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Interview – Sky News on WIN, Across Australia

15 April 2020

Peter Gleeson

Subject: Australian manufacturing capability, supply chains and Gold Coast response to COVID-19


Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews was interviewed on Sky News on WIN, Across Australia.

Peter Gleeson: Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews has flagged a potential new deal for the manufacturing sector, saying she's committed to pushing for investment in the industry. She joins me now. Karen Andrews, thanks for joining us tonight on Sky News Across Australia. I mean, I was listening to Joe Hockey earlier today on the Macquarie Radio Network and he said there's definitely been a reset button that's been pushed as a result of this particular crisis particularly around manufacturing. Now how do you see this playing out? Once we get over this, how do you see manufacturing rising to the challenge of trying to innovate and get Australia back on its feet?

Karen Andrews: Well there certainly has been a reset and Australian manufacturing in six months’ time is going to look very different to what it does now and what it looked like six months ago. So there's going to be some fundamental changes without a doubt. Now I started working last year with a number of big manufacturers, a number of serious stakeholders here in manufacturing to look at what manufacturing and Australia's future was going to be. Now obviously given that we're currently going through the coronavirus, COVID-19 issues, that's had a big impact and it's identified where there are some gaps in our manufacturing. So I use the example of surgical masks where we had one manufacturer in Australia who could produce around about 7 million masks per year. They've ramped up considerably; we've had new players come into that market. We need to look at what capability we're going to need moving forward and make sure that we have that capacity here in Australia. We've also had the opportunity to look at our medical technology – med tech – industries and it's clear that whilst that is currently strong in Australia, there's about 17,000 people across Australia employed in med tech. There are opportunities for us to expand and make sure that we are able to manufacture the medical equipment that we need here for in critical circumstances like what we find ourselves in now. So what we need to do going forward is to look at where the gaps are, where there are critical supplies that we need to make sure that we have some level of capacity to produce here in Australia. But also to make sure that we're looking at supply chains to ensure that we can manufacture in Australia and we tick that box, we know we can do that but we need to lock in the supply chains and preferably, and my very strong preference is that we look at how we can build that supply chain within Australia.

Peter Gleeson: Karen, there's a real challenge for this country going forward and that is ensuring that we don't lose too many businesses, particularly small businesses that are currently doing it tough and I know the Prime Minister's stimulus packages and [Treasurer Josh] Frydenberg’s stimulus packages have been fantastic. The bridge is there. It's a matter of getting on the bridge and getting to the other side of the bridge. You as small busi- you as a small business minister must be particularly concerned at trying to keep these people engaged, connected and come out the other side.

Karen Andrews: Well I'm very concerned about all of our businesses, whether they be small, medium or large because they all have a very key role. Now we know that small business is very important to Australia and many, many people are employed in small businesses, so they’re quite critical. And of course they don't necessarily have the capacity of our big businesses to either absorb the shocks like we're going through now, or to have the stockpile of goods that many of our large businesses can hold. So there are unique needs for small, medium and large businesses. We are very concerned that to make sure that as many as possible come through the COVID-19 crisis and wherever possible, they come out even stronger. Now that's possible. There's already been support that has gone to small businesses to help them to upgrade their technical capacity. We will look at what we can do to provide support to businesses. We have a strong part of my own Department of Industry that works with a lot of businesses each and every day. We'll actually be mobilising them, making sure that they're out there talking to people about what they can do during the current crisis and what they can do to make sure that they are even stronger coming out of this crisis.

Peter Gleeson: Minister, you represent a beautiful part of the world down there on the Gold Coast and I know the Gold Coast is really hurting at the moment, particularly with tourism. It is a desperately difficult time. I heard Tom Tate earlier today talking about some of the things the Gold Coast is likely be doing. How do- what do you say to the good folk of the Gold Coast who are obviously doing it tough right now and probably need a little bit of morale and support to get through this?

Karen Andrews: Look, I absolutely understand that many people on the Gold Coast are hurting. Our strengths have been tourism, hospitality, construction and we've started to build a very strong education base here on the Gold Coast. Just about all of those areas are hurting, so there's many people who are in a very difficult financial situation. I remain confident that we will come out of this and that we will come out of this stronger. There will be some key areas that we're going to have to look at rebuilding. I'll be doing everything that I can to look at what construction projects, particularly transport infrastructure we can bring online, bring forward as quickly as we can to help support the construction industry. And of course the tourism and hospitality industries right across Australia, but particularly here on the Gold Coast have been hit by a downturn in tourism for months. But we know that this is a beautiful part of the world and we know that people will want to come back to the Gold Coast and to Australia as soon as they possibly can. So there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Peter Gleeson: Karen Andrews, thanks for joining us tonight on Sky News Across Australia. Really appreciate it.

Karen Andrews: It's a pleasure.