Monday, 23 October 2017
Private Members' Business
That this House:
(1) acknowledges the important role Holden's workforce has played in Holden Australia's history including when it:
(a) was established in 1856 by James Alexander Holden as a saddlery business;
(b) became the exclusive supplier for General Motors in Australia in 1924;
(c) built the first all-Australian motor vehicle in 1948, the FX Holden;
(d) commenced construction on the current Holden site in Elizabeth, South Australia in 1958; and,
(e) hosted Queen Elizabeth II at the Elizabeth plant in 1963;
(2) congratulates the current Holden workforce for its ongoing professionalism which has ensured the Holden Elizabeth plant remains General Motors' top factory for quality globally; and
(3) acknowledges the role of Prime Minister Chifley and South Australian Premier Sir Thomas Playford in establishing the Australian automotive industry.
Every so often there are moments in the national life when a Prime Minister and a government must speak to the country. Undoubtedly 20 October 2017, that Black Friday, when the last car rolled off the line at GMH Elizabeth, was one of those days. It demanded a government and a Prime Minister that would actually speak to the nation. Instead, what we had was largely ignorance of that moment, denial of that moment and avoidance of that moment. But it was a very big moment. In the words of Holden, in their press release, their Executive Director of Manufacturing, Richard Phillips, paid tribute to the people and achievements at Elizabeth plant. He said:
The passion and dedication of the team here is second to none, it has been an honour to work alongside them. In the final years of production, we have been building categorically the best-quality cars to ever roll out of this plant, and our last car was our best.
That's what Holden said. In the newspapers in Adelaide, in InDaily the headline was: 'Holden gave me everything I have.' In the Advertiser it was: 'Holden's heart is still but history will drive our enduring passion.' In that article Richard Phillips was quoted, and he channelled Ben Chifley:
"Sixty-nine years ago prime minister Ben Chifley announced our first Australian-built vehicle with that famous line, 'She’s a beauty'," he said.
'And today, but just as a humble lad from Elizabeth, as I saw that car rolling past me on the line, the thought that came to my mind was simply, 'She’s perfect'.
That last car is perfect, and it tells a story about a factory and a workforce that, despite all of the criticism of them by this government at the time Holden made their announcement and in the lead-up to that—the blackguarding of what was an honourable workforce, a productive workforce and a workforce that was prepared to take a reduction in conditions and pay in its enterprise bargaining agreement as a method of securing the additional billion dollars worth of investment. The one thing that we lacked at that time was a government that was prepared to facilitate that billion dollars worth of investment that GM wanted to make, which would have allowed us to have two new extra models and would have carried us through to 2022 at the earliest.
We had a situation where this was an unnecessary closure of a great industry, of a great workforce, 50,000 employees across the country—not just the thousand at Elizabeth, but thousands and thousands in car component factories behind them. And we know that this tragic moment, and those opposite will get up and blackguard the car industry again. But even if you believe what they say they believe, which is that we couldn't manufacture cars in this country, you still needed a Prime Minister who would speak to the moment, who would honour that workforce, who would say decent things and pat them on the back for being so productive right up until the end—an unheard-of achievement. Of all the GM factories around the world, GM Elizabeth was the No. 1 in the world for quality in the last three months. In a factory scheduled for closure, that is unheard of, and those workers deserved congratulations for their efforts. But did the Prime Minister say that? No. When asked if he felt any guilt, he said, 'Personally I feel very sad. A bit of an end of an era. You can't get away from the emotional response to closure. Having said that, let's look at some of the more positive aspects to it'—some of the more positive aspects, that the workers might have transitioned to new jobs. That positive aspect is despite this government and not because of this government.
What we had on Friday was a Prime Minister who abrogated his responsibility to tell the nation what just happened. It was an important moment in our post-war history—the last Australian-made car coming off the line. He could have told South Australia, Victoria and the country what comes next. It could have been a time to explain what comes next, whether it be defence, innovation or something else like high technology. I don't know. But we'll never know, because the Prime Minister didn't turn up. He didn't make that speech. He didn't say anything to the people of South Australia, Victoria or, indeed, the nation. It was a critical moment in our history and a symbolic moment for this government that will condemn this Prime Minister and this government as the government that waved goodbye to the last Australian-made car.
I'm pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to commentary on this motion. I say at the outset that I agree with many of the sentiments contained within the motion from the member for Wakefield. As I acknowledge the sentiments of the member for Wakefield in this motion, I particularly support the recognition of the professionalism of Holden workers, both in recent times and over the many, many decades in the history of the Australian motor vehicle manufacturing industry. I recognise at the same time the challenges for the Australian motor vehicle industry considered by successive federal and state governments across this country.
As we continue, quite rightly, to recognise and celebrate the past, given the recent decisions of Ford, Toyota and, of course, now Holden to cease manufacturing in Australia, so too are we compelled to look to the future. Is this the end of an era? Of course it is. Especially significant, I think, given the community celebration of at least those involved and supportive of Australian motor vehicle sport, is the success of Holden and Ford at Bathurst and the Gold Coast in recent weeks, respectively. I say this also as a great fan of Australian manufacturing and an investor in Australian manufacturing industries myself prior to coming to this place. I offer tremendous support to any comment of respect towards Holden workers and those who have worked in the industry more broadly over many, many decades. I say this as a true Australian motor vehicle buff myself.
But, as I say, we do need to look to the future. As a former premier of the very important vehicle manufacturing state of Victoria, Jeff Kennett, recently reflected, the challenges for successive governments under various Australian industry federal ministers—including my own predecessor in this place, Ian Macfarlane—have been there for many years to consider. Mr Kennett reflected that for years we had a tariff of almost 60 per cent protecting our car industry by ensuring imported cars were so much more expensive. The tariff began to be reduced in the mid-1980s under the Hawke Labor government. By 2015, the tariff had been reduced to about 10 per cent. The review by former Victorian Labor Premier Steve Bracks recommended a further five per cent cut, which happened in 2010. More recently that tariff has sat at about five per cent.
The Button plan of Labor in 1990 encouraged the local industry to export, quite rightly, and to reduce the number of models it sold—a move towards export and rationalisation, I guess, was his thinking—in return for ongoing financial support from the federal government. We know the history has been that, as tariffs reduced, imports increased from individual plants that produced, in fact, more vehicles each year than our entire industry did in any one year. As Kim Carr said in 2012: 'Governments don't run the car companies. It's not the government's job to tell them how to manage the plant.' As the General Motors head of international operations said at around the same time, nor was it the fault of any particular government decision that they had to face up to economic conditions on a worldwide basis.
I'm proud that our government has responded to these challenges and put in place a range of support mechanisms to help workers transition. These have been in place for some years, recognising that the decisions of Ford, Toyota and Holden were announced some time ago. The $100 million Advanced Manufacturing Fund—assistance to expand advanced manufacturing, particularly in South Australia and Victoria—leveraging a total investment of $119 million, I think has been particularly important through these difficult times and these challenges. And so the list goes on. There is $255 million in assistance to specific businesses to transition to new industries. There is some $45 million for the workers in transition programs, with 6,000 workers provided with career training advice and support. I'm advised that 75 per cent of Holden workers have found new jobs or retired.
There is a salutary lesson here for Australian consumers as well. As Jeff Kennett said, Australians changed their purchasing patterns and started buying more and more imported vehicles. If I had the opportunity, I would buy Australian vehicles forever more. I cherish the '67 six-cylinder Ford sedan through to the 2015 V8 Falcon I've purchased, and I cherish the Australian industry. I look forward to its future, particularly with Ford and Holden, looking at international engineering activities.
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)
When the last Holden rolled off production in Adelaide on Friday it was the end of an era. The automotive manufacturing industry, begun by Liberal Premier Sir Thomas Playford, supported our economy and countless families in South Australia for decades. Over the course of its 70-year history, Holden produced some 7.3 million vehicles, including 2.3 million of the staple in many Australian garages, the Holden Commodore. The loss of employment in Adelaide's north will be felt hard by workers, their families and South Australia's economy as a whole.
I hope that new and emerging industries, such as the Naval Shipbuilding Plan, will find room for the experience and skills that ex-Holden workers will bring with them. We must remember, though, that there will still be workers in Australia carrying on the Holden legacy. General Motors will continue to be supported by around 1,000 staff, including a 350-strong design and engineering team. Holden's dealer network will also remain important, with some 6,000 staff across Australia. In my electorate of Boothby we're lucky to have one of Adelaide's most iconic dealerships, Hamilton Holden, on Brighton Road, operated by David Hamilton and his daughter Sally Hamilton.
We have known for some time that General Motors Holden was going to leave South Australia. It followed the decision of Ford and Toyota in Victoria, and Mitsubishi, at the turn of the century, in southern Adelaide, in my electorate of Boothby. With a monumental economic shift such as this, members of parliament are responsible for analysing and understanding the factors that have led us to where we are today. To my mind, there is no doubt that the cost inputs for manufacturing in Australia have been one of the biggest reasons for the decline of car manufacturing. The responsibility for these increasing costs lies squarely at the feet of the Labor Party and the unions. They have left Australia with the most globally uncompetitive wages in the world and have effectively priced Australian workers out of the market. The most generous salaries and terms and conditions of employment are worth absolutely nothing if you don't have a job. They're worth nothing if your product cannot compete on the world stage, because, as an isolated island, with a small population, we're reliant on trade to keep our businesses going. These facts are lost on those opposite, I know.
I also wonder what those opposite, who are blaming everyone but themselves for the closure of Holden, have done to personally support Holden. I bet they have not done nearly as much as my family has over the years to support Holden. I grew up in a family that taught me the importance of looking after local businesses by supporting them with your purchasing power and decisions. That's why I'm a proud third-generation Holden owner. My grandparents on both sides were farmers and both were Holden owners. They owned about five farm utes each over the years and 16 or so Holden sedans between them. I have photos here of my paternal grandfather, my dad and my uncle with a range of these Holden utes in their paddocks. I have photos of my mum and my uncle, as very small children, standing with my grandfather in front of several of the utes that would tow their caravan family holidays.
My mum grew up to be a rev head, a gene I have inherited, and I have photos here of my mum with her first GPak Torana, her Kermit-green 4.2-litre V8 Holden Torana SLR, and my parents' V8 Commodore station wagon—which they had to buy when they had three children and then ended up with four not long after that. And I have many pictures of my parents' more recent Commodore sedans. My parents have also owned about 10 Holden utes over the course of their 40-or-so-year farming careers.
For three fun and sometimes fraught years, I owned a piece of Holden motoring history.
Lady Di — full name Lady Dianne — was a 1982 Holden WB ute, or at least she was on paper. By the time I bought her it was impossible to tell how many times she had been pulled apart and pieced back together.
She had a 5-litre V8 engine, HZ premier front-end, five-post bullbar, roll bar and numerous other modifications. She was, of course, a manual.
I am proud to say I now own one of the very last Holden Commodores ever made, a testament to three generations of Holden history within my family. We have proudly supported this very proud South Australian business, and we've done our part to support our proud Australian culture. I look forward to enjoying many years with one of the last remaining Holdens to come off the production line.
Following that five-minute comedy of errors, I rise to say that the government has finally followed a policy through to the outcome they desired: the death of the automotive industry in Australia.
While it's known that I'm a fierce blue oval man, growing up in the shadow of the Ford factory at Broady, I can't deny the vital role that Holdens have played in Australia's rich automotive history. It goes back to 1856, when Sir James Alexander Holden originally established a saddlery business that grew, through popularity and innovation, to become the exclusive supplier for General Motors Australia in 1924. In 1931, General Motors in Australia merged with Holden to become GMH. Ford and GMH dominated the fledgling automotive industry during this period. In 1948, the first car made in Australia for Australians, the 48215, or FX, arrived. From the 48215 to the VF Commodore, Holden has been Australia's motor car.
The government's final nail in the coffin for the Australian car manufacturing industry was hammered in last Friday, with the closure of the last Holden factory in Adelaide. It was a truly sad day, and to be honest I'm still in shock to think that Australia doesn't make cars anymore—words I never thought I would say. This closure is a national tragedy that didn't have to happen. It was a government choice that made this happen. We didn't have to lose such an icon, and we didn't need to kill thousands of manufacturing jobs in Australia. It's yet another short-sighted decision by a Liberal government that doesn't understand how important manufacturing jobs are in a diversified economy.
I sat in this parliament in utter disbelief when the Abbott-Turnbull Liberal government pulled out investment from the automotive industry, with blowhard Hockey goading Holden to leave Australia. He did that even though he knew that Holden making cars locally was a $33 billion boost to the Australian economy. If you think back to the EJ Holden, the slogan was 'the look of leadership'. Rest assured, that is something this government has never had.
Holden is synonymous with the Australian lifestyle. Back in the seventies we had the ads: 'football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars'. Cars such as Kingswoods, Monaros, Toranas, the original sin bin—the Sandman—and Commodores were the choices of great Australian generations. These cars became part of our identities. Holden had such a wide appeal that it became part of our pop culture. If you're a little bit older, you will remember shows like Kingswood Countryand old Ted Bullpitt, the conservative, Kingswood-loving putty factory worker and World War II veteran. Driving a Holden gave social status—unless it was a Camira or the Starfire 4 VH Commodore, of course! It was the Commodore that ruled them all—Australia's own car. It was such an icon that it became Australia's top selling car for 15 years.
You cannot paint a full picture of Holden's contribution and success without talking about the motor sport landscape. There isn't anything like the Bathurst 1000. The rivalry produced Australia's most famous muscle cars, the Bathurst specials—race cars that were driven by icons like Lowndes, Skaife, Norm Beechey and of course Bruce McPhee and Barry Mulholland, who gave Holden its very first Bathurst win. Of course, the biggest of them all, one of the McEwen electorate's most famous names, was Peter Brock—aka Peter Perfect, King of the Mountain. He won all his nine Bathurst championships in Holdens. His association with Holden was the stuff of legend, debuting in 1969 in a HT Monaro GTS, and going on to win the event nine times between 1972 and 1987, a feat that has not been equalled since. Peter Brock was such an icon that Holden collaborated with him, taking race inspired design, like the first HT TVC Commodore and, my favourite, the iconic VK group A blue meanie. As a petrolhead, I could talk about cars till the cows come home.
I rise to condemn the government for its short-sighted actions to cut down Australia's automotive industry. This is about the thousands of people left without jobs, the generations devoted to Holden since its early days, who worked day in and day out to put food on the table. Those generations of Australians shaped this industry, with countless stories of immigrants building a life in the country off the back of manufacturing—stories like Arrivederci Holden, the factory that fed my family, by SBS's Daniela Ritorto, should never be forgotten. To the Holden workforce, we thank you for your hard work in shaping this nation. Your contribution will be sorely missed. The end of the era didn't need to happen. It was a government choice that made it that way.
I thank the House for this opportunity to make a contribution to this debate. There are a few points I wish to make this evening. Firstly, in talking about what is a very sad occasion, I would like to offer our support and best wishes to all of those workers and their families in Adelaide who have been associated with that plant, sometimes for generations. I want to tell them tonight that we in the Central West have some idea how they feel, because not too long ago we lost Australia's last fridge-making plant in Orange, which saw the departure of 550 direct jobs and probably another couple of hundred of contractors as well. So we have a good understanding of the trauma that those communities are no doubt going through and the uncertain times that have befallen them recently. When we went through this it took a huge community effort to get through, and we're still working through it now, there's no doubt about that. It was a huge effort, especially in the retraining area. Whilst that was really traumatic for us, we managed to get through it because the community came together and we supported each other. So to all of the workers and their families down in Adelaide, our thoughts and our best wishes are with you.
The other thing I want to say is that obviously in my electorate of Calare we have a special interest in Holden because, as other speakers have noted, it's the home of Mount Panorama, where for decades Holden and Ford have battled it out on the mountain, as they did recently. The Holden history is etched into the mountainside from the HK Monaro in 1963 right through to the VF Commodore in 2017. The Holdens have taken line honours in the great race 32 times, more than any other manufacturer, with stars like Larry Perkins, Mark Skaife and nine-time winner, the late Peter Brock, who is still a revered figure in motor racing circles but particularly in our area, the spiritual and indeed physical home of motor racing in Australia. The Holden Dealer Team debuted in 1969. It was the first Australian motor sport team backed by the dealers themselves. I know that the organisers of the Bathurst 1000, the Bathurst Regional Council, Mayor Graeme Hanger and General Manager David Sherley would also like me to express their sadness and their support for those communities in Adelaide who are affected by this closure.
Another group that would like to have their expression of sadness given voice to in this House is the Cudgegong Cruisers of Mudgee. The Cudgegong Cruisers are a motor car club. They have close to 200 members from Mudgee, Gulgong, Kandos and Rylstone. It's a popular local institution. I think a huge proportion of their members have Holdens. These are Holdens of all vintages, which have been restored. We thank the Cudgegong Cruisers for their charity work. They raise a lot of money for charity, but I think they also wished to have their expression of sadness noted on this occasion. I make special mention of the committee: Glenn Box, Gary and Linda Goodman, John and Sue Hodges, Jim and Luene Cottee, Perry and Yvette Fulton, Nathan White and John and Cheryl Stuart. I'm told that John is a Holden man through and through. He owns three Holdens, including a special 1956 Holden FJ, which was manufactured in the year that he was born and gifted to him by his wife and children to celebrate his 50th birthday. John has since restored this vehicle.
To all of those folks in Adelaide, we would like to express our support and best wishes as you go through what is and will be a very difficult time to come. It is the end of an era. It won't quite be the same up on Mount Panorama when we watch the V8 Supercars. This last chapter of Holden is a sad chapter in Australia's history, to see the end of manufacturing of cars, along with so many other manufacturing industries like Electrolux. (Time expired)
That contribution from the member for Calare had a level of humanity and dignity that was entirely lacking in the member for Boothby's contribution to this debate. It is extraordinary, given that the member for Boothby represents a South Australian electorate, which also has a deep tradition of car-making and a supply industry in the southern suburbs, which coalesced around the old Chrysler and then Mitsubishi factory.
I want to pay credit to the member for Wakefield for proposing this important debate in the Federation Chamber, the week after the closure of the Holden factory, when enormous economic dislocation is happening in the suburbs of Adelaide. The member for Wakefield has given extraordinary voice to that sense of loss, dislocation and distress that has been experienced in different parts of Adelaide over almost the last four years—since Joe Hockey, the then Treasurer, goaded Holden to leave. I had street-corner meetings in the northern part of my electorate, in Paralowie, over the weekend, where there are a number of automotive supply companies and where there are a number of families who worked at Holden live, as the member for Wakefield would know. I have talked to members of families who have lost jobs at Holden or who have lost jobs at companies that had traditionally supplied the work of Holden, Toyota, Ford and, before them, Mitsubishi. The level of distress and dislocation is quite difficult to appreciate from this distance.
The other thing I like about this motion is its celebration of the 160-year history of this company, particularly since it took the decision in the early part of the last century to move from saddlery into automotive manufacturing. The first period of that automotive manufacturing was essentially one of assembly, when, for a while, Holden became an assembly company for Ford and then for Chrysler. Then, in 1924, it managed to obtain the exclusive contract to assemble GM, or General Motors, cars at a Woodville plant, just around the corner from my house, where now the local Bunnings store is, because the Woodville plant of GMH closed in the 1980s.
I want to talk a bit about the 1930s, which was a fork in the road for Holden in South Australia. The Great Depression hit the South Australian economy perhaps more harshly than any other economy because the South Australian economy was then so dependent on commodities, which really took a dive after the stock market crash in 1929. The government of the time took a very deliberate decision to start to industrialise the South Australian economy. In 1931 Holden, because it was in distress at the time, as most companies were, was effectively taken over by General Motors. The amalgamated, or merged, company, GMH, continued to be run by the Holden family—Ted Holden at the time—and in the mid-1930s a contract was finally struck for GMH to move its entire operation to Fishermans Bend in Victoria. The contract was struck while the then Premier, my great-grandfather Richard Butler, a conservative, was overseas. Almost the entire automotive manufacturing industry would have shifted in one fell swoop from South Australia to Victoria were that administration not given the opportunity to negotiate with Ted Holden and put in place a range of industry policies and tax concessions that kept the industry in South Australia for the following 82 years. I'm sure it's a matter of utter coincidence that Ted Holden entered the Legislative Council a few months later, as a member of the LCL, as a part-time job to supplement his ongoing work as the CEO and chair of GMH, but, were that decision not taken in the mid-1930s, the postwar economy of South Australia would have been profoundly different. It was a decision taken only a couple of years before the same administration decided to build a blast furnace in Whyalla. Really, they were the twin pillars of South Australia's postwar economy.
So I'm not going to take lectures from the member for Boothby about the Playford legacy. The Butler and Playford legacy of our manufacturing was from a time when the Liberal Party had real vision—the vision to build not just an industrial economy in South Australia but social reforms like the development of the South Australian Housing Trust, the first public housing policy, which was deliberately designed to try to give affordable housing opportunities to workers who would be employed in the factories that came into being in that very exciting period of the South Australian economy. Those were the pillars of South Australia's economic activity and our culture for five, six, seven, eight decades, and they were lost in a profound act of self-harm by this government. (Time expired)