Industry group turns to Morphet

The executive who gutted Pacific Brands' local manufacturing operations, Sue Morphet, has become the new chairman of lobby group Manufacturing Australia.

The executive who gutted Pacific Brands' local manufacturing operations, Sue Morphet, has become the new chairman of lobby group Manufacturing Australia.

Her appointment to the position on Tuesday drew immediate fire from unions but Ms Morphet defended her decision four years ago to sack 1850 workers and move clothing manufacturing to China.

She was chief executive of Pacific Brands - maker of household names including Bonds, King Gee and Hard Yakka - at the time.

"Pacific Brands did need to do what it did," Ms Morphet said. "The company was up against the wall at the time and we had to make decisions to save the company, which we did, and now it's getting on with the job that it's doing."

The national secretary of the Textile, Clothing & Footwear Union, Michele O'Neil, criticised the appointment of Ms Morphet, saying her most notable contribution in the last few years had been to send jobs overseas.

"To say I'm surprised is an understatement ... I'd expect an organisation like Manufacturing Australia to have a strong and passionate advocate for local manufacturing as their leader," Ms O'Neil said. "I find it hard to see how that decision [to move jobs offshore] ... would be credentials for the job."

Both the government and the opposition the slammed the job cuts, which came after the company more than doubled the total paid to top company executives, from $7 million to $15 million. Opposition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey said then the news was "jarring".

"I'm surprised that the large shareholders in Pacific Brands haven't got something to say about not only the damage to the brand [but] some serious questions about why they had to lay off 1850 workers and still pay executives very significant sums," Mr Hockey said.

On Tuesday Ms Morphet said she believed Australia's manufacturing businesses were being run "as lean as they can be run", and she was comfortable with the high level of wages in Australia.

"We're not looking to change that ... the competitive advantages that we've got are a skilled workforce, abundant energy, and those things should enable us to be successful in spite of the differences that we have between our nation and someone else's," she said.

Her comments followed a decision by MA member CSR to sack 150 workers in western Sydney, citing the high dollar and tough business conditions.

Ms Morphet said she would be in Canberra on Monday to promote the group's new policies, including a new policy centring on Australia's abundant energy resources.

MA represents nine of the country's biggest manufacturers. They are Bluescope Steel, Amcor, Boral, Brickworks, CSR, Incitec Pivot, Rheem, Allied Mills and Capral.