Simon Crean might be down but that he is certainly not out was shown yesterday when new Labor Leader Kevin Rudd singled out revitalising Australian manufacturing industry as an example of how things would be different under an administration run by him.

Saving a manufacturing base has been a Crean crusade for a decade and he now has a leader listening to him. Whereas Kim Beazley merely talked the talk with plans for a wishy-washy body called Enterprise Connect, Rudd can be expected to tackle economic rationalism head on with some good old-fashioned protectionism.

Not that the Opposition Leader will be calling his subsidies and incentives protectionism. The “new policy agenda for the nation” he spoke of at his first press conference after winning will tackle the question “will Australia in the future be a manufacturing country, will we still make things or is that all gone?” His answer was yes but not in not the old-fashioned style that depended on protective tariffs and quotas.

What the new style will consist of will be spelled out in the months ahead but the Rudd way with words will surely find a fork in the road inside his babushka doll that describes rent seeking as a meaningful industry policy.

Where Crean knows there is fertile ground is in the statistics showing that since 1996, the government of John Howard has overseen the loss of 145,000 Australian manufacturing jobs with 60,000 of them occurring since the Government’s re-election in 2004. According to a study commissioned by the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union there could be another 200,000 job losses by 2020 if current policy settings continue.

Kim Beazley tried to raise manufacturing policy as an issue with an innovation blueprint but failed to arouse much interest. Nor did the Enterprise Connect centres dedicated to advanced manufacturing stir the interest of leadership obsessed journalists. It will now be up to the new style with sleeves rolled up to try again.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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