Recently, there has been a debate in the Forum of Coast Community News regarding the merits for Australians of industrial protectionism as against us operating in a relatively free market global-ly.
Robert Findley (edition 243) regrets the loss of job opportunities and being able to buy only for-eign-made clothing and footwear, these having gradually displaced locally made ones, as protec-tionism has diminished.
In contrast, Bruce Hyland focuses on the benefits to our standard of living of freer participation in international markets, while acknowledging that we need to maintain our ability to meet our food needs, and be adaptable enough to fill any gaps in supply of other essentials in the event of disrup-tion to imports.
There is no disputing that participation in international markets has made goods such as clothing available at prices accessible to most, and in the absence of sweatshop pay and conditions here.
My concern is that our choices have not been sufficiently nuanced.
We should be more ethical, by blocking imports produced through gross human exploitation and export of animals that suffer dreadfully as a consequence, and we must ensure that agreed pay and conditions are adhered to in the employment of, for example, those on short-term visas.
For those displaced from employment through changes in markets, there should be funded re-training, not just payment support.
Furthermore, government should display vision through more selective intervention to encourage developments in the long-term interest of the great majority of Australians.
I refer to the vehicle manufacturing industry to illustrate the latter.
We are going from an industry that, with protection, produced way too many variations of a car for a small domestic market, to its closure.
In the process it seems to have been forgotten that, through vehicle manufacturing, many old and new Australians gained work skills, including English language, capabilities which they have then applied elsewhere in the economy to all our benefit.
Indeed, it has been these positive externalities that can be argued to have justified industry pro-tection.
A more targeted approach from government might have served us better, not only by having maintained this most important route for upward economic mobility of some of our most vulnera-ble labour force members, but through selective tariff application, that encourages manufacturers to limit activity to where it is needed most.
For instance, many households would surely benefit by having one or two very small, one-person battery-driven vehicles, that could be parked securely, to commute short distances for employ-ment etc. as a complement to the family car.
Some are calling for bicycles to perform this function, but few want to arrive at work tousled, un-suitably dressed and perhaps wet as well.
Besides tariff protection, support in the form of no additional registration fee for those with a fami-ly car would be justified by reduced pollution, road damage and car parking space demands at rail stations etc.
And in the current climate, where so many more are to descend on CBDs in their private vehicles, the potential for more cars parked per unit area would be very attractive.
Something might be possible with insurance costs too.
We are a quaternary or knowledge-based economy, which necessitates operating globally – there is no going back, short of the dystopian developments’ beloved of sci-fi writers, and even COVID-19 isn’t quite that (thank goodness), but let’s ensure that greater knowledge is employed, not just in what we produce and in locating selling opportunities, but in decision-making in how we partici-pate within the global market.
Email, May 25
Sonnie Hopkins, Tascott