Bill's Speeches

Motion in Parliament - Holden

Mr SHORTEN (Maribyrnong—Leader of the Opposition) (14:53): by leave—I move:

That the House censures the Prime Minister for doing nothing as Holden leaves Australia after 65 years and for failing to save Australian workers from job losses and in particular for:

(1) failing to do everything he could to keep Holden in Australia;

(2) failing to sit down, face to face, with Holden and work through what was needed to support Holden jobs;

(3) persisting with a $500 million cut to Australia's automotive industry even after receiving Holden's business case that would have saved Holden jobs;

(4) setting up a Productivity Commission inquiry with a reporting date in 2014 after the South Australian election when Holden needed immediate answers and immediate assistance;

(5) failing to lead a Government united in supporting Holden and protecting Australian manufacturing jobs;

(6) allowing his Ministers to encourage Holden to leave Australia;

(7) failing to have any strategy and any plan to support Holden workers who have lost their job two weeks before Christmas; and

(8) having no plan for Australian jobs, other than a plan to cut wages.

I believe it is crucial for this parliament, today, on the last day that the parliament is sitting, to censure the Prime Minister for not having a plan to save the Australian automotive industry. We have been told by the government that this is not a day of doom and gloom. Only a person who is not working at Holden or in the car components industry could adopt such a pollyanna, head-in-the-sky attitude.

Labor, the opposition, believe that we can have a car industry in this Australia. We believe that it is up to a government to assist to maintain manufacturing jobs in this country. One reason for censuring this Prime Minister is that, unlike Labor, unlike many Australians, the Prime Minister has made a decision by his inaction to not have a car industry in Australia. Today we asked if the Prime Minister even met with the leadership of Holden to talk about this issue—whether he had had not three meetings, not two meetings, but even a single meeting. But, when it comes to car manufacturing, we get no support for Australian car workers. We are having a censure motion today because this government and this Prime Minister are doing nothing to save the car industry. They have decided that competing with the rest of the world is too hard for Australia. They have a 'little Australia' mentality which says that we cannot manufacture cars in this country.

Most of all, we seek to censure the Prime Minister because he promised before the election that the car industry would be better off under Liberal. What he never said—what is in the fine print—is that the only reason he could say the car industry would be better off under the coalition is that there would be no car industry under the coalition and therefore he would never have to prove his case.

There are things which this government could have done. The cynical defence of the government about the Holden news, their case, essentially comes down to this: we are a First World country, and it is hard to make cars in a First World country. We have a global market and a high dollar; therefore it is just all too hard! This parliament should reject this shoulder-shrugging, responsibility-self-absolving government and their dereliction—they say, 'It is too hard to help.' The managing director of Holden made it clear in June. He said, 'If the incoming government, the coalition, were to keep the same policies as Labor, then we could do business.' Of course, what he did not count on is that the coalition never intended to do business.

Why is it that other First World countries can support their car industry more generously than we already do—and that is still too much for this government? In Germany: First World wages. Don’t blame the workers for the wages. In the United States: First World wages. Those governments support their car industry. In Australia we would not have to pay the sorts of subsidies they pay in Germany and the United States. But I can tell you one thing that you will get when you vote for Labor at the ballot box in three years. At least we will stand by manufacturing workers when you vote Labor. We understand the cost. We do not accept that life is too hard. We do not accept that things just happen—that life is not always beer and skittles. We do not accept that, as some in the government do—even those representing motor-car-making electorates. We will never give up on your voters, even if you will not defend them. The government have failed to do everything they can.

The government would have you believe it is just too hard in the modern world to make cars in Australia—it is just too hard. Is it too hard to have a meeting with Holden? I think not. Is it too hard to try and keep to your basic promises on the car industry? I think not. And is it too hard, even, to back up your industry minister? Let me make it clear: we are not censuring Ian Macfarlane. He might not have won the debate, but, from the very judicious leaking and backgrounding from his team of colleagues, at least we know he put up half a fight to defend the car industry.

Not only has this mob opposite failed to do enough, not only has the Prime Minister has been missing in action when it comes to saving hundreds of thousands of jobs—

Mr Hockey: Hundreds of thousands?

Mr SHORTEN: My advice to the Treasurer is this: stay silent and leave some of us in doubt as to your capacity. Do not speak and convince us.

There are 3,000 direct jobs at Holden. I do not know if the Treasurer has ever lifted the bonnet of a motor car, but if he had he would have seen that there are a lot of working parts, and they get made by component companies. Components are not all made by robots. They are not all made in Third World countries. They are made in Dandenong, in Bayswater and in South Australia. They are even made in Corangamite.

What we have is a government that has failed to do what it should have done. The Prime Minister cannot ring; he cannot talk to Holden. Those opposite do not even know how many people work in the industry. They cannot back their industry minister. They are certainly happy to background against the industry minister. They cannot even do what the Germans and the Americans do. This is world news: the Germans and the Americans, who subsidise their industries to levels that Labor would not recommend, at least back their industry.

Let me tell you why this Prime Minister should be censured. Holden has been here since 1948. It was a Labor Prime Minister, on 29 November, who waved hello to the first Holden motor car. It will be a Liberal Prime Minister who waves goodbye to the last Holden. Holden has been a good company to Australia.

Honourable members interjecting—

The SPEAKER: There is too much noise in the House. Stop the cross-chamber discussion and have some order.

Mr SHORTEN: Holden have been a good company to this country. They deserve better than the schoolyard baiting and taunting of the Treasurer of Australia. On Wednesday we saw the Treasurer of Australia, puffed up and proud, saying, 'We're not going to be played in a game of bluff by Holden.' He was right. He was not up to playing a game of poker with them. Joe Hockey called their bluff and now he has thousands of jobs around his neck.

His failure and that of the Prime Minister to keep Holden will be a defining moment of this government. The brand of Holden used to mean motor cars; now it means coalition job cuts. Let us not, in all of this process, blame the workers. We have seen sinister anti-worker attacks by some opposite, creeping from under the rocks. I acknowledge that the Prime Minister said, 'We don't blame the workers.' It is a shame, Prime Minister, that the members behind you are saying, 'They're paid too much.' In what could only be a brain snap a certain Liberal powerbroker backbencher from New South Wales—the member for Mitchell—tweeted that Holden workers are paid three times too much. They say that a tweet and its twit are soon separated. They certainly are! The member for Mitchell said that Holden workers are paid three times what they should be paid. The base rate of a Holden worker is $48,000. What a marvellous industrial relations prescription we have running on the back bench!

Let's not blame the workers. Let us acknowledge that this government has not done what it should have done for these jobs. Let us acknowledge also that there will be a real cost—I do not mean an electoral cost—in terms of thousands of jobs. There are 2,900 direct employees of Holden but how many component workers are supplying that Holden factory—making every part of that motor car? Treasurer, there are thousands more. That you do not know means that you should hang your head in shame.

Let's look at this marvellous saving that these economic rationalists opposite are talking about. They have said: 'We've outsmarted Holden. We're not going to give them $120 million. We're too smart; we're the coalition.' How much extra will those on the other side of the chamber pay in unemployment benefits and forgone taxes?

I know that most members opposite, at the human level, if they have had a family member who has lost a job would appreciate this point. Perhaps a couple over there would not but most of them would. They would appreciate the pressure on families. I have seen it when people have lost their jobs and I am sure some opposite have, too. Wait until mum and dad come home and they see the decision by Holden. The kids will be asking, 'What does this mean for our jobs?' Mum and dad will say, 'We've got a government that's too spineless to stand up for us, who won't find the money; but, do you know what?—we'll have to pay more taxes to pay for the retraining.' I love it!

Out in Senator-Abetz-land, he is saying, 'It'll be all right for those Holden workers. They can go to work in a uranium mine that has not yet started in the middle of the South Australian desert at Olympic Dam.'

Mr Joyce: That's somebody's job.

Mr SHORTEN: Fantastic! There goes the 'Minister for GrainCorp, chirping in again. He says, 'That'll do.' If you are an assembly-line worker who has spent 20 years at Elizabeth do you reckon you are ready to be retrained? They are skilled people—

Mr Joyce interjecting—

Mr SHORTEN: The redder and the louder you get, the argument does not get better, Sunshine.

This is not helping the workers. The government have told us this is an inevitability. They have said, 'Everyone knew this was going to happen. This has been a sure thing.' As we know, the Prime Minister says, 'Things happen in life.' If this has been such a foregone conclusion for so long, why don't they have a plan B, today? Where are all their bright ideas? I know they can scrap the carbon tax and the mining tax; how about helping workers get retrained?

This is why we censure the Prime Minister. Before the election, never in my wildest imagination would I have suspected that there would be such a cowardly performance by the government in surrendering manufacturing. There is an attitude from those opposite who say that modern First World countries do not make things anymore. Well, they are wrong.

I am happy to attend, with the Prime Minister, a meeting with the workers at Elizabeth. Let's go and talk with them. Let's go and talk to Holden workers together—you and me and the workers. We can talk. You can tell them all of your facts. You can tell them all your fine words. You can quote Christopher Pyne saying that today is not a day of doom and gloom. What I will say to the workers, the small businesses, the apprentices and the families of all these people who are displaced, is that if Labor had been in government we would not have let this happen.

We do not give up on manufacturing. We do not think that 'manufacturing' is a dirty word. Why on earth would this government say, of all things, 'it's too hard'? The real concern I have is not just the Holden workforce and the component workforce but what will happen with Toyota next. Look at this group opposite! All of you are the people who have decided we will no longer make cars in Australia. You have managed in three months to get rid of what it took Australia 65 years to build up. You are the wreckers of the car industry, you are the destroyers of jobs. Never could I have imagined before the last election, when recommending to people that they voted for us, that the problem was that if you got Tony Abbott you would lose a car industry. Even I would have thought that was an exaggeration.

But what we discovered yesterday and today is an administration sufficiently cynical that they fundamentally believe that they can sell a message to the Australian people that the world is too hard to compete in, that we cannot manufacture in Australia any more, that, if you pay people First World wages, somehow we cannot manufacture. This mob opposite have surrendered on Holden and the car industry—and let us not even list all the other jobs that have gone. You have been a busy government in three months. Electrolux, Simplot, CSIRO, Caterpillar, Peabody—you have a rollcall of jobs. But you will never ever shrug the shame: Holden has gone on your watch, and the car industry is in deep distress on your watch. This Prime Minister should be censured for giving up on Australian manufacturing jobs.

The SPEAKER: Is the motion seconded?

Mr Brendan O'Connor: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.