Australia’s Manufacturing Evolution: A Case Study

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The history of manufacturing in Australia is a strange tale of national perspectives, local and global economics. In early colonial days, manufacturing, such as it was, was mainly consumables. The rise of the agricultural export industries added some acceleration, producing locally needed goods. During the Gold Rush of the 1850s, the demand for gold mining equipment jump-started basic manufacturing of tools and equipment. Public works, infrastructure and the new railway systems added a heavy industry component, based largely on local demand.

By 1891, industrial manufacturing accounted for 4.9% of GDP and 149,000 jobs in all industries. (Figures: Australian Bureau of Statistics 22 November 2012.) Federation in 1901 and free trade between the states generated a total of 328,000 jobs by 1913. (ABS figures as above.)

Australian Manufacturing in the 20th Century

World War 1, the emergence of the steel industry, growing wool and wheat markets, and “expansionist” policies helped drive industrialisation in Australia until the Depression in 1929. Even the Depression, however, barely dented progress in manufacturing. The expanding economy now included motor vehicle manufacturing, cement, rubber, engineering, and electrical manufacturing industries.

During World War 2, manufacturing overtook agriculture as the leading component of Australian GDP. The nation’s industries were adequate to support war needs. After World War 2, protectionist tariff policies and a booming population growth supported further growth and expansion through the 1960s and early 1970s. The 1970s mining boom and oil exploration successes added further expansion to Australian industry growth.

The Big Decline

Australia’s bad habits of relying on protectionism and commodities came fully unstuck in the 1980s. As early globalisation and new global economic factors, notably inflation, took hold, Australia’s terms of trade and the economic viability of the old systems of manufacturing suddenly eroded.  Protectionism also ended, and cheaper imports decimated Australia’s old made-under-license consumer products manufacturing sector.

The Early 21st Century, New Opportunities, and New Growth

A roller coaster ride of global prices and market moves followed through the 1990s and turn of the century. Australia’s mining boom held up the manufacturing sector to some degree, but the old business models were out of sync with the global market. Manufacturing was hit by a colossal double whammy of global production and fluctuating prices for which it simply wasn’t prepared or structured to manage.

The Lucky Country, however, has also had some new, high-value luck in manufacturing. Australia’s old model manufacturing was about to hit its expiry date, anyway. New manufacturing techniques, automation, 3D technology, new materials science, and innovation in a progressively scientific and industrial setting are opening up a vast range of new opportunities.

The future of Australian manufacturing is looking a lot better than in the recent past, with a lot of realistically attainable upsides. A new competitive and market-oriented mindset is another major plus, free of the rather unimaginative, insular local perspectives of the past.

Building a New Australian Manufacturing Sector

If you’re looking for new manufacturing solutions, EPG Electrical Plumbing Group Pty. Ltd. offers a full suite of consultancy and advanced factory automation services for manufacturers in Brisbane. Our services also include plant and sites switchboard, as well as electrical and plumbing contractors. Call us on (07) 3319 5068 or contact us online to discuss your business needs.


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