Transcript of Press Conference - Wednesday, 11 December 2013

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

 

SENATOR THE HON KIM CARR

SHADOW MINISTER ASSISTING THE LEADER FOR SCIENCE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR HIGHER EDUCATION, RESEARCH, INNOVATION, AND INDUSTRY

 

THE HON BRENDAN O’CONNOR MP

MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS

 

PRESS CONFERENCE

CANBERRA

WEDNESDAY, 11 DECEMBER 2013

SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government abandon’s Australia’s automotive industry.

ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION, TANYA PLIBERSEK: Thank you very much everyone for coming this afternoon. I want to say a few words about the closure of Holden in Australia. Today’s a shocking day for Holden workers and the first thing I want to say is that we are very concerned for their futures, that we are thinking of them and their families particularly in the lead up to Christmas, this is terrible news for them to get and that we will do everything that we can to support and assist them. It’s a shocking day for Holden workers. It's also a terrifying day for other auto industry workers. We know that component manufacturers will be affected by this. We know that there are all sorts of industries that support auto manufacturing in Australia that will be affected by this, including research and development, logistics and so on. All of them will feel this. It's also a very frightening day for Toyota workers, seeing the fate of fellow auto industry workers and of course they would be nervous about their futures as well.

It's very unusual to see one decision, like the Government's decision to rip $500 million out of this industry, that has such huge ramifications for Australia. We are talking about probably 200,000 jobs that rely on the auto industry here in Australia. This one decision to rip out $500 million has extraordinary ongoing effects for the industry. It was Joseph Benedict Chifley, as my friend Nick Champion said, Joseph Benedict Chifley who watched the first car roll off the production line at Fisherman's Bend, and it will be his name sake, it will be Joseph Benedict Hockey, who sees the last car roll off the production line. And it’s unfortunately a decision of government that has made it so. Treasurer Hockey dared Holden to withdraw from Australia, and he got his way.

We saw yesterday in the Parliament Treasurer Hockey make an extraordinary show, manning up, puffed up, shouting, arguing, making a point of daring Holden to leave. Well, they’ve left. We had evidence from Mike Devereux yesterday that there had been no decision made, that Holden hadn't decided about its future in Australia. We had the Treasurer goading them to leave Australia and on top of that, the Acting Prime Minister writing a letter that Holden and, you know, anyone who had seen the letter would think was designed specifically to be released for public consumption, and indeed that was the conclusion that Holden drew.

Instead of picking up the phone, instead of decent dialogue, instead of an adult approach that would keep these vital jobs in Australia, we had the Treasurer and the Acting Prime Minister goading and daring Holden to pull out. Today, the response of the Acting Prime Minister is that at least Holden workers now have certainty. Well, that's a very curious definition of certainty. Yes, they’ve have got the certainty that they’ll lose their jobs. Other auto industry workers have the certainty that there will be other job losses in the auto industry. Workers at Toyota and in other related fields have the fear that they will be next, that they will be the domino that falls next. It is a very curious definition of certainty.

This government said that they would be a government of no surprises and no excuses. And today in Question Time, we had an absolute litany of excuses. Excuses for why Holden’s made this decision to leave. We had Christopher Pyne saying that this was a decision made months ago in the United States. It's only just been announced today for reasons he would not say, but it's a decision made months ago. We had Christopher Pyne also saying that this decision was nothing to do with the Federal Government. That's an absolutely extraordinary claim when it's been clear from everything that Holden has said that they were waiting for a clear signal from the Commonwealth Government about what the Government would do for the future of the auto industry here in Australia. It's extraordinary to say that this is nothing to do with the Government when we have had Holden negotiating, holding back, seeking to talk to the Government, making clear that they hadn't made a decision. We’ve have had a Productivity Commission inquiry that's kicked off any decision from the Government about auto industry assistance to sometime in the future. For now, the Government to wash their hands of this and say it's nothing to do with them is a tragic day for Holden. It's a tragic day for the auto industry. It's a tragic day for manufacturing in Australia. I think most Australians would regard it as a tragic day for Australia. It's extraordinary to see a Commonwealth Government drive the car industry out of Australia. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: I have a question to Senator Carr, as an outgoing Industry Minister as it were, do you accept that as some of your opponents are saying today, you should share a fair bit of the blame in that in the last three years maybe we should have seen more effort, and a car plan that would work and be sustainable?

SENATOR KIM CARR: No, I don't. Just think what happened during the economic crisis. General Motors in the United States went into bankruptcy. Yet in Australia, we are able to secure the assets for the future. And around the world, when the automotive industry was in retreat, in Australia we attracted additional investment. Now, we put $1.8 billion on the table. We attracted $25 billion, $25.9 billion worth of new investment. So it is just not true. This was a decision that did not have to be made. It was not necessary that this had to end this way. This is a government's responsibility. Now General Motors Holden had been talking to us in government and to the Opposition when they were in opposition. And we all know what it would take to keep the car industry in place in this country. I've indicated this week considerably less than $150 million per annum, remembering that the current car plan comes to an end in 2020. We would not have to actually draw upon the budget at all until 2017. Because this was all about investments after 2017. So it was absolutely unnecessary. This is a tragedy that need not have had to happen in this country.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] that Mike Devereux this afternoon said that the decision wasn't made until after he gave evidence to the Productivity Commission yesterday –

CARR: No it does not, it does not. It does not. I know this company well, I know these people well. Where was the Minister? Why hasn’t the Minister been to Detroit to talk to the leadership? If they were serious, why hasn't this government gone to Detroit to talk? Why would you issue a letter like the Acting Prime Minister did yesterday? Why wouldn't you pick up the telephone? Why wouldn't they have responded to the business case proposal that General Motors has had before the new government since its election? So the facts are very simple here. The Government has sought to drive this industry out of Australia because they believe there is some ideological quest that has to be pursued and it became more urgent after what we saw with GrainCorp. Now, for seven days in a row, we have had senior Ministers for seven days, senior Ministers, back grounding against the Industry Minister, demanding that the company make a decision. They have been playing chicken with this company. The Government has been playing chicken for months. Well, they got what they wanted.

JOURNALIST: We’re getting the message out of Detroit that General Motors felt it was no longer sustainable to make cars in Australia, something Devereux said this afternoon.

CARR: And that's what that means. The business case doesn't stack up. Why not? Because the Australian Government would not contribute, would not co-invest as governments all around the world do. In Australia the Government turned its back, turned its back on 200,000 Australians. Turned its back on the 50,000 workers employed directly in this industry. Everyone knows what the consequences are except this Government. They have played chicken with the industry and now we have the consequence.

JOURNALIST: Toyota says they are now facing unprecedented pressure, that’s a very bad signal isn't it?

CARR: That’s the point. All the component manufacturers are faced with the same pressures. We’ve had the dollar increase in value by 65 per cent. You would have thought the Government would understand what that meant. We did. We were prepared to talk to them and I know if we had been re- elected, the contracts would have been signed. There would be no need for this decision today, if there’d been a different result at the last federal election.

JOURNALIST: Ms Plibersek, What is your response to Mr Hockey's claims that Labor didn't show the same outrage when Mitsubishi and Ford left Australia?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I’ll say a couple of things. I think for a start that it is extraordinary that the Treasurer’s focus today in Question Time has been making political points. The second thing I'd say is we have never been anything other than devastated when a single job is lost in Australia. But the difference with today's decision is a company has been goaded into leaving Australia. They’ve been, as Senator Carr said, the Government was playing chicken with Holden and the workers are the ones that lost out.

CARR: There are two points. Mitsubishi did not want to invest in Australia. I found out about Mitsubishi during the election campaign in 2007. I found out from a dealer who, of course, advised me that there had been a return on an order for fleet cars. That's how I found out, during the previous government, during the previous government. In regard to Ford, the Ford motor company did not want to invest. General Motors did want to invest. They gave us the choice. The Government has made a choice and the choice is not to have an automotive industry in this country. That is what we have got to appreciate here. This is a policy decision of Government. No one else but the Government has to be held responsible for their decision.

JOURNALIST: Treasurer Hockey clearly believes that he was being gamed by General Motors.

CARR: Look, I've been involved in this trade for a long time. And I've heard these sorts of idiotic statements from neo-liberals. You know these are the North Shore bankers talking. They are only too happy to bail out the banks when they need help but when it comes to blue collar workers, in the automotive industry they think there is something illegitimate in that. Look, let's be clear about this. There is a section of the Liberal Party that actually hates the automotive industry and they have expressed their views for as long as I've been engaged in this debate.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you everyone.

ENDS


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