Chickens, trains and Australian manufacturing competitiveness

December 15, 2023

Message from the CEO, Jenn Conley

If you’ve ever reflected on how it was possible that colonial railway systems in Australia were built to three different gauges, any other lack of cooperation nationally may not surprise you.

To this day, Australian manufacturers struggle under the weight of short-sightedness and self-centred behaviour among the states, with every variation in agreed standards severely impacting business competitiveness and driving up compliance and prices. 

One of the oddest – and funniest, if it didn’t happen also to be true – was highlighted by the newly appointed National Rail Manufacturing Advocate, Jacqui Walters.

I was fortunate to be chairing the first day of a Women in Manufacturing Summit two weeks ago at which Ms Walters shared her government supported priorities. She will advocate for harmonisation of standards across governments, and will help develop industry capability to re-shore the manufacture of passenger rolling stock in Australia. 

Ms Walters told the gathering she had recently learned that different states specify different sizes of uncooked chickens be used in bird strike testing for rail windscreens.

According to industry specialists, windscreen strengths in aerospace and train manufacturing have long been tested by firing cold chickens out of cannons.  Variations in this and a myriad of other standards continues to act as an impediment to manufacturing growth and industry consolidation.

The Federal Government is implementing a range of positive measures to support manufacturing competitiveness including increasing the skilled migration categories and working towards greater harmonisation across the states – including in a national approach to recycling labelling.

However, flexible working arrangements in fluctuating conditions continue to be under threat from the recent Closing the Loopholes legislation. Portions of this proposed law will return to a Senate committee debate in the new year. 

GMC is actively advocating on behalf of our manufacturers, demonstrating the high value of our safe workplaces and well-paid jobs, urging our elected representatives to better understand the international competitive challenges that face the sector, urging them to ease the heavy regulatory burden and make it simple to employ more people in mutually beneficial forms of employment. 

Australian manufacturers who are succeeding are doing so in difficult competitive environments, against less regulated competitors overseas, where the conditions are sometimes dire.  In Australia, we offer enduring career paths in efficient, safe and creative, high-quality manufacturing businesses – and I salute you!

Here at the GMC, we wish you a Happy Christmas and look forward to seeing you at one of our events in the New Year.

Jennifer Conley

CEO, Geelong Manufacturing Council