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Jobs Forum no substitute for manufacturing inquiry

Blog post by Senator Lee Rhiannon

I was one of about 100 participants at the federal government’s Jobs Forum. If the benchmark of a successful forum was job creation how did it rate?

AMWU and AWU national secretaries, Dave Oliver and Paul Howes, were generous in their praise. Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that companies, which receive more than $20 million in government grants, will be required to fill out and make public Australian Industry Participation forms.

The plan is that Australian manufacturing unions and firms can now test the claims of resource sector companies that they are buying local. Mr Oliver said that the government decision “will allow us to campaign to name and shame anyone not providing a fair go in a transparent process.”

That was the win Paul Howes referred to when he said at the conclusion of the Forum: "It's a good day for manufacturing and it's a good day for the million plus workers in the sector … We have today from the Prime Minister concrete plans - concrete action - on doing what can be done as quickly as possible to saving every job that's possible."

How a name and shame campaign saves jobs has not been explained.

The case for manufacturing jobs set out in the unions’ joint paper is a strong one. Workers, particularly those who are out of work due to the closure of manufacturing plants, clearly warranted much more than paper work on local content and unions campaigning to embarrass companies.

It is worth remembering that the one day Jobs Forum was the federal government’s response to the call by unions and the Greens for an independent inquiry into manufacturing and jobs.

The Jobs Forum was no substitute for such an inquiry into local content rules and how we ensure the survival and growth of the manufacturing sector in the face of the high dollar and other spin offs from the mining boom.

Melbourne Greens MP Adam Bandt has a motion before the House of Representatives that if passed would provide the detailed inquiry that is urgently needed.

I can say that the Jobs Forum was a start. But it will be a limited one if there is no follow through. Right now the federal government has signalled a hands off approach to managing the negative economic aspects of the mining boom.

Genuine co-ordination is needed between industry, government and unions if we are to nut out solutions that will work for the nation.

This is my media release on the Forum.

In the plenary session I was able to make reference to the Green Jobs Illawarra Action Plan. This is an excellent example of how local manufacturing renewal can occur. It was telling that Arthur Rorris, Secretary of the South Coast Labor Council, and key architect of this outstanding plan, was not one of the Forum delegates.

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