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Ben Schneiders
April 22, 2009

UNIONS have been rebuffed on their concerted “Buy Australia” push, with federal Industry Minister Kim Carr warning against implementing new rules that would require governments to favour local suppliers.

Senator Carr said yesterday that while it was an idea that appealed to many Australians, a move to favour local suppliers could provoke “damaging retaliation” from the nation’s trading partners.

His comments, made during a speech in Melbourne, came after the release of an Australian Workers Union steel plan last week that backed temporary conditions on government spending to favour local steel, while in March the ACTU executive endorsed a push for government spending to favour local suppliers.

ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence said in response to Senator Carr’s speech that the Federal Government needed to do more to protect local jobs and foster Australian industry through its spending and policies.

“It is not protectionist to aim to maximise local jobs and strengthen Australian industries so that they meet the needs of the domestic market, as well as position Australian companies for export markets,” he said.

Senator Carr said the Australian Government “already procures a great deal from local industry” and he said stimulus packages directed to infrastructure, housing and construction, would provide a boost to local industry and suppliers.

“My personal view is that we should all buy Australian whenever we can, that’s why I wear Australian-made suits and drive an Australian-made car,” he said. “I think every Australian household and business should do the same, but as a government we can’t make it compulsory. But that doesn’t mean we should just do nothing.”

Under the AWU’s steel plan, the union said some of its proposed measures, such as production bounties, should only last the length of the financial crisis.

AWU national secretary Paul Howes said he was pleased the minister had not dismissed the union’s plan out of hand.

Mr Howes described the debate around procurement as difficult for the Government. “It’s very hard for the Government to not be perceived as protectionist,” he said.

Senator Carr said there was an obligation on state and local governments to better target spending and said international obligations were not as restrictive as commonly thought, with World Trade Organisation rules allowing support for small to medium business.

He said Commonwealth guidelines factored in the cost of operating, maintaining and upgrading assets over time, often giving local suppliers an advantage.

■ Mitre 10 told staff yesterday around 40 jobs would be cut, with around 25 set to go from its Hallam office, taking to about 80 the number of jobs it has shed this year. AXA Asia Pacific is also to axe as many as 120 staff, with many likely to go from its Melbourne head office.

■ Federal Opposition workplace relations spokesman Michael Keenan said yesterday the Coalition was unlikely to rewrite Australia’s industrial relations laws if elected.

http://www.theage.com.au/national/minister-rejects-buy-australia-push-20090421-ae3m.html?page=-1

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