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Getting up Australians would be hardly normal

Date posted: 16/07/2011

Last week, there was a puff of controversy over the ban of an advertisement by environmental activist group GetUp which attacked and lampooned retail giant Harvey Norman. You can read the News Limited article with video here:

News Article

The ad itself, is an amusing parody, and putting aside all the politics of climate change and the environment, the advertisement raises an interesting issue which it doesn't explore at any length. In part of the parody, it castigates Harvey Norman for taking wood from an Australian forest, sending it to China to make furniture and then sending it back to Australia for sale. The advertisement suggests that furniture be made in Australia in order to help the environment. However, one thing it doesn't say, is that making furniture in Australia would also help the economy and create jobs too. That'd be a win-win. Presumably, this is not an important consideration as per the environmental focus of the advertisement.

However, it's probably prudent to ask, why is Australian timber being sent to China and then back again to make furniture before heading out on the attack? It doesn't seem to make much sense timber 7500km just to get cut, assembled and painted but the answer is pretty simple. People buy this furniture.

If consumers really cared about the environment, Australian jobs or even both, they would as a conscious decision only buy Australian. However, they don't, because for the vast majority of consumers they're driven by a more pressing constraint - price. If Harvey Norman changed tomorrow to only Australian made items, I suspect he'd probably be out of business in a week. The price to produce the same furniture would be higher and the endless consumer appetite of the average Australian would simply send them to another store that picked up the Chinese produced product model rather than to save and scrimp for the Australian made item. Maybe someone who's name rhymes with Hogan?

The days are gone where a married couple would save up for a year to buy their Parker dining table. People change their furniture often and they want new items now. We live in different times and a different market place.

If you look at the Telecommunications industry, the patterns are the same. The two carriers with the greatest organic growth over the past 12 months are TPG and Bigpond. Both organizations rely heavily on overseas call centers and outsource back office functions to foreign countries. They're attracting these consumers based on one thing and one thing only - price and they're achieving the price by amongst other things using inexpensive overseas labor.

If you look at the top 5 telecommunications carriers in Australia, there's not one single organization that doesn't use overseas call centre staff. Therefore, while the average Australian consumer might be concerned about Australian jobs and the environment and love to complain about overseas call centers, they don't seem to be concerned enough to let that flow down to their hip pocket decisions.

Everyone will have a different opinion if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Appropriate use of resources, economic stimulus, globalization, free trade, etc. We're not trying to enter into that debate. We're not economists.

The only thing we might say is that before people 'get up' Harvey Norman, they might want to 'get up' Australians first because if the Australian consumer voted with their feet, Gerry Harvey would be right behind them offering the product they want.

I think education of the consumer is the key and if even after that, if the consumer wants to buy their cheap furniture from China and to hell with the Australian environment and labor market, well, we've got a bit of a problem and a difficult one to solve.

I wonder what Telecommunications carriers GetUp use? Their website and email are hosted in the USA by Amazon and Google respectively.

 
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