ugg boots

Get your hands off our image. That’s the message Australia is broadcasting to the world with a highly publicised crackdown on an ugg boot wholesaler.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has hit apparel company Ozwear with a $25,000 fine for claiming on its website it was “100% Aussie owned” and that its “Classic Ugg” range was manufactured with “the best materials available in Australia”.

The Chinese-made items had attached to them a cardboard swing-tag in the shape of Australia, in green and gold, claiming “this exclusive premium label is uniquely Australian-owned brand for authentic Australian Ugg boots”.

While the products did say on them that they were made in China, that was not good enough for the consumer watchdog.

“Ozwear’s conduct is unacceptable,” ACCC Deputy Chair Mick Keogh said. “Under the Australian Consumer Law, businesses are prohibited from making claims that create a false impression about products being made in Australia … Businesses are warned that making misleading claims or representations about a product’s country of origin will attract ACCC scrutiny and enforcement action.”

But the great ugg bust of 2018 is about more than just a wool-lined slipper so dramatically comfortable you are perpetually tempted to wear it out of the house. This is about Australia’s springboard into the economy of the future.

“Country of origin representations can be a powerful marketing tool for businesses,” Mr Keogh pointed out. “Many consumers are willing to pay extra for Australian made products.”

Australia’s manufacturing industry is having a resurgence. It is largely to do with the “Australian origin” marketing that gives our food and farm products their fresh and clean image.

Just as “made in Italy” conveys style when you find it on the tag of a garment, so “made in Australia” conveys quality, cleanliness and safety when you find it on the back of a food product. That matters enormously in China, where consumers are suspicious — sometimes justifiably — of local product quality.

Food and fibre

All those Chinese tourists stuffing their suitcases with baby milk powder are just the most visible part of the phenomenon — our food and fibre is in hot demand right now.

But unlike previous times when we have ridden on the sheep’s back, Australia is now asked to transform the natural bounty of our land. Consumers want a value-added product. Not just bulk Australian cheese made into things locally. They want assurances this stuff is really Australian.

The rise in local food and fibre manufacturing has been substantial. After steadily losing employment for six years from 2011 to 2017, the manufacturing industry has in the last year added all those lost jobs back, and more. Around 80,000 new jobs have been added, including some in manufacturing related to the mining and construction industries too.

Companies, like the Tasmanian milk powder and baby food manufacturer Bellamy’s Organic, are making out like bandits on the back of our national image. They have a plan to raise revenue to half a billion dollars in the next few years, which will inevitably flow through to farmers and the communities that support those farmers.

We’re not making so many generic socks and cars and more. We make milk powders, cheese, and thousands of other types of manufactured food.

I wish I could be more specific here, but the ABS categories are set up for that previous era — it has lots of categories for different bulk products (e.g. “Cereal meals and flours excl. groats and meal of wheat and flour of wheat or of meslin”) but not many for manufactured food. Thus, the “edible products not elsewhere specified” column is absolutely stuffed with valuable exports.

Increasingly, so is footwear, women’s clothes, meat products. These industries look set to make a real contribution to Australia’s economy, if they can leverage our national image. And that’s why we’re putting the slipper into vendors of dodgy foreign moccasins.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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