AUSTRALIA MUST C HANGE TO PROSPER

The Australian Design Centre's prime location, close to the harbor in the fashionable Rocks area of Sydney, is perfect for visitors both from here and overseas.

Because of the need to promote Australia's manufacturing industry, the center houses a permanent display of award-winning Australian-designed products.Yet the exhibition also spotlights the core of Australia's economic plight. The relatively few items on show are not outstanding, stylish nor technologically innovative. Some look dated and many wouldn't stand a chance in the international marketplace.

Unless Australia can pull its manufacturing industry together, the country risks plunging even further into debt as the overseas trade deficit grows.

Australia's economic crisis, at a time when most other Western countries continue to enjoy growth conditions, reached crunch point last month when the government announced the toughest budget in 30 years in a desperate attempt to reduce Australia's massive balance of payments and fiscal deficits.

After years of enjoying some of the highest living standards in the world, Australians face a period of austerity and belt tightening as the government struggles to get the economy back on course.

At the same time, it is becoming apparent that far-reaching changes in the economic structure of Australia may be necessary if international confidence in the Australian dollar is to be restored.

Australia may consider itself to be a developed country, but it cannot truthfully call itself an industrialized one. Its foreign currency earnings depend heavily on raw materials and agricultural crops that could just as easily be produced in a Third World country.

A foreign visitor hoping to take home a souvenir of Australia would be hard-pressed to find anything carrying a Made in Australia label.

"Buy Australia" is the promotional campaign just launched in a frantic effort to curb the flood of imports and get the country back into the black. The shops, though, are crammed with highly priced foreign manufactured goods. Australian-made products are few and far between and invariably regarded as second-rate.

With the world's manufacturing hub of Southeast Asia on its doorstep and with a population of only 15 million, Australia could until recently afford to ship its exports in raw material form and allow others to undertake the manufacturing processes.

Not any longer. As the country's import bill leaped by more than A$5 billion (US$3 billion) between 1984-85 and 1985-86, Australia's trade deficit grew to A$3.3 billion in the 12-month period to June 1986 from A$894 million a year earlier.

And with no net revenues from service industries to offset the deficit on its merchandise trade, Australia's balance of payments current account was in the red to the tune of A$14.3 billion in 1985-86, against a A$10.8 billion deficit a year earlier.

To add to the country's woes, valuable wheat and sugar exports are threatened by subsidized United States sales to the Soviet Union and China, two vital markets for Australia.

Not just the overseas trade account is way out of balance. The government announced huge public spending cuts in the August 19 budget in a move to reduce the fiscal deficit to a projected A$3.5 billion in 1986-87 from A$5.7 billion in 1985-86. Reductions in a wide range of welfare, education and health programs will reduce standards of living for all Australians.

But if Australia's economic balance is to be shifted away from its dependence on the land and toward value-added merchandise, then it badly needs to develop more distinctive products.

The Industrial Design Council of Australia, which runs the Australian Design Centre, could find itself playing a key role in the country's economic revival. The council provides expert assistance and advice on design and new product development and sponsors awards for products of outstanding innovation and design excellence.

To date, its efforts appear to have met with only modest success. There is little on sale that is of distinctly Australian character. Even the Sydney Opera House was designed by a foreigner, a Danish architect.

Although Australia's republican supporters may dislike it, Australia still has an unmistakably British flavor and has yet to prove its cultural and industrial independence from Europe and the United States.

The so-called Lucky Country, with an area nearly as large as the United States, enjoys vast natural resources. But because of its enormous size and small population, there are also huge infrastructure and distribution costs that few other countries have to face.

Australians must realize that they can longer rely on the fat of the land for their wealth. They need to innovate and initiate if they are to compete in world markets and regain their comfortable life styles.

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