Lessons learned: what groundswell support can do to lift performance, against the odds

Harrison Manufacturing Company CEO Julie Harrison says what’s needed for manufacturing, much like women’s sport in Australia, is a resolute game plan and legacy commitment.

The Matildas’ success in the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup is all the more impressive when you consider it came in spite of the financial support the sport receives, not because of it.

And who isn’t talking about it.

Notwithstanding the Federal Government’s $200 million funding announcement in the afterglow of Matilda-mania last week, women’s sport in Australia has always been underfunded, under-resourced and undervalued. From grassroots to professional levels across every sporting code, the decades-long grievances are the same. Lack of training and playing grounds for women. Lack of female change rooms. Lack of female kit. Lack of sponsors. Lack of coaches and mentors. Lack of recognition. Lack of funding and farsightedness.

Compare this to England’s recent moves to end disparity in sporting codes, particularly in football. Following the success of the women’s national team, the Lionesses, in the 2022 European Cup, a player-led outcry saw a comprehensive review into the inequality across women’s sport. And a guarantee by the British Government to invest £600 million ($AUD1.1 billion) in just two years into equal opportunities for school sport.

Puts that $200 million from our government into perspective, doesn’t it.

Also back home, even following the success of the Matilda’s in breaking all TV viewing records in the semi-final, on the night of their third-place decider against Sweden in Brisbane, broadcaster Channel Seven chose to show the news and an AFL game to its Victorian and South Australian viewers rather than the Matildas game. Speaking after the team’s defeat to England in the semi-final, superstar and captain Sam Kerr summed up the necessity for long-term commitment to finally move the dial forward.

“I can only speak for the Matildas, but we need funding in our development, we need funding in our grassroots. We need funding,” Kerr said.

“Hopefully, this tournament changes that, because that’s the legacy you leave, not what you do on the pitch.”

Matildas fans fume over Channel 7 decision to not air the Matilda’s final match on the main channel.

Time for focused funding

Seven million of us watched free-to-air as the Matildas played the semi-final, and 11 million of us watched the third-place decider. According to a report in the AFR, Football Australia chief executive James Johnson said that a program called “Legacy” would inject $300 million into local women’s football off the back of Australia acquiring the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Football Australia is also pushing for a landmark deal with a broadcast partner to further invest grassroots funding and is lobbying the government for a $500 million community fund, presumably to enable the legacy commitment Sam Kerr referenced post-match.

As a long-time sports lover and watcher, the highs of the Matildas’ history-making run to the World Cup semi-finals and the Australian government officials scramble to link themselves to the success, is a complicated story to watch unfold. But it also gives me resounding hope that, across Australia, other successful but undervalued industries can see the same support.

Lessons for industry

Take Harrison Manufacturing Company. We are part of Australia’s oldest independently owned company, The Harrison Group, in operation since 1923. Our fourth-generation, family-owned business has, quite literally, greased the wheels of Australia’s mining, manufacturing, agricultural, transport and logistics sectors, and today we are Australia’s largest, independent developer, manufacturer, distributor, and exporter of lubricants, including grease, lubrication oils, release agents, and speciality additives.

A recent recipient of a Critical Minerals Grant under our R&D innovation arm, Harrison SPARC, we are also working to improve the extraction rate of critical minerals within Australian mining, value-adding and playing a frontline role in helping Australia transition from world quarry to critical minerals superpower. But just as the Matildas performed in spite of, rather than because of, a long-term game plan, sovereign manufacturers like Harrison Manufacturing face ongoing frustrations and challenges against a backdrop of Australia’s dismal industrial policy.

In manufacturing, these include ongoing labour shortages, constricted material supplies, and increasing energy costs. Cheaper imports from overseas competitors are a perpetual challenge. Sometimes unregulated, and seemingly unconcerned by the need to transition to clean energy, or defiant in the face of geo-political considerations like Australia’s ongoing trade sanctions against Russia, these competitors make it difficult for Australian manufacturing to compete on price and to play on a level playing field.

The majority ingredient in Harrison’s product “base oil” is, by necessity, procured overseas through international suppliers, with the last base oil refinery closing in Australia in December 2021. This means Australian manufacturing companies, like Harrison Manufacturing, are being penalised because we do not have the size of purchasing power to procure raw materials at good prices to hold the line against our international competitors and their economies of scale.

Several of our competitors in the US, Europe and China have begun implementing policies of protectionism to fend off competition, and in some cases, strict resource nationalism in strategic areas like critical minerals to safeguard homegrown industry and manufacturing interests.

Politicians in high-vis love manufacturing. So where’s the smart economic ploucy-making?

Future-proofing Team Manufacturing

So, just as women’s sport requires long-term commitment, so too the time has come for an incentivised bipartisan legacy vision for Team Manufacturing, to genuinely encourage and assist our Australian sovereign industry. Released this week, the Business Council of Australia’s report, Seize The Moment, rightly says Australia’s success as a medium-sized trading nation is being challenged by increasing globalisation and free trade agreements being tightened up. Now is the time for smart economic policy choices and urgent action, it says.

In practice, from where Harrison Manufacturing sits, this means making opportunities for manufacturing to be supported through a market mechanism. Whether by financial encouragement, like the Modern Manufacturing Initiative and Manufacturing Modernisation Fund (whose funding was, however, slashed last month) or quotas to industry, we need incentives for all business, including large Australian mines and companies, as well as international players operating here, to buy Australian manufactured products.

Only then through enacting a long-term game plan can sovereign industry, with the provenance, innovation, and economic staying power such as Harrison Manufacturing, start kicking those goals in the back of the net on a level playing field.