Mark Twain had the bizarre pleasure of reading his own obituary. It would be a salutary experience.
The obit for Australian car manufacturing, however, has the aspect of a soap opera. It’s been running for years with the same grinding inevitability and fading stars.
Rumours that the death have of those one-time Strayan icons – Ford’s Falcon and Holden’s Commodore – have not in fact been exaggerated were confirmed today at the Detroit motor show. Once the champions in the two-horse race that was the local new car stakes, both nameplates will be sent to the knackery in 2016 (or at best be assigned to imported American models).
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It’s 25 years since the manufacture of asbestos stopped in Australia but the shadow it has cast over the lives of thousands of families is as dark as ever.
The asbestos tragedy we have seen in Australia is repeating itself in countries like India and Laos, and this time we don’t have ignorance as an excuse to do nothing.
Those who watched “Devil’s Dust” on ABC last week will have been reminded of the toll asbestos has taken, and the story is not finished yet.
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There has been a lot of discussion about the coalition of women, African Americans and Latino voters that supported Obama, yet we seem to have missed what pushed the swing states over the line.
The key to understanding Obama’s victory is the not simply the auto-bailout, but his ability to convince people that American manufacturing is worth supporting because it is in the national interest. That it represents the future.
Take a look at his speeches. Or his adverts. Many of these were targeted at Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan, used the real stories of manufacturing workers and the lessons of the bail out - contrasting them with the position of Romney who argued that the auto-industry should be left to go to the wall.
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It’s not surprising that the latest Nielsen poll shows that the carbon tax remains deeply unpopular, despite the Gillard Government’s “cash for you” compensation.
Australians instinctively know that this tax, as well as being entirely futile, represents a major betrayal by the Government.
While the polls show that many feel rising costs are not the major problem with the carbon tax, many hidden costs are yet to be revealed.
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There is a vast expanse of disused and dirty industrial land about 1km from where I grew up which served for years as a gigantic money pit for the Australian taxpayer.
The millions and millions of dollars poured into it ultimately failed to do anything to stem its demise.
Today, the abandoned Mitsubishi site stands as a monument to an industrial policy which tried to forestall the inevitable, creating false hope for workers whose jobs were marginal at best, and enlisting the taxpayers as a reliable cash-cow while failing to put any real pressure on the company chiefs to address the demand problems with the type of cars they were producing.
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The announcement by Toyota of several hundred job losses this week is certainly alarming and it will have had and will continue to have ramifications for the broader industry.
But it will only mark the end of the industry if we as a society say we don’t want manufacturing and we are happy to simply be China’s quarry and maybe a second tier tourist destination.
In all the hyperbole and wild statements we hear about our mining industry, we rarely hear some of the uncomfortable truths. That it’s only 9 per cent of the economy, that it is the cause of the high Australian dollar which is putting pressure on our manufacturers and farmers, and that, at its best, it really only represents the highest aspirations of the average third world dictator.
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The Australian economy is in danger of being torn apart by the resources boom.
The high prices being paid for our minerals, the unprecedented foreign investment to dig up those minerals and the rising value of the dollar are already reshaping our economy. This is only the beginning.
It will end, all booms do, but this one will take some time and it will bring great change.
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Jobs are being lost, buildings are closing; hundreds of people are moving overseas.
Australian manufacturing is facing a major slump, with thousands more jobs expected in light of the carbon tax policy - especially in places like the La Trobe Valley in Victoria.
According to recent research from the Australian Trade and Industry Alliance, less than nine per cent of the one million manufacturing workforce are employed by firms that will receive compensation for the carbon tax.
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“Dead, buried, cremated,” Tony Abbott decreed theatrically of WorkChoices amid a shaky start to his 2010 election campaign.
It turned out it was a mere hiccup compared to the spectacular Cabinet leaks on the Government side which scuttled Julia Gillard’s credibility. She has never really recovered.
But the mere fact that a resurgent IR debate scared him witless says much about the history of this issue and the scars the 2007 defeat left.
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By many counts, Australia’s economic position is to be envied by the world. Assuming the Gillard government can deliver on its promise, there will be a surplus for the 2012-13 budget. We are experiencing historically high terms of trade: importing on the cheap while exports sell high.
Unemployment is only a touch over 5%. Our dollar has overtaken the US Greenback. We have the second lowest public debt (proportional to our GDP) in the industrialised world. And If you’ve listened to Treasurer Wayne Swan open his mouth in the last 6 months, you’ll know that our economy’s “fundamentals are strong”.
It may surprise some therefore, that I would suggest that this is no time for complacency about our future. Indeed, our position is more precarious that one might initially think. For there’s another side to the Australian story: lopsided growth, struggling non-resource exporters, depleting natural resources, coming challenges of an ageing population and climate change, and a vulnerability to oscillating commodity prices. Considering these factors, it is best that the orthodox optimism surrounding our economic future be taken with a grain of salt.
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Alongside coal, steelmaking has dominated the Illawarra economy for the better part of a century. The industrial landscape of Port Kembla continues to define the lives of the people that work and live in its shadow, the people that I represent in the federal electorate of Throsby.
When I left high school in the early eighties, the Steelers NRL team was still running around in the top flight (before merging with St George), and many of my mates took up apprenticeships with the company that sponsored the famous scarlet jersey, BHP Steel.
We were a steel city, a proud working-class town, just like our sister city of Newcastle. In many respects we still are. But just like Newcastle and in the other manufacturing regions around Australia at that time, the ground was already shifting under our feet.
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It is not often that you wake up on a Saturday in Sydney and have a choice of rallies to attend – but this is exactly what happened last week.
In case you missed it, the two rallies were organised in support and opposition to the proposed “price on carbon” strategy put forward by the Federal Government.
Being excited by a bit of political expressionism in a city where Saturday morning priorities are usually shopping and cappuccinos, I decided to attend not just one but both.
Put the shopping basket down and step AWAY from the dairy aisle. Admit it. You were about to buy the $1 milk weren’t you?
Why? Well, as the insidious Coles jingo bleats: “Because We All Buy Milk!” You were about to save a whole 75 cents a litre.
But you were also falling for one of the dirtiest tricks in supermarket history – a trick which is possibly threatening the viability of a major Australian industry.
It all started, ironically, on Australia Day, but let’s look at the aftermath.
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You’ve got to wonder how genuine Union boss Paul Howes’ latest headline-grabbing attempt to put himself centre-stage really is.
He’s launched the “Don’t Dump on Australia” campaign, ostensibly on behalf of his union members, to encourage people to protest Australia’s ineffective anti-dumping laws.
Fair enough. But the question is – why doesn’t he just get on the phone to the woman he installed as PM? Why doesn’t he remind Julia that he knifed Kevin to get her there and, after all, this is the year “of decision and delivery”.
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To some Australians the high dollar is cause for celebration.
A great way to pick up a bargain over the internet or a cheap holiday overseas. But for many, including 100 workers at Caterpillar in suburban Melbourne last week, it means watching your industry become less competitive and suddenly finding yourself out of a job.
The cause of the high dollar is Australia’s mining boom.
Several years ago scientist David Suzuki observed that humans have an innate need to be connected with nature, even if it’s only a nearby park or a tree in the backyard.
Australians, who have always expressed nature as part of their national identity, are manifesting this observation more than ever before.
In a recent study looking at a range of social issues related to modern living a surprisingly high number of participants reported growing their own vegetables or herbs at home.
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