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Tuesday, 12 September 2017
Page: 10162


Mr CHAMPION (Wakefield) (18:00): In late October this government, after its four years in office, will reach a unique milestone for Australian governments: it will preside over, for the first time in our postwar history, a time when we are not making automotive motor vehicles either for our domestic market or for export.

In late October, Holden Elizabeth closes. It always saddens me to go through these facts, because we know that, but for a conjunction of events, we would still have a car industry. Those conjunction of events were, first and foremost the government's attitude, the attitude of the then Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the then Treasurer Joe Hockey, a high Australian dollar and an investment decision that had to be made at that point. If the investment decision had been made a year earlier, Holden Elizabeth and the rest of the automotive industry would have been saved. And had it been made, I suspect, now, we would still have a car industry because, as the Prime Minister and others in question time are so fond of pointing out, they are now much more amenable to the idea of industry assistance. Whether it be in Portland or whether it be in Whyalla, they have changed their tune from the days when we remember The Australian Financial Review headline 'Hockey dares GM to leave'. That was such callous disregard for an industry that had given so much to Australia and so much to my home state of South Australia.

We know Holden Elizabeth is a very, very good factory. Even today, it is top in the world for quality. A plant that is closing is best in the world for quality—for its quality outcomes. So, right now, there are workers at Holden pumping out top-quality cars, pumping out cars that are selling. Some of the high-performance vehicles are now pulling more than $100,000 over their retail price. We've got people with a lot of money in their pockets walking into dealerships and trying to buy their way into the list of high-performance vehicles. So we know there is demand there for those great cars, for those high-performance Commodores, and we know that they have been built with great quality. Interestingly enough, they have put cameras on the lines now. So, if you order one of these cars, you can get a picture of it being built.

What a tragedy it is that we have to celebrate this government's milestone in October. For the first time since 1949—since Ben Chifley watched the FX go off the line—the last Australian car will come off the line. Those workers, who will be exhibiting great pride in their work right up until that last car comes off the line, can, indeed, take great pride. We should be celebrating their efforts in the face of adversity. I think, in so many ways, they're maintaining their work ethic and maintaining their pride. They're going out with their heads held high. As one GM worker said about a previous speech that I did, 'There's a reason why, when lions gather, they call it a pride.' That is very true of the Holden Elizabeth plant.

One of the tragedies is that, while Ben Chifley went to see the first car go off the line, there will be no representative of the government visiting the factory in its final days. I remember going there for a tour with Ian Macfarlane, the then Minister for Industry. I have etched into my mind the memory of when he posed with a tradesman and a ballpein hammer. But you can be sure that there will be no government representative down there either at the community events or touring the factory to see the last cars come off the line. That is, I think, an indication of the moral courage of this government—an indication that it lacks it. We know that if those three things hadn't come together—Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey; a high Australian dollar; and the investment decision—we would still have a car industry in this country and would be making top-quality cars not only for the domestic market but also for export as well.

This, I suppose, will be a bitter time in South Australia's history. The government know they have a political problem in South Australia because they tried to rip, or they have ripped, the industrial heart out of the state. They haven't done such a good job on the shipbuilding side either because we've lost 2,000 shipbuilding jobs. While the government are in this building day in and day out talking about their continuous shipbuilding plan, what they don't talk about is the fact that 2,000 shipbuilding jobs have been lost in this country since that time. We know, through Senate hearings, that there's a very real risk to the composure and the content of the existing workforce down at ASC—the remaining shipbuilders, tradespeople and technical staff. We know that the industry is very, very finely balanced at the moment in terms of its capacity to go on. That's because we're in a valley of death. The last air warfare destroyer is being completed, and there is a gap in the work. The government had an opportunity to fix that gap when they could have done the supply ships.

The Leader of the Opposition and the shadow minister for defence, Richard Marles, have written to Malcolm Turnbull this week, asking him to guarantee Australian content and Australian workers' futures. We're not asking the government to do something that's economically irresponsible and unreasonable. In fact, it's in the government's own Naval Shipbuilding Plan. If you look at 'Chapter 4: key enabler two—the naval shipbuilding workforce', it actually talks about the risks inherent in not retaining a skilled workforce. It actually talks about that. On page 64, it says:

Experiences from other sectors of the Australian economy that have gone through rapid upswings in workforce demand - such as the mining and energy sector - provide salutary lessons. High levels of workforce demand, combined with limited supply of workers increased the price of labour substantially. High wages resulted in workers leaving adjacent occupations to take up the opportunity for higher paid work, resulting in the loss of capability and capacity in other areas of the economy.

It talks about that. We know that, with shipbuilding, retaining a workforce is a critically important thing because those workers have skills that just can't be replicated because they've done four years of a trade and have a minimum of one year of experience in shipbuilding. But many of these workers have far more than that. On the white-collar side, they have a three-year degree plus one year. You can't just wish these workers into existence. You've got to retain them. If you don't then you will have substantial costs in reassembling that workforce and retraining them.

The government's shipbuilding plan also talks about training workers who are displaced from the automotive industry. That's not happening. It talks about maybe picking up people from the oil and gas production sector who might be displaced, but that's not happening. It talks about talking to the unions, but that hasn't happened yet. The government has a real opportunity to retain the existing workers and to train new workers for an industry which will need skilled workers, and they shouldn't miss this opportunity the way they've missed other opportunities, with such tragic consequences. They've lost the car industry, and now they have to keep the shipbuilding industry. That's the challenge. There's an economic imperative and there's a political imperative for this government to do so in the state of South Australia. It is critically important and it should not be missed.