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Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Page: 205

Automotive Industry

Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (14:47): My question is to Senator Ronaldson, the Minister representing the Minister for Industry. The Prime Minister has said he wants to protect and create jobs, yet some 200,000 Australians who rely on the automotive industry are still waiting to see if he will save their jobs. Given that the rise in the value of the Australian dollar has increased costs by 30 per cent and given the fact that the timetable for investment decisions by General Motors has been known for some time, how can the government justify leaving the auto industry dangling until after the South Australian election?

Senator RONALDSON (VictoriaMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC and Special Minister of State) (14:48): Ultimately, the decision about who asked questions about what probably lies with the Manager of Opposition Business. I find it quite remarkable that a former industry minister has used his first opportunity to ask a question which at best is crocodile tears dripping with insincerity: 'This minister should be acutely aware of the state of the automotive industry in this country. Under his watch, we have seen quite dramatic declines in automotive workers in this country.'

I want to place on record the Minister for Industry's comments in relation to this issue, and then I will talk about some other matters. As the minister has quite clearly said, the industry is facing significant short- and medium-term challenges as it adjusts to the high value of the Australian dollar, a highly competitive market and the policies and regulations introduced by the former government. The minister has also made it quite clear that—and again I will repeat the minister's comments—'Australia needs a sustainable car manufacturing industry as it produces $5.4 billion of industry value-added, invests nearly $695 million in research and development and generates $3.7 billion in export income a year.' Just for the interest of the Senate—and again I am utterly amazed with the tone of the question asked by the former industry minister—in 2012 the three local vehicle manufacturers— (Time expired)

Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (14:50): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note the minister's answer. I simply ask: how can this government be prepared to spend $5.5 billion on a rolled gold paid parental leave scheme, yet is ripping $500 million from the automotive industry, which attracts direct foreign investment at a rate of $9 for every $1 of government co-investment?

Senator RONALDSON (VictoriaMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC and Special Minister of State) (14:50): Sensibly, the senator got off the crocodile tears and tried another tack. I note with some interest that automotive industry employment averaged 45,007 in the four quarters up to August 2013 down from 50,376 in the same period in 2012. I also note with some interest the appalling MPI—another example of crocodile tears dripping with insincerity—that the former minister will be speaking to this afternoon. He refers to the urgency of the crisis. I just wonder what the former industry minister can say about his decision to change fringe benefits arrangements for the automotive— (Time expired)

Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (14:52): I note that the minister has not been able to explain why it is they are taking $500 million—

The PRESIDENT: No. You need to come to a question.

Senator KIM CARR: Does the minister support Mr Macfarlane's efforts to keep the industry in Australia or does he support the indifference radiated by the Prime Minister and the banker's friend, Mr Hockey? What action are you taking, Minister, representing the people of Victoria to secure the 30,000 jobs in that state?

Senator RONALDSON (VictoriaMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC and Special Minister of State) (14:52): Again, an extraordinary comment from a former minister. I will tell the former minister what we will be doing. We are sending this matter off to the Productivity Commission which should happen—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! When there is silence, we will proceed.

Senator RONALDSON: I just ask those on the other side from South Australia to go back and have a look at the comments of Premier Jay Weatherill, in relation to the comments made when he was standing beside Minister Macfarlane, he raised no issues with the Productivity Commission inquiry at all.

I will finish on this note, Mr President: the damage done by this former minister who both supported the introduction of that fringe benefit tax change, $100,000 unit potential reduction— (Time expired)