Publication Details

Warren, A. & Gibson, C. (2013). Making things in a high-dollar Australia: the case of the surfboard industry. Journal of Australian Political Economy, 71 26-50.


In August 2011 the announcement by Bluescope Steel of mass layoffs at its Port Kembla steelworks, in the Illawarra region, sparked renewed public debate and media commentary on the future of manufacturing in Australia. The debate has since spread to cars, aluminium smelting - even Mortein fly spray - and has quickly coalesced around the unprecedented high Australian dollar, its impacts on exports, and the prospects of the production of goods shifting overseas. As Australian mining magnates such as Clive Palmer, Gina Rinehart and Twiggy Forrest attempt to remould Australia around their 'quarry vision' (Pearse, 2009) of extractive minerals exports, a high value Australian dollar puts at risk any industries where import substitution is possible: tourism, education, retail (doubly threatened by the rise of e-commerce), and the manufacturing sector. In this article we seek to provide a fresh perspective to the debate on Australian manufacturing by focusing instead on the internal dynamics of industries and regions - where a political economic analysis reveals important insights. Our case study is the Australian surfboard-making industry. By focusing on internal as well as external dynamics, we illuminate the problems with orthodox approaches to comparative advantage, and suggest critical factors beyond the high dollar that need to be addressed if this iconic form of manufacturing is to remain viable in Australia.