Keep manufacturing onshore: unions

MAJOR union and industry leaders have called on the Federal Government to create new hubs in regional areas to help manufacturing businesses innovate, as part of a report to the Commonwealth on what should be done to ensure manufacturing stays onshore.

In the past 25 years, the manufacturing sector has nearly halved as a share of total gross domestic product (GDP), down to about 8% last year from just under 16% in 1985.

With more than one million Australians employed in the sector and the inevitable push of many manufacturing companies to move operations offshore, Prime Minister Julia Gillard asked her manufacturing taskforce to report on what could be done to stop the decline.

The six union and eight industry representatives on the taskforce released their report on Thursday which included 44 recommendations to government.

Among the recommendations was a network of "innovation hubs" for major regional centres around the country to help bring business, government and the research community together.

If the government chose to act on this recommendation, the taskforce advised the regional towns and cities would need to meet criteria.

The towns would need to already have several industries, among them the broad themes of food, forestry, resources, engineering, health, the environment and defence.

Many of the largest towns in regional Queensland and northern New South Wales would meet several of these criteria, if not all, including Rockhampton, Mackay, Toowoomba, Ipswich and Coffs Harbour.

Other recommendations the report made were for the Commonwealth to commission an independent investigation into creating a sovereign wealth fund, create a national food innovation network and review the funding and activities of co-operative research centres and universities.

While the report discussed the challenges for manufacturing associated with the high Australian dollar, it did not recommend any changes to current policy.

Meanwhile, the manufacturing industry was on three other parliamentarians' lips, with Senators John Madigan and Nick Xenophon joining Queensland's Bob Katter to launch a new program aimed at getting politicians out of their plush Canberra offices and into a pair of dusty RM's.

Parliamentarians, who sign up to the Australian Farming and Manufacturing Program, will have to work in one of the two major industries for at least a day, taking orders from those who work in the industry every day.

While the program was originally launched in Ballarat last year, the national launch opened the program up for federal politicians to sign up, with more than 50 already on the books.

Unfortunately, sources say neither Ms Gillard nor her counterpart, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, have signed up for the program - yet.

Topics:  federal government manufacturing

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