In a recent survey of hot issues, most people agreed that more items should be made in Australia. A combined 82.5 per cent of respondents in a representative sample said they strongly agreed (42 per cent) or agreed (40.5 per cent) that manufacturing was an important social and economic issue.

The Age newspaper recently reported that “Support for an expansion of Australia’s manufacturing sector was strong regardless of respondents’ age, gender, income or locality.” The finding comes from the Political Person Project, a wide-ranging effort to outline different types of Australians “Based on their lifestyles, social values and politics.” The project was done by Fairfax Media in association with the Australian National University (ANU) and Netherlands-based political research enterprise Kieskompas.

In the 1970s one in four Australian workers were employed in the manufacturing sector. Not so today as the sector now accounts for only one in 13 workers. Manufacturing all over Australia is in decline. We are becoming a buy-in nation and the trend is troubling. Between 2008 and 2015 more than 200,000 manufacturing jobs were lost. The automotive industry is a prime example with almost 100% of motor vehicles now coming from overseas. One wonders how a car can be made in the UK or Germany and shipped all the way to Australia for less that it could be made here. Are our wages really that high or are we just inefficient?

There are some small glimmers of hope though, according to the Australian Industry Group (AIG) manufacturing in Victoria grew by 0.8% last financial year and the State’s manufacturing sector has only dropped by a very small margin compared to the rest of Australia. Smaller producers comprising half of Victoria’s manufacturers appear to be doing well, employing one in ten of Australian workers. The AIG’s Tim Piper said “The Victorian sector’s growth over the past year was probably surprising given the negative commentary on large-scale manufacturing. What it does show is there is a resilience and growth in smaller companies in non-traditional manufacturing, such as innovative construction but I would be surprised to see real manufacturing output increased over the next year, given the loss of the car industry.”

In 2015 Australia exported just under $100 billion in total value of manufactured products, and imported $246 billion. Our biggest export is empty shipping containers. Economist Saul Eslake said “While most Australians appear to believe it would be a good thing if more Australians worked in manufacturing, there doesn’t appear to be a strong desire among Australians for their own children to work in factory jobs.” Jim Stanford, an economist from the Centre for the Future of Work at The Australia Institute, estimates Australia now has a lower proportion of manufacturing workers than any comparable advanced economy. In a poll published last year by The Australia Institute think tank, most respondents rated manufacturing as important or very important to the economy and said the health of manufacturing should be a national priority.