Australian-made is better, most people in Australia are likely to say.
Kind of like US president-elect Donald Trump says about America, as he wears his “Make America great again” hats that bear labels saying they are “Proudly Made in USA.”
But do people really think that Australian-made is better? We might say so because we care in theory about our economy and jobs, or simply because we have a vague, general sense of nationalistic pride. But do we really invest in this statement with our purchasing decisions?
As a nation, perhaps we don’t really care about supporting Australian-made products. Perhaps we don’t put our money where our mouth is. For a start, we don’t really support our manufacturing industry.
We have lost a number of manufacturing industries, such as the automotive industry. And many lament the loss of these industries, pointing out that a healthy manufacturing industry supports a healthy economy. Look at the economy of Germany, which is strongly reliant on manufacturing. In the premium car segment, German automotive companies have a combined world market share of 90 per cent.
Australia is not supporting such a manufacturing industry; maybe we should, but the facts currently point to an overall lack of domestic support.
Just like it’s a fact that the Trump’s company’s glasses are made in China, and Trump by Dorya furniture parts are made in Germany, and despite this, he still won the US election.
And just like Trump says America needs to manufacture more, we like to say that Australian-made is better. Except, that is, when products made in China are cheaper, or those made in Germany are higher quality.
Trump is just a businessman, after all. Money talks. Give the people what they want.
Back to the German premium car industry, which dominates the world. Due to many years of investment in this industry, and longstanding commitment and support, they have achieved standards against which it is impossible for Australia to compete.
When it comes to building components, we have the same issues, although we don’t all necessarily know it.
We don’t know it, because the benefits of building components are not all obvious to us as consumers of buildings. In fact, we are not offered the same clear choices as we are in the car market.
Car manufacturers advertise heavily on television, on social media, and in print. We can test drive the cars. We can see and touch and to some degree measure the benefits of a premium car. It feels better, rides better, looks better, and uses less fuel.
Some of our building elements are obviously better. Others only show their quality over time – such as a timber cladding that warps and rots versus a facade that lasts. A blueboard panel that fades and twists versus a material that stands straight and keeps the same colour over time. A window that leaks air or water and twists and gets mouldy and rotten over the years versus a window that keeps its shape and colour, seals well and doesn’t create condensation.
And if it’s up to your local architect, or builder to make all the purchasing decisions for your building components, they won’t always let you in on their selection decision. And they won’t always know about those hidden benefits.
But if you are the owner, the occupier, the consumer, or the end user, over time you will start to notice the effects of those decisions that you, the purchaser of that window or building, have unknowingly made through your builder or architect.
By the time you see the problem, your architect and builder may be long gone.
When you decide to have a certified passive house, you want your whole building to really perform; as such, building component decisions come into sharp focus.
High performance glazing and frames must be proven and tested, to ensure your building can really be the best.
This may be a hotly contested point, or it might be accepted, but I think the Australian window industry is generally behind the German window industry when it comes to premium quality, high performing, long lasting windows – maybe as much as 20 years behind.
Sometimes it just isn’t feasible to support Australian-made windows for certified passive house projects.
Those who manufacture terrific windows in their workshops in this country should be applauded. That said, as a general rule, we are not building to the sorts of tolerances and standards needed to create a high quality, top performing, certified passive house building.
I think it’s worth importing windows from Germany or some other places in Europe if you want a high quality building, but perhaps you don’t agree. Perhaps you think Australian-made is better, or cheaper, or just as good. But in the meantime, we can provide more choice, just like we do with cars and t-shirts and washing machines.
That way, consumers – ideally informed ones – can make up their own minds.