INTERVIEW WITH VIRGINIA TRIOLI, ABC NEWS 24
THURSDAY, 12 DECEMBER 2013
SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government abandon’s Australia’s automotive industry.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: We are joined now from Canberra by Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten. Bill Shorten, good morning and thank you for joining us.
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION, BILL SHORTEN: Good morning Virginia .
TRIOLI: Can you sit here today and truthfully say that a Labor Government could have prevented Holden's departure?
SHORTEN: Yes I can.
TRIOLI: How do you say that?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, when Labor was in government, Holden didn't leave the country. The other mob have been in power for three months and they’ve managed to create a set of circumstances that now all of a sudden we're looking at the demise of the car industry in Australia. This is an economic disaster and the Government does have a role to play.
For me, what's most important is there are thousands of workers who work directly at Holden and there’s thousands of workers who work in the component's business, even in your home town of Melbourne, from Dandenong,to Bayswater to Campbellfield, to the western suburbs, all these people rely on contracts that Holden gives them, and what we have is a government in Canberra, the Coalition Government, the Abbott Government, that knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.
TRIOLI: Bill Shorten I just want to pick you up on something you said right there at the top of your answer, that looking at the last three months and this is what this Government has brought about. You can't seriously argue that Holden's departure from this country related solely to the last three months of political rule and regime in this country. You know largely this decision largely emanates from GM's parent company and also from circumstances over the years with both governments, both parties playing out their decisions.
SHORTEN: Oh, let's be really straight. First of all, the high dollar has played a role and of course that is relevant. What I do know is that Holden was negotiating with this Government. When does the Coalition stop saying, "Well, we're not really the Government yet?" They keep saying whenever they get something wrong from education to this important disaster that is Holden, "Well, we haven't been here very long". They want an L-plate forgiveness slip every time they make a mistake. If these people couldn't negotiate with Holden, they should let other people who can do that.
What really worries me here is you have, one, infighting within the Government. That's a matter of record - the media has reported that. Two, you've had senior government ministers backgrounding, saying, "Oh, well, the car industry is inefficient. We shouldn't have one." And three, you had the Treasurer of Australia, his job is to create jobs, not lose jobs – goading Holden in the Parliament. We’re not inventing the facts, the fact is this Government is an economic disaster when it comes to the car industry. And they’re pretty cynical this Government. They basically say, "Oh, well, car-making is old-fashioned. Australia can't really do it." Whereas the reality is 13 of the major G20 nations make cars. We should be able to make cars in Australia.
TRIOLI: Well, you can make cars it seems in all of these countries if a government is prepared to put money in, that virtually all of these nations, that's all of these car-making nations –
SHORTEN: That's true.
TRIOLI: Have a subsidised industry, so if you say that Labor could have kept Holden here, how much would that have cost you?
SHORTEN: Well, we proposed there be a half a billion-dollar automotive assistance plan. We budgeted for it.
TRIOLI: But that might have brought you just a few more months of Holden here, but not necessarily longevity?
SHORTEN: I tell you what, Virginia, if you are a car worker today watching this show, it's not just a few months, it is actually a number of years, it would have been to the middle of the next decade. Secondly, when we say "buy people a job", who do you think is going to pay for the unemployment cheques that this decision is going to create? Who do you think picks up the tab for the family dislocation? Who do you think is going to have to help all the small businesses as shut their gates? It's us, the taxpayer. There is no free lunch in Australia.
This Coalition Abbott Government who say, "We could save $120 million a year here, or $140 million a year here on cars," someone will pay the bill anyway. I would rather have a man or a woman, an adult in a paying job doing something, than sitting on an unemployment queue. This Coalition Government are better at losing jobs, than creating and keeping jobs.
TRIOLI: Part of this history is owned by Labor. The Bracks review cut tariffs to 5% and GM warned at the time that would be dangerous for the industry. Do you take responsibility for that?
SHORTEN: Oh, I think ultimately tariffs, you can build all the tariff walls you like. They will never be tall and big enough to stop competition. No, I think that we do have a productive, capable car industry, but this is not just another day at the office in terms of the Coalition or in terms of Australian manufacturing. We want to have the R and D, the research and development which goes with a car industry, three of the top four spenders on R and D are automotive companies.
We also want to make sure that we maintain the skills in Australia, the engineering base, and finally, there are thousands of small businesses who provide quality components. Because of this decision, we will miss out on was the global supply chain. This was a decision which did not have to happen, and, yes, when people - I love it when the Coalition says, "Oh, let's not be political." No, that's a nonsense, that's a cop-out. Thousands of people are losing their jobs because the Coalition Government can't or won't stand up for Australian jobs. These are facts. It may sound political, the problem is the facts are political and we have an Abbott Government who do not know what they're doing when it comes to jobs in Australia.
TRILOI: The PM suggests that many Holden workers might be able to pick up jobs with BHP if the Olympic Dam mine expansion goes ahead. Do you agree with that?
SHORTEN: These are skilled workers and I hope they can find their work elsewhere, but what I have to say is why can't they have their jobs at Holden? They were doing a good job there. In Tony Abbott's world, every human being is a robot who can simply just, if you live in the suburbs of Adelaide you can fly in fly out to a mine in the Pilbara or South Australia. That's just not the way human life is constructed. Last night they were saying we will have a bio-med industry in Australia, I hope we do, but if you’ve been a migrant worker working 20 years on a production line, and because of a Government decision, an inability, they tried to call the bluff of Holden and lost. Then they simply say, "You can go off and be a medical scientist or travel 4,000km to your other job". The Government are not interested in manufacturing jobs. And you know in Australia, people don’t want to have confrontational politics. I tell you what, on manufacturing jobs and the car industry, Holden used to be a brand which was about a motor car, it will become a brand for the Liberal Party not being able to keep jobs in Australia.
TRIOLI: Well look, talking about jobs and a manufacturing base in this country, do you now accept that higher wages in Australia for car workers and others around the industry play a role in this, and play a role specifically in this industry's demise? Is that something that even the Labor Party has to have a discussion about now?
SHORTEN: I don't accept that a factory line worker who is multi-skilled, earning $60,000 a year or $70,000 a year, I am not going to blame the workers for the demise of Holden. Every car production company in the world receives modest support from government. That is what we should have been doing. But I am never ever ever going to sit around and say it’s because some worker was getting $70,000 on a production line, that somehow it’s their fault.
TRIOLI: So business and manufacturing is just not to be listened to when they say to both the Government and Opposition that the price of doing this sort of business in Australia is too high and in part it's because of wages. They are just flat out lying wrong are they, Bill Shorten?
SHORTEN: I will buy a lecture from very well paid people that somehow blue collared workers are paid too much when they take a pay cut themselves. If Tony Abbott and some of the right-wing commentators who want to say the fault of Holden closing its doors is because car workers are paid $70,000, not $40,000. When they start taking their pay cuts, then maybe they can afford to give a lecture to low-paid or modestly-paid people. I am not going to blame highly skilled productive workers for the inability of the Coalition Government to negotiate with the Holden motor car company.
TRIOLI: We are short of time, but I do want to run through some other areas. Just finally on this, do you believe that Australia and the industry can feasibly shift into car-building and increasing the export market for components even in the wake of this, with the threat of Toyota going well?
SHORTEN: We want Toyota to stay, but one of the dilemmas is when you look at the car industry, you have a number of thousands of people who work directly for Holden and Toyota, but there are tens of thousands of people who make everything from radiators, to brake parts, to cylinders, to windscreen wipers to windscreens, the problem is the people supplying Toyota need a volume of work to justify their businesses being sustained. Holden was part of that justification.
TRIOLI: So do you believe they can make that transition to surviving on an export basis or perhaps on a car-building basis here in this country?
SHORTEN: I believe they can survive if they get long-term strategic support from the Government of Australia. I do not believe the car industry can survive in Australia with the Coalition Government.
TRIOLI: On other matters, can you tell me why your Opposition which is blocking so much of the Government's legislative program should not now also be branded wreckers and naysayers just as you branded the Opposition?
SHORTEN: Tony Abbott had six years, he wasn't the leader for six, but the majority of years in Opposition, he was in charge. We don't say no to everything the Government is doing –
TRIOLI: But you are saying no to one very crucial bit of legislation which the public voted on which was to abolish the carbon tax.
SHORTEN: People who voted for Labor voted for our policy too. We don't just abandon our supporters because Tony Abbott stamps his foot. What we’re doing is debating in the Senate, that is the job of the Senate. At the last election we didn't abolish politics and make Tony Abbott boss of Australia for life. He has got to make his case to the Senate.
They want to scrap the Clean Energy Finance Corporation which is a powerhouse for new jobs in terms of renewable energy and in terms of investments. You've got to love this Coalition Government. On one hand they're slashing and burning car jobs, they're mucking up the education system. On the other hand, when there is successful Clean Energy Finance Corporation, they want to get rid of that. This is a Coalition Government who haven't kicked the addiction of Opposition about being negative about anything. We will stand up for new industries in Australia.
You were just asking me before, Tony Abbott says that all these car workers can hop on airplanes and go and work on a mine expansion which BHP’s moth balled, where are the new jobs going to come from unless we're investing in them? That's what the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is doing. The other piece of legislation we’re digging in on is the Climate Change Authority. These are experts, I know experts is a 7-letter word for the Coalition. They don't want to hear experts who contradict their view of the world. Climate change is real. If the Climate Change Authority is full of experts and scientists, why do these guys want to shut down all the alternative critical voices in this country, trying to promote the future of this country? They want to close down parts of Australia and Australians they just don't like, manufacturing and experts.
TRIOLI: Just quickly, before I let you go, because I don't believe you've had an opportunity to speak to this, another issue that seems to become a political one, do you believe the ABC is biased?
SHORTEN: No. I wouldn't mind if you could be nicer to me, but I don't believe you're biased.
TRIOLI: Bill Shorten, we’ll leave it there. Thank you for your time morning.
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