Building expectations

Labor’s manufacturing plan gives Albanese a new story to tell, while speaking to the old idea of nation-building

Long ago, we used to make things in this country. It was so long ago that the mere notion of the government intervening to ensure that we do once again seems like a radical act. The proposed Future Made in Australia Act might just be the largest policy agenda announced by the Albanese government so far, and it could be the one that resonates most with voters. Some of us remember when we used to make radios, ovens, televisions, cars, heaters – you name it, we made it en masse. But in recent memory, neoliberal policy has slowly but surely eradicated manufacturing from the Australian economy. It turned out that manufacturing workers had a nasty tendency to unite and form unions, thereby adding heft and political clout to the ALP. This, coupled with Australia’s penchant for foreign-made gadgets, cars and technology, meant that manufacturing in Australia was in trouble, unless the government were to do something about it – as Joe Hockey famously didn’t when it came to the car industry.

The Albanese government, sensing that times are changing, has introduced a policy that follows on from the job-creating interventions made in the United States by the Biden administration through the Inflation Reduction Act, which has an investment pipeline that includes hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies over the next decade, seeking to boost clean energy infrastructure and encourage high-tech manufacturing.

But you probably haven’t heard as much about it as the government wanted due to Peter Dutton, who, whether by design or just by being himself, has extracted much of the oxygen out of an important policy debate, drawing our focus away from the question of what sort of economy Australia should be, as we continue to stagger into the 21st century. The Opposition leader’s epically ham-fisted comparison of a pro-Palestine protest at the Sydney Opera House to the Port Arthur massacre – in a move seeking to denigrate Anthony Albanese’s leadership – will surely go down as one of the biggest WTF moments since Tony Abbott knighted Prince Philip. But as we’ve seen before and will no doubt see again, the leader of the Opposition is more than willing to borrow from the Steve Bannon playbook.

Dutton’s antics distracted from Albanese’s speech yesterday at the Queensland Media Club, in which the PM mentioned Queensland or Queenslanders 23 times. That’s because Queensland is where the raw politics of this freshly minted policy agenda will most sharply come into play. At the last election, Labor found a path to victory via Western Australia. It was a neat trick, but a rare feat – and not one that is sustainable as a long-term strategy. If Albanese is to have any hope of avoiding a minority government, then Queensland will be essential in garnering enough seats.

Hence Albanese’s schtick of talking up the sunshine state. “Such a central part of the story of Queensland is the capacity of people in this big state to do the big things,” the PM subtly told the gathered. “Transforming Brisbane to the global city we’re in today. Transforming Gladstone to an international industrial centre. Transforming the Gold Coast from a beautiful strip of beach to one of the world’s great tourism destinations.” It all feeds into Queenslanders’ contradictory compulsion to want to be seen as outsiders and the centre of the universe, all at once.

Among the myriad lessons that Covid-19 taught us, most of which we are choosing to ignore, there are two in particular that the government’s new policy agenda hinges upon: firstly, the realisation of our own vulnerability and isolation (underscoring that the whim of forces beyond our own control can have a significant impact on some of our basic functions); and secondly, the public’s readiness to accept government intervention in areas that require it, especially in parts of the economy where market forces have been less than kind to people and families.

Although we are a resource-rich nation, it would seem that the Opposition (and large swathes of the commentariat) can’t imagine an Australian manufacturing sector beyond building new nuclear reactors and maintaining US-built nuclear submarines. The proposed Future Made in Australia Act will give the government a swathe of election commitments to announce in the lead-up to the next federal election, and, at the very least, it gives Albanese a new story to tell. Labor will be banking on the suspicion that Dutton’s culture warring is appealing to an increasingly limited base, but it is also hoping that this new narrative speaks to the old idea of nation-building.

“It is never appropriate to compare the Port Arthur tragedy with anything, in any circumstance. This is still raw for many Tasmanians and will be forever raw with those who are directly affected.”

Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff condemns Peter Dutton’s comments comparing a pro-Palestine protest to the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, which killed 35 people.

“I have watched the network since its inception and have always admired its commitment to journalism through straight-shooting broadcasters like Kieran Gilbert and Laura Jayes.”

Former ABC and Channel 9 political editor Chris Uhlmann, who has been announced as a new contributor at Sky News Australia, is very selective about who he name-drops in his praise of his new employer.


The amount that Peter Dutton’s office claimed in expenses for the Opposition leader and staff members to attend a lavish party for Australia’s richest person, Gina Rinehart, earlier this year.

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