Advancing Australian Manufacturing


There is a lot of talk about “advanced manufacturing” at the moment. It is associated with words and phrases like “innovation”, “collaboration”, “high tech” “global supply chains”, “moving up value chains”, “adding value”, “going global”, “value adding services” and “clean” and “lean”. Sounds a bit like motherhood?

Last week Ai Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox, gave an address at the Advanced Manufacturing Summit in Sydney in which he re-orientated the discussion away from the virtues of advanced manufacturing towards a strategy of Advancing Australian Manufacturing.

This is an important shift for Australian manufacturing and for the national economy.

We need to be wary of relegating great swathes of manufacturing to the dustbin by singling out a new and favoured category of “advanced manufacturers” (as if to distinguish from the rest – who would be ordinary or backward).

But put-downs aside, the substantial issue is that here we have the old “picking winners” trap in a new guise. We risk denying recognition; turning away the interest of financers; and having the negotiators of international trade agreements turn a blind eye to all manufacturing not seen to be “advanced”.

If we instead focus on advancing manufacturing rather than assessing whether this or that industry or business passes an “advanced manufacturer” test, we begin to look at all available opportunities for transforming industries; building on strengths; and establishing new manufacturing businesses and industries.

Of course it’s very substantially about innovation, collaboration, adding value, global supply chains and the like but it includes the old fashioned gems as well as the shiny new bling. It would include a textile company like Textor Technologies, a foundry like Keech Australia as well as a “traditional manufacturer” like Amcor and an “advanced manufacturer” like Cochlear.

We need diversity in our manufacturing sector just as we need it in the broader economy and advancing manufacturing is important to both.

How has talk of “advanced manufacturing” impacted the perception of your business? Share your comments below.

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Head of Influence and Policy at Ai Group, Peter is responsible for policy development on a wide range of issues relevant to Ai Group members and works closely with our National Workplace Relations Policy and Education and Training Policy teams. Previously Director – Policy at the Business Council of Australia, Peter also held academic positions in Economics Departments at the University of Queensland and the University of Newcastle after starting his professional career at the Commonwealth Treasury. He has extensive experience in taxation policy including in the Tax Policy Division of Treasury at the time of the Draft While Paper and the Reform of Australia’s Tax System; as a lecturer in Public Finance; as Secretary to the Business Coalition for Tax Reform between 1997 and 2002 during the time of the development and implementation of A New Tax System and the Ralph Review of Business Taxation. Peter was also a member of the Business Tax Working Group that advised Treasurer Swan on changes to business taxation and has led taxation policy development while at Ai Group.


  1. Aran Fitzgerald

    Thank you Peter and Innes for making this important distinction. Although we are getting involved in Additive Manufacturing, by far our most important business area is still in traditional manufacturing. Australia will always need heavy machinery and we are running out of people who can design, build and maintain it. This is why I find it distressing that we are discussing the offshoring of ship building. This area has an incredible scope for employing and training engineers, draftsmen and manufacturers all the way from sheet metal fabrication to high-tech CNC machining of fittings. Designing and building submarines is advanced manufacturing.

    1. Peter Burn (Post author)

      Thanks for your comment Aran. Agree that shipbuilding is very important and your point about the extensive links it and other defence-related projects have to a whole range of engineering, ICT, service and manufacturing capabilities.


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