Amidst all the blathering following the federal budget Tuesday night I have not seen one comment, political or otherwise that points out the crisis in manufacturing, particularly food industry related manufacturing.
Sure, lots of puff about how hard it is for exporters, but the terms of trade are better than any time in the last 140 years, so, by implication, how bad can it really be?
The food industry is now dominated by large firms, two retailers have a stranglehold, most of the products you buy are imported, and there is precious little manufacturing done here anymore. Australia is now a net importer of food, yes, a net importer, according to the AFGC State of the nation report 2010, try telling that story around the BBQ on Saturday, “they won’t believe you”
One of my clients, one of the few SME’s who have survived the onslaught of the last 20 years, yesterday missed out on a contract to supply one of the big two retailers on a housebrand contract, missed out does not describe it, his cost of production is just under the landed prices of competitive quotes. If you adjust for the exchange rate of two years ago, he may have won the business, but now!!!
The other side of the terms of trade is how cheaply stuff can be imported. OK for electronics, we do not manufacture them, but Food??. We are no longer self sufficient, and if this small bloke goes under, as most of the others have, 15 people in a modest sized country town lose their jobs, and he loses his house, super, and 30 years of effort. When the exchange rate goes back, after China and India slow down, as they will, and new mines in Africa and South America come on stream, it will be too late for him, and us.
But do you hear anything about this?, does anybody care? Judging by the blather, the answer is NO, or perhaps it is just too confronting a problem for the pollies to acknowledge until they get dragged screaming to it. Much easier to blather.
Update: June 11 2013.
Nothing has changed, Simplot anounced closures last week in Bathurst and Denvenport, Rosella went bust a few months ago, and a host of SME’s in the food industry are no more. In the wider economy, the mining investment boom has slowed right down, manufacturing is still in the crapper, and unlikely to find much succour in the $A being just below parity for the first time in several years. The headline example is Ford announcing last week the closure of local manufacturing, which galvanised the pollies to announce lots of “support” for the workforce, luckily heavily unionised, or they would get nothing, like the Fairfax journos shown the door a few months ago without a political peep.
Meanwhile, the Treasurer talks about the strong economy (well it is compared to Portugal) and almost full employment, but the statistical definition of “employed” is nonsence, meaning there is a huge weight of hidden underemployment around, and as a result nobody is spending. Nobody is taking up the NBN, even if they are the lucky few who are strategically located in a politically sensative spot, and may have the opportunity to do so, and the reluctance has nothing to do with asbestos. The speculation today has been all about the liklihood of Gillard still leading the labor party in September, let alone the country. The PM is in QLD, sprouting the “Gonski” Education reforms as the saviour, quoting numbers emerging from the modelling that has been done as the evidence of her committment, and we know how well that worked in several previous initiatives.
Can the labour party stop talking about itself?? We do not want to hear!
It really is Cloud Cuckoo land.