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Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Page: 5364

Automotive Industry

Senator FAWCETT (South Australia) (14:38): Mr President, my question is to the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Carr. I refer to the Prime Minister's claims at her joint press conference on Monday that the government has been 'strongly engaged with cleaner, greener cars and with cooperative research centres'. How does the minister reconcile the Prime Minister's statement with the fact that the government abolished the Green Car Innovation Fund in January this year and, in May, cut the cooperative research centre's budget by $33 million? Will the minister explain to the workers at GMH at Elizabeth in South Australia the inconsistency—

Senator Wong interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Wait a minute, Senator Fawcett. Senator Wong, you will need to withdraw that comment. It is a reflection on a person in the chamber.

Senator Wong: I withdraw.

The PRESIDENT: There should be silence.

Senator FAWCETT: Will the minister explain the inconsistency between the Prime Minister's claims of Monday and the cold, hard facts of what really has occurred?

Senator CARR (VictoriaMinister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (14:40): Senator Fawcett, I appreciate that the coalition tactics committee, from time to time, will hand you the ultimate hospital pass when it comes to question time. You ought to take the advice of Senator Heffernan and hand back this sort of rubbish. What you will learn, Senator, after you have been here a little while, is that Senator Abetz—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Carr, I draw your attention to the question. Come to the question.

Senator CARR: Mr President, Senator Fawcett would be only too well aware, as Mr Abbott revealed again just last week, that the coalition is committed to further reducing support for the automotive industry. A further cut of $500 million is proposed by the coalition as part of the $70 billion campaign to smash Australian industry. You are in the business, Senator Fawcett, of ripping the guts out of the Australian economy, and yet you are kind enough to come in here to fulfil the work of Senator Abetz and put up that sort of nonsense to this government.

What we have here is the sheer hypocrisy of those on the other side. They run around factories and make well of people's distress and difficulties in this time of economic adjustment, while at the same time they pursue policies which would destroy jobs, destroy companies and cut the guts out of the capacity of the Australian government to stand shoulder to shoulder with firms, to stand shoulder to shoulder with regions and to stand shoulder to shoulder with workers. You are in the business of destroying jobs, of cutting workers away from their entitle­ments, smashing the automotive industry and smashing manufacturing, and you want to ask a silly question like that.

Senator FAWCETT (South Australia) (14:42): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Why should anyone believe the minister when he has just talked about the benefit of advocates and yet the government has failed to fill the steel advocate's position since January this year, when Mr Benjamin stepped down? Minister, why should anyone believe the local content announcement that the government made on Monday, given that it made the same announcement two years ago? Aren't steel industry leaders correct when, in recent months, they said, 'This government shows a complete ignorance of manufacturing, does not want to listen, is engaged in economic vandalism and doesn't care whether there are manufacturing jobs in Australia?'

Senator CARR (VictoriaMinister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (14:42): The government ensures that it talks to people before it makes appointments. What we have done with the appointment of the steel industry advocate is to ensure that the Steel Industry Innovation Council is being consulted. We make sure that we get the job done. Your position, Senator Fawcett, is to oppose support for the steel industry; your position is to take away support from the steel industry. So it is somewhat audacious for you to then ask the question as to why we have taken a few months to talk to people before we fill these positions. We have indicated, through the buy Australian campaign, that we are in the business of building the capabilities of Australian firms. Just as we talk to our athletes about inter­national competition, we talk to Australian companies about training them to ensure that they are with the very best when it comes to international competition. We are in the business of creating opportunity. (Time expired)

Senator FAWCETT (South Australia) (14:43): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. After all the rhetoric, given that this government has been responsible for cutting the Green Car Inno­vation Fund, the failed cash-for-clunkers scheme, downgrading the LPG Vehicle Scheme and is now presiding over the decline in other industries such as steel manufacturing, can the minister explain why Australia's manufacturing industry should have any confidence at all in this government?

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! I remind senators on both sides who are wishing to debate the issue should do so after three o'clock.

Senator CARR (VictoriaMinister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (14:45): I have indicated that just last week Mr Abbott confirmed the coalition policy was to cut assistance to the automotive industry. I have been able to point out to the Senate on numerous occasions that the opposition have a policy to actually reduce assistance to manufacturing right across the board. Yet, this is an opposition that will stand there with crocodile tears and make claims about their commitments to manufacturing. It is completely in contrast to the actuality of what their policy positions are about. They are in a position of increasing costs to manufacturing and increasing costs to individual companies while, at the same time, asking for a reduction in the taxes that mining companies should pay. They are all about perpetuating injustice, they are all about perpetuating the inequalities in this country and they will never, ever face up to their responsibility to build a new society and a new country that actually gives everybody the opportunity to participate fully in our prosperity. (Time expired)