Government must make Australian furniture industry a post COVID nation building priority says AFA

The Australian Furniture Association (AFA) is adamant that industry and government at all levels need to make supporting the local furniture industry a post COVID nation building priority…and the first step is to ensure current procurement and manufacturing policies across all government and public/private partnerships projects adhere to the principle of supporting Australian businesses first.

Australia-wide, the total of the manufacturing, warehousing, logistics cohort of the industry have all been enormously impacted by the various lockdowns and restrictions imposed by State and Territory Governments over the past two years said AFA spokesperson Mr Joe Perri.

“The AFA believes that despite Governments’ best intentions to support their state / territory based Australian manufacturers, the reality is that there is an endemic disregard for adherence to the government procurement rules including purchasing arrangements, Best Practice Local Procurement Guidelines, specifications of Australian Standards of safety and quality and the Local Jobs First Policies”, continued Perri.

In 2021, the AFA launched choose Australia first, nationwide campaign to support jobs in the Australian furniture industry, in a bid by the industry to stave off up to 10,000 jobs at risk due to COVID 19.

An ongoing survey commenced by the Association in July 2021 revealed that although the economy is predicted to rebound, manufacturers expect their sales to be down by an average of 25-30% this year – and as a result, around half believed they may be forced to make redundancies of between 10 – 50% of their workforce or go on to part time working in the autumn.

“The home market is worth $14 billion a year and if you add in the whole of the furnishings sector along with retail, the industry supports some 500,000 jobs.  And every extra $1m spent on Australian furniture could support up to 50 manufacturing jobs in the sector,” affirmed Perri.

AFA’s CEO Ms. Patrizia Torelli will be writing to all State, Territory and Federal Industry Ministers on behalf of the Association’s members requesting the following be considered matters of urgency:

  • A stated and enforced commitment to local manufacturing and the jobs it creates now and, in the future, with special consideration to special/high profile projects and events.
  • Clarification and strengthening of the Local Jobs First Policy and amendments to close loopholes.
  • An immediate review of specification guides for Government Procurement and adherence to procurement rules.
  • An inquiry into how current regulatory and enforcement measures are failing to stop large contractors ‘unauthorised substitution’ of specified materials and products for cheap, inferior and frequently unsafe, imports.
  • An inquiry into the independence of those who receive, inspect and verify materials and products specified in government procurement and private contracts.
  • Consideration of re-introducing Government Inspectors, to eradicate the influence of vested interests.
  • Consideration for the introduction of a ‘Materials Passport’ similar to the platform ready for testing in the EU: Material Passports and Circular Economy
  • Support at State level for a Federal General Safety Provision, which makes it illegal to knowingly sell or fit unsafe products or materials in Australia.
  • An Information Campaign to ensure that public service clients are aware of their right to select suitable furnishings from reputable suppliers for classrooms, hospitals, aged care, correctional facilities, sporting arenas and all public spaces.
  • A ruling that any product delivered to a public project must be assembled by the supplier who must take full responsibility for that assembly and installation regarding occupational health and safety regulations, and furniture manufacturing standards.
  • A stipulation included in to the 90/10 procurement regulation that it should have to be applied across all categories of the contract and not just in the high-cost construction component.
  • A ruling made that all substitutions should be authorised by the persons/companies legally liable for their inclusion.
  • That the regulations be changed to ban any substitution for a product unless it is proven to be fully compliant with Australian Standards for both manufacturing regulations and Occupational, Safety and Health Laws.
  • Consideration of making it compulsory that manufacturers and suppliers should not be permitted to perform their own in-house tests. It must remain a compliance order that independent testing is performed on all products and materials for government projects. Testing should be standardised across Australia.
  • There should be no product allowed to be supplied that is produced under indentured employees, unregulated/underpaid employees or slave labour.

A recent snap poll carried out by the AFA supports the Association’s belief that Australians would back Australian if they knew what was at stake.  It revealed:

  • More than three-quarters (78%) of those questioned said their buying decision would be influenced if they knew buying Australian would help safeguard 46,000 jobs in the country with women (83%) more likely than men (71%) to be swayed by that knowledge.
  • The effect of COVID 19 on the economy has had a significant impact on buying decisions. More than a third (34%) said that they’d be more inclined to support buying Australian made furniture than they were 2 years ago (before COVID).
  • Half those questioned (50%) had bought furniture in past 12 months although nearly a quarter (24%) didn’t know where it was made. Younger people are more likely to have bought all-Australian with a third of 18 – 34-year-olds (33%) saying everything they had bought was made here.

According to the AFA, 75% of furniture bought in Australia is imported.

“Our cabinet making industry has virtually died out and we import nearly as much upholstery as we make,” said Perri.

“Australian furniture manufacturing has dramatically declined over the past 50 years, mostly because of cheaper labour in other countries. Factories overseas don’t always meet Australia’s requirements for a minimum living wage, safe working conditions and product compliance standards”.

Hence the AFA’s call to Government to make support of the Australian furnishing industry a post COVID national building priority as it is critical to the future of our industry and to raise awareness of the jobs at risk.

Perri concluded, “We need to reverse the trends if we are to support jobs, increase the number of products we make in this country and encourage investment in much needed manufacturing capabilities and skills for our young people.”

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