It would have been a terrible shock to the immediate post-war Australians, who had been British to their bootstraps, to find large numbers of Europeans coming to stay because of a government policy. However, having placed itself under the protection of the USA when Japan threatened it, the nation now needed an extended labour force to develop its infrastructure, and implement the foreign (mainly American) investment which followed.
When the needed workforce was in place, Australia jumped from an under-developed nation ‘riding on the sheep’s back’ to a high consumption industrial nation, thus by-passing the normal path of slow, incremental industrialisation. Behind the necessary tariff wall, Australian industry blossomed, but became progressively inefficient (both technologically and economically) relative to the rest of the industrial world.
I worked for 6 years in the Australian Tariff Board which looked after the protective needs of Australia’s manufacturing industry. However, in my first report in 1953, when I recommended the removal of tariff protection for a product under scrutiny, I was pejoratively labelled a ‘free trader.’ It was a Labor Government which, many years later, introduced a less protective regime, thus inducing industry to become more competitive globally.
But, we Australians ate well then, and still eat well, thanks to an unending flow of foreign capital – which naturally results in foreign control of much, if not most, of our businesses and natural resources. Yet, we remain comfortable in our lifestyles, aided by myopic political leaders not known for any sort of implementable planning for a sound future.
One surely has to challenge those responsible for permitting more than one automotive manufacturer to be established to cater solely for the small Australian market. Overseas demand was met by the parent companies. A comparable policy applied to other industries. Because of high labour costs, unit costs were simply not competitive. Yet, with high (or higher) labour costs, Japan reportedly had lower unit costs in comparable industries. This was because of production for a global market. Should Australia learn from Singapore? See ‘Destiny Will Out’ by Arasa.