Senate debates

Monday, 9 December 2013

Matters of Public Importance

Automotive Industry

5:37 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

I share the concerns of my colleagues in relation to the future of the automotive industry in this country, and I think there have been a number of strategic mistakes made by the federal government. Most recently, the Prime Minister made a statement just a few days ago to the effect, 'Not a dollar more for Holden'. I do not understand why that statement was made given that the federal government was committed to having a Productivity Commission inquiry to look at the future of the automotive industry. What is the point of having a Productivity Commission inquiry if the Prime Minister is saying, 'Not a dollar more for this industry'. Aren't we meant to hear from the Productivity Commission to see what needs to be done, the importance of this industry, and to see what steps can be taken and what can be put in place to save the tens of thousands of jobs that are directly connected to this industry—not only the 1,700 jobs at Holden, but also the 12,000 or so jobs in South Australia directly related to component manufacturing. There are 33,000 jobs in Victoria. We are talking in the order of 50,000 jobs directly employed by this industry, let alone the multiplier effect. I do not understand why that statement was made by the Prime Minister. It does not make sense to me. It seems to be pre-empting what the Productivity Commission is looking at.

I know the Prime Minister told radio 3AW in Melbourne at the end of last week:

… I think the message that we’re getting from Holden is that they’re in two minds—

the Prime Minister said. Well maybe they are in two minds because we are not getting clear signals as to what the federal government is intending to do.

Having said that, I still have confidence in the genuineness of Minister Ian Macfarlane in relation to this. But I am concerned that there are members of the federal cabinet who are undermining Minister Macfarlane. I think Minister Macfarlane genuinely, passionately wants this industry to survive. I note the comments from the state secretary of the AMWU in South Australia, John Camillo, a great champion for the automotive industry in my home state. He shares my confidence in respect of Minister Macfarlane.

But this does not make sense; it does not make sense to be going down this path. Once we lose this industry, we lose it forever. We are one of only 13 countries in the world that can design a car from the concept stage and get it out there on the road. One of only 13 countries in the world. Some are of the view, some who have a dry economic rationalist view, that we can let the mining industry take up the slack. Guess what? The mining industry in this country relies on the innovation, the technological advances that the automotive industry has brought. It is the industry that drives innovation in other sectors of the economy. That is something that must be taken into account. You lose the auto industry, you lose that innovation, you lose the engineers: we will have a brain drain and skills drain in this country. We will have our best and brightest going off to Europe, to Asia, to other parts of the world because they will not have a job here.

I note that in today's Sydney Morning Herald front-page lead 'How to save Holden' by Jonathan Swan, it says:

… the … government had confidential documents that show it would cost less than $150 million extra a year to keep Holden in Australia until 2025.

Let us put this in perspective: what will the cost be of the unemployment benefits for 50,000 Australians out of work? That is just for those who are directly employed; it does not include the multiplier effect of the local deli, the snack bar, the shops and the businesses that rely on people having work—good productive work—in the automotive industry. These are costs that we must take into account. And when we talk about recession, South Australia and Victoria could well face a real recession, a deep recession, in each of those states and drag down the national economy as a result of losing the automotive industry.

I would urge the federal government to consider this: there were hundreds of thousands of Australians who voted for the coalition at the last election who did not vote for them previously.


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