Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Matters of Urgency
Australian Automotive Industry
( I inform the Senate that at 8.30 today Senator Moore and Senator Siewert each submitted a letter in accordance with standing order 75 proposing a matter of public importance or urgency. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the following letter has been received from Senator Moore:
Pursuant to standing order 75, I give notice that today I propose to move:
That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency.
The failure of the Government to acknowledge the urgency of the crisis facing the Australian automotive industry, or act to avert it, and the anxiety this is causing for tens of thousands of Australian workers and their families about the future of the auto industry and their jobs.
More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today’s debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.
At the request of Senator Moore, I move:
That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency.
The failure of the Government to acknowledge the urgency of the crisis facing the Australian automotive industry, or act to avert it, and the anxiety this is causing for tens of thousands of Australian workers and their families about the future of the auto industry and their jobs.
I move this motion to bring the attention of the parliament to an emerging but preventable social catastrophe in this country. I speak here of the imminent demise of the Australian automotive industry. This has come about as a result of the government's inaction to meet the fundamental question about co-investment in the automotive industry.
What we do know is that the General Motors Investment Committee has been meeting for some time about the future investment of $1 billion for the Australian automotive industry. This is investment which would help modernise the plant and ensure the production of two new models and secure production for General Motors through to the middle of the next decade.
What we also know is that in October after the election of this government, the General Motors board met in Detroit to consider the decisions that the government in Australia had indicated it was prepared to make. My understanding is that the international board members looked upon the announcements, the public statements of members of the newly-elected government, as somewhat bizarre because nowhere else where General Motors produces motor cars—and there are over 20 countries in the world, over 168 plants across the globe—is there a discussion about whether or not those countries actually want an automotive industry. But in Australia that seems to be the case.
In the last few days the Executive Vice President Consolidated International Operations of General Motors, Mr Stefan Jacoby, has been in Australia to discuss with the local management the decisions and actions of the government in Australia. Along with Daniel Akerson, the CEO of General Motors, he is charged with making a recommendation to the board of General Motors to consider whether or not they proceed with the $1 billion investment in the General Motors plant and whether or not General Motors actually makes the decision to cease production in Australia. Those board discussions are underway on a monthly basis but the decision in terms of the actual investment may well be made as soon as December.
This is according to timetables that are well known in the industry; well known to the Liberal Party; well known to the Labor Party. Before last Christmas, the Liberal Party in opposition was fully briefed on the investment plans of the company and fully briefed on the business model that the company was preparing; as was the government. The government took those investment plans through, with some rigorous analysis, and made the decision that we would as a government reach a settlement with General Motors about the future investment, and we did announce before the election a new car plan for the 2020s to secure the investment in Australia for the future of the automotive industry. We made those decisions based on a very careful analysis of the social and economic consequences of not investing. What is very clear in this industry is that it actually costs you more to let the industry collapse than it does to sustain the co-investment.
So, when we look at the situation the way it is now, it is not some Mexican stand-off; no-one is holding a gun to anyone's head—as government ministers have been stating. The coalition's theatrics have in fact sought to obscure some simple facts. The international automotive companies are bound by the investment decisions they make at an international level. But competition for investment capital is actually very scarce within the automotive industry. Automotive companies make decisions not only in competition with one another but against other countries. The decisions made with respect to the global production schedules are made on the basis of international decisions, not on the basis of meeting some local parochial concern, like a provincial election, such as we have in the state of South Australia.
These are schedules that dictate the critical decisions which are made to underpin the new investment, to bring the new technologies, to secure the new jobs for Australia. That timetable has been set down with plenty of knowledge and with the full knowledge of the current government and with the full knowledge of the current opposition.
Over 12 months the coalition has been fully advised of the schedules. Two months ago, the new government would have also been advised by the new department—the Department of Industry—as to what those schedules would be. They would also be fully briefed on the business case that had been put forward and the analysis that had been undertaken to support that business case. Yet this government fails to act. They fail to appreciate the urgency of the situation, because the government is in the business of playing chicken with the international automotive industry. They risk billions of dollars in foreign investment in this ideological witch-hunt, because some elements of the government think this is the time, this is the opportunity, to walk away from the automotive industry.
We know in this city, particularly amongst the bureaucracy, there is a school of thought that says industry policy is bad. But when it comes to the automotive industry there are people in this bureaucracy who happen to believe that there is something evil about the automotive industry. It is a deep ideological divide within the bureaucracy. That division is also reflected throughout the editorial pages of our newspapers, but it is particularly reflected within the coalition. The merchant banker mentality of the North Shore of Sydney, as reflected in Mr Hockey's position, of course is at one end. Mr Macfarlane's views, representing in many respects people who have some experience of the realities of international investment and the realities of the way manufacturing works, show an appreciation of what is actually required.
The right-wing ideologues who have been spurred on by the Institute of Public Affairs, by the editorial writers at the Financial Review, by the editorial writers at TheAustralian, by the 'New Right' agenda, which of course is now a very 'Old Right' agenda, about withdrawing government support from manufacturing. What we are seeing here is a position being taken by the government which is in fact by proxy no action. The result of that is to threaten the future of hundreds of Australian businesses; tens of thousands of Australian workers; tens of thousands of people across every state and territory of this Commonwealth. Every region of this Commonwealth would be affected by the loss of the nearly 200,000 jobs which would come if this industry were allowed to fail. The anxiety which is being created by the inaction of this government while they play out their ideological games means that decent hardworking Australians are being thrown a period of great uncertainty.
The simple question is: if the manufacturing industry—which of course is dependent upon automotive componentry and production, which is at its core—fails in this way, where will the jobs be found? Where will the new investment be found? We know for instance that over 13,000 people are employed in the automotive industry in South Australia. There is 6.6 per cent unemployment in that state at the moment. What would the consequences be for the collapse of General Motors? And not just General Motors; what about the 33 prime contractors that underpin General Motors, and the 1,700 subprime contractors. The implications in South Australia are huge.
But in the state of Victoria, which I represent in this chamber, the situation is even worse: 33,000 workers in my home state would be lost; 1.4 per cent of gross regional product would be lost. The gross regional product would not recover—if this industry falls over—for almost two decades. Employment losses would of course take much longer to recover; they would be equal to the loss of 33,000 jobs by 2018.
So we know what this government is facing. We know that this government is not prepared to face up to its responsibilities and we know that the cost to the budget in terms of lost taxes, increased social security and lost investment would actually be much, much higher than any co-investment arrangement which we are currently providing. Any co-investment arrangement would be much, much less than the social and economic costs to this nation if the automotive industry fails as a result of the inaction of this government in their desperate bid to get past the South Australian election in March next year. (Time expired)
I find it amazing that the former industry minister Senator Kim Carr is here expressing his concerns about the motor vehicle industry. I have one simple question: who was it that brought in that luxury car tax? Who was that? That was Minister Kim Carr when he was in government. What a terrible situation if a couple work hard and, instead of buying a basic Holden Commodore, they might want to upgrade to a Holden Statesman. What a terrible thing that they worked hard and could afford a bit more luxury. You cannot have that in our nation. Put a tax on that Holden Statesman. What did that do to jobs? This is socialism at its best, and now we have got these people crying about the industry that they did so much damage to.
A simple question: who was in government when Ford Australia announced that they would be shutting down their industry in 2016? Who was the minister? Was it Minister Kim Carr from the Australian Labor Party, industry minister, beating his chest about what he is doing for the car industry? In the meantime under his watch Ford Australia shut down after decades and decades and announced they will be closing down manufacturing in Australia.
There is no denying that the Australian automotive industry is facing a number of significant challenges as it adjusts to the high value of the Australian dollar and highly competitive and fragmented markets. Let's look at the high Australian dollar. There is a continued tie with interest rates and the exchange rate: the higher the interest rate, the higher the exchange rate. Remember the previous Labor government when they were borrowing money and stimulating the economy in 2009? They did it so much that in November 2009, the Reserve Bank started raising interest rates.
Speaking of cars, who drives their car with one foot on the accelerator and one foot on the brake at the same time? No-one, but this lot in government were pouring money into the economy trying to stimulate it, wasting so much borrowed money while the Reserve Bank were raising interest rates to slow the economy. Of course with interest rates in many of the OECD countries down around zero, it made it very inviting for foreign investors to say, 'Let's grab a bit of this high-interest rate, this 4.75 cash rate in Australia.' Hence the upward pressure on the dollar, the exchange rate, that is the key issue which is hurting the automotive industry in Australia.
It gets worse. We talk about transparency, consultation. I wonder what consultation the previous Labor government had when they announced their $1.8 billion fringe benefits tax on the car industry. We saw immediate results. This is why the government overturned Labor's proposed changes. The new government is getting on with the job and overturning those proposed changes to the fringe benefits tax on cars. The changes were ill-conceived from day one. There was no consultation.
I wonder if then Minister Kim Carr was very proud of the fact that they were going to slam a $1.8 billion fringe benefits tax on the motor vehicle industry. And then he stands up here and says, 'The new Abbott-Truss government is not giving enough attention to the motor vehicle industry,' when he was the minister who had oversight causing the damage in the previous government to the very industry we are talking about.
The leasing industry was blindsided and almost immediately hit with job losses. We read all about it in the papers. We got all the emails.
I will take the interjection: so it wasn't on Australian vehicles? Of course it was on Fords, Holdens and Toyotas. Most of those people using those benefits are what we would call medium-income earners; they weren't the people on a million dollars a year—the very battlers that the Australian Labor Party used to once represent and that have been forgotten about years and years ago.
You are more interested in going along with your signed alliance partners here, the Greens, and when are you going to learn? You know what the Greens did to your reputation. When are you going to learn that the vote you just got on September 7 was the lowest primary vote for the Australian Labor Party since 1903—110 years go by and you get the lowest primary vote ever and now you are here with your political partners, the Greens. You got the lowest vote in 110 years. When are you going to learn that the Australian people are not silly. They are aware of what you are about. They are aware of the crazy policies you introduced, including on the motor vehicle industry—your $1.8 billion fringe benefits tax—and you say you did not lose any car sales.
As they say, the first thing you learn in life is you cannot educate idiots. How true that statement is. It does not end with the fringe benefits tax. Another ill-conceived idea developed by Labor of course was the carbon tax. What did it cost to produce every car in Australia in extra electricity prices because of that carbon tax that you were never going to introduce, where you deceived the Australian people prior to the 2010 election and you added some $400 a vehicle cost in energy—
With pleasure, Mr Deputy President—where they introduced the cost of around $400 a motor vehicle for each and every one made in Australia on a tax they promised the Australian people they would not introduce. You wonder why. You get the lowest vote in 110 years when you misled the Australian people on taxes such as that and you hurt the very industry that you are standing up here trying to defend. Eight minutes is not long enough today.
I doubt there is a manufacturer in Australia that has not lamented the impact of the carbon tax on their business. It raises energy prices without reducing greenhouse gas emissions—just amazing. When they were in government, that lot over there, they were going to take emissions from 578 million tonnes per year in Australia to 637 million tonnes. That is not a reduction. Those are the previous governments' figures. They go and tax manufacturing in this country, and now they stand here and cry crocodile tears about the very industry that they, in government, did so much damage to.
The coalition has long been committed to ensuring Australia has a competitive manufacturing industry, including a sustainable automotive manufacturing sector. That is why this government has asked the Productivity Commission to examine the best way to ensure the ongoing viability of the automotive manufacturing industry. The industry has seen enough of the big promises made by the previous government. Think of the Green Car Innovation Fund— (Time expired)
I cannot do justice, in the limited time I have, to this debate, but it is important that as a nation we do justice to the automotive manufacturing industry and the tens of thousands of jobs that rely on it: in my home state, 16,000 jobs; in Victoria at least 33,000 jobs—plus the multiplier effect and the flow-on effect for the small businesses that rely on this industry. I have spoken to the component manufacturers and in South Australia they would be devastated by the loss of General Motors. If General Motors goes that will be the end of our automotive industry in this nation, because I cannot see how the supply chain will not collapse. It could mean that Toyota, a very fine manufacturer of motor vehicles in Victoria, will also go with it.
I want to say at the outset I have been working very constructively with federal industry minister Ian Macfarlane, South Australian industry minister Tom Kenyon and South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill. We all want the same thing, I believe, and it is important that we look at the consequences of what happens if we do not have an automotive industry in this nation. It will be devastating and we will not get these jobs back. The dry economic rationalist thinks that somehow, magically, these jobs will be created somewhere else. It does not work like that in the real world.
Free trade is not fair trade, when you look at some of the consequences of what we are up against here in Australia. I will give you one example: it is contained in the Allen Consulting Group report prepared for the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries and released just a few days ago. That report makes a very telling point. We have a free trade agreement with Thailand. That means we are supposed to be sending our goods to Thailand with no duties or tariffs, and vice versa from Thailand. Well, Thai-made cars come here; but if you want to buy a Ford Territory—a very fine Australian car—in Thailand, what does it cost? Not $38,000 or $40,000, the recommended retail price here in Australia. It will cost $100,000 because of non-tariff barriers. I do not know how on earth we got ourselves into that position but we are being treated like mugs when it comes to these so-called free trade agreements. It is not a level playing field and that must be acknowledged.
I also want to acknowledge at this stage the great assistance and advice I have been getting from Robert Debelle who is an expert on these issues in Adelaide and has worked very closely with the automotive industry. I am very grateful for Mr Debelle's assistance and for his innovative approach.
We also need to acknowledge what happens if we lose automotive manufacturing in this country. Information given by Goran Roos, the manufacturing expert and adviser to the South Australian government who is well regarded internationally, is this: the automotive industry can serve as an example. It is an industry that has been and is under the highest pressure to continuously increase its productivity. Hence it has not only achieved, and is achieving, astonishing results but is also an industry that has driven productivity growth in other areas of the manufacturing sector. If we lose this industry, we lose that cutting edge; we lose that innovation. If you look at what other components manufacturers are doing—SMR in Adelaide to give you one example, with some of their technology in terms of mirrors for vehicles—it is simply outstanding. In conjunction with R&D and universities, this is the future of our industry. If we lose it there will be nothing to replace it. It will be, as Allen Consulting Group has said, a $21½ billion hit to Australia's economy.
To think that we are competing on some sort of level playing field with the rest of the world is incredibly naive. My plea to this government—and I say this in a constructive way—is: does this government want to be the government that presides over the demise of our automotive industry? Without this industry, in the next three or four years every week people will be laid off, factories will close, families will be devastated and large parts of the northern and southern suburbs of Adelaide will be turned into industrial wastelands. We need to fight for this industry. We need to be smart about it and we need to acknowledge the enormous flow-on benefits of this industry. I will continue to work constructively with Minister Macfarlane, who I believe is passionate about this industry, and with the South Australian government. I hope that the Victorian state government picks up on this issue, which I am sure Senator Madigan will talk about shortly.
The simple message is: once this industry is gone, it will not come back. We will be left with absolute devastation in the suburbs of Australia if we lose this critical industry.
Thank you for protecting me once again, Mr Acting Deputy President. I would like to carry on where Senator Xenophon left off. This industry, the automotive industry, survived the global financial crisis. It survived the global restructuring. It survived the record high dollar. The question that now has to be asked by the Australian people and all those people who have an interest in the car industry is: can it survive the Abbott government?
I do not think we can underestimate the importance of this industry to the people of South Australia. Obviously it employs lots of South Australians, as Senator Xenophon said. People in both the north and south are employed, directly and indirectly, in the industry. All of those people rely on this industry for their living It also provides job security to those people and to the people in the state of South Australia. And, of course, it provides lots of spin-offs to other industries. As Senator Carr indicated, something like $1.3 billion of gross state product would be taken out of South Australia in the event that this industry were to collapse.
I have had some personal experiences, and I know that Senator Xenophon has, with what happens when companies teeter on the edge. We had the circumstances at the start of the last decade of the company of Harris Scarfe. It was a great, iconic South Australian company which got into financial trouble. We went to the state government and the state government came to its support. That company continues to employ thousands of South Australians and Australians more broadly across the country. I think that this is one of those industries where we simply have to say that we cannot afford to let this industry fail. As a South Australian, we cannot afford to let this industry fail; as an Australian we cannot afford to let this industry fail.
But there does seem to be question marks over the approach of the new government to this industry. We have heard from Senator Carr about how passionate he was about this industry. I cannot go into as much detail as Senator Carr as to the exact nature of all of the discussions and negotiations that have gone on in this industry, but you can see from Senator Carr how passionate he is for the industry and how passionate this opposition is to ensure that this industry remains not only viable but more importantly a vibrant industry for Australia. As Senator Carr said, no other country in the world is having a debate about whether or not we continue with an auto industry. But Australia is. We are having a debate, I think, because we find that there is only one cabinet minister in the new Abbott government from South Australia.
Let's see, Senator Brandis, how good this sole cabinet minister is—whether he can come to the rescue of the automotive industry. Because it is now on his shoulders, Senator Brandis, as to whether or not the auto industry survives or fails under this Abbott government. I think there are lots of people in South Australia who are concerned that there are not sufficient voices being raised in the new government—
Well, let us see what they do. I know that you, Acting Deputy President Bernardi, are from South Australia and would love to speak on this issue, but you are in the chair. Like all South Australians you would be concerned, I imagine, that this government has not made of the sorts of noises that the people of South Australia want to hear about the support for this industry.
I have had some dealings with some of the union officials who have had the very difficult job of dealing with the amount of media coverage that this issue has been given because of the question marks over the future of the industry. I put on the record my congratulations to Mr John Camillo, the secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union in South Australia but, more particularly, a person who comes out of the auto industry. This union recognised the problems that occurred post the GFC and they sat down very responsibly with Holden in South Australia and negotiated provisions that ensured that, during that very difficult period of economic instability in the world economy, this company continued to operate, people continued to be employed, and we continue to manufacture cars in Australia.
More recently in the most difficult of circumstances Mr Camillo again sat down with the company to work out a strategy to ensure that, from the point of the workers, they were doing absolutely everything in their power to ensure that this company continued to survive in this country. Now, having done all that work, of course what we were expecting to see before Christmas was a Productivity Commission report that would, we hoped, say, 'Look, for national security reasons as well as a whole lot of other reasons we need to build cars in this country.' What has happened? That report has been delayed until after the state election in South Australia. I think what is now worrying all of those workers in the car industry in South Australia is that that report is not going to be favourable to the continuation of the car industry in this country but is not going to be released prior to the state election so people can make some judgement about it. I think it is a matter of very great regret that this Productivity Commission report has been delayed.
The fact of the matter is that under the Labor Party government we had a strategy for the survival of the car industry. We understood the importance of the car industry and we understood why working Australians need to have that job security. We understand why Australia has to be a country that actually built things but, more particularly, builds vehicles in this country. We had a plan that I believe, certainly under former Minister Carr, was going to lead to a situation where we continued to build cars in this country. The concern that South Australians now have—all of those workers who rely for a living on the car industry, all of those spin-off companies that rely on the support of the auto industry—is that this government is not committed to the ongoing survival of the vehicle industry. What South Australians now want to hear from the government—and certainly from their South Australian representatives—is that there is a commitment to continue to build cars in this country. We need to do it.
Holden is a great company. I do not know enough about the history of Holden with regard to why Ben Chifley was so keen to ensure that we had an automotive industry. My guess is that one of those reasons was national security. It was just after the Second World War and he was determined that this country was going to build vehicles. I think we need to come out very clearly and very strongly and make a commitment that we continue to build cars in this country. That is what the people of South Australia want to hear, that is what the people of Australia want to hear and we want to hear this government come out and say, clearly and strongly, 'We support the car industry, we support the workers in the car industry and we are not going to let this industry die.' (Time expired)
This Senate always works best when senators are passionate about individuals, the people in their own states, and I congratulate all those who have spoken so far on their passion for looking after the jobs of people in the states they represent. I can tell you that Senator Sean Edwards from South Australia, who will follow me in the debate, will be equally passionate.
I am one of those that hate to see government decisions costing people their jobs. As good as it is to see Labor Party people so passionate about this now, I might, as an aside, ask those Labor Party senators where those passions were for the people of my state when they introduced a mining tax and a carbon tax that destroyed the jobs of many hundreds and thousands of workers in the mines? The Collinsville coalmine and the Collinsville power station in my state of Queensland recently shut down because of the perverse decisions of the government to introduce a carbon tax—when they promised they would not—and a mining tax which made overseas investors in the mining industry very cautious with their investments. Jobs were lost then, but did we hear these Labor Party senators caring one iota at that time? In fact, Senator Carr, who gave a very impassioned speech about workers' jobs, did not seem to worry when it was workers' jobs in my state that were put on the line because of decisions made by his government. I might ask Senator Carr, who was so passionate about workers' jobs and the industry continuing, what did he do when his government—by a criminally stupid decision—banned live cattle exports from northern Australia with no consultation and no warning? It destroyed the jobs, livelihoods, businesses, homes and family lives of many Queenslanders, Northern Territorians and northern Western Australians. Did those opposite worry about those jobs? No, of course they did not. I admire them looking after the people they represent, but they have to be a little bit consistent with their passion for workers' jobs.
That decision to ban live cattle exports from my state of Queensland has destroyed so many jobs, but all we get from the Labor Party today are catcalls of derision. They simply do not understand. It is okay if you are looking after workers' jobs in what I might call the 'rust bucket' states in the southeast and south of our country—and I know my colleagues from those states will be angry with me for using that term. For years now, Australia has continued to function because of the wealth of my state of Queensland, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and, to a lesser extent, New South Wales. The Labor governments in particular—and our government as well, I might say—could always find the billions of taxpayer dollars to prop up General Motors-Holden's, one of the biggest commercial entities in the world. I am pleased that it has created employment in those two southern states, but, when you ask for a little bit of money for the northern beef cattle industry, where is the Labor government? Missing in action. In fact, they were introducing—I will keep repeating this—a criminally stupid decision to ban live cattle exports overnight without consultation. All of us in this chamber remember how Senator Ludwig, the then agriculture minister, was defending the live export trade on the Monday at question time. Overnight he was told by Ms Gillard—that wonderful Prime Minister that we had at the time—that he had to change his mind, and the next day he was telling us that he was shutting the industry down. Did we hear all this passion from Labor Party senators for the jobs, homes and livelihoods of those people, or is it just selective concern when it affects their voters? Senator Carr has the hide to start this debate and blame the Abbott government, which has been in power for 1½ months, for the problems of an industry which was failing in the six years that Senator Carr was the minister. We hear all of this passion now that Senator Carr is in opposition, but if the industry has problems and difficulties why didn't he do something about it? He and his government had six years to set the motor vehicle industry on what he now understands is the right path. It is great to hear all his wisdom today. I ask Senator Carr through you, Mr Acting Deputy President: why didn't you use some of that wisdom in the last six years? Why didn't you do something about it then instead of blaming a government that has been in power less than two months for all of the ills of the motor vehicle industry? It shows how hypocritical the Labor Party are. Sure, the union would have written their notes for them today, but it is a pity the union did not do something about this in the six years that the Labor Party were in charge of that industry.
If the industry has problems, why didn't Senator Carr do something about it in the last six months? He had 10 minutes to tell us why he did not do that, but he tries to shout me down when I ask him those simple questions now. You had your opportunity, Senator Carr, to explain what you did not do and why you did not do it, and now you are blaming a government that has been in power less than two months for ills that are occurring.
I am glad that we have subsidised industries in Victoria and South Australia, and I am glad that they have created jobs and small business, but I simply ask: what about some assistance for industries in other states that desperately need it—industries that are failing because of criminally stupid decisions of the Gillard and Rudd governments? Why is there one set of rules for a union-dominated industry in Victoria and South Australia and a different set of rules for an industry which is not as unionised? You hear a lot from Mr Paul Howes of the AWU, but not much when it comes to the jobs in the northern beef cattle industry or, indeed, jobs in the mining industry. Was there any concern from the Labor government at that time for those jobs? Were there any compensatory job-creating projects initiated when the carbon tax and the mining tax were brought in without warning? Of course there were not. It makes you realise just how hypocritical the Labor Party continue to be, carrying on in the way they did when they were in government in those six sad years for Australia.
I, like all of my colleagues, have a lot more I would like to say on that. The Abbott government is very keen to continue industries in Australia. But there is no denying that the automotive industry is facing a number of significant challenges as it adjusts, as it must, to the high value of the Australian dollar and a highly competitive and fragmented market.
I conclude by asking Senator Carr again a question he has been asked on a number of occasions but so far has not bothered to answer: where were you, Senator Carr, when that decision was introduced by your government on the fringe benefits tax that effectively cost the Australian car industry 100,000 cars a year? You are here crying crocodile tears today about a decision by a government that has been in power for less than two months when you presided over a particular public policy area which cost Australian industry 100,000 cars in a year. Next time you get to your feet, just answer that. (Time expired)
I appreciate the opportunity to speak on an issue that is a particular passion of mine. The people in the automotive industry—the employers, the manufacturers and the people who work there—wish to God you people would play the issue and not the person. They are not interested in your petty ideologies. They are not interested in your playing the blame game. They are interested in actual results, and this issue has been bounced around and around this chamber through successive governments of all persuasions time and time again. It is about the future of an important industry. More importantly, it is about people, communities and skills in our nation. It is about national security. It is about companies having the ability to amortise the costs of high-tech machinery that the automotive industry brings and the R&D that it brings.
Time and time again, people in this house make ill-informed decisions and insulting comments about our manufacturers and tradespeople and their ability to produce world-competitive products. On this point I commend the South Australian government for its recent launch of the More Than Cars website, which delves into the wider implications of abandoning the car industry. In direct contrast to the South Australian government's approach, in my home state of Victoria the Napthine government is asleep at the wheel. Victoria's decision makers need to understand the full ramifications of the loss of such an important industry. Hopefully the FCAI report will wake them up to these wider implications.
Further to this point, I would like to relay an experience I had last week when driving home from Melbourne, going over the West Gate Bridge, when I called into Socobell at the side of the West Gate Bridge in Spotswood. Socobell is a family-owned business with almost four decades of experience. It has 350 workers across three plants in western metropolitan Melbourne. It has state-of-the-art facilities. It is at the cutting edge socially, economically and environmentally. Socobell is an Australian-owned company specialising in the manufacture of high-quality precision plastic components and complex assemblies for the auto industry. The future of Socobell, like that of many similar companies, is entirely dependent on the future of the automotive manufacturing sector.
To conclude, I would like to reiterate a key point made in the FCAI report: continued support for the Australian automotive manufacturing industry should not be thought of as just a defensive measure to prevent the loss of national output and welfare that would occur if the industry were to shut down. If barriers to Australian exports could be lowered, the Australian industry would make a further significant contribution to the Australian economy.