China Furniture

Reporter: Gavin Alder

About this time last year we warned you about cheap and nasty furniture flooding the Australian market.

Imported furniture from Asia fails to conform to Australian safety standards and environmental targets that Australian made furniture has to meet. But soon you may not even have the option to buy Australian made because furniture makers here are being driven into bankruptcy by the big retail chains out to maximise their own profit.

"I only ever see the cheap stuff out of Asia. The only Australian stuff I see is usually a delivery fault so it's not actually a fault in the furniture" says a furniture repairer.

This furniture industry insider has built his business fixing the shoddy work done overseas.

"Pretty much 90% of our work is brand new furniture that's got defects and faults."

Australian furniture makers are going broke. When the massive Queensland based Super Amart chain ditched it's loyal local furniture manufacturers, five factories closed down.

"It's been a mortal blow to the industry. Four or five businesses have shut down completely, others have had to downsize considerably" says Kevin.

Kevin Feldman's Brisbane business survived but only just.

"Eight months ago we had 90 employees. We were running three shifts a day."

Now he's down to half that.

Jess Jandu owned the largest state of the art furniture manufacturing facility in the southern hemisphere until Super Amart pulled the plug.

"Totally betrayed. Totally devastated. No dialogue. No reason."

Now it's empty - 90 jobs gone and owner Jess Jandu is on the brink of bankruptcy.

Super Amart CEO Eddie McDonald was opening a new store in Perth so told me Today Tonight he didn't have time to do an interview.

In a written statement he says the company regrets having to make the move but it made business sense because products of the same or better quality could be sourced from overseas at lower prices.

But every time a local factory closes it's more than jobs that are lost .. It means less choice for consumers.

Australian made furniture has to comply to strict standards, limiting the amount of toxic substances like formaldehyde.

Imported furniture doesn't have to meet those standards.

The Environmental Choice Organisation tested 16 Asian furniture flat packs sold by major retailers. Seven of those had two times the recommended levels of formaldehyde.

South Australian Richard Wang imports flat pack kitchens from China made from who knows what.

Cabinet maker Nathan Wood says Nazri Bouris has a kitchen nightmare on her hands. "If I looked at it I would be scared. I wouldn't know if cutting on saw I'd be wondering whats in this stuff, am I going to get cancer from it."

The irony is that with the Australian dollar plunging by 30 cents compared to the greenback, the cheap imports are getting more expensive.

"If I was still in business I'd be able to supply Amart with product cheaper than what they can buy overseas" says Jess.

Kevin Feldman's last throw of the dice is this ... "I'd like to see 100% but at the moment we're running at probably 70%."

He's opened up his own furniture warehouse supporting Australian made furniture. It's just one store in Brisbane now but he's hoping to become a thorn in the side of the big boys.

"My thinking is if eventually we've got 20 or 30 stores then we'd be a significant factor in determining the future of the industry. I'd love to have 100" adds Kevin.

We should point out there are retailers that do strongly support Australian made furniture - the best way to find them is to go to the Australia Made Council website www.australianmade.com.au

The Australian Made Furniture Big Brands Warehouse is on Kessels Road McGregor on Brisbane's southside.