Former CEO of Dow Chemical, Andrew Liveris, is looking at ways to boost Australia’s local manufacturing capabilities in his role as Special Advisor to the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission set up by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
The eight-member commission, headed by former Fortescue Metals CEO Neville Power, is advising the Prime Minister on all non-health aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic response, including resolving supply shortages and manufacturing essential products.
Speaking at a video conference today hosted by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr Liveris said while Australia does have some manufacturing capabilities in sectors such as biomedicine, there is still room for improvement.
“The COVID-19 crisis should be a wake-up call about the dangers of Australia putting all its eggs in one basket,” Mr Liveris explained.
“It’s not that we don’t have manufacturing capabilities. We do. But at best, most of our capabilities are built in our labs and then companies go and scale their ideas elsewhere.
“We need to develop more local manufacturing, particularly in some key strategic areas, for security reasons.”
Mr Liveris said his role in the Commission was to consider ways to add value to Australian-produced commodities, food, defence materials and the energy and natural gas sector.
“Petrochemicals should be a no-brainer for this country. We have all the raw materials for it. And it is a job multiplier. For every one job in terms of energy input, you can get an output of eight jobs in the industry,” he said.
“In fact, Australia should also become the top packaged food exporter in the world. Of course we should be exporting fresh food, but we have expertise with paper and plastic packaging and we have plenty of food. Why don’t we marry those two sets of expertise?”
But some people fear more local manufacturing and ideas of ‘fair trade’ over ‘free trade’ could see the Commission implement protectionist measures in Australia.
Mr Liveris responded to this fear with a resounding: ‘that’s not true.’
“The Commission is not about putting subsidies and tariffs in place. It’s about creating a policy framework to double down and create local capabilities in Australia,” he stressed.