Pandemic revives Australian Made loyalty

New consumer research reveals that 89 per cent of Australians believe we should be producing more products locally.

The Roy Morgan study found that the key motivations to manufacture more products locally were to reduce Australia’s reliance on other countries (38 per cent), create jobs (26 per cent), support Australian business and industry (26 per cent), safeguard against vulnerable international supply chains (20 per cent) and strengthen the economy (16 per cent).

Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine said “The impact of COVID-19 on Australians is unprecedented in so many ways, not least of which is our shopping behaviour. More Australians are now organising delivery of products; doing online research prior to making a purchase; shopping online, both in stores they would usually visit and different stores. And, critically, since COVID-19 Australians have an ever greater preference for Australian Made products.”

Australian Made chief executive Ben Lazzaro said Australia’s over-reliance on imported products was highlighted by the pandemic.

“This research indicates that Australians are placing priority on manufacturing self-sufficiency and job creation along with a renewed appetite to address the imbalance between locally made and imported products, to ensure Australia’s long-term prosperity.”

To keep up with the increase in online shopping during the pandemic, Australian Made recently partnered with e-commerce marketplace eBay. 

eBay local managing director Tim MacKinnon said he was “really bullish” about the link, expecting more Australian entrepreneurs to emerge from the pandemic.

“People are already setting up home-based businesses to take advantage of online shopping.

“There’s a huge role we can play in helping to sell more Australian products overseas.”

A new ‘Australian Made on eBay’ section of the company’s platform was set up to capitalise on growing local interest in self-reliance.

Since April, eBay has tracked a 57 per cent annual increase in sales from Australian Made brands among its 11 million or so monthly unique visitors, reported.

“There’s been this trend towards local provenance and having some connection to products; COVID and national emergencies tend to increase that desire,” Mr MacKinnon says.

“There’s something about humans that when we’re challenged by things, we like to find connections to things we know and trust.”

Over the five months to July, there was a 35 per cent increase in the number of certified Australian Made sellers eBay.

“We’ve decided to lean in more and really identify those sellers where the product is really made in Australia, which creates even more value for the Australian community,” Mr MacKinnon explains.

Australians rallied to defend Australia Made’s 1980s-designed green-and-gold kangaroo logo when a new logo was suggested.

The research found that since the start of the pandemic, 37 per cent of Australians are conducting more research online prior to purchasing products. Traffic to Australian Made’s website doubled between April to June compared to 2019, the average session duration increased by 29 per cent and total audience growth across all Australian Made’s social channels was up 467 per cent.

More of us are checking labelling, with 43 per cent of Australians now more likely to look for country of origin labels on products.

Mr Lazzaro expects a permanent shift towards locally produced products to come out of the pandemic.

Queensland manufacturer Paul Gripske is risking his business on that assumption. He’s developing an Australian-made lawnmower for the summer of 2021.

“The consumer, for the first time in years, has been asking, ‘Is this made in Australia? Can I get an Australian-made product?’” he told ABC’s The Money.

Mr Gripske says all he needs is government support – and industrial relations changes.

“Factories, to run the most efficiently, need to run seven days a week, 24 hours a day. That’s what the best factories in the world do,” he says.

He says his workers are paid above the award, but he would like to run a night shift without having to pay penalty rates.

“Instantaneously that makes us so much more competitive.”

In the 1960s, manufacturing equated to 30 per cent of the Australian economy. It is now 5.5 per cent.

Andrew Liveris, special adviser to the National COVID-19 Commission, believes a new plan after COVID-19 is an opportunity for domestic manufacturing.

“All the PPE items that maybe were not available, everyone suddenly got very attentive to having them (made domestically),” he says.

“That really acutely brought into focus the notion of manufacturing and manufacturing capabilities.”

He points out that Australia rates 87th on global rankings of economic complexity, which rate the diversity of a nation’s exports.

“For a country that is a first world country to have such a low economic complexity economy, it needs to be remedied,” Mr Liveris says.

He says governments need to ensure citizens have access to basics such as healthcare, energy, defence, technology, food, and water.

He says Australia has not commercialised its excellent research because of our small population.

“The internet has changed all that … we are connected to the world through technology these days, and that means we can have new opportunities to scale, in areas we could not scale before.”

He says top-down control must be balanced with bottom-up innovation.

“We are a capitalist country, we are a free-market-driven country … we want researchers and entrepreneurs to come out of that,” he says.

“But some of these areas have long cycles of investment, and to get long-cycle investment I need to have some planning and policies in place.”

Diversifying the workforce and focusing on technology, according to Mr Liveris, could also help Australia to unlock manufacturing potential.

“We’ve morphed into this place called ‘new collar’. It’s not white or blue collar, it’s new collar,” he says.

“New-collar workers are very technology proficient with the human–machine interface.”

This includes interpreting data, learning to understand trends, and adding value to basic materials.

Mr Liveris says another challenge facing Australian manufacturing is too much red tape.

“We have too many layers of government trying to do the same thing over and over. If you try to get something approved, you have to go through another set of approvals,” he says.

“We’ve got to figure a way to actually harmonise the investment community’s attempts to invest in certain sectors.”

Mr Gripske says companies that invest in research and development should be rewarded.

“If we successfully bring this product to market, then we should get a bonus for doing it,” he says.

Mr Liveris, an IBM board member who has advised US governments, says the pandemic is an Australian Made moment.

“If there is a time ever to lay out a future vision for our country, I think that time is imminent.”

Have you been buying more locally produced goods during the pandemic? Should there be more government support for local manufacturers?

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