Senate debates

Tuesday, 25 February 2020



8:15 pm

Photo of Nita GreenNita Green (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I begin I just want to say to Senator McGrath I look forward to enjoying an icy pole at the Roma saleyards with you. It sounds like a fantastic place to visit. I too am going to talk tonight about regional Queensland, but, first, I wanted to address what has been an incredibly devastating blow for Australia.

Last week Australia's car industry was dealt a devastating blow when General Motors announced it would shut down the quintessentially Australian Holden brand last week. This means we're going to see between 600 and 6,000 workers lose their jobs and 185 Holden dealerships scrapped. It marks the end of an iconic 160-year legacy after nearly seven years of neglect from the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government. It is a disappointing but not surprising outcome, given this third-term Liberal-National government have treated manufacturing workers and the Australian car industry with contempt.

This decision can be traced back to the early days of this government when cigar-smoking former Treasurer Joe Hockey dared Holden to leave Australia with six words, 'Either you're here, or you're not.' These words came at a time when the Abbott government's extreme right wing agenda to cut, slash and burn culminated in a failed 2014 budget. We have not forgotten that budget. The Liberal-National government slashed $500 million of support at a time when the Australian dollar was at a record high. In 2017, as a result of these cuts, Holden ceased manufacturing in this country and now they have abandoned the Australian market altogether. Instead of advocating for the workers and the dealerships affected by this decision, the Morrison government is once again only thinking about itself. The Prime Minister said he was angry at General Motors because they only gave him 15 minutes notice of the company's decision. Was he angry because of the loss of jobs and the end of an iconic brand? Was he apologetic? Was he sad for the loss of those jobs? No. He was outraged because he was caught off guard and embarrassed by the company's timing.

Australian manufacturers are facing serious challenges, and they need a government that will back them. They want an energy policy from a government so they can plan for the future, but they aren't getting it. In regional Queensland, when I visit manufacturers, that is the number one thing they want from this government—that is, not handouts but certainty. The government can't even give them that. They want a government that backs Australians who build things here, but instead we've got a weak Prime Minister and an even weaker economy. Manufacturing directly contributes almost $20 billion to the Queensland economy and supports 170,000 jobs.

Figures from the September quarter of last year show that in regional Queensland, manufacturing injects billions of dollars into the economy and employs more than 36,000 workers. That is why the Queensland Labor government backed manufacturing jobs and will build trains in Maryborough: trains built by Queenslanders for Queenslanders. The LNP, when they were in power, wanted trains to be built overseas. That is because the LNP don't back manufacturing workers and they never have.

Given that Australian automotive manufacturing generated $4.1 billion in revenue last financial year and employs nearly 7,500 people, you have to wonder why the Morrison government couldn't care less about the industry. It was only a few days after the General Motors announcement that the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics labour market data came out. This is at the same time unemployment remains stubbornly above five per cent and underemployment is at 8.5 per cent. The government has no plan to turn around the poor performance of the economy. The government cannot blame the bushfires, coronavirus or even General Motors' bad timing of decisions for their longstanding failures on the economy and their longstanding failures to support manufacturing workers.

It is a very sad day when Holden leaves these shores. I wonder what Senator Doug Cameron might say if he were here in the Senate tonight, a night when we mark the closure, the final nail in the coffin, of Holden. He would say one word, and that is 'shame'.