Senate debates

Monday, 9 December 2013

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Automotive Industry

3:02 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Employment (Senator Abetz) and the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Senator Ronaldson) to questions without notice asked by Senators Wong, Carr and Singh today relating to the automotive industry and the transfer of Department of Human Services positions from Hobart, Tasmania.

Today, Mr Deputy President, the government had an opportunity to demonstrate that they are serious about supporting jobs, that they are serious about supporting Australia's car industry. We saw today not only ministers refusing to support jobs in South Australia and Victoria, and of course around the country particularly in the supply chain, but also the extraordinary spectacle of government senators from South Australia not asking questions, not advocating for the car industry, choosing instead to ask questions about other matters because, frankly, they have given up inside the government when it comes to South Australian jobs in the auto sector. That is what they are given up on.

There are a lot of slogans from the other side. They talk about job-destroying, well I will tell you what is job-destroying. What is job-destroying is the cheer squad for closure. Ministers on that side of the chamber are cheering on the closure of Holden, unbelievably trying to pressure General Motors through the media to make a decision to close their Australian operations. This is a government that said they were open for business. Do know what they are open for? There are open for bullying a company and trying to get them to close down because it suits their political interests.

The Leader of the Government in the Senate professed complete innocence—he somehow has not seen this. Let us recap what we have seen. In an extraordinary display not only of a lack of discipline in cabinet but also of economic recklessness, we have senior ministers backgrounding the media, trying to get jobs destroyed and trying to get Holden to close. I think this story broke on Thursday. It was reported on the ABC on television late Thursday that there had been senior ministers who had advised, or had backgrounded, that Holden had made a decision to pull out of Australia. That report was then updated again the following day. It said:

Holden has made the decision to pull out of Australia as early as 2016, according to senior Government ministers.

Not according to GMH, not according to the company, but according to some senior government ministers who think it is a good idea as ministers of the Crown to background reputable journalists that a company has decided to close. You are not in opposition; you are ministers of the Crown. It is completely inappropriate and utterly irresponsible and economically reckless to be playing these sorts of political games with people's jobs and the Australian economy through backgrounding of media.

This went on and on. In fact it led on Friday to Mr Macfarlane saying that the senior government ministers should be named. What was interesting is that they have not told people who they are—and I will come to that shortly. This continued on Friday and again on the weekend with ministers giving background briefings. We heard today, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald:

Ministers continue to give anonymous briefings to journalists to say Holden has decided to leave.

If the government does not believe that these reports are correct, if the government does not believe that the Sydney Morning Herald, the ABC, the Australian and various other news outlets are reporting the truth, let them come in here and say that. Let them say that in question time. But they did not today. They chose not to.

Perhaps one of the most interesting points was the fact that Senator Abetz, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, at no point has denied that senior economic ministers, including the Treasurer, have been part of the cheer squad for closing Holden. He has not denied that in here and he has not denied it once. Even more interestingly, we asked a direct question of the Minister for Finance, whether he was one of the people involved in backgrounding the media and he ducked the answer. He refused to say, 'I did not.' I think that Australians did not elect this government in order to see senior economic ministers championing the destruction of Australian jobs. They did not elect this government to destroy Australian jobs, they did not elect this government to background the media anonymously. (Time expired)


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