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Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Page: 1464


Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (15:09): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Employment (Senator Abetz) to questions without notice asked by Senators Wong and Carr today relating to the announcement by GM Holden of its decision to cease its manufacture of cars in Australia by 2017.

Today is a sad day. It is a sad day for workers employed by General Motors Holden. It is a sad day for their families and for the communities in which they live. It is a sad day for suppliers, including component manufacturers, and it is a particularly sad day for my home state of South Australia and the state of Victoria where these operations exist.

I want to say something today, in this taking note of answers, about the way in which this government has approached these serious issues—which was exemplified again today by the contempt with which the Leader of the Government in the Senate treated serious questions about the plight of workers and their families and the importance of supporting workers and their families. The reality is that in their short time in office this government has spent most of its recent time working to drive Holden out of Australia and championing closure. Well, they have got what they were working for.

Let us go through the facts. Before the election and after, this government said, 'We will take $500 million out of the co-investment for the auto industry that the previous government had put on the table.' This was assistance that was about leveraging investment and jobs here in Australia, with returns not only to workers but also to our economy because of the importance of the manufacturing skills that the car industry contains. What did they promise after that half a billion dollars of cuts? Uncertainty. They said to a company that is competing in a global market that they were going to take half a billion dollars off the table for the industry and were not guaranteeing anything after 2015. That is the uncertainty they placed on General Motors Holden.

What they did afterwards was say, 'We are going to have a Productivity Commission review. We will have an interim report before Christmas and a final report next year.' In fact, Mr Macfarlane is on the public record as asking Holden to defer any decision as to whether or not it would continue operations until after the Productivity Commission had reported. That was the government's position. Then, all of a sudden, prodded into action because of the Treasurer's folding to the National Party on GrainCorp, the economic drys in the cabinet and the ministry decided that it was a good idea to try and start pushing Holden to make a decision before Christmas.

And what did they do? I have never seen a government have senior economic ministers backgrounding against a company, day after day, in the way that we have had the misfortune to observe in this last week. Who would have thought that we would see coalition senior ministers backgrounding the media and essentially championing the closure of General Motors Holden. But that is what we have seen from this government—a week of leaking and a week of putting pressure on Holden to make a decision. I again remind the chamber that this was all in the context of them having said to Holden, 'Don't make a decision until after the PC review.'

All of a sudden, they decided it was in their political interests to try and force Holden to a decision before the PC review. They started with backgrounding last week, and it broke on the ABC, was reported widely in the prints and clearly continued. Senator Abetz keeps saying, 'I am not going to respond. You don't believe everything that is written in the papers.' Well, I do not believe that journalists who are reputable would be making things up about coalition senior ministers backgrounding about the closure of Holden. We then had the Acting Prime Minister writing to the company to demand that they tell people whether or not they have made a decision to close. So on the one hand you have said to defer a decision, and then on the other you champion the closure and put pressure on them. I hope you are happy now, because they have made a decision. The contempt with which this government appears to hold this company and these workers was demonstrated today when I asked a serious question of the man who is supposed to be the Leader of the Government in the Senate—and what does he play politics with? The carbon tax.

Senator Abetz: It is very important.

Senator WONG: What a complete disgrace you are! A straight question about workers and that is what you come back with. (Time expired)