1980s - Australia becomes more competitive

The 1980s were bookended by two recessions and a stock market crash. But in the years between, Australia experienced an economic boom. 

An eventful decade

The years 1985 and 1986 were particularly eventful. These years saw a sharp fall in both the terms of trade and the exchange rate. These events strengthened the case for economic reform. They paved the way for a raft of changes that would enable Australia to better compete on the world stage.

The changes included:

  • the deregulation of financial markets
  • the entry of foreign banks
  • a further reduction of tariffs, quotas and subsidies
  • a restructuring of the manufacturing industry
  • large-scale immigration.

Floating the Australian dollar made Australia’s manufacturing exports even more competitive. It created an opportunity for manufacturing exporters to take their first steps into international markets.

Tourism also became a major export earner. Australia’s reputation as a go-to destination was enshrined by Paul Hogan's iconic phrase, “I'll slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for you”. The phrase featured in a series of Australian Tourism Commission television commercials spanning most of the decade.

Elsewhere, a series of reforms changed the nature of funding to Australia's higher education sector. This opened up the sector to the booming international student market.

Meanwhile, trade policy took centre stage with the release of the 1989 Asia Report. The report advocated for closer trade ties with countries in Northeast Asia.

Back in the nation’s capital, the Department of Foreign Affairs merged with the Department of Trade to form the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In 1986, the Australian Trade Commission, or Austrade, was established.

The 1980s will go down as the era where Australia grew more aware of the importance of competition, with many companies becoming more dynamic, flexible and efficient.

Geraldton Fishermen’s Co-operative: Catch of the day

Australian Export Awards winner, 1983

From a remote town in northern WA, Geraldton Fishermen’s Co-operative (GFC) supplies premium-quality Western Rock Lobster to markets across the globe.

The GFC story begins in the early 1950s, when a small group of fishermen in Geraldton floated the idea of a northern co-operative. They wanted to deregulate a tough industry controlled by factory owners, increase returns on their catch, and develop greater marketing efficiencies.

Over seven decades, the co-op’s fishermen, directors and staff have worked together to make GFC the largest processor and exporter of rock lobster in the world.

Despite this huge growth and success, GFC remains committed to its grassroots, co-op principles. Its members are united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs.

Focus on sustainability

Since it was established, GFC has led the industry in ecological sustainability. It works closely with fishermen, Western Australia’s Department of Fisheries, and other rock lobster processors and management bodies to ensure careful governance.

The Western Rock Lobster fishery became the world’s first to be certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) for sustainable fishing practices.

An export-focused business

Significant catch volume has meant that GFC has always been export focused. Initial exports included frozen lobster tails to the US in the 1950s. The co-op established a range of whole frozen lobster products for emerging Asian markets, like Japan and Taiwan, through the 1980s and 1990s.

By the mid-2000s, GFC had set up a B2C online sales model for lobster sales in China. This allowed the company to capitalise on China’s dominance in the seafood consumption market during this time.

Australian Export Awards winner

GFC won an Australian Export Award in 1983. Shaun McInnes, GFC’s Corporate Affairs Manager, sees participation in the Australian Export Awards as a great networking, marketing, and customer retention opportunity.

‘It’s also important for employee retention and engagement,’ he says. ‘The application process, too, forces you to stop doing the day-to-day and take stock of your journey and accomplishments so far.’

Watch an SBS Small Business Secrets video on Geraldton Fishermen's Cooperative (YouTube, 6 mins).

Fishing boat
Woman working on fishing boat
Man working on fishing boat with the shore in the distance

Images courtesy of Geraldton Fishermen’s Co-operative


Antico International: Best of the bunch

Winner of Australian Export Award, 1986

Antico International is dedicated to the export, import and wholesale of quality fresh fruit and veggies.

The Antico story begins at a humble fruit shop in Sydney’s Mascot. Run by a family of entrepreneurs who never shied from market opportunities, Antico quickly moved from local providore to global food exporter.

Exporting fruit from Aussie farms to the world

Antico fast secured its place as leaders in the food export industry. The company’s established airfreight contacts saw it offer a huge array of export products in its early years. This included stone fruits and vegetables like broccoli, lettuce and cauliflower. Many of these were exported under the Antico name for the first time in Australian history.

The company was also one of the first to put same-day, farm-fresh deliveries onto air pallets and sea containers. As the business grew, Antico’s reputation for procurement saw the family build direct relationships with Aussie growers. Many of these relationships remain strong today.

Despite huge global success, Antico has always remained Australian-owned and family operated. Antico founders and brothers Tony and Attilio (known as John) are still involved in the business. CEO Hugh Molloy has been with the company for 27 years. He has played the pivotal role in expanding the company.

Winning the Australian Export Award opens doors

Antico won an Australian Export Award in 1986. ‘Winning the Australian Export Award opened doors of growers, new customers, and government agencies, both here and abroad,’ says co-founder John.

‘It contributed to the expansion of exporting Australian fresh produce to an ever-opening world. Most importantly, the award represented recognition from our peers that our decades of effort to connect the world to the best of Australian produce had been appreciated.’

From exports to imports

By the late 1990s, Antico identified a growing demand among local consumers for a year-round supply of seasonal products. It began sourcing fresh produce from overseas producers and importing it into Australia. It also relaunched its export wholesale division. 

‘Today, we continue to offer an incomparable range of capabilities, all managed and quality controlled from one location,’ says co-founder Tony. ‘This includes import, export, wholesale, domestic production, procurement, fumigation, flood spray dipping, active ripening, packing and distribution.’

Australian Export Awards enable expansion

John and Tony don’t hesitate to recommend participation in the Australian Export Awards.

‘Receiving recognition from industry stakeholders and peers provides an invaluable credibility and assurance at all levels of business,’ says John. ‘This enables expansion into diverse markets both domestically and internationally.’

The award also provided inspiration at all levels of the company, notes Tony. This has allowed Antico to always meet its high-quality standards and commitment to consistency.

Watch a video on SBS Small Business Secrets (YouTube, 5 mins: 19 secs)

Aerial view of fruit trees growing in rows on a farm

Images courtesy of Antico International


Cochlear: an ear for success

Medium manufacturer award winner, 1988

Australian Export Awards Hall of Fame inductee, 2008 

It’s a rare but happy coincidence when big business meets important social need. Australia’s Cochlear Limited is one such shining example. 

Cochlear pioneered the world’s first multichannel cochlear implant. Today, the company boasts more than four decades’ experience making implantable hearing solutions for people with moderate to profound hearing loss. 

Helping people around the world to hear

Cochlear was born from the 1960s work of Professor Graeme Clark. His close relationship with his deaf father was the inspiration for his research. Founded in 1981, today Cochlear holds about a 60% share of the global hearing solutions market.  

As of February 2022, Cochlear has sold more 650,000 implants in more than 180 countries. It is present in more than 30 markets, most recently opening offices in Colombia and Mexico. More than 95% of its revenue is generated from exports. 

‘Success in large, developed markets such as the US and Western Europe have been critical to our growth,’ says Greg Bodkin, Cochlear’s Senior Vice President Global Supply Chain. ‘However, ensuring people in less economically developed countries can access our devices is equally important. Currently, around 20% of our global revenue is from emerging markets.’ 

Cochlear is part of a unique hearing precinct that brings together thousands of professionals involved in research, academia, manufacturing and rehabilitation. From its Macquarie University headquarters, Cochlear delivers on its mission to help people around the world to hear. 

A member of the Australian Export Awards Hall of Fame

Cochlear won its first Australian Export Award, the Medium Manufacturer Award, in 1988. ‘Winning our first Australian Export Award gave the small and dedicated team some deserved recognition for what they had achieved in bringing Professor Clark’s invention to market,’ says Bodkin. 

The company was awarded again in 2003 and 2007. Cochlear was inducted into the Australian Export Awards Hall of Fame in 2008. 

‘This marked our coming of age as an Australian global success story,’ says Bodkin. ‘It not only cemented our reputation as the global leader in cochlear implants, winning the award helped amplify the potential of Australia’s medical technology industry.’ 

Bodkin notes that being a finalist or a winner at the Australian Export Awards creates a wonderful sense of achievement for any business. 

‘In addition, going through the application process is a good opportunity to think about what is making your business successful and where there is potential to go further,’ he says. 

Key to Cochlear’s ongoing success both locally and abroad has been its commitment to research and innovation. The company also places emphasis on global collaboration. This keeps it at the frontline of hearing technology. 

Visit Cochlear's website.

Grandmother with little girl and pet rabbit
Cochlear executives in a meeting
Person in lab checking screen

© Cochlear Limited (left to right) 2019, 1984, 2014. 

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