’s policy black hole when it comes to innovation, science and research policy in Australia and show people of ambition the respect they deserve,” Senator Carr said in a statement to SmartCompany.

It’s essential that this latest inquiry doesn’t overlook SMEs.

I’ve seen a copy of the draft terms of reference for the inquiry and there’s no mention at all of small business. 

In the headline news of big manufacturers going under, what is often forgotten is the complex web of small and medium size businesses which are hit hard by any closures.

When the car manufacturers announced their decision to close, thousands of small businesses in the automotive supply chain were affected.

But manufacturing in Australia is not dead yet – SMEs like Tomcar Australia and the Volvo group are showing auto manufacturing can continue by focusing on niche and customised manufacturing.

The future for manufacturing in Australia is for those who produce very bulky items that are difficult to import, so there is a natural tariff barrier, or manufacturers that are agile and specialised and are producing products that can operate successfully in market niches both locally and in global markets and supply chains.

SMEs are perfectly placed to take up this mantle and should be front and centre of any plans to investigate the state of science and innovation and rejuvenate manufacturing in Australia.

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