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Interview – Leon Byner, 5AA

31 March 2020

Leon Byner

Subject: Australian manufacturing in the face of COVID-19, SA packaging company to produce PPE


Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews was interviewed on 5AA.

Leon Byner: Well, as you’ve heard, a South Australian company, a packaging manufacturer, is going to begin making millions of surgical masks and respirators from its Adelaide factory – 160 jobs. Let's talk to the Federal Industry, Science and Technology Minister, Karen Andrews. Minister, thanks for joining us this morning.

Karen Andrews: It's a pleasure.

Leon Byner: Before I get down to the detail of this great South Australian company, can I accurately say to the people of SA, or maybe can you, the Cabinet running this country are fully aware now that there is a need for our country to have a greater self-reliance, and in recognising that, there are some industries, which we're just going to have to reboot?

Karen Andrews: Let me answer that from my own perspective because that's how I can answer it – and you've highlighted one of the most significant issues coming from this particular crisis in which we find ourselves. So what we have discovered is that in some areas we need to relook at what our capability is. Masks are clearly one of those as well. And we need to start looking at what we can do to build the capability that we need if such a crisis was ever to visit us again or alternatively, a different sort of crisis. But I think it's also been a significant wakeup call to a lot of consumers and a lot of businesses in Australia who have had very strong reliance on overseas suppliers, particularly from China, and many of them are rethinking what they're purchasing and supply chains are going to be in the future. Some are not, which I think is very disappointing. And there have been a number of examples of businesses that have spoken to me and said they normally buy from China. They’re now buying from Australia. But when this crisis is over, they'll go back to buying from China. I do not want that to happen.

We need to look at supporting Australian businesses, and not just the government and every level of government, but also businesses and consumers right across Australia.

Leon Byner: I see an opportunity here, that if - I suppose it's more when than if. But when – and it’ll be down the track – we can get back to some degree of normality, the companies who've made that comment that they’ll go back to buying cheap imports, I really think that what we’ve got to do is make sure the consumer doesn't tolerate that. Would you agree?

Karen Andrews: Look, I agree. Look, many people right across Australia have always bought and tried to buy locally, buy Australian-produced products. And we've gone to a lot of effort to make sure that the Australian Made logo is appropriate and it stands out. But I think we're at a new level now and we cannot have ongoing issues with manufacturing capability here in Australia. And look, realistically, probably six months ago, it would never have been considered that we needed to step up the manufacture of masks here but we do know that now. So we can't go back to the way things were. We have to look at how we're going to best prepare ourselves for the future.

Leon Byner: Now, the Detmold Group got asked by a government contract to produce these. Are we really saying that had this COVID-19 not occurred, that probably wouldn't have happened?

Karen Andrews: Look, that’s exactly right. It probably would not have happened. There is one supplier of surgical masks in Australia. They produce in Australia in Shepparton. They produce probably about 7 million masks a year and that was fine for what their sales were in Australia because many of the health networks were purchasing from overseas. So what we’ve realised is that there are issues with overseas supply chains, we need to set that up and that's why there have been discussions with Detmold. And congratulations to them for putting their hand up and congratulations to the South Australian Government for leading on this.

Leon Byner: I want to put a good word in for universities here across the country, including our wonderful ones here in the SA, that is this not, again, a reminder that we should be making sure the research right now is so crucial into getting on top of this COVID-19 issue, but indeed, it's the intellectual property of what we can achieve that could be worth a lot of money to our country as we desperately need money to repay for the things we’re now doing for everybody.

Karen Andrews: Look, research is going to be critical and I think we've already seen the results of some investment over time with the work that various universities are doing, what CSIRO is doing to identify options for vaccines now for the COVID-19 crisis that we're currently in. But I also, have to say the universities in South Australia are also stepping up from a manufacturing point of view and are offering their 3D capability to the Australian Government so that we can look at how we can manufacture other parts or complete pieces of equipment and that’s great. And we need to make sure that we strongly develop the links between industry and our researchers.

Leon Byner: Well you'd be happy, of course, that Bickford’s are going to make sanitiser. I think the first lot is going to be delivered probably tomorrow or Thursday.

Karen Andrews: Yes. So we do need more sanitiser. We have adequate stock, but again, it’s been one of the products that has disappeared very quickly off supermarket shelves. We do have the raw materials here that we need to make it but there are many organisations that are stepping up, either increasing their capacity, or in the case of distillers et cetera, they are actually looking at a new product.

Leon Byner: Fantastic. Well Minister, you'll keep us in the loop on this because I'm really concerned that we take this time of duress for the country as an opportunity to create jobs, not just for their sake, but for things that we need as essentials that once we supply ourselves, once we supply ourselves, we can export. Do you agree?

Karen Andrews: Yes, absolutely. And look, and can I say, just so that people understand that this work has been ongoing, now for probably the latter half in particular of last year, I was meeting with many of our key manufacturing stakeholders about what we can do to rebuild manufacturing in Australia. So we've got that work. We've got learnings from what we're currently doing now. And yes, we need to make sure that we have a strong manufacturing future for Australia and Australians.

Leon Byner: Alright. Karen Andrews, Federal Industry, Science and Technology Minister, thank you for joining us today.