FRIDAY, 13 DECEMBER 2013
SUBJECT / S: Abbott Government abandon’s Australia’s automotive industry; Home Insulation Program.
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION BILL SHORTEN: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm here with Kim Carr, the Shadow Industry Spokesperson, Michael Danby, the local federal Member of Parliament for Fishermans Bend, one of Holden's longstanding plants, employing over a thousand people and also Martin Foley, the state Member of Parliament for the same area. We’ve just had a meeting with Holden workers. Holden workers know that they are a highly skilled group of engineering workers who assemble world-class product. They are frustrated that the Abbott Government ran up the white flag and won't fight for their jobs. Holden workers are confused that they have a government who doesn't seem think that fighting for Australian jobs is part of the job description of the Abbott Government. They understand that Holden, unlike other car companies, was interested in staying in Australia with some level of government support. They know that every other first world country who makes cars, including Germany and the United States, subsidise their car industries to a far greater extent than anyone’s talking about in Australia. Holden workers deserve to have a government who will fight for Australian jobs, rather than give up and wave goodbye to the car industry in Australia. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Is there anything that you can do as an Opposition to reverse this decision or to help save the car industry?
SHORTEN: There’s three things we can do straightaway. We call upon the Abbott Government at COAG today to stop talking about a gold-plated thought bubble which is the millionaires' paid parental leave scheme, and use a modest portion of that and get Holden back to the table. The second thing we call upon the Abbott Government to do is that Tony Abbott says thousands of jobs going is isn’t a political matter. If he thinks it's not political, he and I should meet with Holden workers around Australia and hear their story. It is not enough when you’re the Prime Minister of to Australia to leave the bad news to everyone else and only be around for the good news. Prime Minister Abbott and myself should talk to Holden workers, we should talk to small businesses, we should talk to the automotive industry together. Let us make the promotion of manufacturing in Australia a bipartisan issue where Tony Abbott and I appear on the same platforms at the same time talking to people who the Government's decisions, or indeed Government's inaction, affects. I think the third thing that the Abbott Government needs to do is it needs to just come clean and say does it want a car industry in Australia. This government will be the first government since cars were invented who’ve decided they don't wish to have a car industry in Australia.
Labor does not accept the proposition that Australia can't compete with the rest of the world. Other first world countries make cars, pay proper wages and receive modest levels of government support. If it's good enough for Germany, if it's good enough for the United States, it should be good enough for Australia to stand by its own highly skilled manufacturing workforce. Everyone knows that the dollar will go down. It’s not good enough for the Abbott Government to shrug their shoulders, to kick the car industry around and say it's not our problem. The Government of Australia has the obligation first and foremost to create an economic environment where jobs are kept.
JOURNALIST: Malcolm Turnbull said that Australia needs to focus on high-tech manufacturing because it can’t compete with that traditional manufacturing?
SHORTEN: Well Malcolm Turnbull, you know, fresh from a day's sailing on his yacht, talking about high-tech manufacturing. If Tony Abbott won't come down and talk to the workers, Malcolm Turnbull should come down and talk to the workers with me. Malcolm Turnbull always has a lot to say at the big end of town. I'd invite Malcolm Turnbull, with myself, to listen to the car industry. This is a high-tech industry doing remarkable things. I might ask my colleague Senator Carr to talk a bit further about this point.
SENATOR KIM CARR: Australia has some of the most advanced workshops in the world. The plant, the General Motors plant at Elizabeth is world leading. We have got some of most advanced robotics in the world, we've got the most advanced scientists in the world. We have the better designers, engineers. We've got the very best skills that this industry can produce. And for people to denigrate this industry with an old fashioned, completely out-of-date version of events, and of course mock this industry, when of course what they’re really doing is promoting the North Shore of Sydney bankers' view of how the economy works, well then of course this means that blue-collar workers miss out in that notion of how the economy actually functions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Turnbull made these comments this morning, just on that issue of Australia not being able to compete, is that a bad sign for Toyota workers do, you think?
SHORTEN: When you have Abbott Government ministers saying that blue-collar jobs are no longer welcome in Australia, that's bad news for every blue-collar, pink-collar, green-collar worker in Australia. Not everyone can be a merchant banker, not everyone can be a Liberal MP. But the rest of Australia has a right to expect the Government of Australia to stand up for all Australians.
The Abbott Government must be a government for all Australians. Let's skip the politics for 30 seconds. What we need in Australia is a manufacturing sector that competes well. That does require leadership from government. The rest of the world is not a level playing field. The rest of the world gets behind their manufacturing sector. The Australian Government shouldn't be the mugs on the international boardwalk who are saying that we'll just do nothing and watch Australian jobs disappear overseas. The Abbott Government was elected to represent all Australians, including blue-collar workers, including small businesses, including people who get their hands dirty for a living.
JOURNALIST: Joe Hockey was quoted as saying in Parliament that a lot of other industries in this country would be lucky to be getting the same support that the car industry is getting. What’s your response to that?
SHORTEN: Joe Hockey has never seen a blue-collar job that he won't kick. What he's done with the mining industry, is he’s handed them back an $800 million to $1 billion tax refund. The car industry, Holden only wanted a shade of that. When it comes to the effective tax rates there are plenty of Australian companies not paying 30 per cent tax. Why is it that the car industry is the whipping boy for a Conservative Abbott Government disinterest? Why is it this government was willing to make a decision to send away much needed foreign investment in GrainCorp because that suited their political base, but when it comes to the car industry, who the Abbott Government does not see as their political base, then the Abbott Government goes on holiday, they buy a white flag, they surrender fighting for manufacturing. Why does the Abbott Government hate manufacturing in Australia so much?
JOURNALIST: Should Kevin Rudd front the pink batts Royal Commission?
SHORTEN: On the terms of this Royal Commission, we have said to the government of the day that we believe that if it's a Royal Commission aimed at improving safety, well then of course we’ll always be involved. But we want it to be bipartisan in terms of the terms of reference, making sure that the ninth inquiry into this matter isn't just a political game, but rather is about making sure that the tragedies we saw never happen again. For me what's important about the whole Home Insulation Program is that four young men went to work and didn’t come home. Health and safety should be the focus of the government, not whether or not the government wants to square off with Kevin Rudd.
JOURNALIST: So Kevin Rudd shouldn't front it?
SHORTEN: I'd refer to you the answer, that the big tragedy, the tragedy which really counts in all of this isn't Liberal or Labor. It isn't Tony Abbott or Kevin Rudd. It is that four young men went to work and they didn't come home. That's what I care about. That’s what Labor cares about. We’ve said that we want any inquiry, and this would be the ninth inquiry that’s happened, if it’s to have value, to provide some meaning for this tragedy which we can't turn back and reverse, that we wish had never happened. What we say about that is, let's work together with the Government on identifying how this can never happen again, and the issue of the personalities and the Royal Commission and Kevin Rudd, let's leave the politics to one side. And we say to the Government, if you're fair dinkum about health and safety will you find no better friend than Labor. If you just want to play political games, don't waste the time of Australia or the families or anyone else. Thanks very much.
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