House debates

Monday, 23 October 2017

Private Members' Business


4:56 pm

Photo of David FeeneyDavid Feeney (Batman, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Justice) Share this | Hansard source

I begin by thanking my colleague, the member for Wakefield, for bringing this very important motion before this parliament, and I am delighted to second it. Last week, the sadness about the final destruction of this country's car industry reverberated throughout this chamber, throughout this parliament and, I might say, across the country. The closure of the Holden Australia plant in Elizabeth was really the final chapter in what has been an extinction-level event for thousands of Australian jobs, an entire industry being wiped out by this government. Over some nearly seven decades the car industry has employed, quite literally, generations of workers. It was a source of good-quality jobs for migrants and for working-class people.

In my own electorate of Batman, where some two in five persons were born overseas, many residents now in their golden years remember working in those car factories, and they remember the good jobs and the opportunities that came with them. They came to this country with next to nothing but with a hope for a better life for themselves and for their children, and they found work in car manufacturing companies. They built cars for our grandparents and our parents, and they helped to build them for this nation. Their jobs were a source of both personal and national prosperity. They are often the neglected heroes of this nation's nation-building story. If only today they were able to have a government that backed them in. If only today they had a government that was prepared not only to acknowledge their contribution but to seize the opportunities the car industry could have looked forward to into the future.

Victoria has been making cars for over seven decades, and now that, too, has come to an end. The reality is that all three brands that have a deep history in this country, that helped build this country, are now gone. Instead, the government made an active, a calculated and a conscious decision, Prime Minister after Prime Minister, Treasurer after Treasurer, to turn their backs on the car industry. It was almost with cavalier disregard that they allowed this industry to collapse on their watch. It was a game of brinksmanship for which they were not qualified. It was a game of brinksmanship which saw them lost, perhaps for momentary embarrassment at the next polo game they attended, but to the lasting destruction of this industry and for this country, and they turned their backs not just on these workers and their families but on this country as a whole.

In question time last Thursday, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer bragged about the coalition's achievement of jobs growth, and they did that in the very same week where 1,000 workers at Holden lost their jobs. It just shows how remarkably out of touch this government is. When faced with a jobs tragedy, we find ourselves asking again and again: 'Well, how did we get here? How did this tragedy come about? How is it that this government killed the car industry?' In 2013, the then Labor government went to that election with a plan. Under the new car plan, Labor promised a further $1.5 billion in support for the car industry, to be given over the period 2015 to 2020. The plan would deliver some $5.4 billion in support to the Australian automotive manufacturing industry over the period from 2008 to 2020, the bulk of these funds flowing to the industry through the Automotive Transformation Scheme.

The then Labor government believed that this was a plan that would help the automotive manufacturing industry in this country not just to survive but to prosper, remembering that at that moment in time Australia was just one of 13 nations in the world that had the people, the skills, and the capital to build cars from end to end. China, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, India, the UK, US, South Korea, Russia and Malaysia—this was a club that the Abbott and Turnbull governments were very, very relaxed about Australia departing. This was a club, of course, where in all 13 of those nations the car industry was supported by subsidies or by tariffs. But, nonetheless, this was a club that this government cared nothing about Australia leaving. The election of the Abbott government turned out to be the nail in the coffin of an industry that still had a lot of life left to give to this country.

Speaking at the launch of the new four-cylinder Holden Cruze in 2011, then Prime Minister Julia Gillard spoke of the occasion when Prime Minister Chifley launched the first Holden, in the 1950s. He wasn't just launching a car, the Prime Minister said, he was building a nation. We know that this isn't a government that minds a good boondoggle—a $1 billion subsidy to Adani is justified in their world view—and we know that this isn't a government that is opposed to the subsidies on the grounds of markets, because Direct Action is, of course, a plan to destroy—(Time expired)


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