Monday, 16 June 2014
Corio Electorate: Automotive Industry
At present Ford employs 360 of our best and brightest minds in Norlane—highly skilled technical professionals who enable Geelong to be a world leader in innovative research and development in the automotive sector. More are employed at Ford's Proving Ground at Lara. When Ford made its decision last year to cease the manufacturing of automotive vehicles in Australia and Geelong, from 2016, it also made the decision to continue its product development section. The future of Ford's product development division, beyond 2016, is now under threat with the Abbott government failing to deliver viable support to keep its research and development in Geelong. We know that the Abbott government's budget has been a death sentence to Geelong's once-thriving manufacturing industry, cutting funding for the Automotive Transformation Scheme from $900 million to a grossly inadequate $400 million for the 2015-20 periods.
In addition, though, the government is not even honouring the entirety of the scheme's funding period, as the scheme will be completely axed in 2018 without bringing the funding forward. Through this absurdly illogical move, the Abbott government is making a concerted effort to kill off our entire manufacturing sector, and research and development will not be spared.
I met with representatives of Professional Engineers Australia—a part of Professionals Australia—last Friday to talk about the impact of this on Ford's product and development section. This is a section that not only designs vehicles that are made here in Australia but also designs vehicles that are made throughout Ford's production and processes across the world. So impressive has it been that the government's Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry, and the member for Corangamite, made the visit to the Lara Proving Ground to have their photo taken for the Geelong Advertiser. Despite their presence there—and it will be a bitter pill for those who saw them—the government is abolishing the Automotive Transformation Scheme. This will drive Ford to seriously reassess the viability of their continued operation in Geelong beyond 2016.
Losing Ford would mean new product development would decrease from its already parlous levels and perpetuate the dearth of domestic research and development and innovation capacity in any area that is crucial to a modern economy. The government driving this to happen simply does not make sense. Turning its back on the automotive sector will undoubtedly have widespread ramifications. Not only will it hurt the local economy but it may stifle our innovation and capacity across many areas by driving some of Geelong's most talented, qualified and highly skilled professionals to look overseas for opportunities. These professionals, notably engineers, will be the enablers of advanced manufacturing. A failure to retain professionals will be at the forefront of advanced manufacturing and could severely limit the potential of Geelong's emerging advanced manufacturing industry.
I sincerely hope that the Abbott government's failure to support Geelong's automotive industry does not drive Ford to close its product development division in Norlane, for this division of Ford is an invaluable strength for our region and, indeed, for Australia, one which we simply cannot afford to lose.