Bill's Speeches

Manufacturing Sector

Mr SHORTEN (Maribyrnong—Leader of the Opposition) (15:15): Australians who have been following politics this week could be forgiven for thinking that the government lives in a parallel universe to ordinary Australians. What an out of touch mob they have demonstrated themselves to be this week. We have had the worst week for Australian job losses for a very long time. We have had the worst rate of unemployment reported in a decade, in fact since the Prime Minister was last employment minister. In Australia, we are confronted with the unambiguous fact that one Australian has lost their job every three minutes under this Abbott government. I can understand that the Abbott government do not want to talk about unemployment. Whilst they are not talking about it, I cannot understand why they are not at least working on a plan for unemployment. Instead, we hear the Prime Minister of Australia almost in breach of the Trade Practices Act—false and misleading conduct, passing himself off as a Prime Minister—saying he is the worker's best friend. My goodness me, if he is the worker's best friend, they do not need enemies. How on earth can someone protest to be the worker's best friend, the best friend of wage-earning, tax-paying employees in Australia, when 63,000-plus full-time jobs have gone since they came into power? Now, of course, when confronted with this bad news, what does the government do? It reaches for the blame cannon. They blame everyone but themselves. They blame the car industry as being a rust bucket. They blame car workers as being overpaid and uncooperative.

When it came to SPC, they were praying and hoping that a state government would rescue them from their own inconsistent position. Today, we had a question to the Prime Minister in question time that said, 'Prime Minister, you said that you would not give $25 million to attract $160 million of investment for SPC because the company was already making a profit.' He was asked by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, 'Prime Minister, how is that consistent with giving Cadbury $16 million when their parent company made a $3.9 billion profit?' That is just straightforward hypocrisy. We had the Prime Minister try to hide behind that and call Cadbury a tourist attraction—and, indeed, it is—but what he did not do was read his own press release, which in fact showed that that grant provides for the growing of cocoa trees in Northern Australia. Under this government, you can do tourism in the Northern Territory or Northern Queensland, but you cannot get a manufacturing job anywhere in Australia.

We see a big problem with unemployment in this country. It is a real issue. The government say, 'There was always projected softening in the labour markets, so it was inevitable.' People of Australia know that if you believed that this was inevitable, where is your plan? If you read the projections and simply said, 'Well, it was inevitable; don't look at us; don't blame us; what can we do?' then what good are you? This is a most important point in the debate about unemployment in Australia. If you think that the car industry's demise was inevitable, where is your plan for transition? If you think that the rise in unemployment was inevitable, where is your plan for transition? If you think it was inevitable that 63,000 jobs would be lost—full-time jobs, real jobs, tax-paying jobs, jobs which let families pay the mortgages, the debts and educate their kids—and you think that these things are just the way of the world, what is your plan to do something about it?

Look at Holden—goaded by the Treasurer. What an arrogant and cynical act to goad a car company and say, 'We're not interested in you.' Then they looked at the car component industry. They rushed at the Holden news. I remember the Prime Minister at this dispatch box saying, 'We'll do the right thing by the car component industry.' All he has done is write their funeral notice. Toyota then made their announcement. What did we hear? 'It's the workers' fault.' Then Toyota said, 'It's actually not the employees' fault.' What did the government do then? They said the company was wrong.

Corporate Australia should be on notice that this government will throw you overboard and make your private discussions public just to save the skin of those on the government benches. We see Rio Tinto in Gove—the forgotten people. It was fantastic that we had the Closing the Gap contributions yesterday. But in talking about closing the gap in unemployment in Nhulunbuy, Arnhem Land and Gove Peninsula you do nothing about it. Thousands of people are losing their jobs without so much as a whimper, a whisper or a cry of concern from the government. We get shoulder shrugging and see the issue getting kicked down the road. They are not interested. But it is not good enough.

What concerns me is that this is the government that will look at a set of unemployment statistics and say, 'We have no plan.' Every time we asked them this week, 'What is your plan?' they wanted to refight the last election. The people of Australia will get sick of this lazy government, simply blaming everything on the past and offering no vision for the future. What if we had predicted the end of the car industry at the last election? 'Don't vote for the coalition, don't vote for them in Corangamite, don't vote for them in Deakin and don't vote for them in marginal seats across Australia because, when they get elected, Holden will close, tens of thousands of car component workers will lose their jobs and 1,000 small businesses which supply components will not have companies to supply to.' If we had predicted before the election that Toyota would go, we would have been laughed out of court. The problem is that the truth is even worse than what we imagined. Instead, they simply say that this is the way of the world. They say that nothing can be done, that Australia can no longer compete in manufacturing in the First World in the 21st century.

The problem is the government does not understand that the car industry contributes $600 million directly in R&D. It spends $800 million on computing, on engineering, on technical services. This government is dumbing this country down. They do not understand the value of innovation; they just understand the price of their own political fortunes.

We need to be a nation that builds things. The vision of this government is that we should go back to being a farm and a quarry. They look at the 21st century and want to take us back to the 19th century. They have never seen a manufacturing worker's job they will fight for and they have never seen a well-paid set of workers' conditions which they will have any regard for. And where is their plan? The car industry was not in our projections for unemployment, but it has gone anyway.

Last night 1,300 engineers, white-collar workers, draftspeople, designers—1,300 people in the last 24 hours—were retrenched. Exactly this time 24 hours ago, 1,300 people—who not listening to the platitudes of the lazy crew opposite, not listening to their lack of plans—were just getting on doing their jobs. Do you know what happened to them? They were told, 'You're gone. There is no more money in this company. You are retrenched.' From the Gascoigne to the Kimberley to the Pilbara to Far North Queensland, 1,300 people were sacked—but not in our projections.

Then the government says, 'This is just what happens.' This government says there is no role for government in the creation of jobs. What an abrogation of responsibility. The plan that the government has is to dumb down this country and get rid of the trade training centres. Why didn't we think of that? You need a skilled workforce so you get rid of the trade training centres! We need infrastructure, so what are they doing? They decide not to build any more public sector transport, any more rail in Australia—why didn't we think of making it harder for people to get to work? Then there is the NBN. They want to cut that down and carve it up. Of course, why on earth didn't we think that the NBN contributes nothing to productivity, contributes nothing to our nation's wealth?

The future of this country cannot be taken for granted. With unemployment at six per cent and going up, despite 20 or so questions this week we heard not an answer on jobs—not one 'not answer', not two 'not answers'—none. Twenty times or so they ducked and weaved and dissembled. They blamed employees, they blamed the car industry, they blamed everything except taking a look in the mirror to see the source of some of the misery. I do not hold the government responsible for all the job losses in this country. There are many factors at work. But what I do hold the government responsible for is that they do not have an inch of fight in them. They have a small heart when it comes to fighting for jobs. If those opposite think that all is well in the country and if they pat themselves on the shoulder as they leave parliament this week, then shame on them. Fighting unemployment is the No. 1 task of any government, coalition or Labor. Unemployment is an unmitigated misery and, if the government just wants to say that there is nothing they can do, then that tells me there are two opposition leaders in Australia and no Prime Minister! (Time expired)