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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 9

I Introduction

II The Australian Chemical Industry

III Pharmaceuticals

IV Chemists In Other Industries

V The Dawn Of Modern Chemical Industry - High Pressure Synthesis

VI The Growth Of Synthetic Chemicals - Concentration, Rationalisation And International Links

VII Australian Industrial Chemical Research Laboratories

VIII The Plastics Industry

IX The Paint Industry
i The pioneers
ii The early years - home- and trade-made paints
iii Industrial manufacture
iv Some important developments in the 1920s and 30s
v Rapid growth in the 1950s and 60s
vi Some Australian inventions
vii Recent trends
viii Pigments manufacture
ix Trends in the chemical industry in the 1980s

X Acknowledgements



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Trends in the chemical industry in the 1980s

After rapid growth of the chemical and the plastics based industries between 1950 and 1970, well in excess of Australian GDP, the seventies and eighties were a more difficult period for Australian manufacturing industry, including the chemical industry. Import replacement as a source of growth had come to an end; the chemical industry had virtually introduced into Australia all the processes which were economically viable in the domestic market, perhaps at times had been over-ambitious in launching processes at an early stage. Overall it has established a fully integrated, sensibly concentrated and co-ordinated industry. As the domestic market became saturated however, the difficulties of exporting from a small domestic base became very apparent. Innovation was one remedy and the industry was well equipped for innovation as the nation's R&D leader. Access to cheap domestic raw materials -hydrocarbons -as was practised by Canada would have been a potential comparative advantage for exports. Import parity pricing, however, -free trade as the basis of hypothetically optimal use of all resources -negated this and the industry had to adjust and readjust to rapid rises and falls in crude oil prices. In spite of the relative concentration of the industry it became clear that it had not kept apace with the world-wide race for ever increasing plant scales and that some disadvantages of scale and geography would be permanent -disadvantages which the industry shares with virtually all manufacturing industry. National policies will have to be evolved which recognise inherent, lasting disabilities and compensate for these by some of Australia's natural advantages yet avoid some of the extremes of protection of the past. Both unqualified free trade -full exposure to the competition of the major overseas producers -and extreme protection may well lead to the same result, progressive shrinkage of the manufacturing industry's base. On the positive side, new opportunities for chemistry based industries have emerged. For many of these the chemical industry is the skill base, the source of raw materials and should be, as it is overseas, the source of capital and the
growth point.

Australian governments have taken a number of initiatives to encourage the crystallisation of new ventures and from some of these, perhaps, of new industries. Such initiatives included the AIRDIS (Australian Industrial Research and Development Incentive Scheme) and its successor schemes, the 150 per cent tax deduction and GIRD (grants for industrial R&D), the MIC project (Management Investment Companies), the Australian Government Offsets Program and its use for R&D, biotechnology and energy research, development and demonstration (NERDDP) programs and access to Government and State equity finance. Harrison and Barnes[145] have recently surveyed these and listed amongst them many chemistry based projects; partially stabilised zirconia (material science), a new high strength ceramic with many uses; Bioquip's counter-current extraction process for fruit juices and low alcohol wine; 'scrimber' using timber which is too small for saw milling to form a composite board (adhesives, material science); new membrane technology ('MEMTEC'); Faulding's new pharmaceuticals formulation technology discussed on p 654; Biotechnology Australia's new vaccines and genetic engineering program; ICI Australia's plant control agents and veterinary drugs for export; ICI Australia-CSIRO's process for zirconia (materials science); and several companies with new diagnostic aids and speculative drugs.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Biotechnology Australia; I.C.I. Australia Ltd; Management Investment Companies (M.I.C. project)

People in Bright Sparcs - Barnes, C. S.; Harrison, D. E. F

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 726 - 727, Online Edition 2000
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