Made in Australia

Now is the time for big and bold leadership. If we get this right, we can steer our country through this crisis and build a future for all of us – a future that we own and that we can be proud of. 

For many Australian manufacturing workers, there is something strangely satisfying about watching as the tide of popular opinion turns back in our favour almost overnight.  

Workers who have created, made and maintained Australia’s raw materials, infrastructure and retail goods have watched on as their jobs and livelihoods were auctioned away to the lowest possible bidder by successive federal and state governments.  

For decades, we’ve watched those that claim to represent us in the halls of parliaments applaud the loss of our industry, skills and sovereignty under the cloak of “competitive global markets” and “enhanced consumer choice”. 

We have been patronised by those on all sides of politics for being “stuck in the past” and “quaintly misinformed”, by arguing that there should be more to our trade decisions than whether it opens up new markets for vested interests.  

What the COVID-19 crisis has shown us, is that the seeds of this betrayal have sown sour fruits. 

Whether it was bare supermarket shelves, stalls in construction through patchy supply chains, or the New South Wales import of “murder ferries”, the failures of outsourcing entire industries has been made clear. 

The New South Wales Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has shown that current governments have still not learnt from their misread of  changed community sentiment, when she punched down on skilled tradespeople instead of taking responsibility for procurement failures - saying “Australia and New South Wales are not good at building trains- that’s why we have to buy them”. 

What motivated Berejiklian’s comments is entirely unclear, but it seems like a regrettable choice of framing, since it is no secret that both sides of politics see the “tradie” vote as up for grabs and an increasingly direct path to electoral success. 

While watching politicians chase blue collar votes in ill-fitting hard hats is cringeworthy and borderline patronising, there’s an opportunity for workers and industry in it.  

What career politicians might not understand, is that workers who make a living through a trade, are proud of the work they do and care deeply about the future of their industry. Any illusion that offshoring these jobs is the price we pay for the broader Australian economic interest has been shattered.  

Workers’ were sceptical before that anyone was winning through them losing their jobs, and now they know its an outright lie.  

I have no doubt that these workers, pulled in a thousand different directions at previous national ballots, will now look upon their political decisions with a once-in-a-lifetime clarity.  

Polling and data, while unreliable, supports my assertions, but I have always taken the best temperature on political debates through conversations and interactions with our members- from Newcastle, Western Sydney to Bathurst or Bega, sharing a cup of coffee with members in their lunch room gives me more insight than any poll or focus group.  

What I’ve found amongst our membership in the last few days, weeks and months, is that there is a deep and passionate will to take this fight up.  

Members who had previously kept their union ticket for the annual wage increase and the insurance benefits are lining up to be part of a campaign to rebuild Australian industry.  

Now is the time for big and bold leadership. If we get this right, we can steer our country through this crisis and build a future for all of us – a future that we own and that we can be proud of. 

A future that is Australian Made. 

Steve Murphy 

National Secretary 

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union 

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