Prime Minister Julia Gillard has reassured manufacturers they will get help to adapt to changes in the industry that are threatening jobs and output.
Ms Gillard was speaking as the first meeting of the government’s new Manufacturing Taskforce, which opened in Canberra on Wednesday.
“This is a moment to roll the sleeves up; government, business and unions working together for the future of Australian jobs and manufacturing,” she told taskforce members.
Ms Gillard said while there were pressures on the industry, particularly from the high Australian dollar, opportunities for the sector would open up through Australia’s engagement with Asia.
“Our nation will get new opportunities as we see the growth in Asia, and in particularly the growth of the middle class in Asia, more than a billion people who will want the kind of things we want,” she said.
These opportunities included elaborately transformed manufactured goods and fashion.
Ms Gillard is chairing the taskforce, which includes industry, union and academic representatives, alongside deputy chair, Innovation Minister Kim Carr.
Also in the taskforce is Treasurer Wayne Swan, OneSteel chief executive Geoff Plummer, Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Jeff Lawrence and CSIRO chief executive Megan Clark.
A budget update released on Tuesday said the nation’s manufacturing output rose by only 0.1 per cent over the past year, while jobs in the sector fell 5.4 per cent.
The industry had lost around 110,000 jobs over the past three years.
Announced at the Future Jobs Forum in October, the Manufacturing Task Force will develop a plan to shore up the future of manufacturing, initially looking at the effectiveness of a raft of policies and programs already in place.