Workplace: Dirt Cheap
Industrial: Daddy Doesnít Live With Us Anymore
Economics: Who's Afraid of the BCA?
International: From the Wreckage
Politics: Infrastructure Blues
History: Meat and Three Veg
Savings: Super Seduction
Politics: Popping the 'E-Word'
Poetry: To Know Somebody
Review: Off the Rails
The Locker Room
Thatís Our Team
Janetís Job No Victory
Royal Finger Lickers
Will $20 Restore Carr?
The Big Picture
Australia has been led down the garden path. For too long we have been content to be the world's farm and quarry. Despite the highest export prices in a generation we have just recorded the highest current account deficit in our history.
Our politicians seem content for us to dig up rocks, transport them around the world where they are turned into complex manufactured goods, and then buy them back with money borrowed from overseas. The result is that we now owe the world nearly $21 000 for every man, woman and child in Australia. In 2003 we had to export 150 tonnes of iron ore to buy one plasma television.
Why do our leaders let this happen?
It's because they don't realise that manufacturing matters. We have a massive deficit in manufactured goods and it is getting worse under this government. For every dollar of manufactured good we make here, we buy another $2.55 from overseas. The government may claim that this deficit is because we're importing machinery so we can make more here. That's wrong. Our imports of consumer goods has risen twice as fast as our imports of capital goods (goods to make other goods).
The government seems to think that the high prices were getting for our farm and mineral exports are going to last forever. What happens when prices fall? Which they will eventually do as countries like India start to export more or god forbid the Chinese economy slows down. We have no alternate export base. Building more infrastructure is important but it won't solve the problem by itself. You can have a thousand ports ready to export coal but it won't matter if no one wants to buy the coal or if the price is less than it costs to dig it up and ship it.
We have put all our eggs in one basket. Instead of spending $66 billion to buy an election, pushing up interest rates in the process, John Howard should have been looking at our long term needs. Investing in skills and supporting our manufacturing sector. We are even importing Chinese welders, when we have 135 000 young Australians dropping out of apprenticeships each year. This government is more interested in finding someone to blame than finding solutions.
Manufacturing export jobs earn 40% more than the average wage. We should have been investing in these jobs. Instead we have Peter Costello running around blaming interest rate rises on workers and trying to cut their wages.
Make no mistake, we are in 'banana republic' land. If we are to secure our future and provide jobs for our children we must fix the current account problem. The solution isn't cutting wages, it isn't even building more infrastructure, it's building an innovative, export orientated manufacturing sector. Without that we'll just be a crumbling quarry, a drought plagued farm and a place that was once nice to visit.
Doug Cameron is the national secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union
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