Governments throughout Australia should be required to use locally produced steel, iron, clothing and equipment on all public sector projects and services, the nation’s union movement says.

In its latest move, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has called for the introduction of a Buy Australian Act which it says would stipulate that locally manufactured goods be used on all major government projects and services.

Stressing that the new Act would not be about restricting trade, ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver said the proposed new law would boost the Australian economy, deliver local employment opportunities and ensure that government projects use safe, domestically produced goods.

“We are sick and tired of seeing our jobs being exported overseas, we are sick and tired of seeing cheap, unsafe products being imported into the country and we are sick and tired of seeing exploited, cheap labour being used over local workers,” Oliver said.

Whilst the union body did not respond to questions seeking clarification about how the proposed legislation would work, potential clues in this area can be seen through a law which is currently in place within the United States.

That law, introduced in the wake of the global financial crisis in 2009, requires that all steel, iron or manufactured goods used in public building or works projects in which federal government stimulus money is used be sourced locally from within the US.

Exclusions can be granted if locally made goods are either not available or their use would cause overall project costs to increase by more than 25 percent.

Oliver points to a drop in US unemployment from 9.7 percent to 4.9 percent in that timeframe as evidence that that policy in the US has paid off.

The union body also did not respond to queries about whether or not such a law would reduce competitive tension within government procurement contracts and thus lead to higher costs or about whether or not the proposed law would in fact breach Australia’s obligations under World Trade Organisation rules or any of the various free trade agreements which Australia has signed with other countries.

According to News Corporation reports, however, Oliver did tell that organisation that such a law would in fact represent a likely breach of requirements under WTO rules.

Nevertheless, he says the rules are needed in order to protect local jobs.

The latest call follows last week’s closure of the Ford Automobile plant in Broadmeadows and Geelong.

The calls also follow the discovery of asbestos on the sites of publicly funded hospital construction projects such as the new Perth Children’s Hospital project.

Whilst the ALP will come under pressure to support the plan, however, the plan is unlikely to gain support from within the government.


  • You would expect the Unions to ask for more tax payer subsidies to fuel their unchecked rising costs and damaging declines in productivity. No where can this be seen more starkly than in construction. Dave Oliver and Dave Noonan both gloat the fact that they continue to achieve double CPI wage increases via one-way Enterprise Bargaining Agreements that offer zero productivity gain. I sit squarely in the middle of this debate. The unions are out of control and so are lazy, border-line incompetent construction managers who continue to conduct construction with the same old havoc, as long as they can pass these costs on to their clients. Mostly these clients are governments undertaking massive infrastructure projects to prop their ailing local economies, and residential investors able to leverage record low interest rates that seem able to cope with construction at any price. That price is regularly reported as being 20 – 30 % more than it needs to be. Why should Australians ring fence their purchasing power when unions take no interest in improving productivity and making local construction more viable? Have they not learned from the auto and steel industry? Have they not got it about recent overseas purchases of trains and trams? We will all pay in the end when this false construction boom bubble bursts. No way have the unions earned any form of protected species standing. It is a pity that in the few states (all Labour) that are trying to build modern construction industry they are blindsided by the unions. They need to understand that construction productivity measures need to be in place first to justify any investment in this sector. Otherwise any jobs created this way will be doomed as well. Dave Oliver wake up mate

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