Transcript of joint press conference, Canberra
THU 16 AUGUST 2012
Prime Minister, Minister for Industry and Innovation
Subject(s): Prime Minister’s Manufacturing Taskforce; Houston report on asylum seekers; Julian Assange; Budget surplus
E & O E – PROOF ONLY
PM: I'm here with the Minister for Industry and Innovation, Greg Combet, and also with Innes Willox, the leader of the Australian Industry Group and Dave Oliver, the leader of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. They have joined me and Minister Combet today because they have just handed us this.
This is a report from the non-Government members of my manufacturing task force, and I want to thank them and everybody in the room who has worked so hard on this report, thank you for your efforts.
I asked for this report because there is nothing more important to me as Prime Minister than making sure Australians have got jobs. A million Australians work in manufacturing.
I want to make sure that we are working with our manufacturing industries today during the days of the resources boom and that we still have a strong manufacturing sector in the future in the days that lie beyond the resources boom.
Manufacturing provides us with a skill base, with innovation and it provides working people with jobs.
Good, blue-collar jobs. Jobs on which people can build their lives and support their families. That's why manufacturing is so important.
Our manufacturing sector has been undergoing profound change since the 1970s, since we started the process of opening up our economy to the world.
Now there are some acute pressures on manufacturing, particularly because of the strength of the Australian dollar. It is changing business models in manufacturing, it is bringing pressure on our manufacturing businesses.
But this is also an era of tremendous opportunity for Australian manufacturing.
As we continue to see the incredible growth in the region in which we live, the rise of more middle-class consumers in Asia, we will see a greater demand for cutting edge manufactured products and Australia and Australians can play a role in satisfying that demand.
So a time of change and a time of opportunity for Australian manufacturing. There are some great success stories today.
Don't let the pessimists say that we can't have a future in manufacturing. We can see today strong businesses like Boeing making the Dreamliner, and I acknowledge that Ian is here today leading the Boeing business here in Australia.
Strong businesses like Hoffmann's that I visited myself in Western Australia, a manufacturing business making the things that the resources sector needs for its expansion, not only providing the resources sector here in Australia but exporting their expertise and product around the world.
In my home state of Victoria, SPC making its way in different circumstances but continuing to be in manufacturing and be successful in what it is doing. So there are great success stories.
But we want more businesses to win through in this time of change.
That's why I brought together the Prime Minister's manufacturing task force and that's why I am so delighted to receive this report. We want to ensure that manufacturing has a strong future in our country. This is a powerful vision of what that future can look like.
I thank everybody on the taskforce for their work. I will hand now to Innes who will speak first, then to Dave and then Minister Combet.
INNES WILLOX: Thank you Prime Minister. Thank you very much for the opportunity to present this Non-Government Members of your Taskforce on Manufacturing report to you today.
Australian Industry Group and other business representatives on the taskforce have worked very constructively with the unions, the CSIRO and a range of international experts to produce this report.
I would especially like to acknowledge and thank the contribution of the employer representatives: Ian Thomas of Boeing who is here with us today; Geoff Plummer of Arrium, otherwise known as OneSteel; Chris Jenkins of Thales; Rebecca Dee Bradbury of Kraft; Mike Devereux of Holden; Philip Binns of Agilent Technologies and Phil Butler from Textor Technologies; all of whom have contributed to this report in quite substantial ways.
The report has made 41 recommendations and they have been endorsed by the business and union representatives on the taskforce.
While there is much agreement on the pathway forward, there are some other areas that we haven't discussed here, which obviously are the subject of other discussion which impact on manufacturing, particularly around the area of workplace relations.
But, this report is a vote of confidence in the manufacturing sector, despite the head winds which it faces which are substantial.
These structural and cyclical pressures on the sector are coming from the strength and volatility of the dollar.
Pressures of the growth from the resources sector, particularly around wages and skills, global competition, particularly the industrial revolution in China and elsewhere and the re-industrialisation of the United States, high input costs particularly around energy, slow productivity growth which has led to relatively high growth in unit labour costs and slowdowns in areas vital to our economy such as residential and commercial construction and tourism, as well as greater difficulty for industry to access finance in the post global financial crisis environment.
These pressures are tremendously challenging for manufacturing sector.
And we can see that from the sharp fall in employment, in factory closures, and also from the many plants that are operating at well less than full capacity.
All of these pressures are cutting into our manufacturing capabilities and putting at risk our ability to respond to the emerging opportunities which the Prime Minister has outlined.
They are raising important questions about the direction, the balance and the resilience of our economic development and our vulnerability to growing reliance on exports of mineral commodities that are currently attracting such historically high prices.
Even though at the moment we have to consider that those prices and investment plans in the resources sector are being reconsidered because of the impact particularly of the dollar.
All of this is occurring at a time when we are on the cusp of very strong potential opportunities as a result of the unprecedented surge in living standards in Asia, but the erosion of manufacturing capabilities is putting at risk our capacity to take advantage of those opportunities.
Please remember that manufacturing directly employs nearly 1 million Australians and it is adapting to the challenges of the rapid growth of Asia and the needs of its middle class. This report recognises that we need to play to our strengths.
The report acknowledges the huge and ongoing opportunities provided by the resources boom and does not advocate winding the clock back on the industrial restructuring that is currently under way.
In fact, the heart of this report goes to finding ways to improve Australia’s industrial productivity. It proposes concrete steps to address the current cyclical pressures and backs proposals to lift productivity and reduce tax and regulatory burdens.
Most importantly it looks to build a more innovative and better managed network community. It looks to provide us with a highly skilled and productive work place. If we lose manufacturing, we risk losing the vital skills that Australia needs to build our future.
And once we lose those skills, we never get them back. The report looks to build strong collaborative partnerships with public sector research and it also looks to build the global supply chains that are vital to the future of manufacturing and most importantly it looks to build a small and medium enterprise culture within Australia.
In short, this report provides a positive agenda to build smarting manufacturing for a smarter Australia.
It looks to provide the pathway for a manufacturing sector that can get through the current and future pressures and it looks to and forges emerging opportunities and that continues to make a strong and positive contribution to a growing, balanced and resilient economy.
This is a start, this report, of a new and necessary conversation and policy response to the challenges and tremendous opportunities for the manufacturing sector.
This report, we hope, will lead to a re-industrialisation of Australia with a clear focus on advanced manufacturing. Thank you.
DAVE OLIVER: First of all I’d like to take the opportunity to thank the Prime Minister and the Government for establishing the taskforce in the first place.
You may recall at the time that the taskforce was put together was on the back of some significant announcements that were made in the steel industry and the automotive industry, and at that time the Government saw the need and the benefit of bringing the key stakeholders together to identify and look at proposals to sustain a strong, viable manufacturing industry in this country.
We recognise that there are significant challenges. In the last five years alone, we have industry seen 100,000 jobs disappear out of the manufacturing sector and we’re still on track to lose many more. We recognise the pressure that’s on manufacturing due to, as the Prime Minister has recognised, the impact that a high Australian dollar is having or the decline in productivity, the decline in investment 20 years ago in our infrastructure, we are paying for the price for that now, and 20 years ago the lack of investment in skills.
So we recognise that there is significant pressure, but we also do recognise the importance of having a strong, viable manufacturing industry in this country.
As Innes and others have recognised, this is an industry – despite efforts to try and write it off – employs 1 million people direct, is a driver of innovation, a driver of skills and a driver of technology. It makes a significant contribution to the economy overall.
And it is important that we do recognise the need to have a diversified economic base and we can’t purely just rely on a mining boom, because the mining boom will eventually bust.
And we need to ensure that we’ve got a robust economy, that can sustain that bust and manufacturing is a key part of that.
The taskforce was an opportunity for industry, unions and Government to come together. And that's always a good model. Where we can come together and identify and work together and collaborate. Now what I do want to say is, what you won’t find in that report is a magic wand solution or a silver bullet.
This is a blueprint or a roadmap for the future. Now it will only succeed if we can continue to engage constructively and work together. That’s industry, employers with Government.
Now, there’s over 40 recommendations but the overall objective is it’s about getting smarter workplaces, it is about collaboration, it is about innovation, it is about making the connection between research and development. It is about investment in skills and skills development.
It is about investment in infrastructure. It's about training employees and getting smarter management systems in place. It is better networking between small, medium-sized enterprises. It is about assisting small, medium-sized enterprises to get access to capital, to get access to finance.
It is about having co-investment schemes in place which attract investment. And one of the most recent successful stories we have seen there, was the announcement of Holden of investing $1 billion to continue operations in Adelaide where the Government had put up $250 million.
That is a formula that works. Of course, part of all of this too is about improving the perception of manufacturing so we can continue to attract the workers of the future in the industry, the apprentices and also retain existing workers.
The main recommendations, the key themes of it, are about exploiting the benefits of the mining boom.
We still don’t think it is acceptable that we’ve got workshops in the Kwinana strip sitting idle, while we’re importing lots of plant and equipment that are going into resource projects.
Now, we recognise and applaud the initiatives the Government has announced about trying to maximise ways to increase local content into those projects. We want Government support for manufacturing and procurement.
We don’t see it’s acceptable that we’ve got state governments around this country that are purchasing cars from overseas, where in their own backyard auto companies are laying off workers. We also want to see the opportunity about building a marine engineering capability in this country, ensuring we are building the future submarine project here in this country and not importing submarines off the shelf.
We want to exploit the opportunities of tackling climate change. We’ve applauded the establishment of the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation which provides many opportunities to not only invent the technologies but make them here.
We also applaud the initiative of the Government of providing $1 billion for companies to invest in new energy efficient technologies, which has been taken up on a wide spread basis.
We want to invest in skills; that’s a key part. Innovation – we want to maximise the opportunities of our getting into Asia and in doing so, to make sure we have a level playing field when it comes to trade and identifying the formal and informal barriers that preclude or prevent our manufacturers and providers of services to get into those markets.
So I want to make it very clear that this is only the start of the process. This report is the beginning, it doesn’t end here.
And we are very keen, the union movement, is very keen to continue to work in a constructive way with industry, with employers and Government to work on those key recommendations to build a strong, viable manufacturing in the future.
And we all know that we have a role to play. This isn’t a case of coming here with a begging bowl to Government saying “You are the answer and you will provide all the solutions”.
We’ll roll our sleeves up, industry will roll their sleeves up and in doing so, hopefully we will see the support of the Government as we have enjoyed previously and into the future.
PM: Thanks very much. Thanks Dave. Greg.
MINISTER COMBET: Thank you Prime Minister. Firstly, I'd like to thank Innes and Dave in particular for the work that they and their organisations have put into the report, but also all of the other members of the taskforce.
The meetings that I’ve attended and the less formal gatherings we have had sometimes to discuss the issues I think are represented in the report, in that it is a realistic assessment of the economic context in Australia and globally that manufacturing in this country rests in.
That is, it does recognise that we have a very strong economy overall. We have GDP growing at 4.3 per cent. We’ve got unemployment down at 5.2 per cent.
We’ve had interest rates coming down. There are very good indicators in our economy. Jobs growth of 14,000 people during the month of July. Inflation at its lowest point in underlying inflation terms in 13 years.
A very significant level of investment in the private sector, obviously a significant degree of it in the resources boom, but significant private sector investment in the economy.
So there are a lot of good indicators, part of that as you are aware and has been touched upon is reflected in the high value of the Australian dollar and, of course, this is adding to structural adjustment pressures in the economy and manufacturing is one of those industries most affected by having a high Australian dollar.
Many of the business investments made in manufacturing over the years have been done on the basis of business models where, at our historical average, around 80 cents to the US dollar, business models have worked.
They are not working at $1.05 and that is why many manufacturing businesses are under pressure.
The thing that I really respect the most about what all of the task group members have brought to this effort, is that they’ve recognised those realities and have concentrated –
rather than on a yearning for the past that sometimes one hears in these discourses – on focusing on the future and what we can do in an industry like this that is so important to a modern diversified economy, so important to our economy, what we can do to drive improvements in productivity and competitiveness.
And the report touches on many important areas that have been traversed to some degree by both Innes and Dave, but they I think address five areas that as Minister, I will certainly be concentrating on and studying the report in detail.
Those five areas of course touch upon the structural adjustment pressures and the necessity to meet those and the necessity to meet those and work with industries to boost their competitiveness in pretty tough circumstances.
There are of course a number of observations made about the importance of economy-wide productivity in the report that’s very important.
We’ve seen some positive indicators on that front in the statistics over the last 12 months but the report addresses those issues too.
One of the things that interests me as Minister, in particular, is the attention the report pays to the necessity to build smarter networks in this country between research organisations, large companies particularly international companies, Boeing is represented here today by the Australian CEO Ian Thomas who was a task group member, but bringing research organisations together, universities, CSIRO, large international firms, large Australian firms and SMEs in an effort to bring a closer collaboration between our research effort in this country and innovation, and apply it in our economy in a way that drives productivity and competitiveness, particularly in this issue.
Attention is also paid to the importance of driving capability within our small and medium-sized enterprise sector which is very important driver of productivity and innovation.
And also on smarter workplaces, and my colleague Bill Shorten has worked on this area in relation to the task group report, and I’d like to acknowledge his work but particularly given mine and his background as former trade union officials, we understand the importance of there being a strong cooperative effort when you are faced with times of difficulty in a workplace with the profitability of a company, of the importance of the employees, the unions and business working together to find the changes, the improved processes, the innovation that will ensure the sustainability of that firm and the jobs that it provides.
It is represented in this report. It is quite an extraordinary thing that at times like this, with pressures in manufacturing, the in Australian Industry Group and the ACTU and all of the other players in the industry are able to reach consensus about the analysis and the recommendations. It is a great credit to those involved. It does mean there is going to be a continuing cooperative effort.
In responding to the report, there are many of the recommendations that the Government, I suppose I can indicate at this stage, sees that it may in principle be able to agree with.
We will have to work on them, but in particular there are some very important observations in the report that we’ll pay very close attention to. We’ll immediately accept one of the recommendations of the report to establish a Manufacturing Leaders Group.
We have benefitted greatly, and I as Minister has benefitted greatly, in the cooperative effort in developing this report. And they are important inputs into government policy.
One of the recommendations indicates that that should be an ongoing collaboration between government and industry players and others with an interest in the industry and we will move immediately to establish that leaders group.
PM: Thanks very much. We will take some questions but I anticipate there will be some interest in media reports in relation to matters involving Mr Assange.
I am not in a position to confirm those media reports. It is around 2am in London, but we are in contact with our High Commission.
When we are in a position to provide any further clarity, Minister Carr will make a statement on behalf of the Government.
We will take questions.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Dave Oliver said that they hadn't come here with a begging bowl, but is the Government prepared to throw some more money at this given that there are some very good ideas? Is that something you are turning your attention to in the next few months?
PM: We will be responding to the work of this report as Minister Combet has outlined. So we are not today going to pre-empt that response but we are very clearly saying to you we think that there is great merit in many of the recommendations of this report.
We have been prepared to work together in the past. We've got a shared analysis about many of the challenges that manufacturing faces and we will be getting on with the job of responding to this report because of our key concern about manufacturing jobs, blue-collar jobs and making sure that the economy is serving the interests of working people.
JOURNALIST: A question to Innes and Dave. I know you have said there is no single silver bullet but could you spell out just three concrete proposals in the report that you think will make a difference?
DAVE OLIVER: I won’t go to our specific recommendations, but in a broad sense we see getting smarter work places, a key part is investment in skills. That has to be critical. I note reports in some of the newspapers today about a McKinsey report that's come out in regards to management systems and investment in skills. That's the key to improving productivity.
Secondly, it is ensuring we have got the capability to have the ongoing dialogue and collaboration. So the establishment of the leadership group is a very important step and we welcome it as a first initiative. As we have said, this will be done on an ongoing basis.
The third aspect of it would have to be in respect to the benefits of the mining boom.
And I would also throw in there the government procurement options which provide significant opportunities in the short and medium term to fill our workshops and to expand our manufacturing base, particularly in the submarine projects.
JOURNALIST: Can the pro Federal Government do more to buy Australian made goods?
PM: I have taken steps as Prime Minister on things like procuring motor vehicles to make sure we are getting Australian-made goods.
On our recent purchases we have taken the percentage up to 76%, and last year I urged my state colleagues to do the same. Dave has just referred to a big piece of work in front of us which is the submarine project and the Government is carefully working its with way through some very important decisions in relation to that project.
There is also an aspiration here and you will see it reflected in the report, to make sure that manufacturing gets its fair share of the resources boom, that we are seeing partnership between our resources sector and our manufacturing sector so that Australian workers in our manufacturing industry can be supplying the things that the resources boom needs.
We have already put in place some policies about that but obviously there is some issues in the report that are worked through and we think require us to respond to the report and to do some more thinking about.
JOURNALIST: A question to Mr Willox just in continuation, but also your perspective of the people you represent; industrial relations, the fixed price on carbon, are they things you would like addressed in this report on behalf of the people you represent who tend to talk about that a fair bit?
INNES WILLOX: There are a couple of issues just to unpack there. This is a report about the future of manufacturing specifically and going to Tim's question, there are a couple of golden threads that run through the report.
One is looking at the need to play to our strengths which is in Asia, our skilled workforce, our capabilities. There is a specific recommendation in there, for instance, about a food sector strategy, looking at processed food into the region. So that is playing to our strengths.
We are looking at innovation and R&D. They are crucial to the future of the sector; building the linkages with universities and research institutions which are sadly on the whole lacking at the moment, although there are some positive steps in that direction.
And we are looking at the whole innovation agenda generally. Innovation is the key. It is the way out for Australian industry at the moment and that will be key to what we believe will be the re-industrialisation of the country.
Going to workplace relations, obviously this is an issue which is a separate discussion, that's part of the Fair Work review and we are examining that under the auspices of that review, not in this report, and similarly on climate change and more generally that's a separate discussion with Government.
There are some quite clear recommendations here around energy policy and those sort of issues which play around the edges of that but they are not central to this report.
JOURNALIST: But broadly speaking, what do you think the impact of the carbon tax has been and will be on manufacturing?
INNES WILLOX: This is an issue that has to play out over time. We have made our position clear around price and regulation. (Inaudible) is a conversation we’ve had with the Prime Minister and Government many times. It is early days, we will just wait to see over the months ahead what impact there is.
JOURNALIST: Minister Combet, wondering if you could explain to us how this leadership group will work? Will it be given an agenda by the Government or will it be reactive to events? And what sort of role would you envisage it having in responding to the Asian century report that's coming out?
MINISTER COMBET: Essentially, what I'd like it to be is a collaborative effort with industry and with the research organisations to help develop and implement the response to the task group's report.
Obviously the Government has work to do and I've got to get my roller skates on now we've received the taskforce's report to develop our response to it. But I wish to continue an engagement with the people who have drafted the report and others in the industry and then in the establishment of the leaders' group.
What this clearly demonstrated to me, which is no great surprise, when we all put our heads together in an environment where we have got a common goal, we will be able to implement change in the future I think does boost the productivity and competitiveness of the industry.
That's fundamentally what I see it doing.
It is going to need support in that effort with research, with coordination of efforts across the country, with liaison with State Governments that have a pretty keen interest in this area, particularly in jurisdictions like Victoria and South Australia, but when you bring people together who have got the practical business experience both internationally and domestically, those who are keen innovators, those who are in universities and research institutions and policy makers in governments, you can make a difference. That's what I want it to do.
JOURNALIST: Will this leadership group be a forum that does not discuss IR issues specifically, (inaudible)?
MINISTER COMBET: It is a manufacturing leaders' group. It will focus on the issues I anticipate that are covered within the report, but the report does discuss, as I indicated earlier, the importance of having smarter work places, I think is the terminology used in the document.
Just to be practical about it, before coming into Parliament I think I spent the better part of 25 years representing working people and particularly had close associations with the manufacturing sector and the resources industry among many others.
During all of that time, there wasn't a single day when change was not occurring. We were in an environment of course all through the 1980s, 90s and the past decade of quite dramatic economic change, but those periods of reform have led us to have a very extended period of uninterrupted economic growth; very significant productivity improvements.
And one of the key parts of that is a cooperative effort at the workplace level. Whilst some industrial struggles receive a lot of attention in public discourse, understandably, the fact of the matter is that industrial disputes in this country have faded over many years.
We do have pretty good work place culture. We do have a decent safety net of pay and employment conditions for working people that are very important and we have a devolved system of bargaining at the workplace level which is where the decisions need to be made about ensuring the competitiveness of our firms and improving productivity.
Government can play an important role in that by many methods. One of them is a massive investment in skills and working with business and employees to lift skill levels in workplaces. And as the Prime Minister has well-articulated on many previous occasions, this Government is doing an enormous amount on that front.
Uncapping of university places, significant lift in graduates, massive investments in vocational education and training, working much more closely with industry. Those things are underway.
There are many other steps in this report that are foreshadowed, particularly in the area of collaboration on research and innovation that I think we can do some more work on. It is not just about industrial relations. It is about a cooperative effort to achieve an economic goal.
PM: I will take a few more questions. I’m going to pick up the Minister's image at some point and we will all have to get our roller skates on for the rest of the day.
JOURNALIST: On another matter, there are reports that some asylum seekers urged the captain of a boat to change direction to come towards Christmas Island and there have been calls for those people to be investigated or charged with piracy. What is your position on that?
PM: If there is a breach of any relevant laws, then of course it has to be properly investigated, but this is the week that in this Parliament we've moved to action and change after the parliamentary deadlock that we have seen.
The Senate has got to play its role today but I anticipate that we will leave this Parliament with new legislation.
We need that new legislation to implement the recommendations of the Houston report, particularly in relation to PNG and Manus Island.
And we have been very, very clear that anybody who gets on a boat and endeavours to come to Australia is now at risk of being transferred to Nauru or Manus Island.
JOURNALIST: I appreciate you can't comment on current matters regarding Julian Assange but on the broader issue, has Australia sought any promises from any government, particularly the US or Sweden, regarding extradition?
PM: I have dealt with these questions in the past. There is no change in my answers. I am not intending to take questions on this matter until we are in a circumstance where we have the facts from London.
JOURNALIST: One of the recommendations seems to be encouraging you to revisit the business tax level and there seemed to be some concerns about R&D incentive arrangements. What are your inclinations on that?
PM: Let's be very clear, and I will go to Minister Combet, there has obviously been some publicity arising from the discussion paper from the business tax working group. They are ideas for discussion, they are not government decisions.
We asked the business tax working group to get on with the job of looking at ideas and they are doing that and people have an opportunity to participate in this discussion.
MINISTER COMBET: To reiterate that point, the business tax working group has canvassed a number of things, including ways in which the business tax arrangements might be rejigged and has raised an issue about the research and development tax incentive.
I just have to say, speaking for myself as Minister for a moment, the enhanced research and development tax initiative that we announced last year that effectively came into effect from 1 July is a very important contributor to the innovative effort in this country.
It is important within the business community that the business tax working group's discussion paper is discussed and considered and that views are brought back to the Government about it.
But I'm, in particular, very mindful of the importance of the R&D tax incentive in our innovation effort, and it is one of the things given support to in a general sense in the task group report.
JOURNALIST: Are you attracted to call to set up an inquiry into the Iraq war?
PM: No, I'm not. I could have given you a long answer about the circumstances of the Iraq war but we’ve got other issues.
JOURNALIST: On Hugh’s question, the Immigration Shadow Scott Morrison has just said that the Government should have sent the SAS to board that freighter and escort it to Singapore. Can I get your response to that?
PM: I am not going to make a response to a Mr Morrison comment that I haven't seen the full context of or got the full wording in front of me. But can I say generally in this area, the time for the political argy-bargy is passed.
The Australian people want to see us get on with it. We have in this week, in this Parliament, got on with it and now the Government is moving to take all of the action necessary to implement the recommendations of the Houston report about PNG and Nauru, including having reconnaissance teams on the ground as soon as tomorrow.
JOURNALIST: Just to follow on that question, Ms Gillard, you have sent a very strong message to the asylum seekers not to get on boats, but would you also send a message that if they do get on boats and picked up by merchant vessels and create problems on them, that action will be taken, whether having military board or through some other means?
PM: Let me say something general rather than deal with these specifics that have been put. If anyone in any circumstance anywhere engages in unlawful conduct, then of course that unlawful conduct should be acted upon.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you said you were getting on with implementing the Houston findings. Are you in a position to confirm the cost to the Budget will be as the report suggests $4.6 billion over the forward estimates and does that make it hard for you to implement the Gonski changes?
PM: We will work through proper government processes to get full costings. We will do what we always do which is make appropriate provision in the Budget. The Budget will come to surplus.
JOURNALIST: Can I come back to the manufacturing report. Can I ask each of you, do you think that the higher dollar is the biggest single problem facing manufacturing now? And if so, is it something you just have to live with or is it something that you would like the economic policy makers in the Government to be looking for ways to influence?
PM: I'm happy to turn to my friends on that and then I will say something.
DAVE OLIVER: Just a couple of ones. The high Australian dollar is having a significant impact on manufacturing, not only because of where it is sitting but for the amount of time it has been sitting there. This is what the report recognises, that we envisage the dollar will remain high for some time. So the main thrust is about being more competitive, being more smarter, being more productive, and this report will coincide with the Asian Century white paper which is about getting greater opportunities.
There are some recommendations in respect of looking at ways to try to minimise the impact of the dollar but the main thrust is about being smarter, more competitive and more efficient.
INNES WILLOX: When you talk to business about the situation they face with the dollar among a league table of problems or circumstances they are facing at the moment, the dollar is number one and it’s about four games clear on top of the ladder when it comes to being a concern to industry at the moment. It is having a big impact on investment into Australia, it is having a big impact on our export capability, it is having a big impact on access to capital.
So across a whole broad range of issues, the dollar, not just the height that it’s at but also the volatility it goes through. When it moves, it moves in big directions and very quickly. And that impacts on investment decisions as well. So the dollar, its volatility and its strength are significant concerns for industry at the moment and have been for a long time.
This report makes a series of recommendations, not getting into intervention in the dollar but looking at ameliorating the impact of the dollar around other frameworks to build industrial capacity in Australia.
PM: If I can just say we have got a world-beating economy and the strength of the dollar is a reflection of our economic strength, it is a reflection of our economic strength in resources. It’s also a reflection of the fact many people are increasingly viewing Australia as a safe haven place and there is a hunger for assets that are denominated in Australian dollars.
So in those circumstances, it is a reflection of strength but it is also driving change and putting pressure on other industries of which manufacturing is clearly a very significant one.
One million Australians employed in manufacturing. That's why we are in this process working with partners from the trade union movement, partners from the business community and their organisations, because we all understand that we need to be shaping that change in the interests of our nation, in the interests of the businesses of our nation and fundamentally in the interests of the hardworking Australians who make their way and their livelihood in manufacturing.
We will take one more question and then we have to go.
JOURNALIST: Just to clarify, has the Australian Government had no contact from the UK Government regarding Julian Assange?
PM: We will deal with all of this when we are in a position to do so. What I have said to you is it is the middle of the night in London, past 2am now, and we are speaking to our High Commissioner.
Thanks very much.